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.
My father Roger Windsor died on Tuesday 22nd, at home. Sometime in the night- so peacefully that my mum didn’t wake up. He was 83, and lived to see seven grandchildren. Here he is on his 83rd birthday.
Losing a parent at the age of 8 is a tragedy. At 48, it’s a privilege. But still very distressing, very sad.
He left clear instructions for his funeral though, which included the following:
“NO black ties. I have enjoyed my life- be happy for me.”
He had many fine qualities. If there were a prize for best bedtime story reader ever, he’d be a strong contender. He did all the voices. His kids birthday party treasure hunts were legendary. And he spent his entire working life helping people, mostly in the developing world. Perhaps his defining feature was stubbornness, but matched by a profound integrity. Let me tell you a story:
We were on holiday in Aruba (stopping off to or from Peru, where we lived at the time). He insisted I have a go at wind surfing, because I’d done it a couple of times at school some years before.
Just fyi: windsurfing on a reservoir in England as part of a school trip is not like windsurfing in the sea with no supervision.
Before very long, I was drifting helplessly out into the blue, waving frantically for rescue. Some kind American tourists in a tiny motorboat tried to help, and managed to slice up the sail with their propellor.
I was eventually rescued by the chap who ran the board hire place. When he saw the sail he told my dad he’d have to pay for it. But as far as dad could see, their insurance should cover it, and he was being ripped off. Dad was never one to back down, so we eventually walked away with the owner still yelling at us.
Back at the hotel, dad mentioned this to the manager, who told him that actually, on Aruba, the norm was for the renter to take responsibility for that kind of damage. The owner’s insurance wouldn’t cover it.
So we went back to the hire place. The man was astonished to see us back, but my dad apologised, and handed over the cash.
I can’t think of a single example of dad failing to do what he thought was the right thing.
He wasn’t always right, of course. But he was always true.
He didn’t have to understand what I was doing to support it. When I wanted to do English at University, instead of biology, he was baffled, but supportive. When I quit cabinetmaking to teach swordsmanship full time, he was even more baffled, but supportive. To the end I don’t think he ever quite got what the whole sword thing was about- but he didn’t need to, to be very proud of me. I think that’s extraordinary, and I try to model the same for my kids.
We knew the end was coming. He was taken ill at the end of October, and spent a few weeks in hospital while they figured out that they couldn’t fix it. Being a veterinarian he knew the limits of medical science and understood exactly what was going to happen. No bluster, no demanding miracles, no denial, just facing death head-on. Fearless.
And so he came home and spent his last week at home with family, gently fading away.
You may have come across his memoirs, The Veterinary Detectives. Vol. 1: More Sherlock Holmes than James Herriot, and volume 2: A Vet in Peru. He had just about completed volume 3 A Vet for all Regions before he got ill, and he asked me to get it out into the world, so you can expect it in 2023.
As his memoirs attest he lived a full and interesting life and made legions of friends all over the world. I'll miss him horribly, of course. But no regrets.
There is a ton of jargon in most specialised fields, and historical martial arts are no different. A smallsword fencer cares about the difference between a colichemarde and a spadroon; falchion folk distinguish between messer, storta, and hanger. The same is true of academics who study old books and ways of writing (palaeographers. Not to be confused with palaeontologists,who study fossils). The historical martial arts world and academia overlap in many ways, and it’s useful to be able to speak a bit of academese when discussing our work, so I’ve put together an explanation of the more common academic expressions used in our field. The words in bold are the ones I’m defining, and you can find an alphabetised glossary of them at the bottom of the post. Pretty much every word in the list is the gateway to an entire universe of bookish geekery, and more than worthy of an entire post in its own right, so I have provided links to more extended discussions of them in case you have time on your hands. I have manfully resisted getting sucked into the etymology of these words (did you know that “book” comes from the proto-Germanic word “bokiz”, or beech (as in the tree), because beechwood was used for carving words into? Did you want to know? Ok, back to the topic…)
This list is a work in progress- if you think there are words to add, please do email me to let me know, or post the word in the comments below. We're already at 38 from the original 33!
Let’s start with something that should be obvious, but isn’t. What is a ‘book’?
In the Bible, a ‘book’ is a collection of writings attributed to one author, or a major chapter heading. The Book of Genesis, for instance, or The Book of Job. The Bible itself is (we would say) a ‘book’, which is divided up into ‘books’. If the Bible is presented in a single volume, it is a single physical book-like object. Fabris’ Scienza d’Arme comprises “book one” and “book two”, but has always been published in a single volume.
