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Archive for October, 2011

n an earlier post, we told you about the recent armoured deed of arms held at the recent Western Martial Arts Workshop. We’re happy to say that our good friend Roland Warzecha of Hammaborg turned his photographer’s eye to the Deed, and put together this collection of photos that he has graciously allowed us to share with you.

Now while we are still in the deed of arms afterglow, we thought we’d share a little “arms and armour envy” of our own: the Laurin Tournament.

Held in early October at Castle Mayenburg in Völlan, South-Tyrol, Italy the tournament is in its third year. Run by the “Gesellschaft des Elefanten” (Company of the Elephant), a living history group recreating the last decade of the 14th century.  The Laurin Tournament is described as a series of single foot combats meant to simulate a deed of arms from the period 1370 – 1400. The full rules for  fighting in the lists can be found at the Laurin Tournament website, but what you’ll really want to browse is the substantial and amazing gallery they have provided from past years.

How amazing is that gallery? Well, here’s a teaser! (Note that all photos shown here are copyright the original photographer and the Company of the Elephant.)

As we found with the WMAW Deed of Arms, setting the right tone is important. For a martial arts event, that is balancing history and tradition with modernity, while still conveying the right “mood” and homage to the antiquity of the martial art being displayed.

In a living history style of event, the look and feel of the period is paramount.  For North Americans interested in medieval living history, we can only help but be envious at the advantage Europeans have in being able to hold their events in real castles, old towns or ancient ruins. But even then, there is having a nice locale for your event, vs. really setting a scene!

We can see why the organizers of this tournament are so proud of their location. The 6 m x 6 m list, raised platform and enclosed gallery truly sets a scene right out of a medieval illumination, which must make it hard for the combatants not to be duly inspired a they don their helmets!

Admittance to the tournament is by application, and consists of combat with sword, shield, spear, axe and dagger,  divided into a series of rounds, fought by two types of combatants: fully armoured knights:

(OK, that’s gotta hurt. And in front of his lady….)

And more lightly armoured “men-at-arms”. (Note that enclosed gallery we mentioned earlier!)

According to the published rules, each of the combatants will fight between five and eight times, so the total fight time is from a minimum of 40 minutes to a maximum of 64 minutes. We’re not sure how much time the combatants had between bouts, but 64 minutes of actual combat time in full harness can be a pretty darn good work out!

Now we admit to having a weakspot for late 14th century armour, and certainly, the Company’s choice of the Elephant for a badge and location in the Tyrol can’t help but make any student of armizare‘s heart beat more quickly, but what we are most interested in is tipping our hats and celebrating the efforts of kindred spirits who seeks to set a higher bar for celebrating both our history and the martial arts they produced.

Those interested in learning more about the Laurin Tournament can contact the organizers through the website  or at:

Gesellschaft des Elefanten

Schennastraße 60

I-39017 Schenna (BZ)

Südtirol -Italy

Internet: http://www.company-elefant.com

e-mail: info@laurin-tournament.com

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hose crazy Vikings. They really did sail everywhere: Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, France, Iberia, Russia, Byzantium….

Ardnamurchan

Don’t feel bad, we’d never heard of it, either. Actually, we initially thought it sounded like some ancient, Meso-American site. Turns out is is just a really out of the way part of Scotland.

So, there is no Maya-meets-Vikings film op for Mel Gibson or, God help-us, Marcus Nispel*, but there is some very cool news:

This is the first fully intact Viking boat burial site to be found on British soil, dating from about 1000 AD and contained what is believed to be a high-status Norse warrior in a 16′ boat. He was buried with an axe, a sword and a spear in a ship held together with 200 metal rivets.

“A drawing released on October 19, 2011 by AOC Archaeology shows the first fully intact Viking boat burial site to be found on British soil. The five metre-long (16-foot) grave, thought to contain the remains of a high-status Viking, was discovered at a site estimated to be 1,000 years old on Scotland’s remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula.”

All rights AOC and Associated Free Press.

It doesn’t look like the most comfortable final rest, pales compared to the famed Osberg burial and certainly nothing could be as impressive as this. But all tongue and cheek aside, this is a major find – both for the rarity of ship burials and the late date at which it was likely made. One can only hope that more photos and data from the AOC find will be released in the future!

Until then, the best details seem to be in this story from the Guardian.

