Guy's Blog

Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Category: Books and Writing

This is a great week for historical fencing. I spent three full days at the National Fencing Museum with a decent camera and a book-photography rig, taking hi-res images of the cream of their amazing collection of treatises, with the kind assistant of James Hester, and Malcolm Fare (whose collection this is).

I have 122 gigabytes of raw images, that will in due course be processed into a more web-friendly format, and put online for free into the public domain to be used by anyone as they please. You can find the currently available photos on my gumroad account with a little searching.

We have Hope: New Method (1707), Fencing Master (1687), and Advice to his Scholar (1729).

We have McBane (1728), Viggiani (1575), Sainct-Didier 1573), De La Touche (1670), Senese (1660).

And we have goddam Thibault (1628).

Plus eighteen other treatises, dating between 1540 and 1838. The ones I am most excited about are Senese, Viggiani, and Alfieri. But having both the 1610 AND the 1629 editions of Capoferro is pretty cool too. Not to mention the marginalia, like this detail from this copy of De La Touche:

And this is only about 10% of the museum’s collection.

There is a huge amount of work to do to crop, order, rotate, enhance, and otherwise process these files, and if anyone with the necessary skills would like to help, please do volunteer.

Most of these are in Italian, English, and French. But Spanish? We got Spanish: Narvaez, 1672. Russian? We got Russian. Ficher, 1796. And this is an especially good week for German-reading historical fencers, because we have Schmidt from 1713:

This work includes fencing:


And even gymnastics, back when gym horses had heads and tails!

Note that these photos here have been heavily reduced in resolution to be transportable. The originals are breathtaking. I can’t do them justice in this format, but this close-up might give you an idea. Each photo is about 25mb in the raw format.

We have the 1600 Meyer.

And to cap it all, when I got home from the trip, I found a box waiting for me: full of the brand-new German edition of my The Medieval Longsword book.

This was translated by my student Frank Polenz, and published by Wieland-Verlag. You can find it here. The designer has done a stunning job of the interior, and frankly, I’ve never looked so good 🙂 You can see some interior shots on their webpage. Incidentally, Wieland have incorporated this book into their own series of “Schwertkampf” books, so don’t be mislead by the series number; it’s #2 in Mastering the Art of Arms, but #3 in Schwertkampf.

This will go very nicely with Der Mittelalterliche Dolch!

And in other news, I’m wrapping up the final edits to my re-translation of De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, so it should be here by the end of the year…

Update: my new translation is called The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest, published in early 2018. It includes an introduction, translation and commentary, and you can get it in fancy full-colour hardback with the facsimile built in, or in paperback in black and white, or indeed as an ebook.

This post is a short library of my favourite online resources regarding how medieval manuscripts were created, and related traditional bookbinding videos. One of the unexpected consequences of my return to Phillipo Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi while working on the second edition of Veni Vadi Vici was that I got completely hooked on the physical craft of bookbinding and manuscript creation. I've been producing my own bound notebooks for friends and family for the last eight months or so, which came about because I thought it would be very cool to have a copy of De Arte Gladiatoria with the exact same collation (the organisation of the pages in quires (also called gatherings). As readers of this post  will know, the manuscript is made up of five quires, a10 b4 c-d10 e8. Which means that the first quire is five sheets folded over, the second is two, the third and fourth are also of five folded sheets each, and the last is of four. The idea of producing a copy of the ms with the same collation lead me to look into high-end printing options, which sparked the idea for producing fencing manuscripts in affordable high-quality reproductions, which lead to getting both Il Fior di Battaglia and De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi back in print after many centuries, and the birth of Spada Press!

    

It's funny how all sorts of sidetracks can become pretty important thoroughfares.

But these reproductions, lovely as they are, are not hand written on vellum or bound using traditional methods. The Getty Museum (owner of Il Fior di Battaglia) describe how these books used to be made on this page. It includes everything from how vellum is made from skins, to how the scribe makes their own ink, to how the books are bound. You can see the summary video here:

Isn't it beautiful?

The Fitzwilliam museum goes one further, and provides a very detailed series of pages describing how one of their manuscripts was rebound, having been tortured by a ghastly 18th century binder. (It's really amazing how craftsmen up until fairly recently felt perfectly entitled to trim the edges of manuscripts to neaten them up! Christopher de Hamel's wonderful book Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts goes into some details about this; even the legendary Book of Kells was ‘tidied up' in this horrific way. A bit like tidying up a haircut by cutting off someone's ears, if you ask me.) The Fitzwilliam website takes us through the decision-making process of approaching the conservation, through undoing the previous binding, through all the stages of bringing the book back to life. For those of a sensitive disposition, this page highlighting the damage that was done by the previous binder, including trimming the pages cutting through the illustrations, and applying red dye to the edges which seeped into the pages, and other horrors, should be avoided.

