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It seems you *can* learn martial arts from books….

You can’t learn martial arts from reading a book… or can you?

I’ve always thought so; in fact, I make my living by teaching martial arts I’ve learned from books. Very old books. But *reading* a book doesn’t help on its own; you have to put the work in figuring out in practice what the book is trying to teach, and, in short, training your arse off.

As did one indirect student of mine, Tony, who wrote me this email a couple of weeks ago:

Dear Dr. Windsor,

I’ve been diligently studying the videos on swordschool online, reading your books (so far I’ve worked through The Medieval Dagger and Medieval Longsword and am working through Advanced Longsword. I’ve also read Charrette’s Armizare and am reading Tom Leoni’s translation of the Getty manuscript) and practicing daily. 

Last night I was engaging in free play against a more experienced opponent who was using German longsword techniques. Our blades crossed way too close, in the middle of the blades, with points high. He reacted first, letting go of his sword with his left hand and stepping in, ready to finish me off. I countered by stepping inside with my left foot, letting go of my sword with my right hand, and wrapping his sword arm until I found the elbow and got him in a ligadura mezana!  First problem solved, I rotated my sword in a wide counterclockwise arc and gave it a good yank to free the point from his grip. Then I stabbed him in the face. (Obviously we were wearing full sparring gear, including masks.)

I’ve always heard that the gold standard demonstrating that you’ve mastered a technique is whether you can pull it off in freeplay against a non-compliant opponent, which I accomplished for this technique the first time last night. 

Anyways, I just thought I’d share. 

Thanks for all of your fine books and videos. I didn’t learn this from anyone else, so I consider it proof that yes, you can learn swordsmanship online or from a book. Or, more accurately, books and videos can be important components of a training program. 


I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “or, more accurately, books and videos can be important components of a training program”. Obviously, Tony himself deserves the credit for *putting in the work*. Probably the most important phrase in that email is “practising daily”.

He followed that up yesterday with this epistle:

Dear Dr. Windsor,

It gets even better. This week, my sparring partner managed to disarm me, my sword flying across the room as he came in for a pommel strike, sword in left hand, pushing my left arm with his right hand. This was obviously embarrassing, especially with five beginners looking on and audible gasps throughout the gym.

First, I attempted to execute a ligadura mezana with my left arm to trap his right arm, which he was leading with, but this failed. As his pommel came in, I grabbed his left wrist, (clumsily, because I was wearing the SPES heavy gloves) twisting it until he dropped HIS sword.

From here, I attempted a forward throw (9th play in the abrazare section, I think), but was again too slow. We eventually ended up in a configuration similar to the 10th play, the Gambarola, which Fiore says is dangerous because either partner can be thrown. This time however, I got the advantage. (Safety note: this maneouver was fine with my partner, who had a wrestling background, and I did not execute a volta stabile. Instead, I took it just until he lost his balance and he went down slowly.) My partner was actually pretty excited about the outcome, and I was pleased myself.

Three things I learned from this:

1. Fiore’s dagger material works equally well against an unarmed opponent or one armed with a sword.

2. As Fiore says, if one technique doesn’t work, quickly shift to another remedy.

3. Despite what I’ve heard from some modern critics, you absolutely can win in a fight if you’re unarmed and your opponent has a sword.  The dagger material is absolutely relevant and valid for the unarmed vs. longsword context.


As you can imagine, I'm pleased as hell with his results, and very proud of him for putting the work in.

The resources he has been using are my Medieval Longsword, Medieval Dagger, and a slew of my online courses, including the Breathing Course, Footwork Course, Dagger Course and Longsword Course. That's a lot of courses, all of which (and more) are included in the Mastering the Art of Arms Bundle, which is only $35/month (plus sales tax in the EU).

Reading the books and watching the videos won't make you a decent fencer or martial artist, but following the instructions and doing the work? That will.

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

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