Category: Fencing Culture

The Dutch Experiment – De Hollandsche Methode, Christiaan Siebenhaar, and fencing in the Netherlands in the 19th Century

In the mid-19th century, not that long after the Belgian war of independence, an experiment was taking place in fencing in the Netherlands. The main proponent of this experiment was Christiaan Siebenhaar (1824-1885), fencing master in the Dutch army.[1] In his own words, the purpose of his experiment was to “introduce the Dutch language in the Art of Fencing” so that “soon nobody is found in the Netherlands anymore who teaches this art in a foreign language”.[2] However, the real purpose of this experiment appears to have been more ambitious than that: to create a Dutch School of Fencing...

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Awards for Technical Excellence in HEMA Tournaments

Over the past five years, an increasing number of HEMA tournaments have added a new kind of award, aimed at rewarding fighters who display extraordinary technical fencing skills. The key motivation for this kind of award has been a desire to encourage HEMA competitors to fence in a more technical manner, rather than focusing entirely on those simple yet effective techniques which offer the easiest path to victory in tournaments. This trend also reflects the desire of many in the HEMA community to recognize those fighters who demonstrate grace, skill, and a command of their martial art, independently of...

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Fighting with a monkey ghost on your back

In our studies and practice of HEMA many of us do it to get a bit of a refuge from other things, from worries and concerns, to get away and narrow reality down to a tight focus on just the fun and excitement of fighting. However, for some of us reality tends to still make its presence felt quite clearly, forcing us to act in ways that can easily be misunderstood by our training partners and students. This is made all the more difficult when those issues are something we do not like to, or even can, speak openly...

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“Take great pains in your knightly practices” – A brief review of Medieval and Renaissance training methodologies

Few men are born brave; many become so through care and force of discipline. – Flavius Vegetius Renatus Many pages have been written on the subject of medieval and renaissance combat treatises, every year new translations, books, essays and blogs are added to the bibliography of weapons and combat during the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance. However, the subject on how knights and period fencers trained, especially as related to physical conditioning and strength remains nearly unexplored. There is a mildly generalized understanding that these groups trained their bodies swinging heavy weapons, moving large and heavy objects and throwing...

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The Last Duel, Part 2: Death by Sodomy

Part One of this article examined the famous judicial duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, which was held in Paris in 1386. As it turns out, the description of the event in Eric Jager’s book The Last Duel is rather different from the five surviving medieval accounts of the fight. Part Two will use the medieval sources to reconstruct what really happened in the combat, using HEMA knowledge to interpret the texts. Anatomy of a Duel The final showdown between Carrouges and Le Gris was preceded by lengthy ceremonies, which were themselves preceded by months of...

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What Really Happened at the Last Duel? Part1

According to the website Deadline Hollywood, Studio 8 has hired a screenwriter to turn Eric Jager’s book The Last Duel into a script for a Hollywood movie (Fleming, 2015). This tale, published as nonfiction, is an account of the judicial duel in 1386 between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris over the accusation that Le Gris raped Carrouges’ wife. For most critics and viewers, the film’s relevance to our own time will come from its story of a woman whose rape is hushed up until a man advocates for her. However, the Historical European Martial Arts community will...

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“The Use of Weapons”, René François (1621)

The entry on fencing in René François’ 1621 encyclopedia is a rich source of terminology and practices common in the fencing salles of this period in which France was developing its own native fencing style as well as trying to rid itself of foreign cultural influences. René François was the pseudonym of Etienne Binet, who held the position of Predicateur du roi [King’s Preacher] to Louis XIII. He published several other books, mainly works of hagiography and religious philosophy. His encyclopedia, Essay on Nature’s Marvels and the Most Noble Inventions,1 had considerable success as the raw material of conversation in a world where the currency of elite...

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Adolphe Corthey: A French 19th Century HEMA Pioneer

In the introduction to “The Sword and the Centuries” (1901), Alfred Hutton mentions a curious incident. His fencing group in the London Rifle Brigade were invited to Belgium to put on a display of historical fencing. What can we discover about this Belgian event? What follows is an overview some literary detective work that reveals Adolphe Corthey, a man in every way Hutton’s equal and the powerhouse behind late nineteenth century HEMA in France.

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Meyer Pilgrimage Part 2 – Basel

Almost exactly a year ago I was lucky enough to be taken on a small journey that has been a long time dream of mine; walking in the footsteps of 16th cent fencing master Joachim Meyer, visiting the city where he spent many years teaching as Fechtmeister; Straßburg. I shared some of the things we believe we know about his life then, in an article entitled ‘Meyer Pilgrimage Part 1 – Straßburg‘. This year I was very happy to be invited to take on leg 2 of that pilgrimage, to visit the city where Joachim Meyer was born; Basel, and...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part IV – Wounds caused by the saber

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the fourth part: Wounds caused by the saber Introduction Soldiers and officers in the army of Napoleon led a life full of risks and sometimes the list of injuries a soldier could receive in his career was absolutely impressive. Marshall Nicolas-Charles Oudinot (1767-1847) was injured about 25 times in his military career (Haythornthwaite, 2002a, p.47): 1793: ball in the head (Haguenau) 1794: leg broken by ball (Trèves) 1795: five saber cuts, one ball (Neckarau) 1796: four saber cuts,...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part III

