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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.

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!

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/

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.

Would you buy a book from these men? We’re counting on it!

his year we will again be squatting…er…graciously accepting the offer to present our books and DVDs in conjunction with the fine ladies of Revival Clothing. And, never one to say no to a good party, the proprietrix, has again agreed to play host to our Author Soiree.

Date: August 6
Time: 7:30 PM
Place: Revival Clothing, on the Street of Gold

Please come and join Bob Charrette, Christian Tobler, Tom Leoni, and Greg Mele for cheese, wine, and assorted goodies, as the authors sign books and give sneak peeks of things to come!

In his ongoing effort to open the parlor room door to the vigorous martial arts (aka “antagonistics”) world of late Victorian London, our friend and author Tony Wolf has recently blogged offering not a glimpse into the Bartitsu Club of Barton-Wright, not in his words, but those of the ancient swordplay pioneer, Captain Alfred Hutton.

“Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.”

You can read more about Hutton’s thoughts, and how he later made use of Tani and Uyenishi’s lessons in Captain Hutton writes about his friends at the Bartitsu Club.

t seems that Sherlock Holmes’ “forgotten” martial art is slowly, but steadily, seeping into the public consciousness!

While Tony Wolf has been busy writing about and documenting Bartitsu history for years, we told you recently about the newly formed Bartitsu Club of Chicago, his experiment in on-going, progressive training in both canonical and neo-bartitsu. The Bartitsu Club is not only the newest member of a growing, informal association of clubs and training groups around the world, but it has found an ideal home at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Only two months into its existence, and the club is already getting some good press. Click on the highlighted text to read the article Martial Arts, Victorian Style: Bartitsu at Forteza Fitness Brings Back the Lost Fighting Art of Sherlock Holmes, by New City journalist Kristen Micek. Another new article on the Bartitsu Club at Forteza Fitness is available here: Blast into the Past.

You can also watch a short video impression of the recent Open House held at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts, featuring demonstrations by the Chicago Swordplay Guild, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and the Asylum Stunt Team.

Meanwhile, Bartitsu is also doing well in its homeland of Britain. It was recently featured in a 3.5 minute segment on Britian’s popular TV magazine, The One Show. The show features an interview with Emelyne Godfrey and a Bartitsu fight scene choreographed by Ran Arthur Braun, performed by Braun, “One Show” co-host Gyles Brandreth and Ajay Jackson and Ashley Patricks:


Finally, but certainly not least, the “jujutsu suffragette” Edith Garrud is back in the news, a mere forty years after her death! Far more than just a “women’s rights” group, the suffragettes were a formidable fighting force – in more ways than one. The leaders of the fight for women’s votes had their own elite bodyguard, trained in jujitsu, to protect them from the police. The suffragettes and their role in the history of Edwardian antagonistics at large, and Bartitsu in particular is documented in Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes, and you can both read more about Edith Garrud, who was the jujitsu and self defence trainer of the Suffragette Bodyguard society and see a humorous nod to these ladies from this presentation at last year’s Western Martial Arts Workshop:

All in all, it’s a fine time to be a bartitsuka!

lthough the pioneering work of Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle is well-known to students of Historical European Martial Arts, far-fewer are aware of the expansive, and longer-lasting, efforts of their “spiritual heir”, George Dubois (1865 – 1934).

Dubois was a professional sculptor and Olympic athlete, who had studied savate and fencing since childhood, and became inspired by a display of “Ancient Swordplay” involving Hutton and Castle, which he saw in Brussels in 1894. By 1906, Dubois had become interested in the intellectual and physical challenges of reviving archaic systems of fence. His first project was the reconstruction of Roman gladiatorial combat between a retiarius (net and trident fighter) and a myrmillo (sword and shield fighter), to be demonstrated at an “ancient sports” festival in Tourcoing.

Myrmillion vs Retiarus – Dubois’ method of reconstructing gladiatorial combat prefigured the “living archaeology” movement by almost seven decades.

