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The Patron Saint of Historical Martial Arts

Back before the internet, back before Wiktenauer, in the days when historical fencing treatises were photocopied and distributed by hand, one man did something extraordinary, which we benefit from to this day. Dr. Patri Pugliese was finding, reproducing, photocopying and distributing fencing treatises back in the bad old days, before many of our community's leading lights were even born, let alone had begun fencing. I did all my early work on Capoferro, Viggiani, Angelo, Silver, DiGrassi, I.33 and other systems from Patri's photocopies. I never met him, but I owe him an enormous debt.

The torch Patri lit and carried has been taken up by Michael Chidester, architect of the Wiktenauer, so it's appropriate that I reproduce his tribute here (with his permission, of course).

11th May 2021 would mark the 71st birthday of Dr. Patri Pugliese, the most important person in the history of modern HEMA that you've never heard of. I will go so far as to say that there is no one in this world who contributed more to the spread and development of the HEMA movement, and especially of HEMA in America, than did Patri.

For himself, he was a passionate student of both historical combat (not just fencing, but also drill with pike and musket) and historical dance, and founded or participated in groups dedicated to those activities around New England. Most recognizably to readers today, he co-founded the Higgins Armory Sword Guild, which not only provided online resources and public classes and demonstrations for over a decade, but also supported his friend and fellow instructor Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng in his translation and interpretation efforts (leading to his publication of I.33, Meyer, and others).

But Patri's more profound legacy is fencing manuals. Throughout the '90s and continuing until his death, he distributed a staggering catalog of fencing treatises. This was before (and while) the consumer computing revolution changed everything—he was physically mailing sheaves of paper, loose or stapled together. Some were fencing manuals that he photocopied at local research libraries, others were printed from microfilm ordered from museums. He was the first person in the community to do this, and he charged only the cost of printing and postage, or in some cases a slight premium to recoup the initial purchase.

Of this, he simply wrote “I regard myself as a student of the sword rather than a publisher, and am making these manuals available to support research in this area. It would, of course, be selfish and inconsistent with the honorable traditions associated with fencing to do otherwise.”

I will include a partial list of Patri's catalog below. As the internet became more established, most of these were scanned and placed online (with his blessing—he was happy to increase their accessibility). If you ever accessed black and white scans of any of these texts from sites like Bill Wilson's homepage, the ARMA site, the Raymond J. Lord Collection, or the Higgins Sword Guild, then you have likely benefited from Patri's work. Wiktenauer itself could not have grown so quickly or easily without these scans, some of which we still use.

I often joke that our patron saint is Paulus Hector Mair, the shady 16th century Augsburg patrician who embezzled public funds to cover the cost of collecting fencing manuals and throwing lavish parties.

It was Patri, however, who embodied our highest aspirations of disseminating knowledge and resources as widely and freely as possible, and thereby pushing the bounds of our understanding of historical fencing traditions.

Patri Pugliese died after a struggle with illness in 2007, fourteen years ago. One of my greatest HEMA regrets is that even though I spent considerable time in Massachusetts during the years between 2001, when I started, and his death, I never crossed paths with him.

Fourteen years is an eternity in the world of HEMA. It is enough time that his name is no longer familiar to most teachers and students of historical fencing, but if any one of us deserves to be remembered, he does.

So raise a glass to Patri, my friends. He was a pioneer, not just of the study of fencing, but of the sharing of it. The edifice of knowledge that we have constructed in HEMA today was built on the materials he offered us, freely.

And then tell your students about this man to whom we all owe a great debt.

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

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