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the third part: Individual martial prowess on the battlefield Stories about individual swordsmen are the most fascinating ones and in this chapter I will briefly present some spectacular stories of individual sword or saber wielding bravery on the battlefield. The power of cavalry lied in a mass force of thousands of armed men, augmented by the speed and weight of their horses, which made them into a huge and heavy hammer to smash the enemy, as...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part II

Continuing with his series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the second part: Antoine Fortuné de Brack: Avant-postes de cavalerie légère (1831) De Brack was a French officer who participated in several military campaigns of Napoleon and who obtained the Legion of Honor for his conduct in the battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809). From 1807 till 1812 he was member of the 7th Hussars and from 1812 till 1815 he served in the 2nd Lancers of the Guard (the famous Red Lancers). After the defeat of Napoleon he went...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part I

“The sword is the weapon in which you should have most confidence, because it rarely fails you by breaking in your hands. Its blows are the more certain, accordingly as you direct them coolly; and hold it properly.” – Antoine Fortuné de Brack ([1831], 1876, p. 51) Though Napoleon (1769-1821) started his own military career as an artillery officer and achieved several victories by clever use of cannons, edged weapons still played an important role on the Napoleonic battlefield. Swords and sabers could dominate battles and this was certainly the case in the hands of experienced cavalrymen. The general...

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Chivalry East of the Elbe, Part I

Introduction: So what happened to the Second Estate? Most of my own HEMA-related historical research in the last ten years has been focused on the Free Cities and City States which are the origin of so many of the known fencing manuals. But that doesn’t mean one ought to ignore the obvious links of the Second Estate of the warrior aristocracy to the legacy of historical fencing. Knights were a real thing and were definitely involved in the development and practice of fencing in the medieval period. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, knights are not easy to precisely define or understand as a phenomenon. Nor is...

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The nature of the work ahead of us

Our personal goals in studying HEMA are varied, complex and individually quite different. For myself, I try to understand how and why it is designed the way it is as a martial art. That means it is not enough mimicking the movements described in the manuals, since just doing that, in my opinion, is an empty gesture without real meaning. And not understanding the why means we can’t really understand the how either, given that the sources are always incomplete and inferior to receiving direct instruction such as the authors and fencers of old themselves had. Issues that can...

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Resources on Medieval Literacy Part III

The 14th Century: Famine, war, plague and demographic collapse.  The rise of the vernacular and vernacular literature.  The paper mill spreads north of the Alps.  Secular schools.  Precursors of the printing press.  The Three Fountains of Italy.  The Brethren of the Common Life, Devotio Moderna, and the lay scriptoria.  Maeren and the Pratica della mercatura.  Books of Hours, the Commonplace book.  Books of Adventure and Romance.  The Humanists and the new Universities. This is the third in a series of articles about literacy in medieval Europe, intended as a resource for historical fencers, researchers in the HEMA and WMA...

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Meyerozzo: The influences of the Bolognese method in German Rappier

There are many reasons why I devote much of my time and my energies on what Joachim Meyer has exhibited in his treatises. But the main reason I decided to get closer to the Freifechter of Basel was the desire to learn his method of two-handed sword, and possibly the influence of the Bolognese school, which was my best reference point some years ago. But what was my desire really born from? The answer can be found in a very popular figure in historical fencing, at least here in Italy. Of course, I am referring to Jacopo Gelli. Over the years, with...

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Fencing and Modernity

What is a Fencer? Part II The sword is one of the most powerful symbols of our culture. But how does the sword and fencing fit into our modern world? And what defines modernity? Today, we take a deeper look at what it means to be a fencer. We dive into the soul of men to get a glimpse of the ancient battle between good and evil. Let there be light!    His education had been neither scientific nor classical – merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he...

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An open-hearted letter about why I rarely fight in tournaments

Every now and then I get the question why I don’t take part in tournaments. The answer to that question is both very personal and complex and I always feel that it is difficult to properly explain the reasons eye-to-eye, especially to people who do take part in and enjoy them. Futhermore the public debate between those who take part in tournaments and those who don’t oftentimes gets very simplistic and heated with lots of misunderstandings on both sides. For that reason, and since I know others also feel a certain pressure that they have to and are expected...

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Skalastet – Sami quarterstaff & spear fighting tradition in Northern Sweden

Little is known of any indigenous martial arts traditions of Scandinavia, and while the Icelandic tales, Konungs Skuggsjá and Olaus Magnus give us some clues and Glima still remains both in its modern sport form and, to a lesser degree, in its older combat form, very little else can be found that doesn’t find its roots in Germanic, Italian, French or Asian traditions. However, just going back about 180 years we find a still living staff fighting tradition in the North of Sweden, among the Sami, called “Skalastet“. Below are two stories told by the priest Petrus Laestadius who served as a missionary  in...

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Concerning the Rules of Tournaments

This article is to some extent a reply to Γιώργος Ζαχαρόπουλος’s article in which he points out the conflicting requirements that tournament rules have to address. Ζαχαρόπουλος examines tournaments under three aspects: safety, scoring and spectacle. Safety certainly is a crucial aspect as we want to simulate a process of mutual harming and killing while avoiding actual injuries. Regarding the set of rules, the question arises if possibly restricting or unrealistic equipment should be prescribed and if dangerous attacks such as targeting the hands or other insufficiently protected areas should be banned. Safety is a matter of discretion and...