 

* We’d be terribly amiss if we didn’t point out that the 1987  Norwegian movie of the same name, featuring Norsemen and Lapps, was a brilliant film, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

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A 15th-century illustration of Malatesta IV Malatesta.

he Malatesta of Rimini were an old noble family who rose to wealth and power as condottieri – mercenary soldiers – during the on-going clash of Pope and Emperor, Florence, Milan, Venice and their allies that characterized Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. Ambitious, ruthless, with 100-year old patriarchs, hunchbacks and patrons who commissioned churches built in the form of pagan temples, they often appear the consummate, mustache-twirling villains – and with a name like “Evil Head”, how could they not? Perhaps the family’s most famous scion was Sigismondo, whose long feud with Federigo da Montefeltro is the subject of Hugh Bicheno’s excellent Vendetta: High Art and Low Cunning in the Renaissance.

But one of the most fascinating traits of Italy’s despots was their odd mix of brutality and humanistic love of the arts. As an example, here is a charming little sonnet, written by one of Sigismondo’s ancestors, Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta (1370 – 1429) upon the death of his wife, Elizabetta de Varano in 1405.

Born in Pesaro, he was the only son of Pandolfo II Malatesta and his second wife Paola Orsini.  He became lord of Pesaro in 1385. He spent the next seven years fighting as a condottiero for both the pope and Venice, against the growing power of the Visconti of Milan. In 1392 he was excommunicated by the pope for having conquered the papal possession of Todi, while in Venetian employ, but this did not stop him from becoming the Captain General of Bologna in 1394 for the anti-pope, Benedict XIII.

This philosophy of “a new day, a new pope, a new contract” would serve Malatesta well for the next two decades.

After conquering Narni and Orte for himself, he made peace with Pope Boniface. By 1404 he was back in Venetian employ, leading 20,000 troops against Padua. However, the Venetian armywas defeated and returned to Pesaro in late 1404, after which Malatesta made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was during this trip that his wife and mother of his seven children, Elizabetta, grew ill.

By 1409, Malatesta had again switched to serve the anti-pope, but ever the pragmatist, by 1412 he had again made peace with the pope, and thenceforth warred against antipope John XXIII. For the next decade he remained in papal service, although often fighting for Florence against Milan.

Yet through all the wars, he also remained a great patron of the arts, sponsoring figures such as Francesco Casini and the painter Mariotto di Nardo, and was in correspondence with humanists Coluccio Salutati and his daughter-in-law, Battista Malatesta. Given the nickname “dei sonetti” (“of the Sonnets”) due to his love for literature, he  was also the author of poems influenced by the style of Petrarch, one such being the lament for his lost Elizabetta:

(translation by Tom Leoni)

XXVI
Dead is the sacred bride, she who maintained
My spirit whole, at peace and satisfied;
In heaven she, and I in grief abide,
Another man than who I was, I waned.
No man, but beast, I should have thought it best
To follow her fine form, now cold with death
Nor e’er depart her side at her last breath,
But burn in fire, there where her heart did rest.
To follow her my soul should have agreed
To heaven’s triumph, where she now resides
Until the end of time, as God decreed.
And even though my strength hardly suffices
For me to join her there, would that at least
My body would be laid by her blest ashes.
(and for those who prefer and can read the original Italian… )
XXVI
Morta è la sancta donna che tenea
mio spirto unito, tacito e contento;
anzi vive nel cielo, e io in tormento
remaso sono, altr’uom ch’io non solea:
non huom, ma bruto, sì che ben dovea
sequire il corpo suo di vita spento,
né mai partir da lato al monimento,
ma incenerarmi ove ’l suo cor giacea,

ché forse l’alma lei sequita arebbe
nel triumpho celeste, ove si vive
eternalmente per divina possa.

Se pur di seguir lei fusser stà privez
le forze mie, almen stato serebbe
sepulto il corpo presso a le sacr’ossa.

Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta retired at Gradara, where he died in 1429. The Malatesta family would continue to be a power through the 15th century, but their fortune and land would slowly fall to other ambitious familes: the Sforza and Borgias.

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A Chivalric Rogues Gallery: combatants, judge, heralds and valets from WMAW 2011’s Armoured Deed of Arms

s the pen mightier than the sword?

That is the question the Freelancers sought to answer as they took to the fields of honor at the Western Martial Arts Workshop, in Racine, Wisconsin. (See The Road Goes Ever On and On, Part II for more details!)

New at this year’s Workshop was an armoured Deed of Arms, in which seven challengers agreed to meet and hold the field against all challengers (suitably armed and armoured), with sword, axe, spear or dagger.  In the pas d’armes, combatants challenge one another for the pleasure of the combat-not for victory. In reality, other than the winner himself, few remember who one any given tournament, but all remember an exciting, invigorating – or embarrassing – bout, and the names attached to that bout. Renown is earned within the lists by demonstrating great skill (prowess) combined with the other chivalric virtues of, courage, generosity, humility (in accepting defeat or victory), faith (in our ideals), a sense of justice and the duty of defense. These are the real contests of the tournament, and it is the yardstick by which we are measured. The ‘gallery’ and your opponent can see who you are; it is hard to be deceptive of your motives and your sincerity in such contests.