For the next several years, Dubois continued to combine his interests in the fine, performing and martial arts. In 1916 he produced a book, Comment se Defendre  presenting a notably realistic fusion of Japanese and French self-defence techniques, reminiscent of Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu. His daughter, Mathilde, played the role of the defender in several of the book’s forty-eight instructional photographs.

Two years later, Dubois published his “Essai sur le traité d’escrime de Saint-Didier, publié en 1573,” a brief but insightful analysis of the rapier fencing text produced by the 16th century master-at-arms, Henri de Saint-Didier.

But it was rapier fencing was that truly inspired Dubois, how found the “doubled” art of rapier and dagger to be the height of fencing exercise; beneficial both in terms of physical culture, because it encouraged a more symmetrical muscular development, and also in terms of intellectual engagement. During this period he collaborated with another French fencing master, Albert Lacaze, who shared Dubois’ interest in historical fencing techniques.

In 1925 Dubois published a further work on rapier and dagger fencing. Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere is particularly interesting by way of contrast to L’Escrime au Theatre, which had been published some fifteen years earlier. Dague et Rapiere was not a book of stage combat techniques, but rather presented an innovative system of competitive fencing with double weapons.

 Introducing his own work, Dubois explains that:

 “Employing Fifteenth and Sixteenth century fencing terms creates something of a complication for the modern reader. A didactic book should present all of its explanations as clearly as possible. Therefore I shall employ, in this essay on ancient fencing, terms that are familiar to masters-at-arms and to their students at the foil and epee, using the classical grammar of the modern French school.

“Moreover, I would appreciate it if the reader would adopt my conviction – based on studies within the historical oeuvre – that even if the terms employed by the old Masters are not the same ones that we use today, then the methods that they described are as our own; they taught many of the same skills, since the guard of the sword was furnished with transverse branches that we all utilise scientifically.”

Thus, in Dague et Rapiere, Dubois presented a historically-inspired double-weapon fencing system intended to complement the classical foil and epee fencing of his own era. He wrote that the system was based soundly upon the mutual study, by himself and Master Lacaze, of their collective fencing libraries, which included the works of Thibault, Capo Ferro and Fabris.  Rather than a strict revival of ancient swordplay, it was a modern system adapting historical practice to the contemporary art. In several respects it is very much the type of manual that Captain Hutton might have produced on this subject, had he been inclined to popularize “ancient swordplay” beyond his own small clique.

For those interested in a glimpse of Dubois’ “modern rapier” in practice, in October of 1927, the Pathe film company recorded an outdoor training session in the method of double-weapon fencing described in Dague et Rapiere. The footage was then edited into a silent newsreel item entitled Fence and Keep Fit!”, which runs for a little over three minutes.

A second film clip from 1934, records a visit to Salle Lacaze by the famous Italian fencer Aldo Nadi, and shows students engaged in rapier and dagger training, and in the final shot shows Nadi decisively winning a fast epee and dagger bout:

That same year, George Dubois died at the age of sixty-nine. Through his books and essays, historical fencing displays and theatrical fight choreography, he had been at the cente of the escrime ancienne movement for three decades. It was largely through his efforts, and latterly those of his colleague, Master Albert Lacaze, that the work begun by Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle and their peers was perpetuated into the new century, and in isolated pockets, such as the Salle Lacaze, has continued to the present day, creating its own living tradition of “modern rapier and dagger”.

You can read more about Dubois and the French HEMA movement in Tony Wolf’s Ancient Swordplay. For Francophones, we are pleased to celebrate this early pioneer by making his Cemment du Defendre,  Le Point d’ Honneur et le Duel, and Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere freely available as downloadable PDFs on the Freelance website.

n the waning years of the 15th century, Peter Falkner was a long-time member and sometime captain of the famed Marxbruder fencing guild, and it was during this tenure that he set about creating an illustrated fight book of his own. Colorful, painted figures and short captions depict combat with a wide variety of weapons: the longsword, dagger, staff, poleaxe, halberd, dueling shield and mounted combat. Smaller, and less elaborate, Falkner’s work has never gotten the attention that has been received by the similar books of Hans Talhoffer or Paulus Kal.