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Fechtordnung of the City of Solothurn

Below are three versions of the Fencing Ordinance of the Swiss town of Solothurn, first the original, then the English translation, then a German re-statement.  All translations are mine. At the time, Solothurn was a full member of the Swiss Confederacy and a very important supplier of mercenaries, especially to the French court. 239. Fechtordnung Ordnunge des fåchtens halb 23. Juli 1546 frytage vor Jacobj appostoli fechtschuel             Es ist vor Schultheß und Rat erschinen der ersam Hans Tågenscher der kürsiner unnd angezoygt, wie er willens ein fåchttschule zehalltten unnd mencklich umb sin gelltte in nachfolgender gestalltte zeleren: [1]           4sh...

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Historical overview of the Vadi family

Historical overview of the Vadi family Chronology from the X to the XIX centuries House on which the Prestige of Aristocracy was bestowed, raised the banner of Nobility Editor’s note: Philippo di Vadi Pisano was a 15th century Italian fencing master famous for, among other things, having some time after 1470 written a fencing treatise entitled ‘De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi’.  The teachings were probably inspired by the teachings of Fiore de’i Liberi. In Primis Before the first millennium some Ilvati, Liguri coming from Vada Sabatia, called in the ancient essays and in the maritime itineraries Vada Sabatium – Vadis Portus  – de Vadis (today Vado Ligure, city of the Vadi [1]), settled in the North of Etruria and in the South of Pedemontium (Piedmont). The Ilvati started spreading in the nearby areas. Moved by the entrepreneurial spirit and the commercial skills typical of Ligurian people, they made deals and agreements with the political class local Signorie, especially with the Papal States and, later on, with the Savoia. Year 1059: Florence, Papal States Gherardo dei Conti di Borgogna ruled. He became Pope on 9th December 1058 and remained in office till his death under the name of Niccoló II (he was the 155th Pontifex of the Catholic Church). He appointed Valentino Vadi of Pietro Vadi, feudatory and Gran Dominante of Vada and Populonia, as Chief of the Roman Armies.     Year 1077: Corsica, Republic of Pisa In 1077...

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The use of the sword in the Great War: Faded glory or deadly efficiency?

 “Now’s your change, Charles – after them with the sword!’  With a thunder of hooves, Hornby led 1st Troop in hot pursuit of the Germans, followed a short while later by 4th Troop.  The Dragoon Guards caught up with the Germans – from the 4th Cuirassier Regiment – in the village of Casteau, but as well as the patrol they were also confronted by a large group of enemy cavalry.  Undaunted, Horby drew his sword and charged.”  With these words, Adrian Gilbert (2014, p. 16) describes the very first moment of the first major battle the British fought in the...

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On Tournament rules

Well I guess this is the “hot potato” of the HEMA community! I am sure that a lot of other people before me and surely a lot of others after me will deal with the subject. First of all I have to let you know that I never participated in any tournament due to restrictions of the previous association I was member of (you know who!) . Still I am planning to do it if my finances and my 44 year old bones will allow me. I have sparred with dozens of people all these years of various size and ability in order to learn and enjoy our art. The reason for dealing with this issue now is because we are planning to organize international HEMA events in Greece in the near future. Furthermore the spark which ignited my thoughts was LONGPOINT 2014. I read comments on FB about how dissatisfied were some people with tournament rules this year but I also read the organizer’s reply on it: that rules have to be tested in order to be abolished. I completely agree with this statement: no matter if the rules of LONGPOINT were good or bad, they were ideas tested and partially proved. HEMA as a community is very young to this “sport tournament” thing therefore mistakes are allowed. If you do not try things you will never understand...

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Meyer Pilgrimage Part 1 – Straßburg

We all share the same love for our personal and shared discoveries of a forgotten European martial arts tradition and studying it we all learn to know some important and commonly known names like Liechtenauer, Fiore, Ringeck, Talhoffer, Kal, Vadi, Marozzo, Fabris and Silver etc. Most of us study their texts and the numerous anonymous ones somewhat generically but as we continue on or journey many of us also end up choosing to go down a more narrow street, focusing on one master only. As many know, for me, that street is the Joachim Meyer street, and while certainly studying other sources,...

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Selling the Fencing “Master” – On Georg Hager’s Vers, or: Earning Honours and Social Advancement in the Early Modern Age

In the early 1550s, the Nuremberg Meistersinger Georg Hager wrote: Wer brauchen wil die löblich kunst, von einem meister sol ers leren, Nicht von einem winckel[1] fechter; sunst hatt er die kunst nicht mit eren[2]. Which translates as: Who wants to use the praised art shall learn it from a master, Not from a bazaar fencer, else he has the art without honours. Andre Paurnfeyndt in the first printed Fechtbuch of 1516 had written: So du von ainem maiſter ſchwercz oder von ainem vermerten[3] freifechter lerñſt, vnd nit von den winckel fechterñ als wan ain plinter den anderñ furt vnd fallen ped in graben. Which translates as: May you learn from a sword master or from a sworn Freifechter, And not from one of those bazaar fencers as if one blind man leads another and they both fall into the ditch The first obvious difference is that Paurnfeyndt straight out says that a Winkel­fechter will not teach you well; Hager’s approach is different – he acknowledges you may learn the art, but there is another quality that the student will lack. Noble Honour To translate the final phrase “sunst hatt er die kunst nicht mit eren” with the meaning of “else he has the art dishonourably” or “else he has the art but [the art is] without honour” in my view misses an essential element of “eren” (which is,...

