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

Tag: medieval longsword

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.

 

 

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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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.
happy-guy

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).

stabbing-phil

(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:

 

boar-sword-tip

And two almighty horns sticking out the sides!

boar-sword-second-crossguard

boar-sword-horns

boar-sword

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:

boar-sword-in-il-fior-di-battaglia

(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!

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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Hello.

Do you find yourself explaining the same thing over and over to various friends and colleagues? Wouldn’t it be easier to just explain it once, and then send the explanation to anyone who needs it?

In my case, I tend to explain all sorts of things regarding swords, as teaching swordsmanship has been my job for the last 15 years. But lately, more and more people have wanted to talk to me about writing books. This makes sense, given that I have written half a dozen of them, plus hundreds of articles and blog posts, and these days about half my income comes from the books I’ve had published in the traditional way, or published myself. When I found myself explaining the process I use to write and publish books for the hundredth time, I thought that perhaps it was time to follow my own advice and write the process down so anyone who wants to can use it.

A History Lesson

Back in 1999 a friend of mine suggested I should write a book about how to fight with swords. I had been teaching swordsmanship for about five years by that point, in a club I helped to found in Edinburgh in 1994. This friend was quite persuasive, so I set to, in my spare time from my cabinet-making job. A year later I had left woodwork to start The School of European Swordsmanship, (in Helsinki, Finland), which kept me busy in the evenings and weekends, but left much of every day free to write. It took me another two years to get the first draft ready. What with publisher’s delays and endless edits, the book, The Swordsman’s Companion, did not see the light of day until June 2004.

The day I sent off the final final draft I sat down to write the next book, which became The Duellist’s Companion. That only took two years, including the madly slow publishing process; so about 18 months of writing time.

My last book, every bit as difficult, and much more advanced than either of these two, was written in under three months of actual writing time, spread over the course of a year.

What changed?

I learned how to do it.

The process

Never, ever, try to write a book. It’s too big. Write a word, or a line, or a paragraph, or maybe even a chapter. You can start with a question, the more specific the better. “How do you use a sword” is too general. “How do you hold a medieval longsword” is much better. So, break up the topic into lots of very specific questions. “How do you defend yourself from a thrust to the belly from a low guard on the right?” is good. “How do you defend against thrusts” is less good, unless you already have three or four related and very specific questions answered, and you can summarise them.

One question = one episode/article/paragraph/chapter.

A little question can be answered in 200-3000 words. Just about right for a blog post, or a facebook update, something like that. A big question can be answered in 3-10 thousand words. Perfect for a short ebook.

5-10 big questions on the same topic can be edited together into a book.

Now what about fiction?

Well, I’ve never published a novel, so I’m no expert on this, but I have several friends who have. And some of them have written books about it. Storyteller Tools by M. Harold Page is a very useful book, and so is Jump Start Your Novel, by Mark Teppo. I recommend them both highly. There is no reason why this process would not work for fiction too, though it doesn’t solve the issues of creating engaging characters or thrilling plot. The thing you sit down to write is a scene; many scenes, properly ordered, make a novel. For fiction writers reading this, I’m sure you can draw the necessary parallels.

Step 1: to plan, or not to plan, that is the question!

This is very much down to your personality and experience. If you have an enormous question that can be broken down into 6-12 big questions, then right now you could get a piece of paper and a pen, and organise the questions into your table of contents. The trick to ordering them is to keep in mind the prerequisite knowledge for each answer. I can’t explain to you how to hold a sword if you don’t know what a sword is. For every question, it is usually best to assume that your reader knows absolutely nothing. It’s been my experience that most students coming to me can’t even stand or walk properly. (Really. Most people have problems with their gait.) So I start with how to stand. It’s never wrong to go too basic; it is much better that readers skip over stuff they know (or think they know) to get to the “good stuff”, than it is for readers to be baffled or frustrated because they don’t have the background you imagined, and so can’t follow your thread.

Let’s take my book The Medieval Longsword as an example. The enormous question I’m trying to answer is: “how do you fight with a medieval longsword?”

The table of contents doesn’t look like a list of questions, but here it is, with the questions added.

Introduction to the Mastering the Art of Arms Collection: “how does this book fit into the other books in the series?”

Foreword by Christian Cameron: “does anybody famous and cool who knows about swords think this book is good?”

Introduction: “how does Guy know what he’s talking about?”