This is unfortunate, because in many areas Falkner provides superior instruction, or unique commentary. Where his work excels, however, is in its extensive treatment of the falchion-like messer, clearly following in the tradition of Han Lecküchner, and his adaptations of those techniques back into the core weapon of the Liechtenauer tradtition – the longsword. In many ways, this makes Falkner a “missing link”, showing us how the two great traditions of late Medieval Germany, those of Lecküchner and Liechtenauer interwove and informed one another within the actual fencing guilds.

Christian discusses these topics and more in this new, video interview:

n late Victorian England, swordsmanship experienced a unique revival, even as the sword was being rendered useless on the battlefield. The precise origins are murky, but likely began with the Romantic movement of the later 18th century, which created a new interest in medievalism, and captured the popular imagination when Sir Walter Scott published Ivanhoe in 1819. Throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries there were a series of “Grand Tournaments” – often lavish medieval spectacles and festivals, often featuring jousting competitions.

An Assault at Arms: the Islington Tournament (1880)

How serious most of these efforts were is hard to say, but they, in turn, were one of the influences on the Assaults-at-Arms, displays of skill-at-arms performed as public entertainment. Originally conceived by the military as a way to exhibit fencing, horsemanship and athletics, civilian counterparts soon followed. Many of these events combined competition with showmanship; some were strictly competitive and others little more than farce.

(For a deeper look at the tradition of the Grand Tournaments and the Assaults-at-Arms, see A Grand Assault-at-Arms” Tournaments and Combative Exhibitions in Victorian England at the Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Sciences.)

Yet, by the 19th century, fencing was becoming an endangered species in England. While romantic adventure novels, and the exploits of real explorer-swordsmen like Sir Richard Francis Burton captured the imagination, it did not fill fencing salles. As a pastime or sport, fencing had never had the same popularity as boxing, and was perceived by many Englishmen as “elitist” and “Frenchified”. With the sword’s prominence as the soldier’s sidearm swiftly being supplanted by the revolver, by the 1880s the future of the art of the sword looked rather grim.

In an effort to recapture the public’s fascination with swordplay, Captain Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle, both devoted fencers and amateur historians, led a systematic study and reconstruction of combat with all the weapons of the Elizabethan arsenal – the elegant rapier, deadly sword and buckler, and the massive two-handed sword. In a world without the Internet, digital reproduction or inter-library loan, as men of means they had the resources and education to locate – and – read old fencing texts, and the martial training to begin interpreting them. Finding a sympathetic host in the enigmatic Edward Barton-Wright, whose Bartitsu Club would become the center of their efforts, these two men launched the revival of  “ancient swordplay” in England.  Throughout the waning decades of the 19th century, and into the early years of the 20th, their work found practical expression in classes, exhibitions, academic lectures and theatrical combat, for audiences as diverse as school children, soldiers and the Prince of Wales.

Alfred Hutton also had a practical – and political – motivation in drawing public attention to Elizabethan swordplay. Military instruction in swordsmanship had long been based on the French system, which Hutton found artificially academic, and ill-suited to fighting out of the salle against Berbers, Zulu and Indians, all of whom were well-versed in their own methods of sword and spear combat. Never a blushing violet, Hutton lobbied for a new system of swordplay, invigorated by traditional English backsword practice. In 1899 he demonstrated what such a system might look like, when he published Cold Steel, a curriculum for his own system of sabre fencing, combining the Italian sabre school with that of the English backsword. Not only did Cold Steel make use of 18th c English backsword, but Hutton also included lessons on the great stick, the dagger (or un-mounted bayonet) and defense against the same. The latter two subjects were not of his own devising, but rather were taken directly from the instructions of Achille Marozzo’s Opera Nova (1536).