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The use of sword behind the shield wall and phalanx

‘…With this, he drew the sharp blade at his side, a powerful longsword, and gathering his limbs together swooped like a high-soaring eagle that falls to earth from the dark clouds to seize a sick lamb or a cowering hare. So Hector swooped, brandishing his keen blade. Achilles ran to meet him heart filled with savage power, covering his chest with his great, skilfully worked shield, while above his gleaming helm with its four ridges waved the golden plumes Hephaestus placed thickly at its crest. Bright as the Evening Star that floats among the midnight constellations, set there the...

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Sword staff: The sword of the poor!

Original article by Eytichios Tzirtilakis. Translation into English by George E. Georgas Once upon a time in the Byzantine Empire, the wooden swords were commonly used as weapons. From the time of the legendary Byzantine hero Basilios Digenis Acritas up until present day, this tradition was kept alive. I here present the weapon of the poor people of Crete; a medieval tradition that is quickly fading away at the dawn of the 21st century. The sword staff or sword stick is a staff with the shape of a curved sword; i.e a wooden sword. This wooden sword is not a training sword such as bokken, instead it is a strong wooden construction made from a thick and hard type of wood.  This brilliant symbol of a world fading away, the sword staff, hides all the power of Crete and all the ignorance of our age. In a few short decades the most popular weapon of the rebels of Crete has been forgotten even as memory. And the sadest part of all of this is that this weapon has its roots all the way back in the medieval empire of Greeks. The Eastern Roman Empire! The sword staff is exactly what its name says. It is a staff, in the shape of sword. It is a wooden sword. But it is not a replica of sword or a training weapon or even a game...

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The secret, dangerous military life of medieval superstars,

Anglophones are taught from an early age to believe firmly in the notion of the inevitability of progress, which is one of our strongest, albeit secular, religious tenets. We all know that life before the era of the car and the jet was ‘nasty, brutish, and short’, and even worse for Americans, frequently inconvenient. Therefore it follows quite reasonably that we, as a people, know very little about the Middle Ages, and even less about anyone who wasn’t either English or a King or preferably, both. Even these people are known to us primarily from 1970’s Monty Python films, comic books...

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Towards a new approach in HEMA-tournaments: Let’s fence naked!

The end of a new year and the beginning of a new year is for many people the ultimate occasion to launch new resolutions: losing weight, stop smoking, not spending too much money on certain things etc., etc.  Some of us even have specific HEMA-resolutions: train more, daily swinging of the kettle bell, running once a week or why not… saving money for that beautiful sword you saw?  With this text, we want to propose a new resolution: get rid of your protection and let’s fight naked! In December 2011 Mike Cartier of the Meyer Freifechter Guild wrote a splendid article in which he enthusiastically – and for some of us even controversially – proposed to lay down our protection and to start fighting as our ancestors did in the Fechtschule.[1]  This means we have to take away all our protection when we fight or better… only rely on our own skills and sword by means of protection. Mike Cartier’s text was for some members of the Hallebardiers (Brugge, Belgium) a revelation. One of our main reasons to start with this way of fencing was our growing unhappiness about the present tournaments in the HEMA-world.  We don’t criticize the great talented fighters today and the enormous efforts certain clubs dedicate to organize world famous tournaments.  The problem is different, because we see several things which are in our opinion not...

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HEMA and politics

Looking at the recent “sexistic HEMA banner debate” I really feel a concern about how quickly these women and men who object have been disregarded as rabid feminists by some. For some reason that happens quite often with feminism. Feminists are regarded as overly angry women that need to calm down and are treated as somewhat ignorant and single-minded, like children, instead of people who strive to create equality for more than half of our population and for that reason deserve our respect. No, there wasn’t any ill-will, intentional sexism etc on the behalf on any of the involved. However that...

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The Art of Control – Fechtschule Manifesto 2

Fencing with the Sword is nothing other than a discipline, wherein your force strives together with your sword  in placement so that one with the other, using care and agility, artfulness, delicacy and manliness, are at need the same both in strikes and in other handwork one is obliged to, excepting when one is not in a serious situation, thus by such discipline one will be more dangerous and more skillful, and when needing to protect one’s body be more effective. -Joachim Meyer 1570 The  words above are what first drove me to write the original article, I believe what we need to know about how to conduct out art is right there in that quote for us to follow if we choose to. That is really what it boils down to, the desire and will to do it. Without a conscious decision to use control it is not going to be evident. It is a skill we must decide we want as a beginning, the first few steps on a path towards a goal we can see clearly in the books and we desire to emulate. Now that we have established this goal of seeking to experience the art the way our ancestors did in the Fechtschule, or if not that at least the method with which they trained for the Fechtschule events. Clearly they were able to...

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Art of Control (Fechtschule Manifesto) Part 1

“Fencing with the Sword is nothing other than a discipline, wherein your force strives together with your sword in placement so that one with the other, using care and agility, artfulness, delicacy and manlyness, are at need the same both in strikes and in other handwork one is obliged to, excepting when one is not in a serious situation, thus by such discipline one will be more dangerous and more skillful, and when needing to protect one’s body be more effective. This can well and properly be divided into three main parts, namely the beginning, the middle, and the...