If in the process of reading this you have discovered your inner bookbinding geek, then you may find these videos enjoyable:

For an overview of the bookbinding process:

And my favourite how-to video series on Youtube is the Bookbinder's Chronicle. The videos are all silent, and slow, and patient, and beautiful, which is just the way bookbinding ought to be done, I think. You can see one that includes some medieval-style binding here:

Yes, procrastinating again. But I'm actually on the road at the moment, consulting with an academic colleague regarding De Arte Gladitoria, and put this post together in a quiet moment last week. If you've read this far, you're probably interested in bookbinding yourself, so do share your own favourite resources in the comments!

I'm working on both the second edition of Veni Vadi Vici,  and on the new book The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts, both due out this year. TTPHEMA (catchy title, huh?) will include the answers to just about every HEMA-specific problem that exists, so it will of course cover how to choose a sword. Philippo Vadi's instructions for the size of your sword are the earliest example of sword specs in fencing literature, so they are included in the relevant chapter in TTPHEMA. One of my excellent beta readers suggested that this section could use some clarification:

Note, Vadi does not give any dimensions, only lengths relative to your stature. As in geometry, the exact dimensions are not interesting, as they give just one specific instance of the principle. The proportions are everything, as they can be scaled in any direction without the form being lost. Using Vadi’s stated proportions, my sword should be 133cm (my floor-armpit measurement) and the handle about 21cm (my “span” is 21cm, and I have relatively small hands, so this should be a bit bigger). Allowing about 5cm in addition for the pommel, that gives us 26cm, which is also the length of the crossguard (handle plus pommel). With reference to Peter Johnsson’s article in the Park Lane Arms Fair Catalogue (March 2012), let’s have a brief look at the geometry of this weapon. Using the 26cm hilt length as the diameter of a circle, 5 such adjacent circles will give us an overall length of 130cm: quite close to the 133 of my floor-armpit measurement. So, let us divide 133 by 5 to get a diameter of 26.6cm for our circle. Adding in the connecting circles to create the vesica pattern that Johnsson has established gives us nine interlocking circles. Nine is an excellent number for this kind of thing, being a trinity of trinities.
The crossguard is placed on the circumference of the first circle, and is of the same width as the diameter measurement. Its thickness should be within the third circle, not the first, to avoid taking length off the handle. It is probably square in cross section, and the tips should be pointed. I see this as a shallow pyramid at each end, rather than a chisel point or a serious spike, but that is from a general impression of the illustrations, not hard data.

It's my policy to shut up and listen when my keener readers tell me something isn't clear, so I thought I'd provide an illustrated run-through of the geometry. For the book, I'll get somebody who knows how to do these things create a set of nice clean digital geometry drawings, but I'll need to tell that person what to draw. And then I thought you might like to see it too…

Step One:

Draw a straight line:

Draw a straight line.

Step Two:

Draw five identical circles that just touch each other, with a pair of compasses. The centre of each circle is on the line. I drew the first circle too big (5 wouldn't fit), so ignore the extra large circle at the left-hand end.

Draw five touching circles.

Step Three: 

Draw four more circles, the same size as the previous, with the point of your compasses on the point where the previous circles touch.

[You could do these nine circles in one step, just placing the point of the compasses on the point where the circle you have just drawn cuts the line]

Step Four:

Mark the line for the crossguard, by drawing a line perpendicular to the original line, at the point where the first circle cuts the line.

Step Five:

Draw the crossguard, to the right of the perpendicular line. The crossguard is as long as the diameter of the circle.:

Step Six:

Draw the rest of the sword:

blade:

The handle:

Note I drew the blade too wide the first time, so narrowed it here.

Step Seven

Colour it in and share it with your friends!

I made the blade green because that's the colour of Luke's lightsaber in The Return of the Jedi, my first Star Wars movie.

Some things should be apparent from this post.

  1. I will do anything to please my readers. Within reason…
  2. I really do not know how to draw. This is why I hire people…
  3. I'm not much good at photography either.
  4. I am a sword geek.
  5. Editing is really hard, and I will procrastinate in all sorts of ways…

But, there you have it: applying Peter Johnsson's sword geometry theories to Vadi's sword proportions. You can see the man himself doing it in this rather cool video:

And if you don't already have Choosing a Sword, the second instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, then you can get a copy free by signing up below:

It has been a splendid few days in Seattle so far, kicked off by a trapeze lesson with the excellent Milla Marshall at SANCA. The place was pretty empty, so there was no-one to hold the camera (Milla was busy spotting me through the tricky bits), but we did manage to catch this new trick on video:

There's no better way to get the aeroplane out of your spine! This was my third class with Milla, and I can highly recommend her. I also managed to get one go on the flying trapeze on Friday, so that's my adrenal glands thoroughly exercised.

