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ince 2010, Freelance Academy Press has brought readers innovative books, instructional DVDs and rich supporting material in the fields of Historical European Marital Arts. In 2017, we are pleased to introduce our most ambitious project to date:

 

 

 

Few historical fencing masters are as dear as Fiore dei Liberi to the heart of the modern Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community. Credited by fencing historians as the father of Italian swordsmanship, his magnum opus, il Fior di Bataglia (The Flower of Battle), composed in early 1409, is one of the oldest, most extensive, and most clearly elucidated martial arts treatises from the medieval period.

Four versions of il Fior di Battaglia—the earliest surviving Italian source on the martial arts—survive today and form the basis for the modern study of armizare. Each has important similarities to and differences from each other. The key similarity is the organization of the material, which systematically covers abrazare (wrestling and hand-to-hand fighting),  daga (dagger, with an emphasis on self-defense and armoured combat techniques), spada a un mano (single-handed sword), spada a due mani (two-handed sword), spada in arme (sword used in armour), azza in arme (poleaxe used in armour), lanza in arme (spear used in armour), and finally all weapons a cavallo, or on horseback.

The key martial techniques, called zoghi or “plays” by Fiore, are identical between manuscripts, but each manuscript contains plays and key information not seen in the others, and each is done in a different artistic style.

This ambitious project goes well beyond anything we have done before: a four (volume set of illustrated, hard-cover books, combining color, 1:1 facsimiles of the master’s original manuscripts; professional, annotated translations, and extensive, peer-reviewed essays.

Held by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, MS. Ludwig XV 13  is the largest and most complete of the four surviving manuscripts. Dedicated to the young, bellicose Niccolò d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, this edition of Fiore’s work details the names of his famous students, the five duels he fought against rival masters, and explains in detail the instructional schema he developed to make the work accessible to students. Beginning with grappling, it progresses through the various sub-systems of armizare, ending with mounted combat.

These details all make the Getty Manuscript the most logical and obvious choice for Volume One, which sets the stage for the entire series. It has 183 pages of cutting-edge research, covering:

  • The life of Fiore dei Liberi, his students, and patrons;
  • Arms and armour in the Getty Manuscript, and their relationship to surviving examples;
  • Dueling and chivalric culture in Italy at the close of the 14th century;
  • A detailed analysis of the manuscripts’ use of pedagogy, numbers, and metaphor to teach the Art of Arms;
  • The Flower of Battle’s relationship to other medieval combat manuscripts.

Although the project fully-funded in five hours, with your help, we can still raise funds to expand the amount of color used in the final volumes, bring them to market months earlier and produce a fifth volume covering the inheritors of this tradition. See how you can be part of our first crowd-funding campaign by clicking the link below:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flowers-of-battle-medieval-martial-arts/x/4138672#/

And here’s a peek at the covers for Volumes 2 – 4:

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DSC_0230NB: Although reconstructed European martial traditions, or “HEMA” receive the most attention, there are still a number of living, European fighting arts that continue to be passed on, master to student, as they have for generations. Some of these, such as French savate and la canne, are relatively well-known, others, such as jogo do pau (Portuguese stick-fighting) have been virtually unknown outside of their own country until recent years.

 Italy, particularly the more conservative south, is a treasure trove of old fighting traditions, that over the centuries have been practiced by everything from shepherds to mafiosi!  Maestro Roberto Laura is an inheritor of several of these traditions and a long-time researcher into their methodology, mythology and verifiable history. In Sword of the People he tries to sort fact from fantasy, legend from history while presenting the depth, breadth and beauty of Italian fighting arts.

Currently being translated from its German original, and available in 2017, we are pleased to present this first sneak-peak at this unique and beautiful book.

 

Introduction 

 

For this endeavor, it must be noted that the knife was not considered a traitorous weapon, but as the ‘Sword of the People’ throughout the entirety of southern Italy, starting with the rural area outside of Rome.

Corrado Tommasi-Crudeli,

La Sicilia nel 1871, Florence, 1871

This book introduces readers to the path of traditional Italian knife and stick fencing schools, with the hope to thereby contribute to their conservation. It does not presume to be complete, but rather to lay a cornerstone for others to build upon.

But how should the history of the Southern Italian knife be told? For the uninitiated, these old arts were largely hidden. It is a history of secrecy, of omertà. A blending of blood-oaths, covenants and fear of reprisal combined with pride in belonging to a secret and chivalrous society, created a culture that to sought to prevent the secrets of the blade – as well as the shepherd’s stick – from falling to the ears of outsiders. This fear of exposure, when combined with the widespread illiteracy in the lower peasant classes and urban sub-proletariat of 19th century Italy, created a purely oral tradition.

Thus my research for this book began in the dark. At first it was shaped predominantly by speculation and assumptions. Over the years, I engaged not only physically but also mentally and literarily with this sub-culture of the land of my birth. I read a lot of secondary literature on the history, art and culture of southern Italy; books that at first glance seem to have little to do with the subject of the knife.

To understand any complex, incompletely understood and orally communicated area of study it is important to appreciate its essence, especially its relationship to history and culture. Only then can a judgment be made that differentiates between whether a given piece of information is likely true, or possibly not. This desire to truly understand forced me to pursue lines of inquiry that were often little more than indistinct traces or rumors. Rather than producing frustration, the mysterious nature of the search for these truths was and remains an important part of the appeal of this work. The lack of a written record around this oral tradition meant that no other approach was possible. Over the course of this uncertain journey I met both true masters, as well as those that merely assumed the title. Many provided valuable information and perspectives. With some I studied briefly, while with others I still study as I write this.