Chapter One: Tools of the Trade: “what equipment do I need?”

Chapter Two: General Principles: “what are the fundamental ideas behind how swordfights actually work?”

Chapter  Three: Footwork: Stepping and Turning: “how do I move?”

Chapter Four: One Strike, One Defence: “what is the basic attack, and the basic defence against it?”

Chapter Five: More Strikes, More Defences “what other attacks and defences should I know to start with?”

Chapter Six: More Strikes, and More Guards “what are the less common attacks, and the other guard positions?”

Chapter Seven: Counter Remedies,  Their Counters, and Improving

the Guards: “how do the fighters continue after the first attack and defence?”

Chapter Eight: Counters to the Break,  The Sword in One Hand

and Exploiting Mistakes: “what other cool techniques are there?”

Chapter Nine: Binds, Malice and Deceit: “what tactics are best?”

Chapter Ten: Preparing for Freeplay: “I want to fight my friends without killing them. How do I prepare for that?”

Chapter Eleven: Freeplay! “and how do I actually do it?”

Chapter Twelve: A Final Summary:  The System by Numbers: “how do I remember all this stuff?”

Appendix A – Warming: Up “how do I warm up?”

Appendix B – Glossary: “what do all those funny Italian words mean?”

Acknowledgements: “who helped in the writing of the book?”

Indiegogo Campaign Contributors: “who bought the book before it was even published (bless them)?”

Bibliography: “what other books were needed to write this one?”

Knowing all those questions in advance, it was quite easy for me to plan the book out, and then just write each chapter as it came. I didn’t write them in order though, I answered the question I wanted to answer each day.

Writing a series is a bit different. In The Swordsman’s Quick Guide for example, the questions are far less naturally connected: “what are the fundamental aspects to mastering any skill?” (The Seven Principles of Mastery); “how do I choose a sword?” (Choosing a Sword); “how do I train myself up to freeplay standard?” (Preparing for Freeplay); “what is the ethical dimension of swordsmanship?” (Ethics); “how should I teach a basic class?” (How to Teach a Basic Class (forthcoming)). As I add to the list, I may end up with a coherent book, or I may not. It doesn’t actually matter. But at this stage there is no point in sitting down to plan the whole series, because I don’t have one enormous question I’m trying to answer, just a series of smaller ones.

Step 2: define the questions as closely as possible, and answer them

This is what you will write today. “How do you set up a table-top role-playing game for 3-8 players?” is a good question. “How do I cut lap dovetails for a drawer front?” is a good question. You can write your answer straight out, if that’s natural. Or talk into your phone, and type up the answer, if that’s easier. Or call a student or friend, somebody who has asked the question, and explain it over skype, recording the call. Then type that up.

Step 3: send your answer out to test readers

Only the people who do not already know the answer, the people who would actually need your book, can tell you whether it solves their problem. So you need to find these people (I’m assuming you have some kind of social network, or at least one actual person has asked you this question), and ask them to read it for you, and let you know honestly what they think.

I’ve been writing for a long, long time, and still I get all sorts of negative feedback from my test readers. Positive comments are nice, but negative comments have a much greater capacity to improve the work, so that’s what you need from your readers. Beg them to be merciless.

Apply as much or as little of the feedback to your draft as you like, then sit on it while you go to step four:

Step 4: rinse and repeat

Find and answer at least two more really specific questions, following steps one and two. You now have three or more short pieces, of about 3-10 thousand words each. Go back and re-read the first one, in the light of the other two; you’ll probably find a few more corrections or additions to make.

Step 5: give readers a way to contact you

This is absolutely critical. Your readers must have a way to get in touch, because you absolutely depend on them for critical feedback. You exist to solve their problems; you have to know whether you are doing that well or not. Give them as many ways as possible; email, website, facebook, twitter, phone, snail mail address; every medium that you are willing to be contacted on. Then let them contact you in the way that suits them best. Put this information at the beginning and end of each article.

On the advice of a friend, I got myself a Facebook account in 2010. Within three weeks, somebody in America had got in touch to ask me whether it would be ok to use The Duellist’s Companion as the curriculum for his rapier school; of course he’d insist every student bought a copy. Would that be ok?

Hell yes! By offering a low-barrier-to-entry, unintimidating means of getting in touch, I made it easy for this chap to ask the question. I would have been perfectly happy with email. I prefer it. But it’s not about what I prefer, now is it?

