ARMA's International Gathering 2003

Armored Fighting Photos | Prize Playing Photos | Test Cutting Photos | Vendor Photos | Videos

By B. J. Hertz

The first ARMA International Gathering successfully took place June 27th-29th in upstate New York .   More than 60 members and friends came from 6 countries for three days of study, practice, playing and sharing. We were happy to have members come from as far away as Alaska , Sweden , and Israel .   Held outdoors on private land, the event had a very relaxed yet energetic atmosphere.   The location was excellent with grassy fields, mostly sunny skies, shaded groves of trees, and a quiet isolated country setting. It was a tremendous event and an exciting opportunity for our membership to come together to train, explore, and celebrate.  

The Gathering was an unprecedented occasion for ARMA to show appreciation of its members and bring them together in camaraderie and friendship as fellow practitioners and researchers.   Though there were a few bumps to overcome in organization, it was a fun, safe, and informative opportunity to meet our fellow members, cross-train, spar, test-cut, evaluate our skills, compare research, and exchange historical fencing knowledge. It goes without saying that the opportunity to meet so many fellows of varying experience levels and interests, to put faces with personalities and learn who was who from those we were familiar with only online, was invaluable.

What was clearly evident right away was the “martialness” of the occasion and the character and quality of the attendees–and the refreshing lack of pretense. It was an occasion for good teaching and good fighting. No pose and display attitudes, just earnest practice and martial study.   The diversity of ARMA’s Study Groups was also on display as each club clearly had its own distinctiveness and particular way of training within the overall curriculum.   From the excellent armored combat of the VA guys, to the rough and tumble steel play of the NY gang, to the studious dedication of the Provo boys, and the modest haughtiness of the Dallas guys, the differences among our membership were as noticeable as they were entertaining.

The quality of the instruction by ARMA teachers and invited guests was top notch: intense, straightforward, no-nonsense, martial arts research and application.    We were happy to feature special guests Hans Heim and Alexander Kiermayer of the Ochs - Historische Kampfkünste group from Bavaria , who taught exceptional classes on Hans Liechtenauer’s 14th century longsword, and Hans Leckuechner’s 15th century Messer and Langenmesser as well as revealing a preview of the first of their fine upcoming Medieval German Longsword video series.   Han’s and Alex’s informative, entertaining, and easy-going manner complimented superb technical skills and a deep knowledge base.   Their chemistry and enthusiasm was remarkable. The feedback we received from their classes was overwhelmingly positive and the impact of their instruction significant.  

We were also proud to have Bart Walczak, director of ARMA Poland in Krakow and co-author of the Codex Wallerstein translation from Paladin Press.   In his first visit to America , Bart gave two excellent classes on Liechtenauer and the mid 15th century text known as the Codex Wallerstein. He enlightened and impressed everyone present with his knowledge and interpretation of the source manuals. Bart’s technical knowledge enabled everyone to have a much firmer grasp of many key ideas of the German school of fencing. His openness and eagerness to discuss the slightest minutia of the subject with everyone was welcome, as was his honesty in admitting ignorance when something could not be determined one way or the other. No one came away from his class without confidently knowing more than when they went in.

Vendors from Albion Armorers, Mercenary's Tailor, Angel Sword, Wooden Weapons, and Hollow Earth Swordwork's wasters were on hand to offer their wares at discounts.   Albion premiered their very nice new “Hollow Ground Medieval Sword Line” and the Mercenary's Tailor also had an actual 15th century sallet helm on hand to examine.   We also featured a new extra light training waster from New Sterling Arms, and the excellent new wooden rapier foyles from We were also able to premier (and give away in the raffle) a copy of the brand new book from Paladin Press, Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Art of the Longsword by David Lindholm and Peter Svard . The book was the subject of much excited discussion.   During the raffle attendees won several other books and gifts, including a copy of the new Sword in the Viking Age (with material and graphics by ARMA’s advisor Dr. Lee Jones). There were even some previously unknown historical source manuals on hand which will be the subject of future articles. See more Vendor Photos here.

Milan Petricevic, director of ARMA Calgary and former Croatian national fencing champion, proved his knowledge with an invigorating and energetic class on basics of 16th century Italian rapier.   Milan displays a grace of movement and a deep understanding of the scientific fight of the foyning sword as a true martial art. Milan later offered, in his distinctive manner, a hilarious lecture on the problematic dynamics of modern sport fencing.   Milan was recovering from a torn ligament and unfortunately could not engage in free-play or vigorous demonstration.