Both the true masters of this tradition, as well as the researchers who dedicate themselves to its study are critical links between the past and the present. This research opens for us all not only a world of historical Italian tradition and culture but an exploration of our own contemporary values and perceptions. Today, despite many years of effort and publication by numerous researchers Italy remains largely unappreciated and ill-understood in the sphere of martial arts.

My aim is to introduce you, the reader to this rich but currently still largely unknown tradition. This book presents not merely principles, techniques, tactics and patterns of movement, but outlines key historical factors and cultural aspects of traditional Italian fencing. As a result of this broader mission, you will find this book not laden with images of techniques, as is the case with many martial arts treatises. Instead, the broader context of these complex orally-transmitted Italian traditions is front and centre.

Without a fundamental understanding of the historical background of an epoch — its culture, traditions and the mentality of the respective population — a martial art becomes soulless; a pure instrument of death, a system of mechanics, effective, perhaps, but dead as an art. Italian martial arts are far more than mere fencing: They captivate with expressiveness and elegance, with rhythm and cultural depth. Their culture and spirit are shaped by an urban versus a rural outlook. They are partially inspired by religion, and arise from legends and myths around soldiering and chivalry. Further, the crime syndicates of southern Italy — la mafia, camorra, etc. — who maintained a mythology of being one part chivalric champions, one part criminal,  one part anarchists, also influenced them. I do not believe that deep passion for a martial cart can truly develop without at least some cognizance of its rich cultural origin and context.

 

Chapter 1-1.4

Chapter 1

Traditional Italian Knife Fighting

An Introduction

The gods did not reveal everything to man from the start,

but in time, through seeking, we may learn and know things better.

Xenophanes of Colophon

 

1.1          Preamble

Prior to delving into the history and culture of Southern Italy’s knife traditions, in this first chapter, I describe how I arrived at my ”personal interpretation” of the tradition. It will describe not only the journey, but also the thoughts driving it. However, the path alone is not the goal. Because the actual goal within European fencing traditions was and is to simply strike without being struck yourself, as well as the development of a personal style. Therefore I will voice some thoughts on what, in my opinion, one should pay attention to in order to avoid being too easily lethally struck. Of course, implementation  and realization is not possible overnight, and my personal research on the subject will never really be concluded.

It is difficult to foresee how something, or oneself will develop over time. Thus, my early beginnings in the art of knife fencing were extremely interesting and exciting, but also somewhat obscure. The following therefore describes my development within the Italian tradition and contains several conclusions regarding the technique, tactics and ethics of knife fighting.

It is also my aim to show that the Italian way of “commoner fencing” is more than a mere collection of techniques and tactics/strategies. These traditions not only have value as a means of defense, they also have athletic merit. Beyond that, however, they also have value as a highly cultural art form with a great degree of sophistication that is certainly comparable to the art of dancing. But most of all, these traditions are living embodiments of the philosophy of an earlier time.

 

1.2          TIKF – An Attempt at a Definition

DSC_0345Traditional Italian Knife Fighting (TIKF) is an umbrella term of my devising, but it is also the path to an individual fencing identity. It is impossible for me to limit myself to one school by name, since I have passed through schools of numerous regions and teachers/instructors. Sometimes these schools are so similar, nearly identical, that it only the teacher’s expression of the art, or the spirit of how it is taught that is different. I have trained in several schools like this, and it would be impossible to say that I study this one lineage or another as my official moniker, because the other schools would then lack the respect they are due. Most schools of the South did not have a formal name anyway; one merely spoke of “knife and stick” or rather of the “school of the thrust and the cut” (scuola di punta e taglio) or generally of fighting with a knife, scherma di coltello.

Finally,  it seems advantageous to me to use a name that today can be understood universally/internationally. The overall tradition is not derogated thereby since the principles, techniques and tactics of the individual systems and schools within my TIKF curriculum certainly keep their handed-down didactics and their traditional name.

My interpretation of the traditions does not concern only their technical implementation, but also their didactical, tactical-analytical and philosophical paths. Moreover I do not claim that my school is better than other traditions or systems. Traditional Italian Knife Fighting is, viewed technically and fundamentally, a synthesis of the traditions described in this book, but it is much more than that. It is an invitation to doubt constructively, to analyze using your own intellect/mind/head. And therefore TIKF is not a hybrid system, selecting out what I consider the best techniques and tactics. On the contrary, TIKF teaches all traditional schools it encompasses with the goal of having the respective student internalize, adapt and express it to his size, abilities, temperament, etc.

The advantage of this approach is that, as soon as a practitioner achieves the necessary fencing ability, or rather, when he has mentally and physically absorbed the closed system of a tradition, can continually adapt the school to his requirements. Thus he can, as the case may be, improve it. Traditions maintain a core method, philosophy and approach, but they also adapt, refine and test themselves, or else, they become a fossil. In the long run the student should not have to content himself with my choices, instead he should, assuming he wishes it, be able to develop himself freely.

Here is an example of modern adaptation in the service of preserving a traditions’ martiality. A student should train without fear of needless pain and injury. Especially in the beginning, students discover that constant pain can contribute to an inability to act freely, constantly fearing that further pain is inflicted. Based on these concerns I asked Hendrik Röber from Trinity Combat Gear to design padded dueling knives, a padded variation of the traditional wooden practice knives that are used in the South of Italy. Once technical safety has been achieved, you then can confidently go back to wood, and the occasional pain teaches, rather than inhibits. These training aids are outstanding, especially for actions directed at the weapon-bearing arm that require a great deal of practice.

Many years have passed since my initial forays on this topic, since the start of this passion and this research. I met many teachers, saw different approaches and interpretations, heard multiple stories. All these teachers (in the course of this chapter I will only name those who still influence my school or those whom I still work), as well as all my long-term students have supported me on this fencing journey. They helped me to recognize both the correct the wrong steps and how to better differentiate between the two. Above all however – and that sounds almost absurd – my journey to the Southern Italian knife schools started not in Southern Italy, the traditional home of these arts, but rather in the North of the bel paese.