On Thursday evening, Dan from Lonin took me shooting; it's been a while since I last shot, but I didn't disgrace myself. Dan is a fan of old British militaria (up to and including driving a 1980s military Land Rover), and he kindly let me blast away with his (semi-auto) Sterling SMG, his Browning Hi-Power (my favourite 9mm pistol), a WWII Webley revolver, and, to cap it all, a WWI era Webley .455, just like my grandfather carried in the Great War.

I spent most of Friday working on my new Vadi book (it's not all fun and games!). I'm reading around the period quite widely, and came across an interesting light history of the Medici banking empire on my brother-in-law's bookshelves. Medici Money by Tim Parks is well worth a look if you're interested. It's not a mighty and definitive scholarly work, but it explained some aspects of Italian financial history I hadn't grasped before, and it's a fun read. It's by the same Tim Parks that wrote Teach us to Sit Still, a very personal journey into meditation. As my regular readers know, I meditate a lot; if the Vipassana stuff Tim talks about is a bit heavy, you could try this instead.

While I'm on the subject of books: I'm staying at Neal Stephenson's house, and came across an advance reader's copy of his next novel (co-written with Nicole Galland), The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.. Let me put it this way- I meant to just scan the opening pages, but am now 400 pages in… It's classic Neal, in that you can't really categorise it, but it's a lot like Reamde in tone, with a bit of Baroque cycle in content, and it manages to fuse both classic SF elements (quantum physics stuff) with magic, in a way that's just a delight to read. Yes, we're friends so I'm biased, but I would never recommend a book just because a friend wrote it.

Friday night I was teaching in my Seattle sword home, the Lonin loft at SANCA, then all day Saturday (Fiore stuff, with a bit of Vadi), and all day yesterday (I.33 in the morning, Capoferro in the afternoon).  A big shout out to Dan Weber for organising the whole thing, Alex Hanning for running the I.33 group, and Michael Heveran for keeping the rapier flag flying amidst all this medieval stuff. Sunday's seminars were graced by Devon Boorman and three of his Duello students, one of whom, Greg Reimer, is a superb graphic designer who has taken my free Fabris photos and laid them out with Tom Leoni's 2006 translation… I have an advance reader copy of the first section, so it looks like I'll have plenty to do on my flight home next week!

But before then, I'm off to Vancouver tomorrow, to teach seminars at Valkyrie, and, while I'm there, go horse riding for the first time in about a decade… wish me luck! I'll report back in due course. If you're in or around Vancouver next weekend, come and train!

 

Armour of the English Knight, 1400-1450 is the best book on the subject of armour that I have ever read. I bought it last week at the Wallace Collection museum shop, and was simply blown away.

I’m not really an armour man; I prefer fighting out of armour, but I bought this book because I had just had lunch with its author, Toby Capwell, and when I asked him why the English knights preferred to dismount and fight on foot (eg at Agincourt), he said (charmingly) “I answer that in my book”.

And oh my does he ever.

This was the first time Toby and I had met, so you need not fear for my impartiality, but it’s not the first book of his I’ve read. Perhaps my favourite before this was The Real Fighting Stuff, a delightful survey of arms and armour in the Kelvingrove museum, where Toby was curator of arms and armour before taking up the same job at the Wallace. I should also point out that Toby is a serious practitioner of HEMA- primarily on the jousting scene. He’s one of us, but with better kit.

The basic premise of Armour of the English Knight is that funerary monuments can provide detailed information about the armour that the person being represented would actually have worn. This possibly controversial thesis is proven beyond reasonable doubt (to my mind) with a breadth of examples, including details of repairs to armour carved in the effigies that still exist on surviving pieces of armour.

He then uses this data to describe, in great depth and detail, how English armour developed over the course of 50 years or so.

The book is worth buying for the 60 page introduction alone. Or for the photos alone. Or for the rest of the text alone. It’s a coffee-table sized book, produced in exceptionally high quality.

Let me make a prediction: this book is, like most other high-end books on this topic, going to go out of print quite quickly. When it does, instead of paying a measly £50 for it you’ll end up paying hundreds. Because you’ll have seen it in your friend’s library, realised I was right all along and that you simply must have it, and you'll toddle along to amazon only to find you have to sell your house to get a copy: you’ll end up homeless, but with a really good book.