Step 6: cover design

If you have the budget for it, by all means get somebody with artistic flair to make you a cover for each of your pieces. If the questions are closely related, you can go with a series cover, like my The Swordsman’s Quick Guide, but if they are not, use separate covers. You can pay anything from about 30 euros up to over a thousand per cover. At this stage though it’s perfectly ok to just do it yourself. It doesn’t have to be great. Because we are not nearly done. When your complete book is ready, then I would highly recommend hiring a professional cover designer if you can possibly afford it. But for now, it’s not such a big deal.

Step 7: (optional) publish the articles

At this stage you have a few articles, which will either be stand-alone parts of a series, or chapters of the book. You can greatly expand your circle of test-readers by publishing them. It’s probably best to publish them in two-week cycles, rather than all at once. Because while you’re beavering away writing articles 4-6, you can be publishing 1-3 one at a time, and giving the impression of massive productivity. Go you!

Beg for feedback, reviews, any kind of reader response. To get this, make sure your readers have a means to get in touch.

Your sales at this stage are not the point. It’s ok if they are tiny. You sold five booklets at 99 cents each to people you didn’t know this month? Excellent!

You know that an article is ready to publish if you can honestly say to yourself that you are doing the readers a favour by publishing it. That’s the barrier. Will reading this improve their lives at a level commensurate with the price I’m charging?

Before you publish, make certain that at least one test reader is a competent copy-editor. The sort of person who notices  the double space I just put in between “notices” and “the” in this sentence. If you have no friends with this very specific skill, then hire somebody. I recommend Becca Judd, who edited Swordfighting for me, and Advanced Longsword.

Step 8: compile and edit the book

The book of your dreams does not exist. I sat down to write THE BOOK in 1999, and I failed miserably. There are a million other books, all at least as much worth reading. But I did manage to write A GOOD BOOK. And that’s plenty good enough.

You can produce a simple compilation volume (which you should probably do anyway), or you can edit the articles together into a complete new book (with a bunch of extra material, I would suggest; perhaps no more than 60% previously published stuff). There is nothing stopping you from writing extra material for your completed book as you go along, choosing for early publication only the parts that lend themselves easily to being answered as a separate article. Let’s say you have 6-10 articles that together make most of a book. By putting them in order, you can see what’s missing; an introduction to the book as a whole, sure, and usually some kind of conclusion section, but you may also realise that there are logical gaps in your narrative. So fill them.

This process is much easier if you are using a decent word processing program, like Scrivener, which allows to re-order your individual chunks (scenes, questions etc.), and to visualise really clearly how everything fits together.

Further questions:

1. How long should my book be? There is no rule about how long a book must be. I have paid good money for short books and not regretted it. The Dip, by Seth Godin, is a good example. And I’ve failed to finish many thicker books because I got bored half way through. So length is a poor guide to quality. As a basic rule, anything under about 3000 words is probably too short to charge for. Anything over about 40,000 words is definitely a proper book. Swordfighting is about 95,000 words; Advanced Longsword is only about 40,000, but has a lot of photos.

2. When should I produce a compilation volume? How many articles do I need first?

You should produce a compilation volume when the maths tells you to. When you can offer a 30% or better discount on the compilation over buying the parts separately, go.

For example, episodes of The Swordsman’s Quick Guide are 3.99 sold separately. 4×3.99= 15.96. I sell episodes 1-4 together for 9.99; a saving of over 35%. And it does sell. If you’re selling them at 99cents and the compilation for 4.99, then you’d want at least 7 articles: 7x.99= 6.93 6.93/4.99= 1.39

Only six articles would give you a discount of 19%:  5.94/4.99= 1.19.

3. How do I price my work? Regarding pricing, the best approach is to aim for the top price bracket common in your field. Very short romance? .99 cents is probably as much as you can charge; how to write a book? 4.99 seems reasonable 🙂 You need to ask yourself the question “why the hell would anyone want to read this book?” and answer that in your marketing material (for advice on marketing your book, Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is superb); then ask “what is this book worth to the reader?” Nobody cares how much you sweated and bled over it in the long dark watches of the night. They only care about what it’s worth to them. And if they don’t know you, then it’s probably not much. Examine your own browsing and buying behaviour; it’s amazing how many books you’re interested in that you don’t buy!