Swordsmith and ARMA advisor Dan Maragni gave an intriguing hands-on demonstration of blade forging that had everyone present intensely focused.   Dan later gave an enlightening and amusing slide presentation on early European and Celtic swords as they related to form and design of Medieval words.  

ARMA Director John Clements gave two short sessions on fundamentals of practicing sword & buckler and sword & dagger following from primarily 16 th century sources.   John showed key elements for the weapons and several core techniques to teach students how to learn to practice the weapons and teach themselves .   Later, assisted by Gary Grzybek and Shane Smith, John did a longsword demonstration of close-in counters, disarms, and half-swording against strong cuts.   The techniques were for the most part done in real range at full speed and energy in order to display the important element of how actions differ when done at force than in slower, softer practice.  

Revealing research material from his forthcoming books, and assisted by Milan Petricevic, John C. gave a lively and well-received lecture on the history of swords and swordsmanship from Medieval to modern times. He emphasized the conditions and needs which caused the development of the longsword, the side sword, and the rapier, and the transition from military to civilian fencing, from self-defense to duelling, and then duelling to martial sport and game.   With considerable humor John put it all into context as he stressed the importance of technology as well as cultural and social elements in fencing history besides the practical functional designs of weapons as responses to martial necessity.

Matt Anderson, Shane Smith, and Joel Thompson of ARMA Virginia Beach gave a truly extraordinary demonstration of armored combat based on the masters Fiore and Ringeck. This was one of the finest examples of the craft of armored swordplay.   The three scholars displayed exceptional skill and coordination in all manner of close-in techniques, grappling, throws, disarms, and thrusts.   Their historically accurate armor was excellent and their attitude and approach impeccable. Without question everyone present was astonished at the expertise of their presentation. See more of them on the Armored Fighting Photos page.

Gene Tausk gave a short class on tumbling for fencers, showing the necessity and utility of this core skill so often neglected today.   At lunch on day two Gene also delivered an informative and entertaining lecture “The Law and the Modern Swordsman.”   This relevant and irreverent lecture discussed the legal aspects of sword ownership, carrying and transporting weapons, crimes of assaults with deadly weapons, with specific attention given to these issues relating to non-citizens traveling in the US .   As an attorney, Gene really knows his stuff.

Sgt. Matt Larsen and his colleague Al Siering were one of the delights of the event as they presented the groundfighting fundamentals of the U.S. Army’s Combative Systems Program as it directly related to the modern reconstruction of Renaissance martial arts and particularly, ARMA’s study approach.   Matt and Al skillfully displayed some core aspects of unarmed self-defense and discussed the challenges of structuring a modern martial arts curriculum for real combat from various sources. Everyone was hungry for more of this practical no-nonsense material.   Matt and Al also engaged in some energetic armed group-sparring where they were thoroughly trashed by desk bound civilians.

Unfortunately, scheduled presenter Dr. Lee Jones, with his collection of antique weapons, was unable to attend at the last minute. Personal issues prevented Lee from attending and giving his insightful showing and lecture on sword wounds.   Also absent were ARMA advisor and instructor Ron Harris, who was unable to attend, and our colleagues Matt Eatson & Tom Leoni.   There were several other guests and invited instructors who unfortunately were not present and were missed. Scheduling conflicts and time restraints unfortunately also did not permit Stacy Clifford to deliver his planned class on 16 th century staff fencing in full session.

Eric Gregory was kind enough to bring for show and tell his exceptional swept hilt German sword of c.1620.   Comparison of this original beauty with a well-made modern replica of the same piece was simply astounding.   The difference between the two pieces is extraordinary. Thanks to Eric for letting everyone handle this excellent weapon.   Eric also brought some of his own very fine practice rapier blades to show off.

There was a great variety of activities crammed into the three days, with the main focus being on 15 th century German material.   For about two hours after the first day’s activities, under the attentive gaze of their relaxing fellows, a dozen or more fighters engaged in casual free-play and bouting with wasters, blunt steel, and padded contact-weapons as well as unarmed grappling.

In interpretation of material there were tremendous areas of agreement and similarity with our guest instructors and the larger body of ARMA members.   There were also smaller areas of contrast.   Of this latter, there were two areas of material: fascinating new ideas and concepts we will start employing right away; and aspects requiring further consideration.   Of this latter, there are again two areas: those things we are puzzled by and must explore and investigate further; and those things we at present disagree with because they conflict with experiences of application in test-cutting or free-play.   It was agreed though that the synergy of this dynamic of comparison and contrasts in interpretation definitely makes the subject an exciting one!   The bottom line for attendees was, happily, the intriguing collection of stimulating new material to consider.