Save yourself the pain and get it now. It’s already over 250 dollars on amazon.com, so don’t even try it there.

Best get it from the Wallace Collection, here. It’s only £50 + shipping. It's £40 if you go there in person and buy it, so Londoners, that's your best bet.

Or you can get it straight from the publisher: It’s £54, EU £65, Rest of the World £75, including shipping. (It's a big heavy book, so those charges aren't unreasonable.

OK, that’s my public service announcement for the week- best get back to editing, and getting ready for my trip to Seattle on Wednesday.

One fencing manual above all has a special place in my heart. I found Donald McBane's The Expert Sword-man's Companion from 1728 in the National Library of Scotland back in the early nineties, and persuaded my University tutor to let it onto the course she was teaching. My essay “The Gallant Pander” was in truth the first bit of proper historical swordsmanship research I ever did.

The book is amazing; it details a rather idiosyncratic version of French smallsword fencing, complete with a “boar's thrust”, but above and beyond that it has McBane's autobiography, detailing his outrageous feats, from leaping a gorge while running away from a battle, to fighting a duel on crutches, to making lots of money running prostitutes in army camps at the turn of the 18th century, to his final career as a very successful prize fighter. It is far and away the best, most amusing, autobiography ever written by anyone ever.

My friend Jared Kirby* has faithfully transcribed and published this book, to the extent of making every page look as much as possible exactly the same as the same page in the original. Jared is a stickler for detail, and he's done a remarkable job of making a transcription look like a facsimile. He has also cleaned up the illustrations until they are crystal clear. This edition also includes some very interesting additional information about McBane's many gladiatorial combats in the introduction by Ben Miller. The original is a very rare book, so this is as close as you're likely to come to owning a copy. You can see it here:

Seriously, buy this book. If you don't like swords, swordfights, duels, adventure or history, what the heck are you doing reading my blog?

*in the interests of transparency: Jared and I are old friends, so you might suspect me of bias. Let me put your mind at rest: 1) I loved McBane before I ever met Jared. 2) I would never recommend a book I don't think you'd like and get value out of, no matter who wrote it. 3) This book has a goddamn bigfoot in it. Seriously!

 

My urgent desire to snuggle up to Philippo Vadi has been gratified, and now you can do the same too. This lovely facsimile went live today, and you can get it from Amazon US, Amazon UK, or order it from any bookshop with the ISBN: 978-9527157091 Not every online store stocks it, probably because it's in Italian.

This is a pure and beautiful facsimile, with no translation, transcription, commentary or introduction; just you and the book. I’m rewriting Veni Vadi Vici at the moment, including a massively improved translation, but until that’s ready you must content yourself with this free copy of my first translation attempt.

And as if that wasn’t enough: I’m planning a reproduction of Meyer’s lovely 1560 manuscript, but am running into trouble with the print options. The trouble is caused by the format of the book- it’s landscape (wider than it is tall) rather than the more usual portrait (taller than it is wide). I’ve put together a summary of the options in this handy form— if you have an opinion, please share it with me there!

What's this? A new book? Or an old one? My recent fascination with producing affordable facsimiles of fencing manuscripts began with wanting to curl up in a chair with Vadi.

Mission accomplished.

The proof copy arrived this week, and I have released it for distribution. It will go on sale on February 28th. I set it that far ahead because it gives me some wiggle room in case I spot any errors in the print file, and because I imagine a lot of the people who bought Fiore's Il Fior di Battaglia will probably be interested in Vadi too, and it makes sense to space out these publications by a month. Fiore went out on the 28th January, so 28th February seemed auspicious.

You can preorder your full-colour hardback loveliness from Amazon US here. And from Amazon UK here.

Or use the isbn to search for it on any book store: 9789527157091

A loud shout-out to Bek Pickard of Zebedee Design who has made the book beautiful!

About a month ago I was checking through a pdf of Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, and thinking how lovely it would be to just pluck the manuscript off a shelf and curl up in an armchair with it. So I looked into getting a copy printed and bound locally. It was going to cost about £40. “Huh, that seems expensive” I thought to myself. “I wonder how much it would cost to get it printed by the company that does my print on demand publishing?” Then I thought- “you know what, I can't be the only person who wants one.” A quick email to my list triggered a deluge of “yes! do it! do it now! I want one!” responses, so I looked into the costs of getting it laid out and a cover designed.

