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Tag: fiore

I was recently contacted by a reader asking about teaching left handed students. It’s a common and relatively complex problem, so rather than confine my answer to an email I thought I’d post it here.

The Question

How do you teach left-handers?

Why it’s a problem

Left handers are relatively rare (about 10% of the population, including my dad and my sister), and most of the historical martial arts treatises we work with don’t say much about them. Capoferro has one plate of rapier and dagger showing how to murder a leftie:

Fiore mentions that the guard of coda longa on horseback works against right or left handers (click on the image to expand it, and you can read the text and the translation by Tom Leoni):

Perhaps the biggest section of any treatise dealing explicitly with lefties is in Jeu de la Hache, but it’s still a small proportion of the overall material.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that many of the techniques we recreate from the sources simply don’t work the same way as shown in the books when done cross handed. In addition, right handers don’t see many left-handers, so in combat sports generally, left handers tend to be far more common at the top levels than they are in the general population. This is entirely due to familiarity. Everybody knows how to handle righties- we see them all the time. (For an interesting book that also addresses this in some detail, see The Professor in the Cage, which is well worth reading if you have any interest in martial arts…)

The question is about teaching lefties, not fighting them, so I’ll address that. (If you want my best advice for fighting left handers it’s this: fight them a lot. You’ll get better at it.)

What difference does handedness make?

In blade on blade actions, not much. Principally, inside and outside are not symmetrical [For those unfamiliar: if the sword is in your right hand, everything to the left of the blade as you see it is ‘inside’, and everything to the right is ‘outside’.] If we are both same-handed and our blades are crossed, we will both be either on the inside or on the outside of each other’s blades. But when one of us is differently handed, if you are on my inside, I’m on your outside, and vice-versa. This means that some targets are different, and the angles of attack may be different. But usually, the rules regarding how to attack remain the same. For example, I would only push your elbow if I’m on the outside of your arm. That doesn’t change; what changes is how I would get to your outside, and which of my hands may be able to reach your elbow.

In wrestling at the sword, it makes a great deal more difference.

Tricky to pull off cross-handed. Trans. by Tom Leoni.











This wrap, for instance, only works well using the opposite arm (eg left against right) and from the inside of the wrapped person’s arm. Because this is over both arms, it can be used cross-handed, but you won't get the same control of the sword arm.

Likewise this counter rarely occurs cross-handed at the longsword, because the preceding wrap would have to be done by the sword arm, which is unusual (though you can see it in I.33, f.18.v).

Ligadura sottana, 15th play of the zogho stretto. Trans by Tom Leoni











I include specific examples of techniques adapted from symmetrical drills to cross-handed versions in chapter seven of The Medieval Longsword. In case you don't have it to hand, I've extracted it for you here:

Medieval Longsword sample Cross-handed

So that's the problem. What's the solution? There are several approaches you can take:

Approaches to the problem:

1) make everyone train right handed. I think this is a bad idea if your goal is to produce great practitioners, but if your goal is to perfectly reproduce the plays of a specific treatise, in which everyone is right-handed, then it makes sense. When Christian Tobler began researching German medieval sources, he switched from his natural left handedness to do everything right handed because it was much easier than converting everything.

2) make everyone train both sides. I think this is advisable up to a point- I would expect all my senior students to be able to do all our basic drills and actions with either hand, and any professional instructor to be able to demonstrate anything within their art with either hand. But it’s probably not the best way to train beginners.

3) create specific ‘cross-handed’ variations of every major drill or exercise you use. I think this is essential. The basic drills usually assume two right-handers. Two left-handers can do exactly the same drill, it’s just mirrored. The problems only start when there are a right hander and a left hander training together. I include set forms for the cross handed version of every basic drill in my syllabi.