Greg, Christian and Adam all donned their harness and broke a few lances with the other combatants. Christian, who had been chosen as the captain of the challengers, began the Deed by meeting the defender’s captain, none other than FAP author Robert Charrette! They engaged in a long, vigorous fight with poleaxes, that set the tone for the rest of the Deed.

It fell to Christian to also fight the final bout of the day, a duel with spears fought with Greg! We have been asked if there were any particulars wagered on the encounter, such as majority share in the press. Well, maybe so and maybe no, but fortunately the encounter was a draw!

The armoured Deed of Arms was a great deal of fun, and the only regret was having it come to an end! But the special events continued.

Since 2002, Saturday night at WMAW has concluded with a grand fête combining an old-fashioned pig-roast, displays of arms, merriment, and a cast of characters dressed in their best attire. The order of the day is “eat, drink and be merry, but remember the long generations who have come before thee, for we are but caretakers of ancient traditions.”

This year, there was something new: a proper, late Victorian Assault-at-Arms, organized by Bartitsu and Victorian “antagonistic” expert, Tony Wolf. The tradition of the Assault-at-Arms became well-established throughout the British Commonwealth and the United States during the latter part of the 19th century.  Thought to have been originated by British troops serving in India, Assaults-at-Arms developed into popular events whereby soldiers, gymnasts and combat athletes demonstrated their skills for an appreciative public, often in aid of charitable causes.

The 2011 WMAW Assault-at-Arms notionally took place in September of 1901 and featured displays of various forms of military and civilian swordsmanship, French cane and baton fighting, and incorporating the “Elizabethan swordplay” that was then being revived by a coterie of fencing antiquarians led by Captain Alfred Hutton.  There was also exhibition of self-defense via E. W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsuby Tony Wolf and his co-host, the mysterious “Professor X”.

Greg had a chance to be a part of the Grand Assault at Arms in an exhibition of two-handed swordplay, ably assisted by Ms. Nicole Allen. Although the material demonstrated was taken from modern reconstruction of Italian and Iberian sources, rather than Hutton’s set-plays, the demo was in the style and flavor of Victorian demonstrations of “Ancient Swordplay”.

The many demonstrations in the Grand Assault were captured on camera and can be seen online:

Intro

Italian Foil

Italian Duelling Sword

Heavy Sabre

La Canne

Bartitsu

Womens Self Defence

Victorian Greatsword

Sword and Buckler

Messer

Longsword

Rapier

Broadsword

(Special thanks to Paul Wager of the Stocatta School of Defence, for being so handy with the camera!)

You can also learn more about the Grand Assault in this essay by Tony Wolf, and even more in his forthcoming Ancient Swordplay.

Of course, we aren’t just swordsmen….we are merchants. So with all of those martial artists gathered at WMAW, we thought it the perfect time to debut not one, but two new titles that we guarantee are game-changers for students of medieval martial arts: Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia and the new Agilitas DVD, Sword and Shield.

All in all it was a tiring, but exhilarating couple of months. Now our journey’s come to an end, and while we’d like to borrow the line, “Well, I’m back”, it truth it more, “Well, back to work!”

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here was a recent study in the UK that measured the cardiovascular effect of wearing armour on combatants:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14204717

 

Ah, science!

Now, as much fun as the image of a man in 15th century harness on a treadmill might be, the summary of the test’s conclusions was rather fascinating:

Medieval suits of armour were so exhausting to wear that they could have affected the outcomes of famous battles, a study suggests.

Full disclosure: when we first heard about this study, it was from a link to a short article on the History Channel’s webpage. Knowing the HC’s policy of only basing its article and programs on carefully considered historiography, archaeological sources, scientifically rigorous data gathering and a strict avoidance of sensationalism (you know, like Ancient Aliens, Ice Truckers or that show about the guys running a pawn shop)…oh, yes, that was why we never followed up on it!

But it turns out that this was a serious study done at the University of Leeds, by real scientists.  So how is it that their study found that armoured combatants of the late Middle Ages were hampered to the point of exhaustion by their armour? Especially when so many demonstrations of men in harness – including at the Royal Armouries, who provided the test subjects and armour, make note of how relatively easily an armoured man can run, climb, roll, mount a horse, and so forth?

Well, the first problem might be with what the researchers considered field armour:

Lead researcher Dr Graham Askew, from the University of Leeds, said: “You look at these suits of armour, and they weigh between 30 and 50kg, so it is a huge fraction of the wearer’s body weight.”

