Guy's Blog

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Category: Books and Writing

“This should be the core book in every HEMA practitioner’s library”

Comments like this are what authors live for. My new book The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts has picked up eleven five star reviews on Amazon.com in its first week in the wild. I couldn't be happier. The reviews come from beginners and highly experienced practitioners, which suggests that the book does what I designed it to do: to encapsulate my experience for the benefit of the entire community.

Here are some of the reviews:

Guy is one of the best authors writing about martial arts today. He offers a unique blend of knowledge and experience, always with an emphasis on safety. Guy really sets the standard for realizing historical training manuals, but in this book, he presents the reader with a broad based primer historical European martial arts. A great book and a good read.” — James Sanderson

“Though focused on historical European sword fighting this book is an excellent handbook on learning any martial art. As a four decade student of martial arts I especially appreciated his section on developing your own drills and his constant emphasis on safety. In short a guy who knows his stuff (Couldn’t resist.) I purchased a pre-release copy that’s how I can review a book that came out yesterday.”– “Rocky”

“This is a great introduction for anyone interested in getting into learning historical martial arts. Guy has many other excellent books covering various specific historical masters or weapon systems, but this book explains the thinking and process involved in recreating any historical martial art from historical sources. Guy covers topics such as how to read and interpret historical source material, how to construct a core drill, organize a practice group or teach a class as well as principles for monitoring your own skill level and determining what to focus on to improve.” — David Tehan

“Once again Guy has written an excellent book on Historical Martial Arts. This one distils his 20+ years in studying historical texts and applying them using today’s training methods, to provide beginners and more advanced students alike with the skills they need to take a manuscript, interpret it and develop and deliver a training course on it. I’ve been lucky enough to train with Guy at several workshops he’s run and this book feels like I am back in one of his classes, put now I’m getting the expanded and in-depth theory as well as the practice. Well worth the read for anyone into historical martial arts or those who want to improve their training in any discipline.”– “SLW”

“This is the book I wish I had when I started my journey into historical martial arts three decades ago. With the exploding popularity of the subject, we're seeing an abundance of translations and interpretations of the source material, but very few core sources on how to actually go about using them effectively. This book organizes these elements into a foundation for a personal practice, a study group, a school, or beyond. As an experienced practitioner, it's helped me reset my priorities and add depth to my practice. If you're new to the field, all I can say is start here.” — Eric Mauer

I could go on, but you can find them all here. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to review the book; it's a major help, and it feels fantastic to know how much you liked it. Perhaps the most useful question is how did I do it? The answer is simple. When I had the first draft finished, I sent it out to a hundred beta readers, and asked for feedback. Most people have no experience in delivering useful feedback to a writer. “I liked it”, or “I didn't like it” are interesting, but not actionable. To help get the best, most detailed feedback, I created a form they could fill in to tell me what was good, what was bad, and what was missing. You can see the form here if you're interested in the specific questions I asked.

Then, when the feedback came in, I did what they asked me to do. The biggest single change was I greatly expanded the chapter on tournaments. So it's no wonder that these good people like the book: people just like them had a hand in creating it (and indeed some of the reviewers were also beta readers).

In other words, I asked the readers how to improve it, and then (and this is the difficult bit, and the most important by a million miles): I paid attention to their criticisms. Asking is easy, but actually listening when somebody tells you that something you've been slaving over for months or years actually needs quite a lot more work is hard. But the results speak for themselves.

 

 

My latest book encapsulates my entire approach to recreating historical martial arts; 25 years of experience in 350 pages!

With this book you can train your mind and body to become an expert in historical martial arts. It includes the seven principles of mastery, considers the ethics of martial arts, and goes into detail about the process of recreating historical martial arts from written sources.

On the practical side, I explain how to develop your skills, and lay out the path for students to become teachers, covering the basics of safe training, looking after your body, and even starting your own training group and teaching basic classes.

Please note, this is not a training manual for a specific style; it lays the groundwork for becoming expert in any style.

Roland Warzecha of DIMICATOR had this to say about it:

This is a comprehensive guide to the rewarding pursuit of historical martial arts, from choosing a source, study and research of historical manuals to developing and conducting a training program that serves your purpose best. Benefit from the experience of one of the most accomplished experts in the field. A must-read for beginners and advanced practitioners alike.