Things get even more complicated when we’re talking about manuscripts. A manuscript is a text that has been written by hand. It’s usually abbreviated as ms or MS, and plural mss or MSS. It could be written on paper, vellum, or anything else, but if it’s written by hand it’s a manuscript. A shopping list scrawled in biro on the back of an envelope is a manuscript. My gorgeous first edition of Capoferro in the photo below is not a manuscript- it was printed in 1610.
Because they are produced by hand each manuscript is different, so you can have a single treatise (a treatment of a subject in depth- I’ll define it further later on) that exists in different forms, such as the four quite distinct versions of Il Fior di Battaglia by Fiore dei Liberi. Each version is of course ‘a book’, bound in a single ‘volume’ but the ‘treatise’ presented in each volume is somewhat different.
If the manuscript is illustrated, it has drawings in it. Most historical martial arts manuscripts are illustrated. But often not illuminated. The difference is, an illuminated manuscript is illustrated in colour, with gold and/or silver leaf. Fiore’s Getty ms barely qualifies as illuminated- he uses gold leaf for the crowns and garters (and silver leaf for the sword blades in the Morgan ms), and the capital F at the very beginning is illuminated too.
A handy rule of thumb: illustrated mss have drawings, illuminated ones are in colour. Text that is written in red (such as chapter headings, or indeed the names Fiore gives to his guard positions) is called ‘rubric’ which these days has come to mean a class or category, because of how red text was used in many medieval mss.
Vellum, or parchment, is a kind of rawhide, usually made from calves or goats, scraped clean, dried, and variously treated. Many but not all manuscripts that have survived from the middle ages were written on vellum.
In the earliest days of writing on something other than clay, wax, or stone, writings on parchment, paper, or papyrus were rolled up into a tube, called a scroll. Then in about 300 AD some bright spark thought they’d fold the sheets in half and stitch them together along the fold, like a modern book. These early books are called codices, singular ‘codex’. It’s got everything to do with how they are made, and nothing at all to do with their content (they do not usually deal with code).
With the advent of pages came the knotty problem of how to number them. In a modern book we tend to number the first right-hand page 1, the other side of it 2, the next one 3, and so on. In manuscript studies we tend to call the first sheet ‘folio 1’. The side that is up when the page is on the right is ‘recto’, and the other side is ‘verso’. So, folio 1r is the recto side of the first folio. “As we see on f27v” means “as we see on the verso side of folio 27”. Numbering pages by folio is called ‘foliation’.
It doesn’t help matters that ‘folio’ also refers to the size of a volume.Books come in various sizes, which are pretty standardised these days. But historically, if you take one sheet of vellum, the size of which is determined by the size of the animal it grew on, and fold it in half, you get a ‘folio’. If you fold it in half again, you get a quarto. One more fold, and you get an octavo. The Getty manuscript of Fiore dei Liberi’s Il Fior di Battaglia is a ‘folio’. Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi is an octavo. This matters because vellum is very expensive, and by folding it smaller you could produce the book in a smaller size using less vellum, saving a lot of money. The size of the book tells us something about how much money the author or publisher had to spend on it. The quality of the handwriting and the extent of the illustrations, and the decoration on the cover also tells us a lot- some very expensive books were small to fit in a pocket, not to save money. But in general, smaller=cheaper.
It doesn’t stop there- the next size down is “duodecimo” (McBane’s Expert Sword-man’s companion is a good example), and it continues down to sexagesimo-quarto! You can find out more about book sizing here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_size
Because vellum was so expensive, and tough, people would sometimes scrape all the ink off a book, and write a different book on the blank pages. A book that has been erased and a new one written over it is called a palimpsest. One very famous example of this is the Archimedes Palimpsest https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3996 in which some numpty-head erased Archimedes’ incredibly rare maths treatise and wrote in some incredibly common religious stuff instead. The deleted (but recoverable) work is called the undertext.
Books are normally bound in quires, gatherings, or signatures, which are a certain number of leaves folded and assembled together, before being stitched along the fold. These quires are stacked and stitched together to make the volume. This sizing convention (folio, quarto, octavo) persisted when paper became more widely available and largely replaced vellum, so Shakespeare’s “First Folio” was printed in that size because of the high status it suggested.