Then it hit me that I really better do Il Fior di Battaglia first. That's a way more popular manuscript, and sales of it could very well subsidize producing Vadi… four weeks later, my facsimile of Fiore dei Liberi’s magisterial Il Fior di Battaglia is #1 in fencing on Amazon (where he assuredly belongs!) as well as #1 in “hot new releases” in martial arts!

The notion of a 600 year old book being a “hot new release” is gloriously ironic, but there you have it. The only modern text in the book is a note in the back saying where the manuscript is, and some details about it. I wanted to keep myself out of these books as far as possible; I mention my Mastering the Art of Arms books, of course, but also Bob Charrette's ArmizareTom Leoni's translation of the text, and some other resources, on the grounds that most readers of the book will be interested. But this is Fiore's book, not mine. It is his manuscript, laid out, but not edited, translated or commented on. It's just its own pure gorgeous self.

 

Our spiffy logo

And now Vadi is laid out, uploaded to the printers, and I'm eagerly awaiting the proof copy.

The ease and sheer pleasure of producing these facsimiles has lead me to create a new imprint, Spada Press, which even has its own (very basic, don’t go there! ok, you can if you want, but I warned you) website up at www.spada.press  I expect I’ll shift all my book publishing over to that imprint, to help keep the various aspects of my work separate. Expect facsimiles of Meyer (the 1560 ms), at least one other Fiore ms, Marozzo, Fabris, and hopefully Capoferro, in the near future. I welcome requests!

On the subject of books: I have been delighted by the way my beta-readers have been responding to the first draft of The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts, which I released a 100 copies of recently. While they like the book, they have also made some really useful suggestions for improvement. I hope to get the book finished within the next four months or so. Also, the second edition of Veni Vadi Vici went to the editor at the end of last week— I have completely rewritten the book, reorganised it, and added a ton of material to the introduction. It’s probably 8 months or so from being published, but this was a major milestone in its production, and it is a much, much better book. Veni Vadi Vici was my first self-published book, and it really shows. The second edition has benefitted greatly from the constructive criticism of many readers, and the expert help of friends and colleagues. I hope it does them justice. I will be sending out ebook copies of the finished book to everyone who backed the crowdfunding campaign, and to everyone I can reach who has bought the well-meaning but flawed Veni Vadi Vici since it launched.

I would say that was a cracking start to 2017, wouldn't you?

Speaking as a teacher, there is nothing more satisfying than finding out that your students have used your material to materially improve their lives in some way, be that as simple as getting better at swordsmanship, or as complex as re-evaluating the entire course of their life. I believe in giving credit where it’s due, and this post is my way of letting someone who has influenced and helped me know about it.

One of the key habits that has lead to my producing so much stuff is that when I hear a good idea, I tend to act on it immediately. Another key habit is I actively look for good ideas to act on, and in the last few years, one of the most rewarding sources of these ideas has been the inestimable Joanna Penn, thriller writer and self-publishing guru. It started when I bought her book How to Market a Book which does exactly what it says on the tin. From the book, I arrived at her podcast, one of half a dozen I listen to regularly. This is an amazing resource for any self-publishing writer, and indeed writers of any kind. There’s something there for everyone. But to the specifics:

By following her advice in How to Market a Book about making friends with influential people, I actually ended up on her podcast talking about swords! This was a nerve-wracking experience for me, being well outside my comfort zone, but has lead to several other opportunities to get my name and work in front of a wider audience. Also, the rest of the advice in that book has been really useful in increasing my book sales directly.

Thanks to the January episode with Ankur Nagpal, of teachable.com, I got the idea to create online courses. I have three up and running now, and more in the pipeline.

Last year I got the idea to write a series of non-fiction shorts, which became The Swordsman's Quick Guide, which is now at 7 episodes and counting. I can’t find the podcast episode that planted that seed, but it was definitely one of Joanna’s.

Thanks to several episodes about or mentioning virtual assistants, I’ve hired one myself, Kate Tilton, who is bringing order to my virtual galaxy.

Thanks to a webinar she did with Nick Stephenson, I have grown my mailing list from about 1200 to over 6000. Specific tactics included making volume one of The Swordsman's Quick Guide free, and including an ad in it for volume 2, also free if you sign up. That by itself added 500 people in a month. Also thanks to Nick, I’ve switched from Mailchimp to Convertkit, and am actually making use of my mailing list.

So if you have any aspirations to write for a living, or you just want a lot of good ideas in one convenient place, go buy all her non-fiction stuff, and go listen to all 220+ episodes of her podcast. That should keep you busy!

And if you’ve enjoyed any of the things I’ve done thanks to Joanna putting the idea in my head, give credit where it’s due!

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