 

1.3          An Excursion Into the Past

In actual fact I did not really start down this path alone. At the start, we were a small group of conspiring German enthusiasts, but because I spoke the language, I was the one who undertook most of the initial travel. My initial companions provided me with analytical, financial and moral support (because it was not always easy to find teachers, convince them to teach, or navigate old rivalries or cultural conflicts of which I was unaware). My colleagues and I met up after each trip to go over the knowledge I had gained, analyze the techniques and record it. Many of those companions who supported me with word and deed and sometimes accompanied me on my travels are still with me today.

 

1.3.1       First Steps

 “Each beginning is imbued with magic…!”

Hermann Hesse

The first trip in 2001 took me to the Province of Ravenna, where I received instruction by Antonio Merendoni, one of the first  modern researchers on the Italian tradition, and the first who recorded these arts in writing and on film. He wrote L’arte italiana del maneggio delle lame corte, dal 1350 al 1943. Storia e tecnica (The Italian art of the short blade from 1350 to 1943. History and Technique). This first teacher introduced me to the general principles, of both military and civilian knife and stick fighting. From him I received my first teaching diploma for Italian knife and stick fighting in December 2002.

Based on his lessons I changed my perspective away from the cut, for example, as is taught in many Filipino and modern styles, to focus on the thrust. He also taught me the need for well-thought-out/deliberate guards (fencing positions). Ultimately, Merendoni changed my perspective in regards to the required scope and structure of a system: he guided me away from a technical to a methodical-tactical orientation. Somehow those years had something romantic about them. We were pioneers, virtually plowing along on our own.

 

1.3.2       Genoa, Liguria

In 2006, my next stop was Genovese stick and knife fight, the bastone genovese. I was taught by Claudio Parodi, the last remaining Maestro of that tradition, and author of the book Bastone genovese, coltello e gambetto. I, too, am now a licensed a teacher of this art. The tradition from Genoa was important to me because I was born not far from there, and it was therefore an art from the land of my ancestors. Consequently, my mentor in that tradition was also the first real traditional fencing teacher who taught me. Didactically, however, there was no appreciable difference between my initial experiences in Ravenna and this tradition from Genoa. Both teachers structured their lessons in a similar manner and with a consistency, logic and simplicity that had been unknown to me until then.

 

1.3.3       Manfredonia, Apulia

Maestro Salvatore D’Ascanio

That same year the opportunity arose to study the Apulian fencing school of knife and stick from Manfredonia. This South-Italian tradition, does not actually have a specific name, but is called by some the School of the Knights of Humility Cavalieri di Umilita) and by others Fioretto (foil), was my introduction to the secretive and also more complex methodology and didactics of the southern traditions. In regards to the Manfredonian school, I was able to gain experience with diverse instructors, and experienced different interpretations of a single art, revealing a more differentiated picture of what was the core of the art, and what was individual preference. I built my foundation by training with a small group of conspiratorial enthusiasts. After that, I went to one of the traditional knife families still residing in Manfredonia today, where I received further instruction. This branch is based on the teachings of the deceased Maestro U Sardun.

Here I would like to pay homage to Maestro Salvatore D’Ascanio, who had enormous influence on my development in the techniques of this tradition. Maestro D’Ascanio improved my dynamics, and taught me how to differentiate the core elements (mechanical and aesthetic) of this school from surface differences. Simply put, he was the one who conclusively decoded the subtleties of the Manfredonian tradition in its entirety for me (see Chapter 6), even though we will see that this branch deviates somewhat from the previous ones in technique, didactics and terminology. And this is an important lesson as well: sometimes what seems like a branch is closer to the roots of a tradition than its trunk.

 

1.3.4 Sicily and the A.S.A.M.I.R.

Maestro Orazio Barbagallo, ASAMIR

A few years later, the chance arose to learn the Sicilian fencing schools of the knife and stick within the ASAMIR. Initially, I received instruction in the shepherd’s stick of the Scuola Fiorata (“Flowery School”) from Calatabiano. This caused me to question my view of a “proper cover”. Maestro Orazio Barbagallo, founder of ASAMIR and my mentor in regards to Sicilian culture, was an excellent source for the old tradition of the Scuola Ruotata (“Circling School”) from Riposto. He was the first person to open the door to the Sicilian schools, and to this day he is my teacher in the traditional Circling School of the shepherd’s stick, as he learned it from the Maestro degli Maestri (“Master of Masters” or grandmaster), U Scapellinu. Thanks to him, I was able to get to the roots of this tradition, as he put me in contact with Maestro Salvatore Scarcella, an icon of the Corto Ruotato Tradizionale from Riposto (Circling Knife School, see Chapter 7). Maestro Scarcella is a teacher who, with a single movement of his armed hand, can demonstrate at exactly the right moment how and why your actions were ineffective. He was the first who showed me that a simple thrust is more than it appears. It is due to him that I became familiar with the true Sicilian knife. Maestro Scarcella has six decades of fencing experience and clearly demonstrates that.

 

DSC_02401.3.5       Canosa, Apulia

Almost parallel to my Sicilian training I began learning the peasant tradition of defense with knife and stick, the system of heaven and marvels, Cielo e Meraviglia, from Canosa in Apulia. I trained with one of the few remaining masters of this art (see Chapter 8). He made accessible to me this system of close-quarter combat with the knife, which appears lost, or rather less trusted and emphasized, in the fencing schools focused on dueling conventions. This special form of “wrestling with a knife” exhibits some clear connections to medieval dagger fencing, illustrating the technically close relationship with European fencing masters from centuries long passed. Therefore, the many system-specific, close-quarter combat bindings improved my ability to quickly turn a conflict from defense into offense without having to act from wide measure.