Advice to instructors:

  • If your syllabus is lacking cross-handed drills, create them. You can do this by setting up the drill and seeing where you (as a lefty) get stuck. Then following the basic principles of the art, solve the problem. When the problem is solved, incorporate that solution into the ‘cross-handed version’.
  • When you have a lefty in class, it’s your job to make sure that they learn the standard form of the drill (i.e. with a fellow left hander, which may have to be you), as well as the cross handed forms. Also, you should take advantage of their presence to accustom your other students to dealing with cross-handed situations.
  • As the instructor, you can always require the senior students to reverse their handedness (so lefties become righties, and vice versa), which gives  everyone else the chance to face the less-common situation.
  • Start with the simplest drills- make sure that you can do all the solo drills in your syllabus with your left hand, and can see what they should look like in your students when they are left handed.
  • Set up a basic pair drill, and see what happens. At any given point, the left-hander should be behaving normally for them. Never ask them to attack differently or switch hands for the convenience of the right hander (unless they are very experienced and the righty is a beginner).

I hope that's helpful! Feel free to make any suggestions or ask questions in the comments below.

For more on how to teach, you may find these posts useful:

How to get started teaching historical martial arts

How to teach a basic class

As this awesome comic shows, many students find the new, foreign, terminology a major barrier to learning swordsmanship. (You can see the whole strip here; this is just one panel)

How it feels to take your first sword class in an Italian style… from the excellent web comic Sähköjanis.

I get it. I really do. In 2006 I even wrote an article explaining why I translate “meza” and “tutta” the way I do. I put a glossary in the back of most of my books, and I created a separate pdf handout for the Longsword Course that includes the essential terms for studying Fiore and Vadi. If you'd like a copy, sign up below and I'll send you one automagically.



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  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?

You may recall I went to Scotland a couple of weeks ago, and on that trip a select few got to travel to Glasgow to visit the Museum Resource Centre. There we met a curator, Dr Ralph Moffat, who kindly opened case after case of swords, guns, and armour, for us to (literally) play with. One piece at a time, of course, and no actual murder allowed, but still, a morning exceptionally well spent.

As you can see from this photo, I was miserable the whole time.

That's a cinquedea, one of my favourite kinds of blades. They are just so in-your-face, unapologetic, and dear god you don't want ever to be hit by one.

Though Phil Crawley, who organised the trip, seems entirely unconcerned about being stabbed by an early 17th century rapier (a blissful sword- much more agile than some others I've handled, but a proper killing blade nonetheless).


(I snagged this picture from Facebook, so if whoever took it would like credit, let me know).

For me one of the highlights, and the impetus for this post, was this extraordinary weapon.

boar-sword-hiltWhich has a blunt blade and a spear tip:



And two almighty horns sticking out the sides!




As you can see, the blade is completely blunt- it's only function is to create space between the spear tip and the handle. This is the only historical example of a boar sword with its secondary crossguard fitted that I've ever got to handle. Why am I so excited? Because Fiore shows one, here:


(From folio 24v of Il Fior di Battaglia, Getty MS.) The purpose of the secondary crossguard is to stop a wild boar from running up your blade after you've stabbed it, and goring you (as Mordred did to King Arthur in Le Morte d'Arthur).

This boar sword is obviously a lot later than 1410; I'd put it about 1550-1600, from Germany (experts please chime in if I'm wrong), but still, I hope it's catnip to us Fiore fans.

On the subject of Fiore: I do hope you've seen this awesome piece of work: the Fiore app for Android! it's basically a concordance of the four surviving manuscripts, and oh my, what a handy resource it is!

Yesterday I went to visit my friend Peter Mustonen. He’s an arms dealer; but our kind of arms dealer: gorgeous antique swords, knives, guns, armour, shields; you name it, he has a delicious example. I spent some time playing with swords, you know, as one does.

A Stantler sword, from 1580-1600. Original grip, original everything, beautiful specimen. You could stab it through anything.

While I was there he mentioned finding a book I might have an interest in. Nothing special, just a book.