This book has read and edited by over a hundred test-readers, who have made suggestions and corrections, to make the book as useful as possible. So far, the reviews are good:

As a long time solo student of Historical Martial Arts, The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts and Guy's other works have encouraged me to take my training to the next level. The advice in this book has helped me start a small club and provided well grounded advice for developing classes and instruction based on the author's experience. Guy's book also has plenty of advice which has helped me better plan out my personal training and to help me make better use of the original sources. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in HMA, particularly those in need of advice for getting started with planning a training program.
-Cameron Atkinson, Canberra.

It is now available on all platforms, in hardback and ebook formats. The paperback will follow later in the year.

Buy the book from any of these retailers, or you can order it from your local bookshop

 

 

 

 

Or you can get a free 70 page preview by signing up below:

There is a heady pleasure only authors know: the moment when the book you've been sweating blood over for the last many months or years, is finally done.

Here's the moment captured on video for you: transferring the folder from “Writing” to “PUBLISHED!” (this is probably the least exciting video you will ever see. Unless you're a writer. Then it might give you shivers):

https://youtu.be/xEoMdLcpbUU

This is not quite the most edited book I've ever written (that would be the forthcoming The Art of Swordfighting in Earnest, my re-working of Veni Vadi Vici), but it's been through a hundred beta readers in January last year, and another hundred or so since then. Is it perfect? No. Is it as good as I can make it without releasing it into the community to see what you make of it? Yes.

Here's what one reader had to say:

As a long time solo student of Historical Martial Arts, The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts and Guy's other works have encouraged me to take my training to the next level. The advice in this book has helped me start a small club and provided well grounded advice for developing classes and instruction based on the author's experience. Guy's book also has plenty of advice which has helped me better plan out my personal training and to help me make better use of the original sources. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in HMA, particularly those in need of advice for getting started with planning a training program.
-Cameron Atkinson, Canberra.

It's available from Gumroad now! Click on the cover…

The hardback will be available from Amazon  (USA, UK, and everywhere else) and any other bookseller you care to name on April 6th. It will also be available from Kobo and iBooks then.

I plan to release the paperback later in the year…

Legendary sword and buckler instructor Roland Warzecha of DIMICATOR describes this book as:

 A comprehensive guide to the rewarding pursuit of historical martial arts, from choosing a source, study and research of historical manuals to developing and conducting a training program that serves your purpose best. Benefit from the experience of one of the most accomplished experts in the field. A must-read for beginners and advanced practitioners alike.

Want to try it? You can get a free 70 page sample by signing up to my mailing list below.

Forthcoming on Amazon, iBooks and Kobo APRIL 6 2018.

Available from Gumroad NOW!

I don’t usually read books with sword-fights in them. There is always something that annoys me. A clear case of an author using sport-fencing experience to write about longsword fights, for instance. Or making swords do things that they just don’t. It’s especially awful when it’s supposed to be set in a particular historical period. One minor error, and I want to throw the book through a window.

My friend Tracey lent me Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell, and out of respect for her, I risked it.

Oh my.

This is absolutely glorious escapist sword fantasy fiction, perhaps the best I’ve ever read. It’s not historical, so I don’t have to worry about some of the anachronisms (rapier-carrying magistrates fighting armoured knights, for instance), and the action is so perfectly pitched that not one of the dozens of fights over three books has triggered my “no! That wouldn’t work!” reflex. There is magic, but it doesn’t get in the way, and the books are written with a deft touch of humour that reads effortlessly, but is perhaps the most difficult skill for a writer to pull off.

And unlike most action-adventure books, though there are a lot of fights, the plot is entirely character-driven. The people are alive on the page, and the fights are there for good reason, driving the story along (I get so fed up with books that just lurch from battle to battle). Most of the characters you meet in these pages are folk you would want to have dinner with, or at least a pint (being very careful, with some of them, that they don’t slip anything into it first). Other characters? just run like hell if you see them coming.

The story centers around three men, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, in a sort of three musketeers dynamic, but many of the most important and interesting characters are women; it would pass the Bechdel test, no problem. I won’t go into the story or world-building at all, because you should enjoy this cold. If I recall correctly it took about ten pages to hook me, and then it did what all good books should do: whisked me away into another world, to the abandonment of my work, family, and basic bodily functions.

The story continues across four books. I’ve read the first three. All four are out though, so you’re not going to get trapped in the ‘waiting for Martin’ Game of Thrones problem. Go, read number one. You can thank me later.

Dr. Ken Mondschein’s new book Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War is an unusual read. On the one hand, Ken is clearly a HUGE Game of Thrones fan, and has immersed himself in the books and TV show, and thought about them very deeply. On the other, he is a jouster, martial artist, fencer, and professional academic historian. As a result, he goes into depth and detail about things like the economic factors affecting armour development in Westeros, just as he might about how the same factors affected armour development in Italy.