 

 

1.4          The Pillars of the Structure

Litografia_di_Bartolomeo_PinelliAs we will see, every fencing school focused on knife dueling uses the same progression: First you learn the school (scuola), the basic movements, in strictly set lessons, also called “figures” or “thrusts” (lezione, figure, puntate). Depending on the tradition, these individual lessons sometimes develop into extended solo forms. This is followed by the “schooling” or “instruction” (insegnamento), where the basic solo movements are now practiced with a partner. The insegnamento also includes, tactics, tricks as and use of the strategic use of the various fencing guards. This traditional procedure has, of course, been adopted in TIKF and is part of how we insure the core spirit and method of the art is preserved.

In addition, instruction in my school consists of the ”didactic trinity”: Play, Defense and Attack (trinità diddattica: gioco, difesa e attacco; but this is a neologism, not a traditional term). First, the student learns the system-specific “play of the figures”, which consist of the basic movements necessary for changing positions. Then follows the specific defenses with the blade and the empty hand from the “play of the figures”. After that, the student is introduced to the various basic attacks and tricks that also occur out of “walking the circle”. The last step connects the three key points – play, defense and attack – so that one flows into the next, or rather, so that there is no longer a clear dividing line: A defense becomes an attack, just like an attack becomes a defense; a circular or spiraling movement is used for defense and attack, and the  attacks and defenses are applications forms of the circular walking.

However, this goal can only be reached through simplification and pragmatism. Here I follow a guideline from Nietzsche, which he expressed as follows in his Anti-Christ:

“The formula for happiness: a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal.”

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Alphabet - Earlier this month, Freelance Academy Press had the pleasure of attending the  International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which went from Thursday, May 9th through Sunday May 12th. We had a booth in the exhibitor’s hall, and again received a fair bit of interest in our title roster, including our Deeds of Arms series, particularly the Combat of the Thirty volume, and Dr. Noel Fallow’s forthcoming entry on the Twelve of England.

However, the real highlight was that for the first time our press was a  co-sponsor of two sessions, entitled “Affairs of Arms”.

The first session was A Presentation of a Judical Duel, and that pretty much says it all. Freelance president and founder Gregory Mele presented a short paper on the history and customs of the judicial duel, before turning the floor over to a bit of interpretive history: a physical reconstruction and demonstration of a judicial duel at the turn of the 15th century.

The premise of the duel was a follows: c.1410, somewhere in northern Italy, a young, Italian squire, Giacomo Culla accuses an English knight of having been seen coming from the chambers of a well-known guildswoman “before morning mass”. The guildswoman, Natalia of Philadelphia was seen “with her hair loose and her bodice undone”, and the knight, had “marks of passion about his neck. Further complicating this claim is that both the squire and the knight are in the service of the lord, Sir Geoffrey Peel, an English adventurer (mercenary) in the Italian wars, and the knight’s wife, a native Italian woman, is currently pregnant, and so the squire claims outrage on the lady’s behalf.

It is not the charge of adultery, however, that precipitates the duel, however, but rather the knight’s claim that the squire Giacomo is a liar, and his demand that he recant his claims. This exchange of challenge and response, known as a Cartello, also outlienes the form of the duel.

Sex, scandal and political scheming – what more could one ask for?

The redoubtable Will McLean took Greg’s initial idea for the duel’s storyline and wedded it to a document from the Lord Hastings’ Ms, to create the final script for the duel, which can be read in its entirety on his “A Common Place Book” website.  In addition, our friend David Hoornstra caught the entire presentation on video, which he has graciously allowed us to post on our YouTube page:

A huge thanks to Annamaria Kovacs for presiding over the session and for all who participated in the presentation of the duel:

Jesse Kulla and Dave Farrell of the Chicago Swordplay Guild as Giacomo and Sir David, respectively;

Bob Charrette as Sir Geoffrey Peel, the presiding noble, attended by members of La Belle Compagnie ;

Will McLean took on the role of the Herald and Michael Cramer the Priest;

The accused Natalia of Philadelphia played by respected 14th century clothing scholar, Tasha Kelly of La Cotte Simple, fame, who had the misfortune of being left with “Schroedinger’s Virtue” due to the uncertain nature of the duel’s resolution. (Unsure of what we mean? Watch the video!)

Our second session, Wrestlers, Brawlers, Horse Archers, Oh My: Not-So-Knightly Arts of the Middle Ages was in the vein of last year’s presentation: a “paper” that was more of a physical demonstration of some aspect of martial culture.  In “Fiore dei Liberi’s Abrazare: Wrestling for War versus Wrestling for Love”, Keith Nelson demonstrated the unarmed combat at the heart of Fiore dei Liberi’s martial art of armizare, and how his various grips, throws and breaks differed from medieval sport wrestling. The presentation was well-received, but the “talk” of the session was Russ Mitchell’s “The Good, the Bad, the R5 and the Ugly: Non-Knightly Warfare and its Instruments”, in which Russ demonstrated the full war kit of the Hungarian medium cavalry – horse archers and swordsmen who uniquely merged eastern and western military traditions. This was a glimpse into one of the great financial and military powers of late Medieval Europe that goes all-but unnoticed  by Anglophone scholars, and attendees were impressed by Russ’s ability to speak extemporaneously and with great detail on his subject.

(Note: if you have any photos from this session, please let us know!)

Finally, during a DISTAFF session, our friends from La Belle Compagnie gave a tour-de-force presentation of how a knight was armed during the Hundred Years War, showing not just one such harness, but four from the 1330s, 1380s, 1415 and 1450! Best of all, the entire presentation was also caught on film!