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A tear in our beer for Sir Richard Burton

With no little shame, and for lack of time, I would today just very briefly like to suggest a toast for one of the more colourful, and bad-ass looking HEMA pioneers of the British Empire, Captain Sir Richard Burton, explorer, translator, soldier, fencer, orientalist, ethnologist, spy, diplomat, poet and rebel “sexologist”, who died on this very day 1890, with a life time experience enough for ten men. Sir Richard Burton studied fencing under Professor Charles Pons (1793-1885), Maitre d’Armes in Paris, and he was also a member of the infamous Kernoozer’s Club, alongside of men like Baron de Cosson, Egerton Castle...

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Unfolding the cape

Neither a real weapon, nor a simple cloth: the cape in Italian martial arts. The cape is an item of clothing, subject to the rules of fashion and climate, and cannot be described appropriately by measures and rules, therefore it may have various shapes, lengths and widths, it may have a hood, or not. It is typically made of  rather thick and heavy cloth, in order to protect from rain and bad weather, but in milder periods it could just be a short cape attached to a shoulder. However, this is usually a garment worn by the men-at-arms, or fencers, commanders and mercenaries. The famous adventurer and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), brought in front of the Eight of Florence as a result of another stunt, repents “giving me a great reproof and yelled, so to see me with the cape and the others in civilian hood” ”dandomi una grande riprensione e sgridato, sí per vedermi in cappa e quelli in mantello e cappuccio alla civile;” (“La Vita” 1558 – autobiography). As he realizes that, having to discuss their demeanor, he showed up very badly with the cape on him, while his opponent wears “a civilian hood” “mantello e cappuccio alla civile”. In a comment to the same passage from “La Vita” in the edition of 1926, the essayist Enrico Carrara says “the cloak was worn by bad people, unless...

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French fencing guilds

French fencing guilds of Paris, Lille, and Amiens in the 16th and 17th century Translated by Pierre Pichon Edited by Jean Chandler, SDA NOLA, New Orleans & Roger Norling, GHFS/MFFG Finally we have here English translations of French fencing guild documents from the 16th and 17th centuries. These documents contain a wealth of information concerning the practices of the fencing guilds and our hope is that the publishing of these will spur further research and sharing of material within the international HEMA community. Much more is to be found out there so keep digging and remember to spread it. Background These documents were provided to me by Roger Norling who got them from the French historical fencing website at http://jfgilles.perso.sfr.fr Terminology For convenience and ease of comprehension for an English-speaking reader I have substituted some English words for specific terms. The term ‘Serment’ means sworn  (via the Latin word serere, which means ‘to join together’, similar to the English legal phrase ‘sworn-in’), and is used throughout these documents to refer to a group of people joined by an oath.  Frequently the term ‘sermon confrere’ is used to refer to a sworn guild.  I’m substituting the relatively familiar term confraternity though the more archaic term ‘conjuration’ is probably a closer match. Confrérie (‘brotherhood’), seems to usually refer to the larger organization, and is translated as guild.  It could also mean sodality....

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In memory of Lt. Egerton Castle

On this day Sep 16 1920 one of our greatest HEMA Pioneers, Egerton Castle died. Together with men like Cpt Alfred Hutton, Baron de Cosson, Archibald Corble and Kpt Emil Fick and some 50 more men around Europe, he struggled to learn and understand the martial arts systems of medieval and Renaissance Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His most well-known book on the topic is Schools and Masters of Fencing, but he also authored several novels together with his wife, Agnes, which commonly included scenes of fencing based on his understanding of European martial arts. He was also a member of the Kernoozer’s club, a small British gentlemen’s club focused on the study of medieval arms and armour, and to some degree the use of them. One of the members was Baron de Cosson, who owned the two antique fechtschwerter that was used as a template for the replicas used by Cpt Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle and others. Much more can be said about this great man, but time is short so I will just suggest a toast in his memory today. And as a freaky coincidence there may be more reason for a toast, although again for a rather sad reason. On this day in Marchdorf, Swabia, a man called Johannes Liechtnouw was murdered although the year is unclear. The only notes of this mention...

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Regarding the USFCA HEMA instructors program.

With all due respect to those who have opposing views regarding the new USFCA Master title, and to Ken Mondschein, Jerry Benson, Walter Green of  of Salle Green and Jeff Lord, Tom and John Farmer of the Knoxville Academy of the Blade, and Mark Logan of Salle Green  – and feel free to correct any errors or misunderstandings. I sincerely believe the USFCA program for certifying instructors for historical fencing has been a very badly managed affair which could have ended up much more positively and constructively through a reasonable degree of transparency and inclusiveness and with some other vital decisions made in the process. Our “community” may be split into many smaller subcommunities, but we are united by ultimately having similar goals, despite us using different methods and approaches and focusing on different aspects of HEMA. Handled wisely, we could have seen a great collaboration between the USFCA and HEMA. As it is, we now run serious risk of having this blocking any such future attempts for quite some time. This has been discussed for about a year and a half, although not in any official capacity, and was seemingly only reluctantly presented on a few forums, then as something quite different than what we now see. Now we are presented with something that to us is even more controversial than when first described. The originally suggested first level of “Initiateur d’Escrime...