Due to the number of attendees, the classes by Bart, Milan , Matt, John, and Hans and Alex were crowded, and several were divided into two sessions so everyone could attend.   There was plenty of time for more private clarification and demonstration with everyone as well.   The group sparring time was a blast with over 30 helmeted participants clashing together repeatedly with all manner of padded contact weapons.   A round-robin gladiatorial session was held as well as a last-man standing free for all.   For those who had never gotten to do group skirmishing before it was an exciting eye-opener. For the rest it was a two-hour hellacious “bloodbath!”   The number of friendly grudge fights and pre-arranged challenge matches among attendees was entertaining.

The main event of the Gathering was the Senior Prize Playing for Longsword by ARMA Free-Scholars Timothy Sheetz and Jacob Norwood.   Following from the model of 16th century English Company of Masters of Defence and German public Fechtschulen displays, we emphasize that our senior members demonstrate their skills in serious free-play against their fellows. This was armed bouting at its finest.   Fighters stepped in to test the mettle of their peers. Some of the matches were excellent exchanges of perfectly delivered technique and counter-technique, single hit kills and close-in throws. The display of skill, control, strength, and endurance was undeniable.   Without question both combatants proved the standard ARMA has tried to set. In their separate events, both fighters engaged in more than 80 consecutive matches in just over 65 minutes against more than 25 opponents in two single-hit bouts each. Both the contestants lost only 20 of their own bouts, with Tim winning 67 of his and Jake 73.  

Tim and Jacob both fought in a 25x25 foot square area against both helmed and unhelmed with padded contact weapons, wasters, and blunt steel. They faced longswords, sword & buckler, sword & shield, sword & dagger, and spear.   Unless not wearing a helmet/mask, the targets were full body (excluding groin and thumb) with limited grappling permitted. Thrusting was permitted only with padded weapons and wasters against closed masks.   Both Tim and Jake acquitted themselves exceptionally and were an inspiration in terms of prowess and character. Tim Sheetz displayed clear evidence of the importance of physical conditioning in martial arts and proof positive of the efficacy of ARMA’s virtual training program, as he has been training more or less alone in Korea for more than the last two years.   Jacob proved his worth and his commitment as well as the value of being a Study Group Director, as his Provo gang supported him solidly in his quest and the results showed. See all the pics on the Prize Playing Photos page.

We are also happy to announce the rank of General Free-Scholar will also soon be formally allowed to both Bart and Milan as a result of their diligent efforts, demonstrable skill, and accumulated knowledge.   Congrats to both. Also, Neil Nockert of ARMA Stockholm earned his General Free Scholar rating in evaluation just after the event’s final day.   For his hosting efforts, event host Todd Sullivan was given a special gift by the members, an Albion greatsword, courtesy of the thoughtfulness of Jim Truesdell .

A highlight of day three was the test-cutting.   Originally scheduled as a formal demonstration and class on test-cutting as a tool of learning, as well as experimental session, it turned into ad hoc come and chop party.   Swords from several makers including, Del Tin, Albion , Raven, Atrim, Angel Sword, and others were used on a variety of materials.   Planned cutting on thick cardboard tubes, cloth, leather, and raw meat did not materialize, but there were dozens of well soaked straw mats, single and double rolls, some with wood dowel cores, and thick tree branches too.   There were several helmets available to hit on, including ones from Valentine Armories and MRL in addition to some finely made historically accurate riveted maile (which proved impregnable to all cuts) made by historical armor-researcher Brad Girod .   Various cuts and types of blows were tried out by several attendees on the targets.   Examples were shown of sharp blades, straight and curved, single and double handed, cutting effortlessly through straw mats of all sizes.   A cloth gambeson was struck, showing it as virtually impervious to cuts.   One short Messer cut through three straw mats on one horizontal cut.   Several curved blades easily sheared through mats diagonally without effort.   However, most intriguing was how a blunt and entirely unsharpened Raven bastard sword performed, cleaving through one entire mat and then even one with a wood core. The same blade dented two helms without any edge trauma.

