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To boldly go… thoughts on the new International Armizare Society.

The first and second plays of the first master of the zogho largo.
The first and second plays of the first master of the zogho largo.

It is an exciting time to be a Fiore scholar; the Getty recently released hi-res scans of the treatise, Michael Chidester of Wiktenauer fame has just released his concordance of the techniques in the four version of the manuscript that survive, and Freelance Academy Press has announced it is bringing out a scholarly edition of the manuscripts (which they've posted about on Facebook, but I can't find it on their website or I'd link to it). This all in addition to my latest scribblings.

And now, we have the International Armizare Society, an organisation that, to quote from its mission statement exists to:

…maintain and pass down canonical Armizare as recorded and left to posterity by the Founder, Fiore dei Liberi, and the work of successors determined to be within his tradition. In furtherance of this, the IAS also seeks the “preservation and promotion of Armizare as a complete, traditional, but living and functional martial art”.

In furtherance of these goals, the association is to provide a common set of curricular and performance objectives such that inter-school rank recognition by signatories is facilitated. As a result, the IAS will also form a testing body and formal testing regimen for instructor certification to ensure transmission and proper preservation of the dei Liberi Tradition, as the IAS sees it.

Their website went live last week, and I have been fielding questions about it ever since. I found out about it perhaps 24 hours before it went live, thanks to an email list I’m on, so it’s taken me some time to assemble my thoughts on the subject. Here they are:

This society has the potential to be a hugely beneficial force in the HEMA world, and a hugely important step in the long-term study of Fiore’s art. It may also end up petering out into nothing, or acting as net drag on progress if it becomes calcified into a “cult of one truth” (which is unlikely given the current membership).

The people involved, (Sean Hayes, Greg Mele, and Jason Smith) are all first-rate researchers and practitioners, who have long track records of distinguished service to the Art of Arms. I have high hopes that this organisation that they have put together will be able to accomplish its stated mission; to provide a certification program for Armizare (Art of Arms) instructors.

It’s worth reading its charter in its entirety, because it has clearly been thought out and worked up in detail.

They have assembled a dream team of advisors, divided into the Research Council, peopled by Bob Charrette, Tom Leoni, Daniel Jacquet, and Marco Quarta (the last two being professional academics); and the Martial Council, peopled by Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Roberto Gotti, Roberto Laura, Marco Quarta (again!) and Orazio Barbagallo (the only person on this list I don’t know). These are all names to conjure with.

Very sensibly, they went live only after assembling an impressive and useful set of resources: blog posts, articles and videos. This bodes well for their website becoming one of the more useful armizare resources out there, regardless of whether one chooses to join them or not. As any qualifying body must, the IAS has its own curriculum based on the founders’ interpretations of Fiore’s surviving books. This is necessary, of course, but runs the risk of becoming monolithic. All institutions tend to institutionalise; I guess that the function of the research committee is to make sure that there is a mechanism by which changes to the interpretation and thus the curriculum can be made. Let’s hope it works that way in practice.

It’s impossible to know at this stage what the tangible benefits of joining would be; the curriculum seems well thought out in broad strokes, but it’s not published (yet?) so I haven’t been able to look at any of their actual drills. I imagine that there would be some kind of mentorship of long-distance students, who would have access to the details of drills, techniques and so on that the curriculum must contain.  It is also impossible to know how compatible that curriculum would be with those of other Fiore-based schools. But I have had Greg, Sean, and Jason’s students in my classes many times, and crossed swords with many of them outside of class, so I know that they are more than capable of training excellent swordsmen.

My concerns:

At the moment, the Society is an idea with a website. It has no legal standing, as far as I can tell; it’s not a registered charity, or a business, or any other legal thing. This worries me, because without that kind of legal framework, I think it may be especially difficult to attain the goals that the organisation has set for itself.

Given how spread out geographically the current membership is, and how part of their mission is to organise events (which Greg Mele, at least, as the force behind WMAW and other events, knows far more about than I do), the annual 20 dollar membership fee seems totally inadequate. It would make more sense to me if it was closer to 50/month, to create a fund to help with things like subsidising the cost of exams (flying examiners in, for instance), subsidising the events they want to create, and so on.

The testing requirements look good, and with Sean and Puck both being qualified fencing masters, modelling the examining structure on their classical example makes a lot of sense and should work very well. But until a body of masters has been built up, organising exams will be very very challenging. And until their curriculum is made public, it’s impossible to know what the qualifications they offer actually mean. I’ve written here about certification, and here about mastery.

As one would expect, the organisation is currently completely controlled by its founders, and fair enough. Organisations or people who choose to join it will have no voting rights until they are qualified at the highest level of the organisation, magister. Which again is fair enough. But it does mean that for at least five years (the minimum time that you must be a member before testing at the magister level), the organisation is effectively completely dependent on the guidance and energy of its three founders.

Most organisations die in the first 5 years. Most of those that survive, die in the next five years. So I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful, that in ten years time we will see a mature and functional Society that is supremely capable of ensuring the long-term viability of Fiore’s Art. We are witnessing the birth of a new School; it is only fair to judge a school by the quality of the students it attracts and produces. I look forward to seeing the first IAS-qualified instructors in action!

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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