Just a copy of the 1902 Novati edition of Il Fior di fucking Battaglia.

Let me put this in some perspective for you. My first encounter with Fiore was through fifth generation photocopies of the facsimile section of this book. This was the book that introduced Fiore to the modern world, and lead us to find the Getty, the Morgan, and eventually the Paris copies of the manuscript.

It contains a lengthy scholarly introduction to the work,

From Novati's introduction; a picture of Liechtenauer!

And a complete facsimile of the Pisani-Dossi manuscript (to date the only copy of that manuscript that we know of; the original is yet to re-surface), with a complete transcription.

The facsimile itself.

From a HEMA perspective, this is the book that launched a thousand scholari.

Now it belongs to me.

This means that as soon as I reasonably can, I’ll produce high quality photos or scans and distribute them. I might also produce a paperback reproduction of the whole thing, if there’s a market for it.

Just a short post today, because I have to go change my trousers. And, I have a book to read…

Tell your friends, tell everyone working on Fiore; this book is now OURS!!

The first and second plays of the first master of the zogho largo.
The first and second plays of the first master of the zogho largo.

It is an exciting time to be a Fiore scholar; the Getty recently released hi-res scans of the treatise, Michael Chidester of Wiktenauer fame has just released his concordance of the techniques in the four version of the manuscript that survive, and Freelance Academy Press has announced it is bringing out a scholarly edition of the manuscripts (which they've posted about on Facebook, but I can't find it on their website or I'd link to it). This all in addition to my latest scribblings.

And now, we have the International Armizare Society, an organisation that, to quote from its mission statement exists to:

…maintain and pass down canonical Armizare as recorded and left to posterity by the Founder, Fiore dei Liberi, and the work of successors determined to be within his tradition. In furtherance of this, the IAS also seeks the “preservation and promotion of Armizare as a complete, traditional, but living and functional martial art”.

In furtherance of these goals, the association is to provide a common set of curricular and performance objectives such that inter-school rank recognition by signatories is facilitated. As a result, the IAS will also form a testing body and formal testing regimen for instructor certification to ensure transmission and proper preservation of the dei Liberi Tradition, as the IAS sees it.

Their website went live last week, and I have been fielding questions about it ever since. I found out about it perhaps 24 hours before it went live, thanks to an email list I’m on, so it’s taken me some time to assemble my thoughts on the subject. Here they are:

This society has the potential to be a hugely beneficial force in the HEMA world, and a hugely important step in the long-term study of Fiore’s art. It may also end up petering out into nothing, or acting as net drag on progress if it becomes calcified into a “cult of one truth” (which is unlikely given the current membership).

The people involved, (Sean Hayes, Greg Mele, and Jason Smith) are all first-rate researchers and practitioners, who have long track records of distinguished service to the Art of Arms. I have high hopes that this organisation that they have put together will be able to accomplish its stated mission; to provide a certification program for Armizare (Art of Arms) instructors.

It’s worth reading its charter in its entirety, because it has clearly been thought out and worked up in detail.

They have assembled a dream team of advisors, divided into the Research Council, peopled by Bob Charrette, Tom Leoni, Daniel Jacquet, and Marco Quarta (the last two being professional academics); and the Martial Council, peopled by Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Roberto Gotti, Roberto Laura, Marco Quarta (again!) and Orazio Barbagallo (the only person on this list I don’t know). These are all names to conjure with.

Very sensibly, they went live only after assembling an impressive and useful set of resources: blog posts, articles and videos. This bodes well for their website becoming one of the more useful armizare resources out there, regardless of whether one chooses to join them or not. As any qualifying body must, the IAS has its own curriculum based on the founders’ interpretations of Fiore’s surviving books. This is necessary, of course, but runs the risk of becoming monolithic. All institutions tend to institutionalise; I guess that the function of the research committee is to make sure that there is a mechanism by which changes to the interpretation and thus the curriculum can be made. Let’s hope it works that way in practice.