In the end, our sessions were well-received, old friends were visited, new friends made, new publishing projects developed…and oh yes, we sold some books!

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Alphabet - Happy New Year!

Now that the holidays have passed, we thought that we’d bring you a Twelfth Night present to keep your mind occupied as you recover from a month of heavy food, family gatherings and office parties: three new, free articles.

In Ancient Swordplay, Tony Wolf not only brought readers to the “Elizabethan Swordsmanship” revival of fin de siecle London, he also introduced them to the little remembered – or in Anglophone circl es, unknown – work oftheir “spiritual heir”, George Dubois (1865 – 1934). Dubois wrote and published extensively, and we celebrated his pioneering work last year with a blog post on the man, and making his Cemment du Defendre, Le Point d’ Honneur et le Duel, and Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere freely available on the Freelance website as downloadable PDFs.

Of these varied works, Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere (1925) is perhaps most interesting to students of Historical European Martial Arts. In this short work, Dubois and his associate Albert Lacaze presented an innovative system of competitive fencing with rapier and dagger, marrying historical technique to French classical fencing. Although Dubois became the better known of the two men, it was through Salle Lacaze that this tradition continued and survived to this day.

This combination of historical swordplay and living tradition is the sort of thing that medievalist, Francophile and Prévôt d’Escrime could not resist. Ken has spent time researching and studying this system of “modern French rapier”, and in the article Lacaze Sword and Dagger he supplies a short training curriculum to jump into a fast and furious style of sword and dagger fencing. Modern/classical fencers will find the method a logical adjunct and new twist to their training, while students of historical swordsmanship will get an interesting glimpse into how the ancient traditions were studied and adapted a century ago.

Ken is also working on a full translation of the original Essai sur l’Escrime, coming to a certain publisher near you…

Whether you are historian, martial artist or enthusiast, privately ask yourself how many of you firs found a love for times past through fiction? Be it Ivanhoe or the Hobbit, many of first felt wonder of another era portrayed through the words of favorite author. Of course, no matter how vivid that author’s portrayal might be, it doesn’t mean that portrayal is accurate – particularly when the world is not even our own.

Over the holidays, Ken decided to tackle this very topic. Hanging up his provost’s epee for his historian’s pen, he turns to Westeros, the mythical world of George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. Martin’s works are blockbuster bestsellers, the basis for an ongoing television series, and has been an entree for a number of folks to find out “just how do swords work”? In Down and Out in Westeros, or:Economy and Society in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Ken decides to reverse that question and ask, “Does Westeros really work as a medieval society?” You might be surprised!

Finally, our titles on armizare, the medieval Italian martial art recorded by Fiore dei Liberi, were among our most popular titles in 2012. Dei Liberi himself is a bit of a shadowy figure – a man whose existence is provable, but who is better known through whom he taught than the scant details of his own biography. Gregory Mele, Freelance’s co-founder, publisher and sometimes author takes a look at the life of Galeazzo da Montova, perhaps the most famous of these students.

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Alphabet - As part of Freelance Academy Press’s ongoing mission to not just be a publisher, but a resource, clearing house and meeting place for lovers of traditional martial arts, chivalric studies and European martial history, we think it important to salute the efforts of like-minded souls and to bring attention to their efforts, modest or grandiose.

One such effort comes from our friends at Peregrinus Publishing. The publisher of the short-lived but well-loved Western Martial Arts Illustrated, Peregrinus has begun to collect and distribute European and small-run editions on weapons and armour that have likely been ignored or virtually unavailable in the Western hemisphere. We’d like to take a moment to introduce you to their first import, Medieval Swords from Southeastern Europe.

If you read this blog, then t is a sure-bet that you love medieval swords. Probably, you have more than a few books of arms and armour on your shelf, most of which likely show a collection of beautiful pieces from the UK, Italy, France, Austria, Germany or the USA. But there is a decided lack of scholarship available in English on other parts of Europe, most notably the Iberian Peninsula, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

You probably have also been completely unaware of Medieval Swords from Southeastern Europe, a beautifully written and illustrated, professionally translated book by Marko Aleksić of Belgrade that could help change that. Building on the methodology established by the famed Ewart Oakshott,  Mgr. Aleksić presents an in-depth study of  12th – 15th century swords from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, presenting detailed measurements, weights, and illustrations. If you love the simple, fierce beauty of the medieval sword, then this beautiful and unique book is a must have.

This is the first of an on-going roster of imports that Peregrinus will be sourcing, and we wish them luck in making these wonderful works better-known and more readily available!

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Alphabet - E

arlier, we brought your attention to a number of unique, European arms and armour titles that have been largely unknown in the USA and are now being distributed by our friends and Peregrinus Publishing.

Here is another interesting development in the sword arts community that Freelance Academy Press readers should find of interest: Katsujinken Magazine, A Sword Arts Journal. It has been a hard two decades for magazines, as consolidation, reduction in newstand space and an increasing emphasis on digital newsources – from online editions to blogs – have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of titles, and building enough circulation to survive. In an era where the venerable Newsweek could no longer find enough readers to maintain a print edition and even fanzines have been forced to become all but entirely digital, the Katsujinken team has had a bold ambition: a glossy, full-color, lavishly illustrated journal dedicated to the sword arts. Now entering its second volume, Katsujinken has been both visually and conceptually exquisite, covering Japanese, Chinese, European and Persian martial traditions.

Rather than tell you more about it ourselves, we thought we’d let the magazine’s editor and owner, Jason Lee Hatcher explain where this idea came from, and what he hopes to achieve.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Katsujinken? How did the idea come about? What is the scope of the magazine?