And Finally

Lots of people seem to want to be writers. Damned if I understand why. Far fewer seem to actually want to write, which makes more sense. Writing is hard work, bad for your health (especially if you sit down to do it), and exhausting. To be a writer, just write stuff. To write a book, write lots of stuff on the same theme and edit it together. It is actually pretty simple. But simple and easy are not the same thing, so here are a couple of further thoughts to lower the barriers a bit.

Discipline is Freedom. This is key. The ability to push past discomfort in pursuit of a long-term goal is the fundamental skill that underpins all success.

Constraints Liberate. This is a catchphrase of the Dark Angels (the organisers of the writing course I went on in September). It is very hard to “just write a book on any topic, long as you like”. It is much easier to write a book of between 40,000 and 50,000 words on how best to create a card game based on swordsmanship (for example). The more specific the task, the easier it is to accomplish. So impose some specific constraints on yourself. 2000 words on how to tie a cravat, by 5pm Friday. No problem. When I was at school we had a discussion in class about this. My English teacher Mr. Thornberry, set us a challenge. On the first week, we could write anything we liked. On the second, he set us a specific task. We then read the essays out loud, and it was obvious that the second set were much better than the first.

Break it up even smaller. A book is too big to hold in your head at once. A chapter might be too big too. So write smaller. A paragraph describing the problem in clearer terms might naturally grow into the chapter you were thinking of.

Make it personal. If you try to write to the world, guaranteed not everyone will like it, want it or even understand it. Instead, try writing an email. We can all do that.

“Dear Jeremy,

Ok, if I understand your question correctly, you want to know which end of the sword to hold. While opinion may differ somewhat among my colleagues, those of them that actually win fights all agree that you should hold the blunt end; we call it the “handle”. (continue for another few paragraphs)

yours,

Guy

Then strip off the “Dear Jeremy” and “yours, Guy”, edit it a bit, and you have a chapter.

It can liberate your creative juices to simply have a specific person in mind for your work.

If I’d known how much work the first book would be before I wrote it, it would probably have never been written. If I’d known how it would change my life, I’d have written it even if it was ten times as hard to do.

And if I’d had this method? I’d have written it in a quarter of the time.

I have created a pdf of this article, which you can download free. This is an experiment with the “pay what you want” model; I'll be very interested to see how many people download it, and how many choose to pay for it. I have been thinking about moving all my ebooks to “pay what you want”, but I have to be sure I won't starve doing it!

 

 

 

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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I think that training ought to be focussed and goal oriented. The goal in any fencing context is to strike without being struck, so any problem can be thought of as “I’m getting hit” or “I’m not hitting”. Drills are the means by which we fix either of these core problems.

Let’s start with the “I got hit” problem. Here is a snazzy little flowchart:

Yup, it boils down to this: the only reason you ever get hit is because you failed to parry. The hit is never wrong. This is really important. When we are past the point of teaching beginners the absolute basics, we don’t solve the problem of being hit by changing the attack. The attack is supposed to hit.

So whatever your current fencing problem is, here are the steps to fix it:

1) Reproduce the problem. If you can’t reproduce it, it was either a fluke, and so not something that can be trained against, or you didn’t understand what happened. You can’t fix training problems you don’t understand, so if that happens, find somebody to explain what happened to you. Your opponent might do that, or your teacher.

2) Analyse why you are getting hit. You are either doing the right thing, but not well enough, or you are doing the wrong thing. So the problem is either technical, or tactical. These have quite different solutions.

Technical problems are solved by training the technique in increasingly challenging contexts. In short, slow down until it works, then ramp up the speed and power gradually until you can do it at the necessary level. I think of this as solving problems of incompetence.

Tactical problems are solved by choosing a better solution at the critical moment, which you learn to do by using drills with ever increasing degrees of freedom. I think of this as solving problems of ignorance.

So whatever drill you are doing should be solving a specific problem of either ignorance or incompetence making you wiser and better.

(The specific details of how to use pressure and degrees of freedom are in Preparing for Freeplay. They are also described in The Medieval Longsword.)

I have put all this together in another nifty flowchart. The original was done by me in Scapple, which is a great app for thinking with, but doesn't do pretty charts. Several kind and lovely readers have sent me much prettier versions, of which this, by Andrew R. Mizener, is the clearest.