Really? While 30kg, or approximately 66 lbs is a fair approximation of a late 14th century harness, 15th century field armours – as opposed to jousting armour – generally got lighter. And 110lbs of harness? Where does this figure come from?

The data sample for the study is freely available on the Royal Society’s website: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/07/15/rspb.2011.0816/suppl/DC1 Unfortunately, it is quite problematic. Firstly, there are only nine sample harnesses. Of these, one is the Churburg 19 harness, an armour made for a man who would be a giant by modern standards, at nearly 7′ tall.  This is the 53 kg harness; all of the others are between 25 and 34 kg. Of course, two of those are the modern reproductions, one of which was a pretty good average at 30 kg, the other which was on a par with the heaviest armour (except for Churburg 19) at 38 kg. Fair enough, but this means the data sample is really five armours (all composites). That isn’t a very large data set, especially only one of the armours is contemporary with Agincourt, the battle to which the researchers applied their conclusions.

Regardless, the data set, small as it is, points to something that arms and armour scholars have noted for years: the average harness weight is approximately 60 – 70 lbs; about equivalent to the load of a modern soldier in full gear, or the heavy infantry of Rome and Greece, likely because that is what a man can carry and still fight effectively. So it is even more interesting the the study concluded that soldiers in modern field gear felt far less encumbered with their weapons, armour and field packs. Considering the number of modern soldiers who seem to enjoy reenactment combat, one would assume that this conclusion was based on both subjective and objective findings, right? You know, what do the guys who actually experience strenuous activity in the gear think? Surely this was noted as well?

Not so much. Apparently, a treadmill was as high-tech as this got:

To study this, researchers asked four participants, who regularly re-enact battles for the Royal Armouries in Leeds, to don their exact-replica armour from England, Gothic Germany and Italy and get onto a treadmill.

By recording how much oxygen they took in and carbon dioxide they produced, the team was able to calculate how much energy they were using. High-speed cameras also helped the researchers to study how the volunteers were using their limbs.

Of course, walking and running a treadmill does not use the same sort of motions or mechanics as fighting, it does not produce endorphins and adrenaline in the same way that combat does.

So, does this test really simulate anything besides…well…using a treadmill in armour? We can’t really say, but certainly it doesn’t match the subjective experience of people who wear and fight in harness, while it certainly seems to be a throwback to the notion of armour as impossibly ponderous and awkward. It is probably best to keep the comments of Thom Richardson, keeper of armours, from the Royal Armouries in mind as a caveat:

 “It is interesting to use scientific method to answer these questions, and it confirms what we have always suspected – heavy armour would very much reduce your ability to run around.

“But no-one wears stuff on the battlefield if it isn’t useful.”

And certainly, the University of Leeds has proven one thing: don’t wear your armour on a treadmill!

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rom Pennsic it was off to the 2011 Western Martial Arts Workshop, in Racine, Wisconsin. Founded in 1999, WMAW has become the premiere North American venue for students and instructors of the western tradition to gather and cross-train, drawing instructors and students from three continents. Besides being the oldest event of its kind, WMAW is unique in being a retreat, set at the picturesque, DeKoven foundation in Racine, WI, a walled, Anglican retreat center overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan. The Foundation began as Racine College in 1852, and was the first college built west of the Appalachians. During the Western Martial Arts Workshop, a somewhat rowdier bunch fill the campus and one can only wonder at what Dr. DeKoven would have thought.

This year was the largest and busiest Workshop ever, selling out within a week of registration opening! Freelancers Greg Mele and Christian Tobler were pleased to present four different classes on the German, Iberian and Italian martial traditions. Christian reprised his Glasgow Messer class from Pennsic, and then also took a new look at the Inverted Left Hand Grip in German Longsword Play based on research and discussion with our friend and colleague, Mr. Dierk Hagedorn of Hammaborg.

Most martial arts begin by teaching the student how to defend, and the medieval material is little different. This is because it can be very dangerous to break measure and initiate an attack against a trained opponent. Nevertheless, the reality of combat means it is sometimes necessary to attack first. This was the premise behind Greg’s How the Hell do I Attack? Entering Combat in the Swordplay of Fiore dei Liberi.