Our official title is, Katsujinken Magazine, a Sword Arts Journal. The word Katsujinken is Japanese for ‘life giving’ or ‘life sustaining’ sword. Much of this ideal was explained in Volume One, the premiere launch issue of our publication. You can understand Katsujinken in this sample scenario: an individual has to draw his sword in defense of an innocent person under attack. He or she isn’t be using the weapon with ill intent, rather to protect and sustain the life of the innocent. This is one thought and it can delve much deeper. Personally, for me, the reason for choosing this name for this magazine has to do with the entire concept of training with edged weaponry and all related facets it brings forth in the lives of each of us individually. As practitioners, we are all sustained in some way by the sword and edged weaponry arts. This is where we bond with friends and build life long connections, test the limits of of our training, and attempt to create a goodness with-in our communities. It is also where we find such great solace and return so very often, all the while we continue to replenish life in arts that date back hundreds of years. This is yin and yang.

Keep in mind, most people outside of our personal sword circles have no idea of what is going on in regards to sword arts. It’s the weirdest thing to tell someone, “I train in the sword arts.” It’s like there are no exact words to express practicing sword arts. Everyone responds with a puzzled look, unless they have an existing interest or former history with sword art training. Katsujinken Magazine is here to bridge these gaps. Not only these gaps, but those that exist between all of us as practitioners. We all have had things we’ve wanted to share with one another, whether it be poetry, stories, gatherings, tutorials, competition results, upcoming events, training halls, articles on lessons learned, the latest arms or newest products on the market etc. Katsujinken Magazine provides us with a reoccurring canvas, which transforms all of this information into a tangible masterpiece for reader entertainment every four months.

Q: You’ve produced a really, visually beautiful magazine – did you already have a background in magazine production or design?

Thank you for saying so, we really appreciate your kind words. Katsujinken’s flavor comes from so many different aspects, first of which has got to be that we are not used to seeing such wonderful substance on sword arts in a printed medium. This is an awakening on its own. This magazine and the likes there of has been missing from the sword arts scene for a very long time. Secondly we have a wonderful arts director named Kent Jensen who does a phenomenal job on cover design, Kent has been there since I first announced Katsujinken’s creation and his work is captivating. After that, the articles, layout, and photography are responsible for bringing life to the magazine as a whole. I would go further in attributing the look of our publication to the work of our publisher Donna Quesinberry of DonnaInk.com, Donna has been phenomenal in assisting Katsujinken along its journey, were it not for her the magazine would not exist.

To answer your second inquiry, no I did not have a prior experience in magazine production. Everything you are presented with in Katsujinken a Sword Arts Journal has been on a learning curve. We are all getting better at producing this publication, but it is definitely a nurturing ambition. I personally have learned so much since day one and feel this is reward in itself, but the desire to push forward and learn more is always present.

Q: Katsujinken means “the Life-Giving Sword” and is a term that comes up often in Japanese martial arts. Obviously, that is your background as well, so most people would assume this is a magazine on Japanese sword arts, yet you’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to students of all traditional weapon arts. What prompted you to branch out into other Asian and Western sword arts?

We are attempting to bridge gaps between Eastern and Western Arts. Personally, I attribute some of this to my years spent at the Capital Area Budokai Dojo here in the Washington DC area. We held a yearly event called, “Swordfest.” At this event all types of arts converged and demonstrated their perspectives styles and lineages. Arriving at Swordfest from a Japanese mindset of the arts I always discovered and learned interesting takeaways from the Western styles. This ideal was surely applied in a vice-versa fashion for those practitioners of Western styles.

Q: As you’ve worked with students and teachers of these other disciplines, what has been the biggest revelation? The most unexpected?

First, let me say that it has been a huge privilege and honor to have gotten to know so many senior Sensei and Instructors of the arts. Not to forget all the other individuals that make training in swords possible for us. The practitioners out there are but only one side of a coin, we need to always remember those that work hard on forging blades and ornamentation, producing armor and period clothing, the wonderful members who run the forums in which much discussion and learning occurs, those that pull events together along with resources, and basically anyone that contributes. There are so many people in our communities that help give life to our training and it is exciting to meet all of them.

I think I touched on the “biggest revelation” in an earlier question, but definitely the relevance of techniques and teachings across the sword arts. Yes, some techniques are weapon related and sensitive, but a person can gain a lot of understanding from watching other arts. This is true also between the Japanese Arts alone. You can never gain a whole picture by only training in one art, you need to occasionally reach out and verify what you are doing compared to that of others. Example, I used to sit in the dojo early before my Meishiha Mugai Ryu class and watch the Kendo guys and gals run through exercises and varied training techniques. I would then find myself using those same techniques while training on my own. This is a mild example and the whole ideal about viewing and learning from all arts can be very enlightening as a whole.

Q: As you come to the end of your first year, what’s been the biggest lesson?

I would say that running a magazine is the job of a mad man. It was impossible to understand what was involved in creating a magazine until I was doing it. You have to be prepared to work tirelessly around the clock. There are deadlines to meet, sales charts to keep track of, (customers, advertisers, and article writers to keep happy and enthusiastic), emails to write and questions to answer, not to mention the countless nights where only 3 to 4 hours of sleep are awarded, plus so much more that goes on behind the scenes. It drains you, it can beat you down and make you pull your hair out, but just when you can’t take anymore the printed copies arrive and your heart beat slows a bit and everything becomes euphoric.

I love working on this publication and watching it grow. There are so many facets of growth we can pursue with Katsujinken, the sky is the limit for sure. I have no plans on giving up on this venture regardless of how hard things can become. There is a vision here and we all see it, so to reiterate on the biggest lesson learned, I’d say that we need to push through and move forward. We already have a readership of hundreds across the globe, but how cool would it be to grow that readership into the thousands and beyond. Imagine how many untrained practitioners out there are looking for what we do. They are looking for a window into the true arts that we all maintain and love. Lets spread the word.

