The 2009 ARMA International Gathering

On July 17th-19th, 2009 in Houston, Texas, the ARMA held its third International Gathering with 80 members and a few select guests in attendance for three days of instruction, testing, sparring, and fellowship. Attendees came from all across the United States, as well as Mexico and Switzerland for  three days of lessons, training certification, camaraderie, and research presentation. The event was held indoors in the main ballroom at the Humble Civic Center in Humble, Texas located just north of Houston and close to Bush Intercontinental Airport. This was the second ARMA International Gathering organized jointly by the Houston North and South Siders study groups. 

An underlying theme of the event was the challenge of personal development within the study of RMA (Renaissance martial arts).  Veteran and novice members alike were in agreement that a clear spirit offellowship and mutual respect was present throughout the weekend. Additionally, as a distinct impact of our new curriculum's focus, it was agreed across the board that the quality of skills fighting displayed in bouting by even new novice members was beyond anything at past events.

The event began on Thursday evening with dinner at the Humble City Cafe with most event attendees present. A wonderful time was had by all who commented on the chance to greet old friends and finally put faces to names of members encountered during countless hours of Internet correspondence with fellow swordsman. Friday morning, the ARMA International Gathering began in earnest with ARMA Director John Clements welcoming everyone before offering a keynote address on the progress and significance of this event since the introduction of the revised curriculum and a new ranking system. After John's opening remarks, members jumped straight into the first of the weekend's training sessions. Throughout the weekend, classes were organized in parallel sessions each offered twice to allow everyone to work with all of the instructors.

Director Clements lead fellow members through an abbreviated course on the ARMA's new longsword curriculum as the foundation of our Member Training Program (MTP). His presentation introduced the core concepts of our understanding of the manuals, allowing for a greater sense of the structure with which they were written and how the historical masters taught important concepts and reinforced those ideas throughout the material. Reflecting many new insights and discoveries, the material stressed key elements that combined and integrated the historical teachings into a simple holistic application. John's intensity and excitement over these advancements was infectious and quickly whet everyone's appetite to experience the full presentation. Further strengthening his case for a holistic understanding of the simplicity of the source material, John also taught two additional classes over the course of the weekend showing how the concepts learned from the longsword translate to the use of both the single side-sword and the rapier. The single sword class introduced some unique new cut and counter drills, and the rapier class covered the history of the weapon, its origins and nature, as well as how it differs from the later smallsword and modern fencing.

Deputy Director Aaron Pynenberg taught a class on his new dynamic, expanded "feeling" drills as well as basic training tips. This class covered a number of training concepts that Aaron has employed with his own study group (ARMA-Appleton), with great success. The fighters coming out of this group are a testament to his methods. These expanded drills have been in development for about three years and help Scholars to see beyond the techniques of the sword. Instead, they capture the total experience of two armed individuals attempting to harm each other. Striking, kicking, attempting disarms and throws, all of these components are now explored in conjunction, holistically becoming part of the swordsman's repertoire. These skills are no longer perceived as separate or "advanced" but as organic components.

The Training Partner concept was introduced and identified in Aaron's class as well. This concept expands the roles and responsibilities we have in helping each other learn more efficiently. Aaron also discussed the common problems associated with training programs and ways and methods of reducing their impact on our training. He had a number of handouts available which complemented his class perfectly and were presented and available prior to the start of his class. Aaron's classes received high praise from all who attended. A number of study groups who have employed these drills have reported noticeable leaps in their own training and skills, which in the end is the goal of any training program.

Free-Scholar Gene Tausk's spear class focused on the basics of fighting with the spear, the most ancient of all pole-arms. The class was split into two one-hour sessions. For the first hour students were taught how to strike with the spear while stepping, passing and traversing. An archery target was then set up so students would have a chance to practice striking with full speed and power using a real spear against the target. Students had the opportunity to practice both distance and power striking. The second half of the class was spent learning the basics of fighting with spear against spear and spear against longsword. Students were taught principles, rather than individual techniques, and the importance of footwork while fighting both with and against the spear were discussed and practiced. This important weapon which has existed for thousands of years played a major role in Medieval and Renaissance fighting and students were given the opportunity to discover its strengths (and there are many) and vulnerabilities (it is not a "super-weapon').

Erich Wagner's basics of grappling class focused more on the bio-mechanics of grappling rather than the teachings of a particular master. Students were introduced to fundamental concepts like balance, lines of force, leverage, and proper body positioning to maximize the techniques shown to us in the various manuals. Students were also shown that there are basically only 4 ways to cause a person to fall to the ground: blocking a recovery step (tripping), removing a support structure (sweeping), causing the body to rotate about its center of mass (throwing), and falling to avoid pain (joint locks). Various drills were incorporated to further demonstrate and practice these concepts. Emphasis for using these techniques was placed on actions against a committed attacker, often in the context of armed encounters, rather than grappling "matches." The idea being that a committed attacker is providing all the necessary positioning to allow a technique to easily be applied to him rather than try to force a movement in a "match". However, at the end of each session, the students were given the opportunity to practice what they had learned with some light grappling bouts as this is a very effective means of learning to feel the movements of an opponent.