 

Thanks Andrew! (I absolutely love it when my readers step up and help. Really, it's the best feeling.)

If you’d like specific examples of drills that solve technical or tactical problems, let me know in the comments.

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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I've been a tad busy of late (not that that is anything unusual). But the last couple of weeks have been especially interesting.

First up, PC Gamer magazine have published an article based on an interview I gave to the journalist Rick Lane; it's all about trying to make games that involve sword fights more realistic. You can read the article here.

I was also interviewed by Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn. Joanna is a thriller writer, but more importantly from my perspective she also writes really useful books about how to make a living as an author. She is pretty damn successful at it, and her podcast is listened to by many thousands of people. You might wonder how I got onto her show; well, I followed her own instructions from How to Market a Book regarding making contact with people you admire in your field, and within a few months she had seen this blog, and invited me onto her show. Her stuff works! You can find my episode here, as podcast, video, and  transcription. I was very nervous! This was only my second ever podcast interview (the first being for Chivalry Today earlier this year), but I hope it went ok. What do you think?

Regarding books: I am late getting episode four of The Swordsman's Quick Guide out; this is due to my being not 100% satisfied with it, and not sure how to improve it. I think I've got a handle on that now, so with any luck it should be out this week… or next… In the meantime, here's a preview of the cover; once again by the most excellent Eleonora Rebecchi.

Cover for part 4 of The Swordsman's Quick Guide
Cover for part 4 of The Swordsman's Quick Guide

We had the photo shoot for my next Longsword training manual last week; I have been going through the images this morning to pick the ones that will go into the final product. It looks like this book will have about 250 images in it, so there is much to do! Jari Juslin is the photographer (the same chap who did The Medieval Longsword and The Medieval Dagger; this time he was ably assisted by Petteri Kihlberg, who provided a ton of high-quality equipment; lights like you wouldn't believe:

It's dark in here! Petteri checking the light, with Noora. Jari in charge…
Noora, Jari, Petteri, Satu, preparing the shoot.

This book is on schedule for release before Christmas this year. And as I was going through them, I found this one that I had to share:

Zoë is well known in our school for her ability to target the more vulnerable spots…

I've said it before and I'll say it again; if you can't kick them in the nuts, it ain't a martial art!

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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It has been a very long time since I last taught swordsmanship in Italy. This little gem of an event confirmed a suspicion that I have long held, that I need to spend more time in Italy, and cross swords with more Italians.

First up, the location, the Castello Savelli in Palombara Sabina, not too far from Rome. Oh my lord, what a lovely spot. A little castle at the top of a hill, with a view over the valley to the castle on the next hill, with the Italian countryside rolling in all directions. All the classes took place on the lawn outside, with this backdrop:

The most beautiful classroom in the world?
The most beautiful classroom in the world?

I’ll discuss the event in the order it occurred; my class was first. For the first time ever I taught in Italian; thanks to two months of one-to-one classes with Stefano, this was achievable, though far from easy. I have now taught a Fiore class in four languages; English, Finnish, Spanish and Italian; English is easiest, but there is a wonderful feeling to teach Fiore's art in his own language. My class covered my interpretation of Fiore’s Zogho Stretto; what it means, how you get there, and why. It seemed to be quite well received, and I very much enjoyed the enthusiastic participation of the students, and their help when I couldn’t find the right word in Italian!

After lunch, Lois Forster took the field. He began with a superb lecture on Burgundian duelling customs of the 15th century, focussing on Jacques Lalaing. This was perhaps the educational high-spot of the event for me; he has done some stellar research on what exactly these duels were like. Then he donned his armour, and taught a short pollax seminar, which he topped by fighting three opponents back-to-back, for his Emprise d’Arms (he wants 30 fights in his 30th year). I had the profound honour of marshalling the fights, and it was a delight to see such a faithful recreation of the tone and intent of the historical context. No winners were declared, simply honour was satisfied. I would just add that I hope to fight Lois in armour this year, and expect to end up lying on the ground with a headache. You can see him in action here:

Dinner followed, in a charming little place in the middle of nowhere; something of a logistical challenge! But an authentic Italian experience 🙂

Sunday’s classes began with a Fiore spear class from Nicola Gasparet, of Regia Turris, a group from Fiore’s home country, Cividale. Nicola’s group tends to focus on the tournament version of longsword, but this class was all about Fiore’s treatise, and Nicola and I seem to agree on a lot! It was enhanced by excellent graphics from the lovely Angelica Santarossa.