Greg’s second class was Monte’s Levata: a Simple Cutting Sequence with Many Applications. Writing in the late 15th century, Pietro Monte was likely a Spaniard in Italian service. His fencing instructions are somewhat unique in that they are not an instructional manual, but rather short chapters of tactical advice on a broad range of weapons. Book I, Chapter XIV of the Collectanea forms Monte’s instruction on the two-handed sword, and teaches a simple combination of actions called the levata, which Monte says is at the root of the art of fencing. The class looked at Monte’s instructions as a solo cutting exercises with serveral variations, then as a series of partnered drills that show how to apply the same sequence as both attacker and defender. Finally, we looked at the levata as it might be used with disparate and variant weapons. I’m not sure if the class instruction itself was a big hit, but everyone seems to love swinging around 5’ swords, particularly when dressed in tail coats….

Most martial arts authors are amateurs – as writers, photographers or both. While digital media has made the ability to communicate easier than ever before, the question of how best to visually represent the martial arts on the written or printed page still exists today, as it did 400 years ago. Indeed, if anything, technology can make the problem worse, not better! Photography is still truly an art and science all its own, and creating images that not only look good, adhere to basic photographic principles, communicate effectively, and still meet the demanding technical criteria of the professional publisher/printer, can prove daunting.

Adam tried to sum up three decades of experience in his lecture Martial Arts Photography: Essentials for Education and Publication. (Fear not, aspiring authors, Adam’s notes will be an article coming soon – watch this space!)

Finally, life – and graduate school – intervened and prevented Tom from attending this year’s workshop, but Bill Grandy of the Virginia Academy of Fencing was kind enough to step in and teach his classes on Bolognese sword and buckler and the relationship between Gioco Largo and Gioco Stretto. Thanks, Bill, for helping a brother out, and doing it so ably!

The Freelancers were hardly the only instructors at WMAW; we were among a cast of nearly thirty teachers from three continents, including well-known names and new faces, such as Bob Charrette (Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild), Sean Hayes (Northwest Academy of Arms), Rob Lovett (the Exiles), Roland Warzecha (Hammaborg), Guy Windsor (School of European Swordsmanship), and Tony Wolf (Bartitsu Society) teaching classes as diverse as Gladiatorial combat, Bartitsu, German sword & buckler, French cane fighting, and good, old-fashioned American Catch Wrestling.

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Would you buy books from these men?

hey say it gets lonely on the road.

Actually, it seems that it doesn’t – at least when you are surrounded by friends, patrons and fellow enthusiasts of the sword. It just gets sle

ep deprived.

After a busy spring, summer was largely taken up with one of the most onerous tasks of the publishing industry: production snafus! No one likes when a project goes astray; it’s a hundred times worse when technology, third parties and just pure bad-luck are to blame.

So, when the going gets tough, the tough mix a little business with pleasure in the infamous “sales trip”.

In August, we were off to the hills of western Pennsylvania for the Society for Creative Anachronism’s 40th annual “Pennsic War”.  Pennsic is a hard thing to explain if you’ve never been there: a 12,000 person tent-city that is a unique combination of reenactment, Renaissance Faire and Burning Man festival all rolled into one!

(I told you it was hard to explain!)

Over the years, Pennsic has also become an increasingly hospitable home for students of historical European martial arts to meet and exchange ideas, whether they are reenactors or not.

Ergo, we dusted off our doublets, practiced our “Huzzahs” and yet again imposed upon our friends at Revival Clothing to host the Freelancers and our wares in the Pennsic merchant court. To the left you can see us at our dashing, knightly best. (We clean up pretty well, don’t we?)

This year there were HEMA-related classes running throughout the two weeks of the events, including many taught by all four of your friendly-neighborhood Freelancers:

  • Last year it was big shields and paired swords; this year Tom taught classes on Bolognese sword and buckler and the history of the judicial duel in Italy.
  • Greg taught a very well-received class on Italian Spear Fencing, and another on the one-handed swordplay of Fiore dei Liberi, designed to give new student a quick and easy method of wielding the arming sword without a buckler or shield;
  • Christian took a similar tact in his class on the Glasgow Messer Treatise, which is an entire curriculum in miniature for this unique, falchion-like weapon. Christian also taught additional classes on the German longsword and the dagger material in Peter Falkner’s Fechtbuch.
  • Finally, Adam taught four hours of classes on the rapier and rapier and dagger of Salvator Fabris, each building on those preceding it.

Of course, there were many other classes and instructors, such as those by our friends Scott Wilson and Dr Ken Mondschein. I wish I could say that we saw them all, or even many of them, but contrary to what everyone thinks, this really was a working trip, so if we weren’t playing instructor, we were generally inside the booth.

A huge thanks to all of you who met us with sword – or book  – in hand, came to our wine and cheese soiree, or just popped your head inside the tent to tell you us you appreciate our work. It really does make a difference!

(And of course, special thanks to our hosts at Revival Clothing, without whom we’d have been selling books out under the stars; and we all know that paper and rain do not mix.)

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