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Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence

Armed civilian conflict was a reality of early modern life, both arranged duels and spontaneous violence. Many masters speak lucidly of deadly combat, or claim direct experience of it, which should not surprise given their violent trade. Nonetheless many young men learned to fence, and relatively few perished by the sword. Examining sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy (contrasted with France)1 evidence suggests that despite a vibrant fencing culture, and a generally more violent society, death by the sword in civilian duels was not inordinately common. Most violence fell outside of duels, and stopped short of killing, while most fencers would never need to apply their skills to lethal effect. Comparing the emphasis of the manuals, with the actual form and incidence of civilian violence, we must question the extent to which these arts were conventional, rather than purely pragmatic self-defence systems. This is not to disparage the traditions we study, or deny their value as a preparation for combat. But rather to acknowledge, celebrate, and understand the entirety of historical fencing practice: when it was used with lethal intent, and when not. The French Exception Carroll argues that few duels were recorded in France before the 1520s, the popularity of duelling spreading from Italy, and that: Unlike the tourney, judicial combat was a rare event and widely despised. Olivier de la Marche … witnessed thirty major jousts and tournaments in his...

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The chronology of fencing books

At various points discussions have surfaced again and again, which question the chronology of the fencing styles and schools of late medieval and renaissance times. The question, who could have been the first fencing master and who “invented” a certain kind of fencing, leads often to a discussion on the chronology of fencing books. This ignores a simple fact: all fencing books are more or less products of compilation and/or plagiarism. The percentage of innovation and invention in such a book is vanishingly low. This is due the fact that the art of fighting is older than the art of writing. Thus the claim of uniqueness is always in question regarding the contemporary work of the said authors and masters. Most fencing books were created in the high age of the masters where the art – if successful – had been spread already. For us today the books and the art within is unique, but only because it is not part of our everyday life. So we seek out to find a chronology of unique works where in fact there had been only an evolution of common ground with some extraordinary peeks. The task to create a chronology is more than difficult. A lot of effort has been done to find dates and places of origin. But the accuracy of these dates is more than questionable for at least two reasons: 1....

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What is a fencer?

I know I am not the only one who feels fencing is more than training, research, techniques, sparring, and competitions. Being a fencer means something—but what, exactly? Some of the best people I know are fencers, and their personalities are a part of their fencing. Their greatness as humans carries over to their fencing and vice versa. I have witnessed students and teachers grow and better themselves as a result of their commitment to these arts. I certainly feel that I have made a positive personal journey over the last decade. Much of it can be attributed to this art. I do not mean ‘good’ here as in someone who altruistically makes the world a better place, but rather, ‘good’ as in personal growth. That distinction is counter-intuitive for the modern man because the ideal historical swordsman is a far more violent creature than what is acceptable today. He would use his sword to defend even minor infractions on his honour, which seems rather excessive by today’s standards. Likewise, practising HEMA raises a few eyebrows once people understand the level of contact that we allow. “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?“ But there is no way around it. Fencing is anachronistic. Regardless of the fact that having a propensity for lethal violence or training for it is considered bad in today’s civilian world, I still think...

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Lady Fencers – transcript of an article in The Harmsworth Magazine, issue July 1899

I sought this article out of simple curiosity and was intrigued and surprised by the content. At face-value it seems a charming snapshot of Victorian society, the Facebook of its time. On reading, however, I was struck by the attitudes it contained, and how they compare with those facing women in fencing today. Just four short sides of print, with eight accompanying illustrations, it depicts the changing nature of women’s roles in society at the time, at least of the upper classes. Women are referenced only in relation to their father or husband, but I dug a little deeper...

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A mentality of fear – and its importance to fighting

“If you want to learn how to fight properly and effectively with the long sword, so that you may, without gloves and without all armour, guard your hands and your entire body against all kinds of weapons, against sword, against spear, against halberd, against long knife and also against other weapons, then firstly mark that you know well the strikes and the steps, and mark that you always turn your hands upward with the hilt, and always hide behind the sword, and hold the head close to the hilt…” -Hugo Wittenwiler, ca 1493 The starting point This time I will...

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Die Vorpal-Klinge!

This short movie shows a glimpse of the world of the Collegiate Fencing, the still living child of the Fechtschule tradition. For more reading, look at the excellent article An overview of German collegiate fencing traditions by Jörg Bellinghausen. Also the article Academic Fencing might be of interest. And finally, the blog of Christoph Amberger has a lot of great articles relating to this topic and...

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Meyer’s masters

On this day, 443 years ago, Fechtmeister Joachim Meyer published his magnificent fencing treatise ‘Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens’. Exactly one year later, on February 24th 1571, he died from sudden illness, while travelling to take up his position as Fechtmeister at the court of the Duke of Mecklenburg in Schwerin. Currently, I am writing on a couple of books about the Polearms of Joachim Meyer, and to commemorate both Meyer’s legacy and his far too early death, I am here sharing a rough draft for one of the chapters, as a small ‘teaser’. Please...

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Giovanni Battista Gaiani (1619) – An Italian Perspective on Competitive Fencing

  The relative benefit and importance of competition in modern HEMA is a frequent subject of debate. Despite differences in context, it is arguable that historical perspectives might usefully inform present discussions. This article reviews some examples of competitive fencing, primarily from Italian sources, and in particular Giovanni Battista Gaiani’s Arte di maneggiar la spada a piedi et a cavallo from 1619.1 There is a long, well-documented history of public contests at arms in Italy, both plebeian2 and patrician.3 Throughout this history, the boundaries between performative and purely practical fighting were often permeable. During knightly exhibitions of arms, combats...