This was followed by a class by Mauro Carapacchi of Mos Ferri, one of the organisers of the event (and the man who invited me: thanks again, Mauro!), on the dagger techniques of the Gladiatoria Fechtbuch. He was ably assisted by Nicola Curini, and the class was very interesting; joint locks work very well in armour. I especially liked seeing Mauro teach his armoured dagger class in armour.

During the lunch break, I had a very interesting discussion about the first and second plays of the first master of the zogho largo, with Francesco Baselice; if he’s right, I may be rewriting that bit of The Medieval Longsword… And then I had the pleasure of introducing Mauro to the fundamentals of takedowns, with a spot of grounding and joint locks. Lots of fun for all of us!

After lunch, Raniero Mariotti, of Ars Monomachia, taught a clear and well structured seminar on medieval German wrestling. My handwriting is awful, so I’m not sure from my notes which source it came from.

Actually, one of my favourite moments of the event happened during the clear-up. I had helped Mauro and Nicola with some of their gear, and going back for the next load, I thought for no particular reason that it would be fun to run back up the steep and winding streets to the castle; Nicola agreed it was an excellent plan, and so up we went. It was a lovely moment of training.

Dinner that evening was simply superb; I vote that we let Marco choose the restaurant at all future gatherings! A feast of local delicacies, including some dishes that I am very glad I have tried but might not order again 😉 served in a simply charming atmosphere.

I was not intending to pick up a sword while here in Italy, before my seminar in Seattle next weekend, but I am very glad that I did. This event was a lovely combination of delightful people (who were very patient with my clunky Italian skills), all passionate about the same arts as I am, in a stunning location, the sort of place that you can imagine Fiore himself giving a lesson. A big thank you to all the organisers (especially Andrea Conti, who I see hasn't been mentioned yet but without whom nothing would have happened), all my students, and my fellow instructors. Grazie mille!

[and a note to everyone I mention here: if you'd like me to link to your group page or personal website, please send me the url and I will embed it.]

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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This is my 100th blog post, and I have just released my latest book, The Medieval Longsword, to my campaign backers. It will be up on Amazon and elsewhere soon.

TML_coversample2

By way of encouraging reviews, and to soften the blow for all those who missed the campaign, I will give away a free ebook copy of the new book to anyone who sends me a link to a review they have published, on any website (amazon, goodreads, kobo, barnes and noble, your blog, anywhere), of any of my previous books. This offer is open until July 22nd, so you can write one between now and then.

Please share this with your friends, especially with anyone you know who has bought the second edition of the Swordsman's Companion recently; they really should get the latest material, and this way they don't have to pay more for it. (If I had a way to contact my readers on Amazon, I would!)

And, once you have a copy of Medieval Longsword, and the book is released for sale (should be by the end of this week) anyone who posts a review of it and sends me a link to it before August 11th, will be sent a free ebook copy of my next book, Swordfighting, when it comes out (it's due in November). (IGG backers will be getting one anyway: but you can still post a review!)

Please note, I will honour this offer for any review, no matter whether it's positive, negative or in between. Be honest, tell the world what you really think.

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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The first play of the dagger, from the Getty MS.
The first play of the dagger, from the Getty MS.

The real thing is the only bullshit-free scenario in martial arts. If you’re an MMA fighter, that’s the ring on fight night. If you’re a soldier, that’s being in the presence of the enemy. And if you are a swordsman, that is someone trying to take your head off with a blade. But the real thing must be prepared for, so we have drills, exercises and training. Problems only arise when we mistake one scenario (a training drill) for another (the real thing). To properly understand any drill, you must have a clear idea of exactly how it deviates from reality. I call this spotting the bullshit.

Let us take a simple example, a drill that is usually included in day one of our Fiore beginners’ course: the basic execution of Fiore’s first play of the dagger. This technique is a disarm, done against the common overhand blow.

In its basic set-up, the drill goes like this:

“Both players start left foot forwards, hands down, in a proper guard position. This is very artificial, and is intended only to create a consistent starting point for beginners.