It’s impossible to know at this stage what the tangible benefits of joining would be; the curriculum seems well thought out in broad strokes, but it’s not published (yet?) so I haven’t been able to look at any of their actual drills. I imagine that there would be some kind of mentorship of long-distance students, who would have access to the details of drills, techniques and so on that the curriculum must contain.  It is also impossible to know how compatible that curriculum would be with those of other Fiore-based schools. But I have had Greg, Sean, and Jason’s students in my classes many times, and crossed swords with many of them outside of class, so I know that they are more than capable of training excellent swordsmen.

My concerns:

At the moment, the Society is an idea with a website. It has no legal standing, as far as I can tell; it’s not a registered charity, or a business, or any other legal thing. This worries me, because without that kind of legal framework, I think it may be especially difficult to attain the goals that the organisation has set for itself.

Given how spread out geographically the current membership is, and how part of their mission is to organise events (which Greg Mele, at least, as the force behind WMAW and other events, knows far more about than I do), the annual 20 dollar membership fee seems totally inadequate. It would make more sense to me if it was closer to 50/month, to create a fund to help with things like subsidising the cost of exams (flying examiners in, for instance), subsidising the events they want to create, and so on.

The testing requirements look good, and with Sean and Puck both being qualified fencing masters, modelling the examining structure on their classical example makes a lot of sense and should work very well. But until a body of masters has been built up, organising exams will be very very challenging. And until their curriculum is made public, it’s impossible to know what the qualifications they offer actually mean. I’ve written here about certification, and here about mastery.

As one would expect, the organisation is currently completely controlled by its founders, and fair enough. Organisations or people who choose to join it will have no voting rights until they are qualified at the highest level of the organisation, magister. Which again is fair enough. But it does mean that for at least five years (the minimum time that you must be a member before testing at the magister level), the organisation is effectively completely dependent on the guidance and energy of its three founders.

Most organisations die in the first 5 years. Most of those that survive, die in the next five years. So I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful, that in ten years time we will see a mature and functional Society that is supremely capable of ensuring the long-term viability of Fiore’s Art. We are witnessing the birth of a new School; it is only fair to judge a school by the quality of the students it attracts and produces. I look forward to seeing the first IAS-qualified instructors in action!

I am usually late to any party held on the internet, because I don't go looking for stuff, and I am pretty cavalier about things like facebook. Which means, much to my chagrin, that I didn't even hear about the MIGHTY WIKTENAUER Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for their vital work until after it was all over. All is not lost though; they have taken advantage of Indiegogo's InDemand option to make their campaign open-ended; you can still get in there and buy stuff!

One of the perks on the campaign is a concordance of the four versions of Il Fior di Battaglia, complete with all of the free translations etc currently available. I got sent a copy of volume one, which goes from the beginning up to the end of the sword in one hand section, a couple of days ago because it includes (with my permission, of course!) my transcription and translation of the introduction and 16 chapters of theory of Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, as published in my Veni Vadi Vici. I have not even begun to go through this 280 page labour of love, but just looking at it makes me quake at the amount of work that has gone into it.  The idea is to gather all the information from each of the manuscripts about every technique. Here for instance is the page detailing the 11th (in the Getty MS) play of the sword in one hand:

all four images of this play.

Where a given action is in only three, two, or one of the manuscripts, that's what you see. And that by itself is really useful to know.

This is of course extremely useful for practitioners, and absolutely everyone who does Fiore should buy both volumes. Before you rush of to do so though, I do have a couple of caveats:

These volumes do not include the manuscripts in their original order. This means that you get no sense of the book as a whole when using this concordance. In a perfect world, these would come with copies of the manuscripts intact as well; but you can download them (free) from the wiktenauer anyway, or pay a bit extra to get a package of the manuscripts of your choice sent to you. I would not recommend anyone to use the concordance who does not also have access to the un-edited un-altered manuscripts.