Cuts by various swords on the helms achieved varying results, from scratches to dents and one small cut.   Assorted other weapons, including warhammers, pole-axes, and bills caused much more significant damage on the helms–but two shafts broke and one pole-arm had its blade and flanges bent!   Two very sharp short swords which cut mats exceptionally well, then broke on single hits against the helms, snapping at the tangs.   One particular longsword, which cut mats like a razor, had its edge obliterated where it impacted on a helmet, yet barely scratched the target.   Overall the cutting was very energetic, with many testers rushing the target and making multiple strikes, rather than standing still in front of it and taking their time to make a single slow cut.   Several cuts were made on straw mat portions thrown into the air and a tree branch was sliced up while being held. See more pics here on the Test Cutting Photos page.

The real value of the Gathering was the ability for ARMA members to come together in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere to share insights and test one another while contributing back to our greater understanding of the subject.   The synergy at this event was truly tangible and refreshing, with so many people who all came together in friendship under the same study approach, with the same martial attitude, seeking the same goals of understanding and skill in Renaissance fighting arts.   No posturing, no BS, no rivalries, no petty egos, just serious and fun investigation of our rich fencing heritage.

We want to thank everyone involved in putting this together, especially Todd Sullivan and his family, and all those who jumped in to help make it work. Thanks to Todd especially for securing the site and arranging the excellent ARMA water bottles and event t-shirts.   A special thanks also to Tim Sheetz, Gary Grzybek, Mark Miller, and all those who pitched in at the last minute.  


Having so many diverse enthusiasts all utilizing the same training methodology together in one place with the mutual objective of raising the credibility and legitimacy of this subject had a discernable impact on everyone present. The 2003 ARMA Gatheirng truly had it all: test-cutting, antique swords, armored combat, sword making, dagger fighting, group sparring, rapier fencing, sword & buckler, sword & dagger, grappling, longsword, messer, vendor products, armor making, staff fighting, personalized training, unpretentious spirits, source literature study and historical research! The next time we hold such an event we confidently promise even more.

Hans & Alex teaching Langenmesser, Messer, and Longsword:
Swordsmith researcher Dan Maragni lecturing on sword forging and early sword forms:

Dan demonstrates some aspects of forging a blade.

Attendees pay keen attention.

Dan gives a slide show on Celtic & Roman sword forms

Dan discusses development of early Medieval blades.

Weapons on display

Dan shows some experimental test blades purposely destroyed

Several example specimens of Norman swords.

Noah G. examines a solid steel bar Dan repeatedly cut into with his blades without damaging the edges.

Jared C. holds another steel pipe showing test cuts millimeters deep.
Milan Petricevic teaches basics of Italian rapier:
Matt Larsen instructing on core groundfighting techniques:

See many more photos here:

Armored Fighting Photos | Prize Playing Photos | Test Cutting Photos | Vendors Photos

More on the Event here



Ben R. and Casper B. of Provo start the morning off with some waster play.

Tim Sheetz strikes hard in the Prize Playing. This ain't boffer play!

Close-in moves with steel blunts between Stu F. and Tim S. during the Prize bouting.

Tim S. and John C. bout with blunt steel in the Prizing.

Shane Smith floors Matt Anderson in armored combat presentation of Fiore dei Liberi's techniques.

Shane prepares to drop Matt.

Ernie Perez test a sharp blade and his cutting skill on a straw mat.

A 15 vs. 15 clash of group sparring.

Members of ARMA NYC, Louis and Russell, display their blunt steel free-play.

Alexander Kiermyer teaching the Messer

Hans Heim instructing on Langenmesser

Gary Grzybek of ARMA NJ examines a recently forged blade by Dan Maragni

Members look on
as seniors spar

Jake N. & Tim S. go at it for some intense free play

Attending Bart W's sword class.

Members practice in Hans& Alex's longsword class.

Eric G. & Todd S. practicing rapier

Jake N. shows off his custom sparring helm.

John C. gives a talk on fighting.

A family friendly event

Joel Thompson & John Sheetz take a break

Raffling off gifts

Waster time!

Derek Wassom shows off his new maile tattoo -- riveted of course

Eric Gregory's splendid
arming sword, c.1620 side by side with a modern replica.

For appreciation John presents Hans & Alex with gift art.

The nifty official ARMA water bottle!

John C. & Stacy C. free-play with blunt steel sword & buckler

John C. & Gary G. demonstrating full-speed close-in sword counters

Shane & Matt do armored fighting techniques

Joel T. & Matt A. perform technique & counter

Joel defends against the "death blow"

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