The collation of a book is the structure in which the quires or signatures are bound. Most modern books have a regular number of pages in a quire, but it’s very common for older books to have an irregular structure, and when we collate a book and analyse that structure, it can tell us useful things aboutthe history of the book: what might be missing, what might have fallen out and been put back in the wrong place, whether the book has been rebound during its lifetime, and so on.
Collation is usually abbreviated a,b,c etc to indicate the signatures, with a number afterwards indicating the number of pages. The collation of De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi is: a10 b4 c-d10 e8. This means there are five signatures, the first is 10 folia, so five sheets of vellum folded in half; the second has four pages (so, is made of two sheets), and so on.
Unhelpfully for aspiring scholars, collation also refers to a comparison study between different versions of the same text (such as for instance a comparative study of the four Fiorean mss.)
The printing press was developed in about 1450, and by the standards of the time it took off like a rocket, with the numbers of books printed going up every year. The earliest printed books looked a lot like manuscripts, because at the time, that’s what books were supposed to look like.An incunable (or incunabulum, plural incunabula) is a printed book from the early days of print; the traditional cut-off point is 1500.
You can buy a facsimile edition: a facsimile is an accurate copy of a book. For instance, both the HEMA Bookshelf high-end gorgeous leather-bound edition of the Getty ms is a facsimile, and so is my affordable-end throw-it-in-your-fencing-bag-priced edition. You can imagine what it did to my geeky heart when I realised that the HEMA Bookshelf facsimile went so far as to recreate the actual collation of the original ms!
An exact facsimile is not really an ‘edition’ of the treatise. Edition implies some editorial changes. It would be fair to call my translation and commentary on De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi an edition of the treatise, because it’s not just the facsimile, it’s also a translation and commentary, with an introduction giving background on the book, the author, and the dedicatee.
A gloss is an explanation of a word or phrase, which is why the pdf at the bottom of this post is a “glossary”, a list of such explanations. But, when Peter von Danzig wrote a treatise in which he explains and expands on Liechtenauer's zettel (a set of mnemonic verses), that is also a “gloss”. Historically, glosses would often be written in the margins or between the lines of the original text. It would be fair to describe my own From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practiceas a gloss of Fiore's longsword plays.
So what about their content? What’s the difference between a treatise and an essay and a monograph? This definition from Wikipedia is accurate: “A treatise is a formal and systematic written discourse on some subject, generally longer and treating it in greater depth than an essay, and more concerned with investigating or exposing the principles of the subject and its conclusions. A monograph is a treatise on a specialised topic.”
So, a single treatise may come in many different editions. For instance, Fabris’ Scienza d’Arme was published as a printed book in 1606, but there is also a manuscript version, and of course his original text would have been a manuscript (which as far as we know does not survive).
It is often necessary to transcribe a work, especially manuscripts. This can be done ‘diplomatically’, in which you copy out every character, diacritic (a mark used to distinguish different forms of a character, such as ë, é, etc.) and punctuation mark as accurately as possible, or allowing for more interpretation, such as expanding abbreviations. The word “p˜” appears in the Fiorean manuscripts very often, and represents the word “per”, for. A diplomatic transcription would use p˜, a more liberal transcription would expand it to “per”.
Translation is the process of converting the source text into a different language. There is no translation without interpretation, and there are differing degrees of translation. A literal translation (or metaphrase) converts each word into the target language without reference to the phrase it appears in or the work as a whole. This can lead to gibberish, especially when one word can have many different literal translations. “Match”, for example, could be translated into French as “allumette” (something to light a fire with), “partie” (a game), “rencontre” (meeting), “mariage” (romantic match), “égal” (equal), and so on.It’s generally more useful to do an analogous translation (or paraphrase), which is one where you find the closest match in the target language to the phrase you are translating.
You may do a modernisation while you’re at it- you can for example convert all spellings to their modern form, or even go so far as to update the syntax (the rules of sentence structure. You know a sentence bad is when read it you do).
What about the images?
In a manuscript the images are usually hand-drawn. There are exceptions, usually presentation manuscripts that have the images printed, and the text written in by hand (such as we see in the manuscript version of Fabris’ book, mentioned above). The earliest prints were made by carving the reverse of the image you want out of wood, leaving the lines you want printed untouched. This was then coated in ink and stamped onto the page. These woodcuts are quite characteristic. There's a useful article on how woodcuts were made here: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/exhibitions/history-of-book-illustration/woodcuts/ The The first edition of Marozzo’s Arte dell’Armi had woodcuts, like this one, as borrowed from Wiktenaur:
If you are currently leading classes but think your students are not progressing as well as they could; or you are thinking about teaching historical martial arts one day; or you think of teaching as your best learning environment; then this course is for you.