Q: Year two is on the horizon – what can we expect in 2013?

Is year two here already? Man where has the time gone? Really though, year one was great, we have our forth volume arriving just in time for this Christmas and next we are working on a Western Arts dedicated edition for early Spring. After that, we’ll probably mix things up again and eventually we’d like to hold a Women of Edged Weaponry edition. There are some wonderful women out there holding there own within all the arts and its inspiring to have them train beside all the men. Not to mention they tend to brighten the scenery, if I can say that. The ladies deserve their due.

With 2013, we can expect bigger and better. Lets build our audience up and spread the news. There is a lot going on in the world with swords and edged weaponry, let’s bring it all together in the pages of Katsujinken a Sword Arts Journal.

Thank you for giving me a chance to answer some of these questions, it has been an honor. ~ Jason Lee A. Hatcher

Subscriptions and back issues of Katsujinken, A Sword Arts Journal are available at the magazine’s website: http://www.katsujinkenmagazine.com/

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Tom Leoni is well-known in the Western Martial Arts community as a researcher and translator of Renaissance Italian fencing texts. His The Art of Dueling (2005) brought the magnum opus of the famed 17th century sword-master, Salvatore Fabris to an English-language audience for the first time. Now out of print, used copies are eagerly sought, often commanding ridiculously high prices on Ebay or ABEBooks.

In 2010 and 2011 Tom expanded on his investigation into 17th c swordplay with Freelance’s Venetian Rapier and Ridolfo Capoferro’s The Art and Practice of Fencing, thereby making the complete “holy trinity” of Italian rapier available in clear, concise English. In 2010’s Complete Renaissance Swordsman: A guide to the use of all manner of weapons, Tom stepped further back in time, opening the doors to earliest surviving text of the Bolognese school of swordplay, which contained a vast curriculum of weapons.

But before joining Freelance, in 2009 Tom had self-published a modest little book – a translation of the earliest known work on Italian martial arts, the renowned il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle) by Fiore dei Liberi. This translation quickly became the seminal translation in the WMA community, and forms the basis of study in Robert Charrette’s Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The chivalric martial arts system of il Fior di Battaglia. In the ensuing three years, Tom has substantially reanalyzed, revised and expanded his translation. We sat down with him at the SCA’s Pennsic War to ask him how a staunch student of the Italian rapier found himself suddenly immersed in a study of the two-handed sword, wrestling, pollaxe and mounted combat, and why creating a second edition became an obsession.

Q: You have been translating Italian martial arts manuscripts since 2005, but your focus has always been on the 16th and 17th centuries. How did a translation of Fiore dei Liberi’s “Flower of Battle” come about?

It was Scott Wilson (owner of Darkwood Armory) who initially commissioned the translation. As a serious Fiore student, he wanted to have a single, reliable and consistent translation of the Getty manuscript at a time when there were many fragments of translations available on the Web, some more dependable than others. So he came to me and promised me to make me a custom rapier if I would complete the translation by the 600th anniversary of what we consider to be the date of the treatise. I complied, my original translation came out in 2009, and the beautiful Darkwood custom rapier hangs proudly in my salle.

Q: Can you answer this question for the Historical European martial arts community once and for all: is il Fior di Battaglia written in literary Italian or dialect?

Actually, neither! The book is written in vernacular, which is somewhere between the literary language and the dialect. Think of it as the proper language spoken with a heavy regional accent and using a simplified vocabulary. In writing, the most telltale sign of vernacular is the spelling, which approximates on paper the way the author would have pronounced the language; in our Master’s case, his spelling was heavily influenced by what linguists call Lombardisms (for instance, z or ç for g or c, gh for c, d for t, etc.). But once you account for the several consonant shifts, a few vowel shifts and the frequent elimination of double consonants, you get a fairly standard Italian–although definitely not as polished as the literary language as far as grammar, vocabulary and style. For an example closer to home, imagine a Joe Pesci spelling words as he pronounces them in his thick New York accent (e.g., “the two yoots”) or a Jeff Foxworthy doing so in his signature Southern drawl (e.g., “less do us sum rasslin’”): the spelling is unorthodox, but the meaning is still clear. Had Fiore written in true dialect, the Italian would be virtually unrecognizable–for instance, he would have used terms not found in Italian, he would have contracted many words, while with others, he would have dropped the final vowel or even the final syllable. Besides, writing in dialect for a wide audience was not at all common in Fiore’s time–and indeed, throughout the history of Italian literature.

Q: One of the other things that your translations have become known for is capturing the voice of the original author, rather than using your own. How would you describe Fiore’s personality as an author?

I am glad that some think I convey the voice of the original authors. Translating is truly an art-form, and my goal is to keep getting better. Returning to grad-school–especially having to translate under the rigorous guidance of the head of the Classics department at Catholic University–has certainly given me more food for thought as far as translating. Fiore’s personality as an author is truly interesting–and I think unique in the history of Italian fencing. While most Masters speak in a single voice, Fiore writes in at least three personas: the meticulous teacher of the art he loves and has learned to describe so well; the lovable boisterous soldier in the tradition of Plautus’ miles gloriosus; and the self-deprecating, easy-going man who never lost his sense of humor despite the respect and the status he has earned, who calls himself “a poor old man” and “Fiore the student.” The Fiore who comes across from the pages of his treatise is someone I would have loved to know, train and share a drink with. After spending so much time with him, I think of Fiore as a friend, while even “my” Fabris I view more as a father figure, since he only spoke in one voice–the voice of absolute authority in his field.

Q: What led to creating a second edition?