The book has chapters on chivalry, armour, weaponry, swordplay, economics (actually my favourite chapter), women warriors, culture, and atrocities, and it also has a very useful bibliography that will expand my to-read pile to an unfortunate degree. The book is well written, though it could be better proof-read; there are quite a few niggling little typos. I’m extremely pedantic about such things, so they bothered me more than they might bother you.

I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about medieval warfare reading this, but I am not its target market; I read the first GoT book, and abandoned the series when almost everyone I liked spending time with died at the end of it. I loved the TV series (I’ve watched every episode), but I’m not a fan in the proper sense; it’s light entertainment for me, I don’t care about it the way I do about, for instance, Star Wars.

My conclusion is that if you are not a GoT fan, then the continual intrusion of a fictional world into what would otherwise be a brilliant primer on medieval warfare would be annoying. If you are a GoT fan, then this book will get you to look at the world that George R. R. Martin has created with new appreciation for the depth of thought that Martin put into it. You will also learn a lot about how similar forces played out for real on the battlefields of the middle ages. This might also be an excellent gift for a GoT fan in your life who you’d like to wean onto historical research. If was to give it a star rating, it would be 5 out of 5 for GoT fans, and 3 out of 5 for those who aren't so bothered about the goings on in Westeros.

Once upon a time in Fairy Land, a chap produced something cool, and told all his friends just once. Everyone who was interested went out and bought it straight away, and they all lived happily ever after.

But in the real world, what happens when you send out one product launch email telling your mailing list (made up exclusively of people interested in the work that you do) is this:

A lovely big spike, and then nothing. This graph shows the initial launch of my online Medieval Dagger course in December 2016, which had a 50% discount time-limited for a week. I knew the courses could do better, so I needed to work on selling them, not just making them. That’s not my area of expertise so I went looking for help.

I’m a quiet fan of Naomi Dunford who runs Ittybiz, a marketing consultancy for small companies and creatives. She has produced a set of email templates for launching products to your email list, and I bought them for about $35 (if I recall). The templates offer several different models for creating a launch sequence, and I picked the simplest: one warm-up to the list, followed by a sequence of 6 emails. When I launched my longsword course in June, I kept the offer the same (50% off) and time limited (expires on Wednesday!). Here’s what happened:

To put that into perspective, the initial first-day spike on this graph accounts for 18.3% of the total. In other words, it is very probable that the 6 email sequence multiplied sales by 500%. In case you were wondering whether this is down to the product itself being more attractive, well, here’s what happened when I re-launched the dagger course a couple of weeks ago:

The main differences were: I wrote two blog posts about dagger training (not directly anything to do with the course, but to hopefully get people interested in Fiore’s dagger material), and I also sent out a special, bigger discount to the folk who had bought the longsword course (just one email though, indicated by the blue arrow). This converted very well; 23% of the people on that list bought the new course. That accounts for the ramp leading up to the first spike, and probably to a blunting of the first spike by spreading it over two days.

As you can see, the pattern is almost identical. Using sequences clearly works, and using a template from an expert like Naomi makes it easy to create them. I really would not have known how to do it, but with the templates, writing that first sequence took me a morning. I sent a draft of this post to Naomi as a matter of courtesy, and she replied very pleased, and included a 50% discount coupon (which is a Princess Bride reference: see why I like her?) for the complete marketing template pack which includes the templates I used and a ton of others. The pack is here; use the code MONTOYA to get the discount.

The major cost to these sequences of course is that too many selling emails can annoy the people on the list. This launch cost me exactly 49 subscribers out of a total of a bit over 4300. At the end of the day, running a list costs money; I pay about $80 a month for the service that I use (the awesome Convertkit). While it’s perfectly ok for people to join the list and get all sorts of free stuff, it’s the people that buy my books and courses that make the list sustainable. If there are people on the list who don’t understand that, or simply find too many emails offering products to be an annoyance, they can unsubscribe and, from a financial perspective, it’s probably no loss; they are unlikely to buy anything anyway; and they can always come back. The bigger the list the more it costs to run, so I don’t mind losing a few. Incidentally, when I was checking my unsubscribes a while ago, I noticed that a good friend of mine had unsubscribed. We are godfathers to each others’ first-born children, but he had unsubscribed. Which simply meant he didn’t want my list emails in his inbox; he still answers my calls to help when my website has a kitten, and unsubscribing means precisely nothing to our actual real-world relationship. One of the hardest things to learn about running a list is to not take unsubscribes personally, so long as they stay at a small proportion of the list size. People even unsubscribe when I’m giving away awesome free images of really cool rare fencing treatises like this one; it just means that they don’t want more emails, not that they hate you.