ARMA Columbus's class consisted of a vigorous round of unarmed techniques excerpted from the Meyer 1570 MS. The techniques in this class were designed to be for somewhat advanced training and/or a continuation from Erich Wagner's basic grappling class offered during the IG. The idea was to build confidence in order to practice more dangerous throws, chokes and simulated breaks and then to share them with home study groups. Closing in to one's opponent is now a very central part of the new overall training methodology, so this set of skills was intended to enable people to have maneuvers to attempt once that close range is reached. Although we practiced this introduction with thick matting, it is recommended to gradually shift to simple single mats or turf practice surfaces once control has been achieved by any attacker and breakfall skill for any defender. This is a helpful extension of any fuehlen training one might accomplish with a sword, and it is also recommended to have sessions of free grappling to the tap in order to further reinforce fuehlen and to build fitness.

Free-Scholar Stacy Clifford from the ARMA Houston Northsiders taught a class on the cut and thrust "single rapier" fight of Giacomo di Grassi. Techniques were researched from the 1594 English translation of Di Grassi's 1570 manual His True Arte of Defence. The class covered basic footwork and movement principles, definition of the lines and angles of attack, the distinction between "True Play" and "False Play," and all of the attacks and defenses described for each of the three wards in the True Play section of the manual. Parallels with the core ARMA longsword curriculum were pointed out along with newer concepts such as the broad ward, the reverse thrust and advanced use of volta footwork. Wes White and Tom Augenthaler from the Houston Northsiders assisted.

Kevin Cashen, Master Bladesmith, was the guest speaker at the event. He provided a unique perspective on the creation of swords being developed through specialized metallurgy techniques. He spoke of the types of swords created during each of the different time periods utilizing techniques and elements specific to each era. After his lecture, members were given a chance to ask questions regarding the topics presented.

Longtime member Jeff Hansen played for his Free-Scholar Prize as a highlight of the gathering. In one hour Jeff fought 97 bouts with all of his gathered peers, 76 of which were scored, winning 65 bouts for an impressive 85% victory ratio. It was even more impressive for the overall level of skill and audacity among many of the newer members, good evidence of the improvement of ARMA's teaching methods in recent years. Jeff had numerous opportunities to display his skill at ringen, and his Free-Scholar ranking was well and truly earned.  Jeff prepared well and it was widely agreed he gave the fiercest and most martially effective display of any Prizer yet at any event. He has our congratulations.

Also at this ARMA International Gathering, several ARMA members tested for their ranking for Scholar-Adept. Members whom earned their ranking include: Ray McCullough, Marķa Fernanda Lammoglia Cobo, Andrew Spalding, Aaron R. Kavli, Ryan Bandics, Jorge Manuel Cortines Alducin, Corey Roberts, Gable Bates, and Sal Bertucci.

There was an extended RMA Trivia Contest orchestrated by ARMA Director John Clements. It gave all members a lighthearted but challenging opportunity to test their knowledge in a very fun and interactive way. The match came down to a very close call between two teams and the winners were awarded a special ARMA "challenge coin." These hard to get mementos of martial spirit and camaraderie proved very popular. ARMA also benefited from the welcomed presence of vendors from Albion Swords, Crescent Moon Armory, and New Stirling Arms at the event. More than two dozen raffle prizes were also given out over the weekend.  We'd especially like to thank the generous donator of an Albion war sword as a prize to assist the club's European travel fund. 

On the final day of this third ARMA International Gathering, there was time allotted for free play, basic training, and one on one tutoring by fellow members. The ARMA Mexico group provided all with an opportunity to view some video of test cuttings done in their home location. Their informative and fascinating video presentation of technique experiments on a freshly butchered whole hog was a highlight of the weekend's lectures. During lunch names were drawn for the door prizes. The door prizes were donated by the following: Crescent Moon, Mercenary's Tailor, New Stirling Arms, Country Time Trophies, John Clements, ARMA Mexico, and Galatia Films. There was also a raffle for an Albion Baron Sword which was donated by Randall Pleasant, ARMA-DFW, Texas. The event ended with ARMA Director John Clements making closing remarks summarizing the camaraderie, and events of the weekend.

We would like to thank The Sidewalk Cafe for catering our event. We also would like to recognize the hard work and long hours devoted to organizing this event by the members of ARMA Houston Southsiders and Northsiders. Our thanks also goes to the personnel of The Humble Civic Center for taking care of us during the weekend long event. Additional gratitude goes to the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the affordable accommodations. See ya'll again in 2011!

Vendors, door prizes and equipment
Free-play and training

Camaraderie and scholarship for dessert
..and a toast to friends both new and old who we hope to see again.



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