Three things mainly. One, the desire to review the translation as a Fiore student, rather than merely a historical fencer with a linguistic background; two, the awareness that working from a high-resolution version of the original manuscript was preferable than working from a transcription; three, the desire to include biographical material, a contextual study on the judicial duel (which is one of my main areas of academic interest), the account of some of the duels fought by Fiore’s students, as well as a thorough bilingual glossary on the Master’s terminology. The result is something I’m quite pleased with, and besides the complementary material I have mentioned, I would rate this translation a good 25-30% better and more accurate than that of the first edition. Also, I was able to offer plenty of footnotes giving suggestions as to the practical aspect of Fiore’s plays, now that I have gone through most of the book several times sword-in-hand (so to speak).

Q: There’s a rumor that after spending this much time with the old Maestro, your rapier now has to compete with the longsword and abrazare in your heart. Is that true?

It is absolutely true. Rapier is like the violin, while the medieval arts are like playing guitar. Both instruments are sublime and capable of perfection, but the guitar gives you satisfaction sooner, comes in many more varieties and can have an air of cool nonchalance that the more exacting violin does not have. I view medieval martial arts in the same light. Thanks to Fiore, I am learning to wrestle, I am getting proficient at fighting unarmed against a dagger, I get to use a whole plethora of interesting weapons under a single, coherent system, and I even get to fight in armor. Fiore also inspired me to get back on a horse, something I used to love when I was younger but I had not done in years. Something else that attracts me to Fiore is the fact that there is a lot more still to discover about his world, which as a researcher is like a newly-found gold mine. This is not to say that my enthusiasm for the rapier has diminished; only, it is hard (I would say impossible) not to be seduced by the system of Fiore and the context in which his art was practiced.

Q: There are a few questions that come up when English speakers with a bit of Italian look at Fiore’s terminology. Why do you think he used “abrazare”, for example, rather than “lotta”? Or “colpo” rather than “taglio”? To those of us who didn’t grow up thinking in Italian, what is the lesson to be learned there?

The lesson is that as a late-medieval man, Fiore understood his categories! Lotta is the whole of wrestling, while abrazare is a part–namely, arm-wrestling (as Fiore gives away on Folio 45 R, when he says “a play of abrazare [means] a play of the arms”). Colpo is the whole, a generic term for blow, action or attack, while taglio is a part–namely, a cutting attack. In other cases, it must have been the tradition that affected terminology; for instance, the name or descriptive adjectives of some guards and some strikes are unique to Fiore (as far as we know today) and must have come from a Master-student lineage particular to his area or his instructors–e.g., Posta di Donna, Sottano, Colpo di Villano, Guardie Pulsative, etc. I am looking forward to discovering what further research will yield in this regard.

Q: Now that you’re Fiore’s student, and not just his mouthpiece to the Anglophone world, how do you think his work “measures up” to the works of the later Renaissance that you have spent so much time with?

It measures up excellently. His treatise is so clear and thorough, we don’t have an excuse for getting Fiore wrong. We may argue about such minutiae as how far off-line you need to step, or whether or not you need an additional pass when you deliver your riposte by fendente in the Peasant’s Strike or whether there is a left Finestra in longsword, but as far as the main ideas and principal motions, he leaves no room for speculation. This is also greatly aided by the late-medieval pedagogical model of illustrating most actions, as well as by there being four extant version of his treatise. I wish that at least one among the great 16th century Bolognese Masters had adopted Fiore’s pedagogical model–we would know a lot more about that style than we can at present, with their (largely) non-illustrated, discursive instruction. I would say that up until the 17th century, Fiore has written the most valuable Italian treatise for us historical martial artists–and even compared to more recent treatises, he more than holds his own.

Q: There seem to be a lot of “memes” about Fiore’s work, perhaps because no complete, vetted translations of his work are readily available to the larger community. If there are a few of these that you could put to rest right now, what would they be?

I am glad you asked! The most macroscopic meme of recent vintage is that Fiore somehow wrote in code, and that his text is cryptic and hard to understand. Quite to the contrary, Fiore wrote as an expert instructor, who needed very few well-tested words to describe what he wanted to convey. His goal was clarity, and he achieved that admirably, in my opinion. How much clearer, for instance, can you get than his description of the Peasant’s Strike?

Wait for the peasant to launch his cut with his sword. As you wait, stand in a narrow stance with your left foot forward. When he attacks, perform an off-line accrescimento with your left foot to the opponent’s right, followed by an oblique pass with your right foot, catching his cut with the middle of your sword. Let his sword glide to the ground, and immediately respond with a fendente to the head or arms …

Sure, the fact that every action is illustrated helps, but how many treatises can you name that spell out the footwork with such consistent precision–in virtually every action? How many can you tick off that tell you exactly where to put your hands and your body and in which direction to push or pull as you wrestle? How many that name and describe all the turns that your body, your feet and your sword can make? As you read Fiore, you really get the sense that he wants you to know, he wants you to get it. Which is why I said that you simply can’t get Fiore wrong–although performing his actions correctly and efficiently is of course a matter of arduous practice.

Then of course there is the meme initiated (or perpetuated) by the Victorians, namely, that Fiore wrote a treatise in which there is essentially no theory and no finesse, only brute force. A few hours of training are enough to disprove that: can you imagine wildly muscling your way through the first few plays of abrazare? Or trying to “win” a crossing by pressing hard against the opponent’s blade? But then, the Victorians’ goal was different from ours: theirs was to trace an evolutionary pedigree (documented or half-legendary) for their own style, while ours is to piece together the original arts on their own merit, understand them and perform them to the best of our ability.

Fiore dei Liberi’s Flower of Battle, 2nd Edition is available exclusively from Freelance Academy Press! But it direct, and receive an added bonus: an annotated translation by of the closely related Morgan Ms, correlated as a correspondence to the Getty Ms and red-lined to make it easy to spot the differences, additions or deletions of text.

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