So there you have it. If you were wondering why people send you more than one email selling you the same thing, this is why. It works. The only way that’s going to stop is if we all move to Fairy Land, and buy the things we’re interested in after being told about them only once!

Perhaps the most famous fencing treatise of the 1600s, Ridolfo Capoferro's Gran Simulacro is a wonderful book, and an essential read for all fencing scholars. Characteristically, he spells his name as both Capoferro, and Capo Ferro, in the book itself; just one of it's many interesting quirks! It covers fencing theory, rapier alone, rapier and dagger, rapier and cloak, and rapier and shield. You can download your free copy of the treatise from here.

You are welcome to the RAW image files too (at about 25mb per image), just contact spada.press and we'll arrange to share them with you. The book is free, but you are welcome to drop some money into the (virtual) tin; once the book has raised enough money to pay for production costs, we will gladly produce an affordable printed facsimile. Please note that this book is in Italian.

Further reading:

Translations: William Wilson and Jherek Swanger (free):  Capoferro

Tom Leoni, The Art and Practice of Fencing.

ed. Jared Kirby: Italian Rapier Combat

For an instruction manual on how to fence in Capoferro’s style, please my The Duellist’s Companion.

A little while ago I went to the National Fencing Museum to photograph some of Malcolm Fare's amazing book collection. Most researchers and other interested folk find a compiled pdf of the photos much more useful than the raw footage, not least because the raw footage is not usually in order; for technical reasons, the shoot usually takes the recto pages in order first, then the verso pages in reverse order. Plus there are duplicates, duff images, and so on. Also, the raw footage is between 2 and 10 Gigabytes per book, which is way too large. So, the photos are being released as and when the pdfs are ready; these are being done by volunteers from all over the world, so there is no fixed schedule for them.

The first book is now ready for free download, from the Spada.Press website. Prepared by Jim Alvarez, De La Touche's glorious “True Principles of the Sword Alone” is a vitally important book in the history of fencing, one of the earliest smallsword treatises we have. It dates from 1670.

To download the book, go to this address: http://www.spada.press/book/the-true-principles-of-the-sword/ and follow the instructions… please note that while you are welcome to the pdf for free, it is set to ‘pay what you want', so you can chip in if you wish. When the book has raised enough money to pay for the production costs, we will produce an affordable facsimile, so be generous!

I’ve been taking a break from working on The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest: Philippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatioria Dimicandi (the long-awaited second edition of Veni Vadi Vici), and putting my shoulder to the wheel of getting my Magnum Opus ready: this is the accurately but not very inspiringly titled The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts. It’s a big book (it stands at about 105,000 words, about 300 pages in paperback, more if I use a lot of images), which covers the fundamental principles of all aspects of HEMA; from how to work with historical sources, to how to train for tournaments, and everything in between. I’ve been applying the feedback that I got from my beta readers in February this year, clarifying points here, adding whole sections there. There are one or two gaps that I know of; I need to write the section on Syllabus Design, for instance, but the book is not that far from being done, I think. I drew out the sections on a whiteboard today, you can see it here (click on the image for a readably large version):

Let me walk you through the structure of the book, so you can tell me if it makes sense to you, and whether you think there’s anything that ought to be covered that I’ve missed. I’ve published a great deal of this book as instalments of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, as blog posts, and as parts of my Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources online course. This has been deliberate; it allows me to perfect each section is in isolation first, and to break up this monumental undertaking into manageable chunks.

Introduction

The book opens with an introduction that sketches how HEMA began as a thing, how I got into it in the very early days, and what I think HEMA is. After the introduction, the book is divided into Theory and Practice:

Theory

The theory section begins with the 7 Principles of Mastery, which covers how to learn anything. It goes on to define and describe Fencing Theory, and from there how to choose a historical source, how to work with translations if necessary, how to create drills from the source, and how to structure those drills into a coherent, focussed, syllabus. The theory section concludes with a short section on ethics: if you are going to be practising murderous skills, you need an ethical framework for them.