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The WhatChaMaCallit-Schwert

In Sweden we have a saying; “A loved child has many names” and looking at what is today called a federschwert this seems to be true for this type of sword as well, at least if we think of it in general terms as a sword for training. Historically, the simplest choice of word was of course schwert, and it was certainly the most commonly used alongside of the less used langen schwert, but terms like paratschwert and fechtschwert have also been used historically, at least in non-fechtbucher sources, although it is hard to tell what the words actually mean. This...

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In memory of Cpt. Alfred Hutton

  Today we raise our glasses to the memory of the 19th cent. HEMA-pioneer Cpt. Alfred Hutton who died on this very day, at the age of 71, on Dec 18 1910, 102 years ago. Cpt. Hutton was an officer of the King’s 1st Dragoon Guards as well as an antiquarian and renowned fencing master and swordsman. He is without doubt one of the most important men in the first wave of HEMA-pioneers, alongside of men like Carl Thimm, Lt. Egerton Castle, Gustav Hergsell, Sir Richard Burton, Josef Schmied-Kowarzik, Hans Kufahl, Pehr Henrik Ling, and Emil Fick, men whose importance to our current research simply can’t be overestimated...

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Remember Mair

On this day, December 10, 433 years ago, Paul Hektor Mair was hung at the age of 62, convicted of embezzlement of the city of Augsburg’s funds. He had spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, often throwing big parties with important people, likely in order to build good connections with the most influential people of the city. To maintain this lifestyle, he abused his position as the City Treasurer of Augsburg to steal money from the city. He managed to uphold this for several decades and his abuse of his position was only discovered after a disgruntled assistant reported him in 1579. Sentence came quickly and he was summarily hanged, not allowed the more noble beheading. However, about 30-40 years earlier he had initiated what can only be described as an amazing but slightly insane project. At a time where the book printing has been available for three generations and books could be made in large numbers of cheap copies with good return of investment, he decides to invest in a project where three hand written and lavishly painted manuscripts encompassing all known European martial arts are to be created. Consequently, he sets out to create the most magnificent work on European martial arts ever made. For this purpose, and for his own passion of the Arts, he also invested in collecting older books on martial arts, like...

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The Dussack – a weapon of war

In my opinion the dussack doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves in the historical fencing community, despite the fact that it was a highly important weapon in the old fencing guilds. It is not really studied properly, probably due to many commonly believing that the wooden/leather waster is all that the dussack is, not realizing that it in reality was a complex-hilt steel sabre that became more common in the first quarter of the 1500s and was used well into the mid 1600s, after which it more and more transformed into the proper sabre. Interestingly though, in its wooden training...

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Why Fight? The Objectives of Liechtenauer’s Fencing

When we hear how people describe the art of fencing in the Middle Ages, we often hear them say that it was all about fighting to the death, or at least to harm the opponent in a way that he couldn’t continue fighting. Preferably as quickly as possible. Kill him before he kills you, that’s the way to survive. In fact, I personally think that this notion is utter nonsense. There may have been individual duels like that, no doubt, but in my opinion that was not the prime intention of the masters. So let me invite you to dig a bit deeper and explore why people fight and what that might tell us about the arts we practice. Most HEMA practitioners today can explain quite clearly, why they fight. It is challenging, it is demanding, it is fun. But what was it like back in the day when Liechtenauer’s teachings were written down? What was the actual purpose of a duel in the times of Peter von Danzig or Jude Lew? Why did the duellists risk their physical integrity and what was their aim? I’m convinced that many discussions we have in modern HEMA are actually linked to these questions, and the answers may be controversial. First of all, let us make no mistake about one crucial thing: humans are social beings and most have a strong sense...

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The Wreath or the Cash? On Tournament fighting

“Ey fåår Fächtare Krantz förn ändas Manlige Strijden. The Fighter shall not receive the wreath until the manly battle is ended (according to the rules).” -2 Tim 2:5. I sincerely consider tournament fighting to be vital to our efforts in recreating the historical European martial arts, but I also believe that tournaments can be quite damaging to the fencing and HEMA when done incorrectly, too early and for the wrong reasons. This is a controversial topic, as the tournaments are very popular, but this is not an attack on individual fighters or tournament organizers. We are all to varying degrees guilty of the sins...

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The Rose and the Pentagram

This article is written to accompany the recent article about the mysticist, and possibly even fencer and a Freyfechter, Heinrich Agrippa. If you haven’t read the article, it is suggested you do so, before reading this article. Die Rose (the Rose) is a longsword, dussack, rappier and quarterstaff technique described by fencing masters starting from about 1516AD. This striking sequence, as used by several masters including, Andre Paurnfeindt, Paul Hektor Mair [1] and Joachim Meyer [2], and several later derivative works [3], has confused some of us as we try to understand the relationship between the name and the application of the technique. To be able to understand Die Rose I believe we need to understand what connotations the renaissance man had to the word rose and with that understanding we can apply it to our interpretations of the technique. The following article might seem like a novel by Dan Brown, but explores some of the ideas the men and women of the Renaissance shared, sometimes in more or less secret societies. Symbolism regarding the human body and strength & weakness, geometrics, angles and actions all tie together in the various illustrations of many fencing treatises of the Renaissance and we need to examine this topic both broadly and deeply. Here, the relationship between the Rose, the Pentagon and the Pentagram are crucial to our interpretations. Having studied the topic for some time, I would suggest that...

