I research and teach medieval and Renaissance Italian swordsmanship (I have a PhD in recreating historical martial arts), blog about it, write books about it, have developed a card game to teach it (which involved founding another company, and crowdfunding), and run Swordschool.
And as if that wasn't enough, you can even contact me here.
Who doesn’t love Fiore’s art of arms? I mean really, it’s got everything. If you’re into medieval stuff, it’s the best-documented knightly sword, with source manuscripts dating back to the late 14th century. If you’re into any kind of unarmoured fencing, this system lays down the eternal fundamental rule: parry and strike. Then takes that idea and riffs on it with exchanges, breaks, and some very cool tricks.
I’ve been working with Fiore dei Liberi’s art of arms since first coming across a dodgy photocopy of the Pisani Dossi manuscript in the early nineties, and have been developing my interpretation and teaching classes regularly in the system since 2001. I've encapsulated my understanding and teaching method in The Complete Medieval Longsword Course.
This course bundle includes:
The Medieval Longsword Complete Course
The Medieval Dagger Course
Fundamentals: Footwork Course
The Longsword course is organised into nine main sections.
All my courses come with a 30-day money back guarantee. If you buy it but find it’s not for you, then just let me know and I’ll refund you with a couple of mouse clicks.
But I'm confident you'll love it. Why? Because so far less than one student in 400 has asked for a refund, and we get testimonials like this one from Jason:
I was living in a historical martial arts desert during the pandemic, so I started with Swordschool's free introductory class for longsword and was immediately hooked. Guy provided clear instruction with video demonstration. I was able to run a small Fiore study group working through the materials here to jump start me into using the manuscripts themselves. Guy provided that necessary bridge that I needed to into being able to interpret and work through the material first hand. And best of all, he was only an email away if I had questions. I would absolutely recommend these courses to anyone who needs a historical martial arts starting point, especially if you are trying to enter into this world of swordsmanship on your own or to challenge your interpretation of your own art or to try a new historical form. – Jason James
We have to move. If a shark stops swimming it dies- and if we stop moving it doesn’t take long before the problems mount up. We can get away with it for a bit longer than sharks, but sooner or later the bill comes due.
Swords are cool- cool enough to get people who have never even considered taking up a physical activity for fun before to actually start training. There are huge long-term health benefits to regular exercise, pretty much regardless of what that exercise is.
But no historical martial art is optimised for long-term health. It can’t be: the immediate needs of surviving the sword fight are more important than the possibility of eventually developing knee problems or back pain.
The specific ranges of motion required by a given sword fighting style may be quite extreme (such as in a rapier lunge), but they will never be comprehensive: in no style ever do you do a gentle forward stretch with a curved back, or indeed arch as far back as you can sensibly go, or even just touch your heel to your arse to stretch your quads. Those ranges of motion are good for us, but not included in the martial arts themselves.
I intend to be swinging swords around in various historical manners for decades to come, and I’m already 48. It is therefore necessary to have a physical practice aimed at filling in the gaps, and keeping this carcasse in sufficiently good shape that I can be whacking my friends over the head with blades when I’m 90. I also need to be able to teach my students how to do the same thing- and there’s the rub. Every body is different, and so every training regime should be tailored to the individual. And every body changes over time- ideally getting fitter and stronger, but at least not deteriorating any faster than we can help. Which means that you can’t just learn a routine now and stick with it forever, if you want the best results for the least effort.
I cover the fundamentals of how to train in my book The Windsor Method: The Principles of Solo Training and we follow those principles in class. But the book doesn’t include much in the way of specific exercises, because it was intended to lay out the principles, not cover every possible practice. The book will tell you how to train, and how to prioritise your training time, but it doesn’t tell you whether you should be doing push-ups or lunges right now.
To create our practice we need a comprehensive suite of exercises to select from, and the skill to choose from that suite wisely. We also need to know what it is we are training for at any given time. Here are some possibilities:
Pre-hab. Long-term injury prevention through movement, range of motion work, breathing and strength training. This is perhaps 50% of all my training.
