The School of European Swordsmanship was born on a Scottish hilltop, not far from Fort William. I was at a crossroads in my life, and went up into the hills to clear my mind, and meditate on what I should do. I thought my options were to stay in Edinburgh, or move to America. It was a bit more complicated than that, but the other people involved might be reading this and would probably prefer that I not go into detail.
So I went and sat on a mountaintop (cliché perhaps, but it worked), entered a meditative state, and a voice in my head said “Go to Helsinki and open a school of swordsmanship”.
So I did.
But there were about 6 months of preparation and groundwork between revelation and the actual move to Finland, and one of the things I needed to do was create a logo for the new school. But what on earth should that logo be?
So I meditated on it, and came up with this:
Which became this:
Fourteen years later, hundreds of people worldwide train under this logo, so I thought I’d better explain what it represents.
The Shield: the principle of defence, of course. It’s a heraldic device, and a perfect image for the ideals of the School.
The Longsword: I knew from the beginning that I wanted the Longsword, and specifically Fiore’s style, to be the foundation of our practise. This is because at the time it was the type of sword that I could best practise with for spiritual purposes. It was the tool I was using to create the self I wished to be. I could rationalise it a hundred other ways, but that’s the real reason.
The Rapier: solid, practical fencing. This sword style (and I was thinking early Italian, from the beginning) is practical, straightforward, and embodies the principles of fencing most clearly. It’s the stripping away of all other things, armour, horses, knightliness, everything, until all you have left is two people in shirts, sword in hand.
The symbols on the shield are of course Fiore’s four virtues, from the famous “Segno Page”. I was working from the Pisani Dossi at the time, so here it is from there:
I thought the objects (arrow, heart, castle and dividers) would work much better in a logo than the animals (Tiger, Lion, Elephant and Lynx).
The Castle, fortitudo, or strength (see I am Weak for a post on that virtue), the Arrow, presteza or speed (see I am Slow for a post on that virtue), the Heart, ardimento or boldness (see “I am Fearful”, in Swordfighting for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists, for a chapter on that virtue), and the Dividers, avvisamento, (which I refer to in The Medieval Longsword, but have not gone into in depth anywhere, yet. It’s the hardest virtue to write about).
The point of these is to remind all students that they must keep these virtues in balance: strength without stiffness, speed without losing your balance, boldness without rashness, and prudence without cowardice.
In the middle we have the circle, square and triangle, representing at one level, the basic patterns of movement, but also geometry as a virtue in itself. This puts a group of three things in the centre, surrounded by a group of four things; a trinity and a quaternity (or indeed a triangle and a square). Readers of part one of the forthcoming The Swordsman’s Quick Guide series, The Seven Principles of Mastery will be on familiar ground here.
Geometry is important not only because Vadi mentions it, but also because it is a perfect metaphor for training. Geometry is perfect in theory, and flawed in practice. Nobody has ever drawn a truly perfect circle, or a truly straight line. But we can hold geometrical truths in our minds, however imperfectly they are embodied in reality. Pi has an infinite number of digits after the decimal place; it is impossible to write the number down. But you can represent it geometrically with ease; just scribe a straight line, put your compass anywhere on the line, and draw a circle. The length of the circumference of the circle is Pi multiplied by the length of the diameter. Simple.
The motto of the School is In Gladio Veritas. I derived this from the common phrase in vino veritas, “truth is in wine”, which basically means that drunk people tend to tell the truth. The ideal on which the School is founded is the virtue of Truth. One of my students, Ken Quek, wrote his thesis for Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences on the branding of the school. In it, he wrote:
The school’s values are as follows:
Integrity means respect for the truth, as reflected in the school’s motto, “In gladio veritas”, meaning “In the sword is truth”. This means that all instruction is grounded in adherence to what is historically accurate: the treatises are the ultimate source of authority, and every exercise is meant to bring the school’s practice closer to the historical reality as far as we know it. This also requires that the school’s syllabus be constantly refreshed to accurately capture the state of the art of our knowledge, as well as avoiding, as far as possible, practices that distort our understanding and expression of the art.
Security means training in a safe and sensible manner. Safety is paramount in training and everyone, even if it is their first day in the salle, is responsible for their own wellbeing and that of everyone they train with. It extends beyond physical measures to encompass emotional security as well. While an essential part of training is to challenge people to step out of their comfort zones, they must always do so with a sense of trust that their training partners and instructors will do their utmost to keep them safe. In addition, it means that nobody should ever feel threatened, intimidated or belittled in training.
Maturity means having the correct training priorities. The watchword for the salle is respect – for the art and for one’s fellow practitioners. While every student wishes to become the best swordsman they can be, this must never be allowed to hinder anyone else’s development, enjoyment or safety. It also means that the community assumes the best in everyone.
Equality means not showing prejudice in any way against other members of the community. The school esteems spirit above all: what is important is the desire to walk the path together, rather than any other characteristic or achievement. Members show the same respect for male and female, tall and short, young and old, heavy and slim, new and experienced. As long as someone holds a sword in their hand and practices with diligence and responsibility, they are expressing the art and being a credit to the school.
It always blows me away when a member of the School really gets it. And this is a classic example of that. I never said that these were the values the school was founded on; I wasn’t trained to think in those terms. But dammit, this is spot-on.
The motto clearly resonates with at least one of my students; Ilpo Luhtala had this tattoo inked about a year after he started training:
Now another member of the school, Titta Tolvanen, has created her own vision of the logo, and it is so gorgeous that I had to share it.
Isn’t that glorious?