There are lots of problems with the translations; the one that jumped out at me when I scanned through the book was Posta Frontale translated as “the guard of the headband”, which is nonsense: frontale has been used to mean the headband on a bridle (see the Vocabolario della Crusca's entry on the word. Go to Lemmi, then to F, then Fronte, and scroll down.) but then it would be “posta di frontale” or something like it. Frontale, used in this way without a preposition is an adjective; this is “frontal guard” or something like it. Like “posta longa” is “long guard” (“extended” in this translation), and “posta di dente di zenghiaro” is the “guard of the boar's tooth”.

It is very easy to criticise, of course. And I can attest from experience that as soon as you put your work out there, especially for free, a whole lot of assholes will come out of the woodwork to shoot it down. But, some of those assholes are right in some of their criticisms. And not all of the critics are assholes. By putting your work out there to be shot at, you can find the parts that need to be fixed. I would strongly recommend anyone who uses this concordance to remember that the translations have been released for free by hard-working members of the community, to further the art. And if you can't read Fiore's words in their original language, then you have no choice but to rely on those who can. So gratitude first, criticism second. I would recommend also getting a copy of Tom Leoni's translation (currently on backorder), which is the most accurate currently available (though Tom and I have had long discussions about certain passages; he tends to modernise and elide more than I care for). But look who's talking! My own Veni Vadi Vici is so sadly riddled with errors that I am working on a second edition with far fewer mistakes (I hope). Expect a version of it to be released in a few months.

I have just bought volume two of the Fiore concordance; it is a mere 50 USD. A lot for an ebook, you might think; but this isn't an ebook. It's a way to show support; it's a useful resource; it's putting my money where my mouth is.

So let me conclude with this: absolutely nobody in the history of the renaissance of historical swordsmanship that we are currently enjoying has done more to further the availability of the manuscripts and other sources that we all depend on for the bit that makes what we do historical than the Wiktenauer team. They absolutely deserve our support. And with these concordances (two volumes on Fiore, one on Liechtenauer), they have produced tools that a generation of medieval combat practitioners will find invaluable. Go! Be generous!

And a very happy New Year to you all!

We are in the middle of our annual monster seminar, the Fiore Extravaganza. We began with a day of pollax training from the medieval French manuscript Jeu de la Hache, taught by Lois Forster. Lois flew over from France with his armour and a squire (hi Vincent!). He is conducting an emprise, a feat of arms in which he travels round fighting people in armour, according to the same set of rules and with the same intent as was done in the 15th century. I saw him take on several such fights at Armizare 2015, and of course agreed to fight him while he was here. We used rubber-headed pollaxes, and fought to 30 blows. This is unlike other competitive freeplay, in that it only finishes when the “Lord” governing the fight (in our case Ville Henell) calls halt, which he can do whenever he pleases; there are no breaks, and no winner is declared. You win by taking part. The fight also ends if somebody drops their weapon (for any reason), or is thrown to the ground.
I was so impressed with Lois’ attitude and skills that I allowed two of my students to borrow my armour (yes, really) and fight him too.
You can see our bout here:


The next morning, the Extravaganza attendees and I planned the rest of the week in some detail. All of this pollaxy goodness inspired them to ask for a pollax form, to preserve the material in a trainable medium. So we went over Fiore’s pollax plays, and some stuff from Jeu de la Hache, and I used the next few sessions to teach them how to create a form in a systematic, rational, and useful way. This went so well I thought I'd share it here.
We started by deciding what the form was for, and then what technical content ought to be.
This is what we came up with.

Our initial notes on what the form should be for, and contain.

What is it for?

  • Self-Improvement. This was the first thing mentioned, and is a little vague. But a good base to work from.
  • Memory Guide: The form should make it easier for students to recall aspects of the pollax material.
  • Flow/Mechanics: practising the form should ingrain the correct movement style and habits, enabling fluent and powerful actions.
  • Expandable: the form should be built in a way that allows the various actions to be expanded on, to trigger memory cascades, and create loci for memorising other material.