Conditioning. Increasing our strength, speed, range of motion, or other attribute, through exercises of various kinds. This is about 40% of my training.
Warming up and warming down: preparing for a specific kind of movement (such as strength training, rapier footwork practice, a longsword tournament bout, or any other high-intensity activity), and promoting recovery afterwards. You may need to warm up for pre-hab or conditioning, of course.
A specific exercise such as an overhead press, or a push-up, or a hamstring stretch can be used in all three of these situations- but how we use it will differ.
I run a Trainalong training session over Zoom three mornings a week, and usually structure them like so:
Section One- warm-up.
1. Running a diagnostic. Gentle joint rotations from toes to fingers, with a few squats and some gentle range of motion work. This tells me whether I need to pay attention to a specific area, and whether the session I had in mind is likely to be a good idea.
2. Full range of motion of the spine
3. Shoulder stability work
Section Two: conditioning, focusing on my own areas of weakness, especially forearms.
1. Some kind of strength work, often bodyweight or kettlebells
2. Leg stability work such as seven-way legs, or kicking practice
3. Forearm conditioning
Section Three: skills practice
1. Some kind of footwork
2. Some kind of weapon handling (though often disguised as stick conditioning drills or bladebell exercises). These are often combined with the footwork, of course.
3. And/or breathing training, such as the Breathing Form.
Section Four: recovery
1. Some breathing
2. Some stretching, especially of the legs
3. Forearm and leg massage (which you may be familiar with from my free Human Maintenance course)
4. A very short meditation
5. Deliberately finishing.
Seeing it broken down like that doesn’t reflect the experience of it. The sections will blend into each other, and overlap- we may intersperse arm weights with footwork, for example. I very often include planks and other “core” work in with the spine range of motion or hip/knee stability exercises. The full-body survey at the beginning and the warm-down ending sequence tend to be quite consistent. I also adjust the training depending on my own health and current needs, and incorporating any requests that the students bring up on the day.
Some of the weird stuff we do sometimes includes jaw relaxation exercises, toe yoga, and finger dexterity drills.
I’ve attached a fairly comprehensive list of the exercises we do as a pdf below. Be warned, it’s just a list, and “Granny’s Scarf” may not mean anything to you just yet. But it should give you an idea of what I mean by ‘comprehensive’.
What about the skill to choose wisely from the list?
That is primarily a matter of mindset. If you go into a session with the intention of finding out what your body needs, and then carefully doing that, you will probably avoid injury, and certainly become better at listening to your body. As every body is different, I encourage my students to adapt or adjust what we’re doing to suit them. I may be recovering from an injury or illness, and be doing some gentle recovery work when we’re twenty minutes in- you may need to be doing push-ups or kettlebells while I’m resting. While the class is doing Turkish Get-ups, a student with a knee problem may be doing her prescribed rehab exercises.
Every exercise can be done at various levels of difficulty. Let’s take the humble push-up for example:
1. Knees on the ground, go down an inch.
2. Knees on the ground, work up to going all the way down.
3. One leg extended
4. Full push-up position, hold
5. Working up to a full basic pushup
6. Different hand positions- three knuckle, two knuckle, one knuckle, prima, seconda, quarta, hands wide, long, staggered, etc.
9. Plyo push-ups, eg clap push-ups, or push-up-twisting-squat-jump-burpees
10. One-armed push-ups
11. One-armed push-ups with different hand positions
12. Plyo one-armed push-ups
And so on.
I may be working on 6, while one student is on 2, and another on 11. Literally every exercise has easier and harder versions, so can be adapted to anyone’s current level.
It is very relaxing to just show up and do as you are told for a while, and indeed having a personal trainer who knows you well and pushes you as needed would be great. But as martial artists, more is expected of us. We can’t be dependent on external forces to guide our training- we must take ownership and responsibility for our own development. And outside a one-to-one coaching session, no trainer can perfectly adapt the class to your needs. But you can.