To teach anything, you need to understand the students’ goal, show them a model of how to reach that goal, and create a feedback mechanism so that they can see whether they are moving in the right direction.
It’s that simple. But simple is not easy. Most clubs and schools I have seen have no trouble setting up basic choreographed drills: he does this, she does that, etc. but the basic drills don’t work in freeplay- indeed, why would they? So the focus of this course is developing actual skills. How do we set things up so that the students will be able to apply their art under pressure?
In this course you will find guidance on:
How to plan your classes
How to run your classes
How to run a beginners’ course
How to teach an advanced class (even if you are not very advanced yourself)
What to do when things go wrong
Teaching an individual lesson
Teaching a mixed-level class
Developing your students skills
Setting up freeplay
Using freeplay for training purposes
Designing a syllabus for your students to follow
And many other topics. You can find the course at 40% off the regular price here:
The course is delivered primarily as audio files and printable handouts, with some video clips to illustrate key drills. So you can absorb the bulk of the course while driving, cooking, hand-tooling a leather scabbard, or whatever else you may be doing.
Feel free to share this offer with anyone you think may be interested: just share this post, or the link, by email or on your social media accounts.
Don't tell anyone I said this, but there's more to life than swords. Pens are important too. As are chisels, saws, planes…
Pencil Box in Brown Oak, Maple, Cherry, Walnut, and Resin
On my recent trip to the USA I was sitting in my friend Heidi Zimmerman’s garden when she dropped a truth bomb on my head. We have been close friends for a long time, but she doesn’t have anything I’ve made in her house. This unacceptable state of affairs had to be rectified, and we settled on a pencil box. I had complete artistic freedom, it just had to hold pencils. Oh, and a sliding top, not hinged. I’ve never made one before so I bashed out this in plywood:
It’s just butt-jointed and glued, nothing fancy. But it gave me the dimensions, and an idea about order of operations. I made the box out of brown oak (because I have tons of it. Literally. A dead tree in our garden had to come down and I had it sawn into planks, the thinner of which are about ready to be used).I used lap dovetails at one end, and through dovetails at the other, just because. I decided to make it long enough to have a section for sharpeners and rubbers.
I chose a scrap of walnut for the divider because it had an ombre effect, light to dark, that I thought might tie the dark sides to the light base.
The base was a piece of maple I’ve had lying around for about five years, too small for most projects, but too nice to throw away. It was way too thick though, so I decided to leave it full thickness, and carve feet out of it when the box was assembled. Using such a pale wood should make the inside of the box lighter, making it easier to see what’s inside.
The sliding top came from a leftover bit of cherry that I had used for experimenting with resin. I like the idea of a translucent window into the box.
I have no idea how long it all took- I did everything by hand (including sawing to thickness, stock preparation, etc.) because that’s more fun than firing up the machines. The only exception was the grooves for the lid and the base. I didn’t have the right size blade for my plough plane, and didn’t want to grind one to fit, so I slummed it with the router. I think it turned out ok!
Pen Tray in Pine, Brown Oak, and Leather
A while ago the philosopher and swordsman Damon Young (prof, dr, etc. Also guest on my podcast) posted a photo on Twitbook of his pen drawer. A small drawer in his writing desk with his pens in it:
They looked very sad in that crappy cardboard tray, and I couldn’t help but share a photo of mine:
But not being a total arse, I softened the sting by offering to make Damon a proper pen tray. He’s in Tasmania, and I’m in the UK, but all I needed was an accurately cut template of the inside of the drawer, and it should slide right in. Prof. Dr. Young is an accomplished writer and philosopher, but not a craftsman, as the template rudely attested. A bit gappy sir! In fact, as gappy as the plot in most Marvel movies. But I made some educated guesses, and made this:
It’s pine, with grooves routed out, spaces for the drawer handle screws (which are in huge saucers for some reason), covered in goatskin and edged in brown oak. The edges are just pinned on so if the insert was a bit too big, they could be easily popped off. The whole thing took maybe two hours, not including waiting an hour for the glue holding the leather down to go off. I posted it off to the far side of the world, and turns out if fits ok!
Now I really should get on and make the next bookcase…
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Guy Windsor: a website all about the Renaissance Italian martial arts expert who blends historical accuracy with practical training.