Practice

The practice section begins with Safety procedures, protective equipment, then how to choose a sword. It follows with the basics of striking, then with Skill Development how to get from knowledge to skill, from set drills to freeplay. From there we look at how to start a HEMA club, how to teach beginners, how to teach a basic class, how to teach an individual lesson, how to train for tournaments, how to win them, and how to use them for your training. That leads us on to physical training: nutrition, flexibility, strength, and speed, which lead me (as a Fioreist) naturally on to training for foresight, and training for boldness. This in turn leads us on to meditation and breathing exercises.

The book concludes with a bibliography, a recommended reading list (not the same thing!), then the complete text of my Ethics instalment, a beginner’s course diary from two separate beginners courses, and finally credits and acknowledgements.

Please note, this is not intended to be a training manual for any specific style; this is supposed to define the foundation of the entire HEMA project, and provide the principles with which to solve any HEMA problem from identifying the key techniques in a source, to getting your or your students' strikes longer and faster.

Did I miss anything?

I’m also toying with titles at the moment, so suggestions are welcome! Please leave your comments below; I might not see them on social media threads, but I will definitely read every comment posted here. Thanks!

The original book, the translation, and my notes. Ah, HEMA geek heaven.

In 2012, Piermarco Terminiello discovered the previously lost Second Book of Nicoletto Giganti in the Howard de Walden collection, which is housed at the Wallace Collection (in my not very humble opinion, one of the top ten museums worldwide, and in the top five for anything sword-related).
You may recall my rejoicing when the 1608 was discovered, and translated by Piermarco, published as “The ‘Lost' Second Book of Nicoletto Giganti (1608)“. But unfortunately, no images of the original book's text were released so it was impossible to check Piermarco’s work. It’s not that I doubt him, it’s just that I do not trust any translation without being able to check it against the original. I should also point out that his Italian is WAY better than mine.
But still, I have to check.
I came to the Wallace yesterday and photographed the entire book, and intend to make a transcription of it which can be published, and meanwhile work on getting permission from the de Walden trustees to release my photos into the wild. I also spent some time doing an initial check of the translation, and to my complete lack of surprise, can confirm that it is very good.
In my brief survey, I only came across one instance of a term that I think is simply incorrect; on page 2 Giganti wrote “…tirar di punte di piede fermo,” which Piermarco translates (on page 25) as “delivering a lunge”. It is not— it is ‘thrust with the fixed foot”. As you can see on page 7 of the 1628 edition of his first book (from the photographs taken at the National Fencing Museum), Giganti very clearly explains the lunge, and calls it a ’stoccata longa’, and it explicitly includes a step forwards (crescer innanzi).

The lunge, from the first book. Tthis is from the 1628 edition, in the National Museum of Fencing collection.) Click on it for a readable resolution.

The translation does veer towards interpretation in places, such as in these examples:
On page 21r, Giganti wrote this chapter heading: “IL MODO DI ANDAR CONTRA TVTTE LE GVARDIE, E FERIR in più modi mentre che’l nemico caua la Spada” [the CAPS are in the original]
Which Piermarco translates on page 68 as: “THE METHOD OF ADVANCING AGAINST ANY GUARD, AND ATTACKING IN VARIOUS WAYS WHILE YOUR ENEMY DISENGAGES HIS SWORD”
But which I would render as: “The way of going against all the guards, and striking in more ways while the enemy disengages the sword”. [Though I'd probably also use caps where Giganti does.]
Indeed, ‘ferire’ is (in all the cases that I noted) translated as “attack”, which I don’t quite agree with. It means to strike or wound. Sure, in a fencing context you do that by attacking, but my pedantic soul revolts at the liberty.
Likewise on page 47v, Giganti wrote: “NON mi posso immaginar la causa perche il giocar di pugnal solo non sia hoggi giorno in uso.”
Which Piermarco translates on page 129 as: “I cannot fathom why the play of the dagger alone is no longer practised.”
It’s correct, in that it represents the meaning of the text, but I would render it as “I cannot imagine the cause for which the play of the dagger alone is not practised these days.”
Whenever you’re using a translation, it’s good to know how closely it hews to the manner and voice of the author. In rendering Giganti’s words so clearly, Piermarco is helping the modern practitioner access the text, but at the cost of tidying up some of the language.

I've been wanting to do this ever since the translation came out, so can now cross it off my bucket list. Huzzah! I'd like to thank Helen Jones of the Wallace Collection who was very helpful in making the book available. She also told me that the de Walden books are currently being catalogued, and most of them can now be found (as in their catalogue entries, not the texts themselves) online.

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