Sessions are free, or you can chip in some cash. Everyone is welcome, whether you’re super-fit or not fit at all (yet). You won’t hold up the class (or be held up) because we are all moving at our own pace.
I wrote Max Your Lunge in 2007, long before this blog was conceived. It's past time it became a properly formatted post!
My research into Capoferro's Gran Simulacro (1610) has lead me to rethink the lunge (which he calls l'incredibile accrescimento della botta lunga, “the incredible increase of the long blow”). He is absolutely clear about how long the lunge should be, and how much each part of the body moves, and famously defines them on plate 5 of his book. It occurred to me that when following his instructions to the letter, the resulting lunge gives the longest possible strike, in a very short motion of the foot.
The distance that any blow can travel is determined by the position of the fixed foot: how far you can move in a single pass forward is determined by the position of your front foot (as the back foot moves); so in the lunge, the maximum reach is determined by the position of the back foot. Whether your front, moving, foot is next to your back foot or a yard in front of it, affects only how long the action takes, not how far it can go. It is interesting (to me at least) that Capoferro defines the shape of the basic guard position, specifically the distance between your feet (the passo) only in the picture of the lunge; suggesting that the length of your lunge may determine the length of your guard. (You can find a copy of this plate on page 66 of The Duellist's Companion.)
So, how long is the lunge? The distance between your feet is the same as the length of your sword, or “twice the length of your arm” (as Jared Kirby pointed out in his seminar here in February 2007, this is a reference to the proportions of the Vitruvian man), your front knee is advanced slightly past your toes, and your front shoulder is above and slightly past your knee. The back foot pivots slightly on the ball, allowing the heel to slide forward. Your swordarm is completely extended. Drawing a line from the point of the sword to the toes of the back foot shows that the rear leg is almost exactly in line with the swordarm. This led me to wonder how long the lunge was in proportion to the maximum anatomically possible strike.
To discover this length, I lay on my back with my sword in hand, and had a student measure the distance between the outside edge of my left foot, and the point of my sword. This gave me a length of 328cm (129 inches).
We then measured out the same length from the centre of the thrusting target to a point on the floor, and marked the distance off with tape.
Standing on that mark, I placed my sword on the floor and lunged to its length (it has a 42″ blade).
Recovering to guard, and rechecking the position of my left foot, I took up my sword and lunged at the target, following my interpretation of Capo Ferro's instructions, leaving out only the turn of the back foot (which had not been allowed for in the initial measurement). The point of my sword touched the target.
I then turned my back foot, and the sword bent: the increase in the distance was about 10cm, or 4″.
By leaving out the foot turn in the initial measurement, I ensured that the lunge would penetrate a realistic amount, not just touch.
I then marked the spot where the back of my front heel landed,
and withdrew my foot until the toes were a little behind the mark (Capoferro shows the place of the front foot in guard as being directly behind the foot in the lunge). This gave me an exact length for my passo.
I then established my guard position according to the instructions, and lunged again from this position, making sure that the extension came first, and when that was complete, my hips moved forward, my knee went over my toes, and my back foot turned all in the space of time my front foot was in motion. This gave me the longest anatomically possible lunge, with a front foot movement of only about 12 inches, the maximum possible exchange of measure for time.
As a cross-check, I then measured the length of my lunge from front toes to back toes and found it to be about 57 inches, the length of my arm from armpit to fingertips to be 27 inches, so the length of my lunge was a trifle longer that twice the length of my arm.
Having done this myself, I then repeated the whole procedure for a small class of rapier students. Of course, with different length bodies and weapons, the maximum possible lunge was a different absolute length for each student. Out of six students, four men and two women, both women could reach their maximum lunge, and none of the men, primarily due to hip flexibility. However, none could easily recover, or felt comfortable in their maximum positions. More importantly, each student caught sight of an exact, measurable goal; to be able to lunge easily to the maximum distance, and recover fluidly to the correct guard position.