What should it contain?

Then we thought about what kind of material it should contain. The first thing mentioned was the guards of the axe, so that became our starting point. Around that came grip and handling drills, ways of exploiting armour, strikes, disarms, locks, takedowns, and parries.
Many forms come in two parts; our Syllabus Form, and our Cutting drill are obvious examples, but I have come across the same thing in many other martial arts.
We decided to start with applications, which of course must be trained in pairs. Then it struck me that once we had a curriculum of pair drills, we could make part one the defensive actions (remedies), and part two the offensive actions (attacks and counter-remedies). This would allow us to embed the stimuli for the various actions of the form within the form itself.
So we started with a pair drill, the defence of dente di zenghiaro against posta di donna, and added posta di donna’s counter-remedy. These became step one of parts one and two respectively.
Over the course of a couple of hours, we came up with three solid drills beginning with the following pairs of guards: donna versus zenghiaro, posta breve la serpentina versus vera croce, and coda longa versus posta di finestra la sinestra. As we covered the various aspects of technique, I marked them on our board. You can see the marks in black. And once we had a black mark on every green circle, we had covered everything we had decided on.
So I added the red tactics box, to survey what tactics we had also covered. We had included Attacks, Feints, Yielding to parries (Go Around), Parry-riposte, and Invitations.
But we were not completely satisfied; counter-attacks were not well represented, and neither were crossings of the axe. So we chose to add a fourth drill, with vera croce opposed by fenestra la sinestra, which would include them.
Now we had to put these pieces in order, and glue them together with axe handling drills and references to Jeu de la Hache (the best medieval source for this weapon, I think). The first question was how to tie the two halves together. It was tricky, so we shelved it, and worked on the easier ones.
Ordering the drills was easy enough; we put them in the same order as the pairs of guards shown in the Getty ms. I wrote down the starting guard and finishing guard for each drill, like so:

The start and end of each application in blue; magic glue in red.

The start and end of each application in blue; magic glue in red.

Part 1:
Vera croce, finishes in a one-handed fenestra destra.
Dente di zenghiaro, finishes in Guard of the Cross (from Jeu).
Fenestra sinestra, finishes with your axe in one hand between the opponent’s legs, left foot forwards.

Part 2:
Breve la serpentina, finishes with a takedown, right foot forwards.
Donna destra, finishes in guard of the cross.
Coda longa, finishes in a ligadura sottana with the left hand.
Fenestra sinestra, finishes in posta breve la serpentina. From here you need to be able to go to the end position (whatever that will be), or back to the beginning of the form, or to the beginning of part two.

So we then worked together to make useful and interesting “magic glue” to tie the parts together. I wrote notes on our choices in red. We were careful to practice these together, to make sure that the form could be done in class, in our salle. We added several turns to reduce the form’s footprint.
The last task of the morning was to create the segue between parts one and two. We started out by calling it the butterfly, but I thought that was un-axe-like, and called it the Dragon instead. This was apposite, as one thing the students wanted to include was some of the queue/pedale/tail of the axe material we had done with Lois, and as readers of Veni Vadi Vici know, the dragon strikes by lashing with its tail. The Dragon had to be very clearly not a pair drill though, or we would end up creating another application set, leaving us with a form that would get longer and longer. In the end I came up with an exercise based on my own arm-conditioning drills with a long stick:

Over the course of the seminar, we plan to spend some time every day polishing and refining the form (and memorising it), after which it will be videoed and put up on the wiki.
Once the form was complete, we summarised the process we had used to create it, here:

The Process:
1) Purpose: decide what the form is for.
2) Components: decide what applications and other elements it should include, such as tactics, guards and so on.
3) Survey the components to make sure you have all the necessary aspects covered, and finalise the total content.
4) Order the components.
5) Create the magic glue that ties the components together, taking into account space constraints.
6) Test and bug fix: this requires a feedback mechanism, and is much easier with a group or team.
7) Train the fuck out of it!
This raised the question of how to train the form, and the potential risks of form training. We came up with this diagram:

Which I have recreated for you in Scapple:

In brief, the form can be used for solo practice and with partners to train applications; each step can be expanded to include other elements; it is a memory palace in which to store the things you have learned, and it can be used as a diagnostic. The primary risk of form training can be summarised as “it becomes ballet”. Compliant opponents allow your technique to become sloppy; form replaces function. There is also the risk of over-specialisation, in that you can confuse the content of the form with the entire content of the art. Drilling the applications properly should prevent balletisation, and expanding every step should prevent over-specialisation. But this is not an easy process.

I think the next instalment of my The Swordsman’s Quick Guide (after Ethics, which is due out very soon), will be a detailed write-up of creating and using forms in martial arts training. What do you think?


This form, and to some extent this process, is absolutely not all my own work. This was a team effort, and the team comprises:

Anna Lahtinen, Antti Jauhainen, Gaja Kochaniewicz, Guy Windsor, Ilpo Luhtala, Kliment Yanev, Petteri Kihlberg, Teemu Kari, Tero Alanko, and Zoë Chandler.

When the form is polished, I'll video it in detail and post it to the Syllabus Wiki. In the meantime, if you find this kind of thing useful and you'd like to say thanks, please leave a comment below, sign up to my email list (there's a form below), throw some change in the tip jar, or go buy one of my books!

I returned yesterday from a visit to the Osnabrück branch of my School, where every day of training was followed by one or two small beers, and playing Audatia. These guys are good enough (at the game, at least 🙂 ) that I got at least one pommel strike in my face, and ate a sword point or two.


Which is all well and good; it never fails to give me a buzz to have a group of Italian-style swordsmen in the heart of Germany!

But German swordsmanship, especially Medieval German swordsmanship, is (and it kills me to say so) every bit as sophisticated and effective as the Italian.

Which is why I wanted to incorporate German swordsmanship into my card game. To this end, I met up first with our illustrious Patron, Teemu Kari, to go over what he wanted.

His is a Character Deck, like the other three (Galeazzo, Boucicault, Agnes), but instead of being trained in Fiore’s system, the Patron's Character is German, and uses German swordsmanship.

Then we needed a long session with our genius designer, Samuli Raninen. It was one of those days when you look up from your work, realise that you're hungry, and discover that it's 4pm and you forgot to stop for lunch.

My impression is that just as Fiore’s Armizare does not equate to “general Italian medieval combat”, Liechtenauer’s art does not equate to “what all Germans did for swordfighting in the 14th and 15th centuries”. So the Patron deck has German terminology, and some Liechtenauer techniques (such as Winden and Zucken), but if he wants to throw a Schielhau, he’s going to need some extra training in the form of the Liechtenauer Expansion Pack.
The Patron Deck works like the other Characters, in that he has guards (the Liechtenauer ones though, not Fiore’s), blows (named in German, but with the same characteristics as the Italian versions), and his own set of special skills (including some top-secret and very cool ones, such as Throw the Sword…). Where he is most different though is in the Stretto cards. He has all the counter-remedies, so he is not an easy mark for us Italians, but several of his Stretto Remedies have been replaced with German-style winding and binding actions.