Disarm and counter

  1. Attacker and defender both in porta di ferro, left foot forwards.
  2. Attacker passes to strike with a fendente. Aim it at the mask!
  3. Defender intercepts attacker’s wrist with his left hand and
  4. Turns it to the left, creating a leverage disarm with the dagger against the back of his wrist.
  5. Defender collects dagger and strikes”

(Quoted from Mastering the Art of Arms vol 1: the Medieval Dagger page 51)

There is nothing wrong with this, as a starting point. But it has at least the following dollops of bullshit in it:

  1. The attacker is not trying to kill you.
  2. The weapon is not sharp.
  3. The roles are pre-set, attacker and defender.
  4. You can’t run away or call the cops.
  5. You have to wait for the attack.
  6. You are wearing protective gear, that will allow the attacker to make contact, but would not work against a real dagger (we tried this with a mask on a dummy: the mask failed against all medieval weaponry).
  7. The line of the attack is pre-selected.
  8. Your defence is pre-selected.
  9. The attacker is not allowed to counter or continue.
  10. The attack is done with little force.
  11. The attack is done slowly.

I am sure that you can think of other dollops, but 11 is enough to be going on with. So, how do we deal with this? How can we eliminate the bullshit without killing students?

To start with, number one cannot be trained outside of the real scenario. Don’t even try. It is this one element that really makes the difference between those that have done it for real and those that haven’t. (I haven’t and don’t intend to.) Regarding combat sports, you haven’t done it till you’ve been in the ring or competed in a serious tournament. Fortunately, those are much more survivable environments, so anybody who trains seriously enough can get there and do that art “for real”. This is one of the big attractions of combat sports I think: the real environment is available. I will never forget my first fencing competition. It was an eye-opener, to say the least!

So, if my drill above is so full of bullshit, why do we do it?

It does:

  1. Teach core mechanical principles, such as grounding, finding lines of weakness, etc.
  2. Teach core tactical principles, such as control the weapon before you strike; timing, and control of distance.
  3. Given the source of our art, it gives beginners a chance to reconstruct a technique from the book.

It is a perfectly good starting point. Just as a child learning to read sounding out the individual letters and creating the words is not really reading yet, we don’t say that they should just recognise the words straight away. This level of practice is a necessary step on the way to expertise.

But be aware that this drill does NOT:

  1. Teach a survival skill.
  2. Teach situational awareness.
  3. Teach decision making or judgement.
  4. Teach the ability to execute the action under pressure.

But given our list of eleven dollops of bullshit, we can map a route through training to systematically eliminate each of them in turn (except for the first). By applying the “who moves first” multiplier, for instance, we can eliminate point 5, so the “defender” is not required to wait, but can enter or move away, gaining some control. By allowing degrees of freedom for one or other student, we can eliminate 7, 8 and/or 9. By applying the rule of c’s you can increase the intensity in a systematic way, so eliminating 10 and 11.*

It is very important not to eliminate all the bullshit all at once. Especially when eliminating no. 2 by practising with sharps, you should absolutely keep all sorts of other bullshit present to avoid serious injury.

So, by carefully considering all the ways in which a set drill is not a real fight, you can design variations to the basic version to systematically clean up some of the bullshit. You will need lots of different drills, each with a different bullshit profile, to make sure that you are training in all of the attributes of the “real” technique. (For more on customising drills, see Mindful Practice).

Just for fun, and to see if you are paying attention, I have inserted one deliberate dollop of bullshit in this post: a deliberately misleading statement made for pedagogical purposes. Can you spot it?

* The “Rule of Cs” (abridged from Mastering the Art of Arms vol 1: the Medieval Dagger p136) every drill is first worked through with the players:

  • Cooperating in creating correct choreography

This is means exactly what it says: the students are just co-operating in going through the motions of the technique.

Once that is easy, increase the difficulty by increasing intensity, or introducing a degree of freedom (e.g. is the attacker might vary the line of attack), with one player adjusting the difficulty for the other to learn at their most efficient rate- if it works all the time, ramp it up- if it fails more than twice in ten reps, ease off a bit. This is called:

  • Coaching correct actions

Finally, the players each try within reason to make the drill work for them. When coaching, the attacker would try to make sure the defender can usually counter him; when competing, you just try to make your action work. This can be dangerous if it gets out of hand, so be careful, and wear full protection just in case. In practice, the more experienced scholar should get most of the hits, without departing from the drill. This is fine, and gives a good indication of whether your training regime is working. So,

  • Compete.

 

Medieval Italian fencing terms glossary

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