So, it is my belief that Capoferro describes the perfect lunge for his weapon. It is practically impossible to execute any kind of blade action with a full-size rapier while lunging, so Capoferro has us be able to strike from as far away as possible, in as short a time as possible. While your foot is in the air it is very hard to support your blade with strength, and so it is the ideal time for your opponent to counter; minimising the foot movement (by keeping it as far forwards as practically possible) while maintaining the maximum distance of your face from his point (by keeping your weight back) gives you the ideal tactical compromise. Of course, the sword still has a long way to go, but for most of that distance, you have both feet on the ground and can therefore execute blade actions more easily.
So, how do you train to achieve this ideal lunge? stretching, for flexibility, strength training for support and recovery, and going at it little by little. A short lunge that doesn't hurt you is much more useful than a long one that pulls a muscle. But by having an ideal to work towards, we can measure our progress towards an achievable goal.
With thanks to Kevin O'Brien (photographer), Heikki Hallamaa, and Karolina Suominen
What the world really needs right now is obviously a better beginners’ guide to training in Fiore’s Art of Arms, right? So I have created one. So what's special about that?
I always, always, try to instil self-direction into my students. My job is to make myself redundant. I do this in practice by giving even beginners in their very first class some agency to choose what we cover. By the time they get to the seniors class (usually in a year or two), classes are entirely student-led: we cover whatever they need my help with that day.
Books are a very linear model, and while I can lay out my usual path through the enormous range of the Fiore syllabus, that restricts the reader’s agency to an unfortunate degree. But actually, very few of my readers ever read from cover to cover. Everyone skips ahead to the things they are most interested. And why not? They’ve bought the book, they can do whatever they want with it.
So I have figured out how to include gradually increasing levels of choice for the reader/student in these workbooks. The series will comprise several workbooks. The first is the Beginner’s Course, of eight lessons each with about as much stuff as I’d cover in a single 90 minute class. In the first class of the first book, you get one simple choice. In the second class, there’s more freedom.At every stage, if you need prior material to successfully approach the topic at hand, that will be flagged up. So even if you skipped that section for some reason, you can go to the specific prerequisite material and practice that before returning to the thing you want to do next.
There are as many correct paths through the syllabus as there are students to walk them. In this new series I have finally figured out how to represent that on the page.
Every technique, every drill, is presented as written instructions with images from the source manuscript, and over 40 video clips. Each video is linked to with a QR code on the relevant page, so you can just point your smartphone at the page and it will open the video for you. There is abundant space for your own written notes, which is especially necessary when you are not working through the material in the order it appears in the text.
It’s a choose your own path training manual.
Part One covers the following material:
The four guards of abrazare (wrestling)
The first six plays of abrazare
The four steps (footwork)
The three turns (footwork)
With the Dagger
The four blows of the dagger
Disarms against forehand, backhand, and rising dagger thrusts
Counters to the disarms
Arm locks and counters
How to fall safely
A basic takedown/throw
With the Longsword
Six ways to hold the longsword
The seven blows of the longsword
How to parry and strike
How to counter the parry with a pommel strike
How to counter the pommel strike
The exchange of thrusts
Breaking the thrusts
Training on the pell
That's a lot of material- but thanks to the format it’s presented in, it should be thoroughly attainable.
The book is in layout now; all the video clips have been edited and uploaded, the QR codes created, and so on. We even have the covers.
There is a limited number of pre-order slots available, which will help pay for the layout and cover graphic design work, and the editing costs. Pre-orders are for the print version, but also include the ebook.
I hope to get the ebook version out to those that pre-order in a week or so, and the print workbooks ready to ship by the end of this month.
The workbook should be more widely available in May.
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Guy Windsor: a website all about the Renaissance Italian martial arts expert who blends historical accuracy with practical training.