The Expansion Pack is quite different. It contains only the four guards that Liechtenauer actually recommends:
Ochs, Pflug, Vom Tag and Alber, with Ochs and Pflug on both sides, so six cards in all. We have left out the rest of them (Schrankhut, Nebenhut, and so on, though they are in the Patron Deck).
Then there are twenty “Technique” cards, including one of each of the five Meisterhau, and fifteen other Liechtenauer concepts, such as Mutieren and Duplieren, Uberlauffen, and so on. You get five of these to play with in total, but instead of going into your hand to be “spent” when you play them, they are returned to your Expansion Pack hand and may be re-used. This is because they act to modify an existing Action card that you play; they cannot be played on their own. For example, Zwerchau allows you to use a Mezano as a counter-attack; Absetzen allows you to defend with a Thrust (Punta or Ort) from any Posta.
As always, these cards play nicely together, and any game you play can be replayed sword-in-hand. But they do not of course behave exactly like swords (which is why medieval knights did not usually fight with small cardboard oblongs).
Jussi, our graphic artist, has been working on the art for a while now. We have drafts of much of the decks already, we thought that Sigmund Ringeck would be a good model for our Expansion Pack character:

We are nearly there!

Happy Mothers' day, from sunny Finland!

And what could be more motherly than a spot of medieval combat?

It is very hard to defend yourself against a fully-committed attack with a dagger. To be honest, it’s not something we focus on all that much; we tend to prefer sword fights. But a couple of weeks ago I ran a class on dealing with committed dagger attacks. It went like this:

First we ran a diagnostic; did everyone present have a reasonably complete knowledge of the dagger curriculum? The answer came back “yes”. There were no obvious gaps in knowledge (distinguishing carefully between knowledge and skill). Then I polled them; how many felt confident of defending themselves with a sword against a sword attack? All hands went up. Unarmed against a dagger? No hands went up.

The next step was to analyse our drills from the point of view of my “bullshit” theory. Where is the bullshit?

The attacks they were used to from basic classes were a) done with a training dagger, not the real thing; b) done singly; just one blow, or maybe two. No flurries of strikes; c) done without a great deal of force; and d) done usually in a set pattern of some kind, allowing them to predict what the sequence would be, so what techniques were likely to work.

We began with speed: the attacker had to make multiple fast strikes. This quickly overwhelmed the defender. Clearly there was no point being competitive about this, so using my rule of ‘c’s (which is there in the “how to spot the bullshit” post), we had the attacker coach the defender by easing off the speed to the level where the defender was successful most, but not all, of the time.

Then strength; instead of lots of fast blows, the attack was to be done as a single blow, but with maximum force. This generated slower, but more forceful actions. Again, the attacker had to coach the defender; modifying the force to what they could only just handle. All the students agreed that a single hard blow was much easier to deal with than multiple fast ones.

Speed and strength had been trained against using rubber or wooden daggers; it’s easy to be brave against a dummy weapon. So the students were given the option to train with or without masks, and with sharp daggers. Some chose no mask with sharps; some chose masks with sharps; some chose no mask with blunts; some chose masks and blunts. But all of them went more slowly, and more gently. Funny that. It is hard to be bold against lethal force.

It was actually at this stage in the class that I noticed that we were actually working through Fiore’s four virtues (celeritas, forteza, ardimento, avvisamento) one at a time. So I thought for a minute about how to train for avvisamento, foresight. And I came up with responsiveness drills, in which the attacker varies his response to the defender’s initial defence, and the defender has to adapt; they do not know what is coming in advance.

Of course, at each stage of this class, we were working on just one thing. We never did full speed, full force, highly variable attacks with a sharp weapon against an unprotected face, because someone would have died. But by breaking the problem down into its component challenges, we could address each area of bullshit in turn.

Readers of my Seven Principles of Mastery booklet will have recognised the principles at work here: we trained with no injuries, we differentiated between knowledge and skill, we ran a diagnostic, and we worked on the 20% of technique that make up 80% of what you’re likely to use (though we didn’t actually address the range of techniques available except to establish at the start that all the students in class had a sufficiently broad knowledge base). The practice was mindful, and the students were sufficiently challenged that they spent most of the time in a state of flow. The one thing we didn't really go into was adopting useful beliefs; perhaps that should be the subject of another post?


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Sad news, but be happy

My father Roger Windsor died on Tuesday 22nd, at home. Sometime in the night- so