When Hutton’s student, Capt. Cyrill Matthey, published The Complete Works of George Silver in 1899, he noted bitterly that “I suggest sword-fighting is not taught, and it ought to be.” His solution? A return to the practical, combative approach of George Silver, most especially his use of grips. Like his teacher, Matthey was calling for a radical reversion to a method of swordsmanship not seen in 150 years. Like Hutton, his appeals were not heeded.

Although Hutton and Matthey’s efforts to change British military swordsmanship failed, the entire matter was soon made irrelevant – the sword’s days on the battlefield were numbered in years, not decades. But it was their interest in the applicability of historical swordplay to practical, modern swordsmanship that brought Silver’s unpublished Brief Instructions Vpo My Paradoxes of Defence from obscurity into print, which in turn would become one of the first texts to be studied diligently by the second historical swordsmanship revival in the late 20th century.

A Lecture on Fencing - 1891

In 1892, Hutton published a slim volume of fight sequences with the two-handed sword, sword and buckler, rapier, rapier and dagger and smallsword, called Old Swordplay. His audience was clearly the theater, and while the sequences he describes show some relationship to the manuscripts they draw from, they lack the practical martiality of his sabre and stick instructions in Cold Steel. This was because the historical sequences served a very different purpose; to inform actors and directors as to the flavor of historical swordplay; not to turn them into historical swordsmen, per se. Here, Hutton and Castle had great success – until his death, Hutton would continue to stage fights on the London stage, and receive rave reviews for the realism of his fights; being amongst the first fight directors to insist upon correct weapons, armour and technique for the play’s setting. Although this may seem obvious or passe to modern readers, for London theater audiences of the 1890s, this was the first time that the great Tybalt -Romeo duel had rung to the clash of real rapiers and daggers, rather than flimsy foils.

Yet for all of their efforts and public acclaim, Hutton and Castle did not establish a tradition of historical swordsmanship that survived their own generation. Instead, their books and essays were largely forgotten until the second revival of ancient swordplay in the late 20th century. Today’s researchers now often view these early efforts with a cavalier or dismissive eye. In Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Swordplay in Victorian England,  Tony Wolf, 19th c martial arts scholar, theatrical fight director, and reviver and instructor of the “lost” fighting art of Bartitsu, reexamines Hutton and Castle’s work, both through their own words and those of their enthusiasts, students and critics alike. Tony has unearthed a bevy of rare newspaper illustrations, photographs, play bills and bookplates, many of which can be found in the book’s gallery, and which help fill in the picture of the English revival, and its place in what came both before and after. Every student of historical European martial arts, especially those who believe they know what Castle, Hutton and their circle thought and taught will be in for more than one surprise:

  • A tradition of Medieval fests and swordsmanship – some of very dubious derivation – had already become popular throughout Europe and Canada;
  • Nearly a generation before Hutton and Castle, Maestro Gregorio Villaamil had already attempted to save La Verdadera Destreza from extinction by reconstructing earlier methods;
  • Castle’s views on medieval fencing evolved considerably over the years, and the dismissal of “the rough, untutored swordsmanship” written by a 26 year old prodigy did not reflect those of the mature man;
  • If Hutton and Castle had a true “heir” it was not an Englishman, but rather Maitre George Dubois, whose reconstruction of Gladiatorial combat prefigured the field of “Living Archaeology” by over 60 years, and whose syncretic system of modern rapier and dagger fencing would survive into the late 20th century;
  • Although the Ancient Swordplay movement failed to survive its founders, they would have considered it to have served its purpose – the preservation of modern fencing.

But what this look into a world of top hats and rapiers best shows is that the modern view of the Victorian revivalists as earnest but misguided amateur scholars is both unfair, and a bit arrogant. Instead, they are revealed as the inventors of a systematic study and practice of lost fighting arts that has only been exceeded in recent years, worthy of being celebrated as the true pioneers in the field.

With Ancient Swordplay, we are very pleased to bring the old boys (and girls! wait until you read about the swordswoman-actress-suffragette-role-reverser Esme Beringer!) back into the limelight, and in the weeks to come we will be uploading a number of images and manuscripts that couldn’t make it into the book. Keep watching this space!