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Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a fine student, black magician – and a Freyfechter?

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (15 September 1486 – 18 February 1535) was a German knight, an ambassador, magician, occult writer, theologian, astrologer, and alchemist, and as it appears a soldier and possibly even an independent Freyfechter. Agrippa’s history is fascinating in many ways, full of drama, war, free-thinking, controversy, magic, desperate poverty, several jail sentences and the deaths of two dearly loved and deeply mourned wifes and several children. He was born in the Free Imperial City of Cologne on 15 September 1486, almost exactly a month after the Duke of Austria, Kaiser Frederick III had given the Marxbrüder their first priveleges. The name Agrippa is uncommon at the time and it has been suggested to have been added to his name as a result of him being born feet first, as this was how the Romans were thought to have used the name. However, the city of Cologne is also founded on the remains of the Roman colony Aggripina and his name might therefore refer to his family’s origin in Cologne. Cologne is associated with the House of Austria, the Habsburgers, and Agrippa’s family was of minor nobility who had served the royalty of Austria for many generations. His father directly assisted Emperor Frederick III. Agrippa remained a Catholic throughout his life, but he was also openly sympathetic to the protestant reformist Martin Luther. With this in mind it is interesting to note that another early and contemporary Freyfechter;...

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Didrik von Porat

For some time now I have searched and collected information about the Swedish fencing  Master Didrik von Porat. This is what I have found out. According to his Letter of Nobility, which he got when he was knighted, Didrik von Porat was tutored during his youth. In 1662 he travelled with a Swedish embassy to Russia. It’s unclear what kind of role he had during this trip. But after the return to Sweden he went to Germany to study the art of fencing. And he continued to France to keep studying “…for the most excellent fencing masters until he won...

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The Secret Fechtbuch of the Little Fuggers.

The famous Augsburg family Fuggers are still considered to have been one of the wealthiest families in the world of all times, and since they were based in Augsburg, and also lived in Nuremberg and other well-known centres of fencing, it would only seem natural that at least some members of this family trained fencing in the Liechtenauer tradition. Here are some clues that might just reinforce this thought. The images below are taken from the book Das Ehrenbuch der Fugger (BSB Cgm.9460) from 1545-48. It depicts various members of the family and was probably commissioned by Anton Fugger,...

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Fechtschwert or a blunt longsword?

What kind of steel longsword should one choose for sparring? There are of course many aspects to consider. However, many instinctively discount the so called fechtschwert, since they look too weak and commonly are associated with sports fencing in late 16th century fechtschulen, rather than proper training for combat and duelling. They are simply not seen as “real” swords. Is this really a fair assumption? With this in mind, we can look to the fencing manuals and see what was used by our predecessors. After all, they ought to have had a good grasp on what tools one should...

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Deutsche Fechtkunst im 16. Jahrhundert.

What was it like in a German 16th Century Fechtboden? Here is a glimpse written by Prof. Dr. G Panconcelli-Calzia in 1926, based on his studies of the manuscript entitled “Codex Guelf 83.4 August 8°, which still resides in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. Prof. Dr. G Panconcelli-Calzia is a notable author of several books on experimental phonetics and was an early researcher of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Preceeded by the more famous Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle, Sir Richard Burton, and other early fencers in the late 19th century, he tried reviving HEMA in the mid 1920’s, when he was in his 40s. As such he is quite interesting, since he belongs to a second generation of early HEMA recreationists. However, little is known about how his ambitions actually turned out. And of course, the decades following his publications on Kunst des Fechtens (KDF) saw chaos and turmoil of never before seen proportions, with the rise of the fascist movement in large parts of Europe and the coming WWII, which may explain why we see no more articles on the topic after the 1920s. But, during the years of 1922-48 Panconcelli-Calzia was a professor at the University of Hamburg and during his first  years he wrote several extensive articles on the topic of fencing, both modern and historical. Here is a list of the known articles:...

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Knightly Arts: A true-hearted letter of warning of the sad state of current Christianity.

How did one train soldiers and horses for war in the 17th century? These images give a small glimpse of how this was done in Germany, quite possibly in the city of Siegen, somewhere around the first quarter of the 1600s. These illustrations are taken from Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen’s “Ritter kunst : Darinnen begriffen, I. Ein trewhertziges Warnung- schreiben wegen deß Betrübten Zustands jetziger Christenheit. II. Undersicht aller Handgriffen so ein jeder Cauallirer hochnötig zu wissen bedarff.“ of 1614, and show various forms of practice for war, both for man and horse. In my opinion they are especially...

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How long should a longsword be?

A simple reply would be long enough to reach your opponent. Stupid answer, I know… But the question is also stupid… sort of. Let me explain. Real longswords from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance can range from about 110cm – 150cm with a medium probably about a 120-125cm, which is the “standard” length of most sparring swords today as well, give or take a couple of centimetres. However, when we look at illustrations in the fechtbuchen, we soon discover that the swords shown usually reaches from well into the armpit all the way up to the forehead. We...

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