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by Christian ToblerImage

Alphabet - At the Pennsic War event this year, I taught a suite of four classes treating the use of the German longsword, dagger, sword and buckler, and, finally – messer. During that final class, someone asked me why the cleric/fencing author Johannes Lecküchner, in his mammoth treatise on the messer, had at once repeated so much of his predecessor Liechtenauer’s verse for the longsword, but had changed the names of most of the signature strokes with the sword, and for all of the guards.

“Perhaps he [Lecküchner] wanted it clear that the techniques varied a bit when performed with the messer and so named them differently”, I answered with little conviction.

I’ve given that stock answer for several years now, with progressively less confidence each time. After all, there’s a major flaw with that reasoning: the messer version of the Zornhau (Wrath Stroke) is done a bit differently than its longsword analog, and yet Lecküchner retained that particular name.

It was during the drive home from the event that it struck me: Lecküchner’s names are “toughened up” versions of the old names for the strokes and guards of the longsword; his sound more aggressive, geared more toward war and the hunt, rather than agriculture.

The “Wrath Stroke” sounds menacing enough, so it is so-named in the messer Zettel (epitome). But let’s look at what happens with the other strokes:

The Krumphau, or Crooked Stroke, becomes the Weckerhau – the Awakening Stroke.

The Zwerchhau, or Thwart Stroke, becomes the Entrüsthau – the Disarming Stroke.

The Schielhau, or Squinting Stroke, becomes the Zwingerhau – the Constraining Stroke.

The Scheitelhau, or Scalp Stroke, becomes the Geferhau – the Endangering Stroke.

Each of these new names sounds more aggressive than the longsword antecedent. All this focus on surprise, restraint, and danger is tough talk to be sure!

With the four primary guards, the effect of the change is even more profound. The two “closed wards” for the longsword, Ochs (Ox) and Pflug (Plow), are stripped of their bucolic tranquility and in the messer become , respectively, Stier (Bull or Steer) and Eber (Boar) – clearly, far more brawny names.

The open wards – Vom Tag (From the Roof, or From the Day, depending on your interpretation…), and Alber (Fool), are similarly toughened up. The former becomes Luginslant (Watchtower), while the latter becomes Pastei (Bastion). If the agrarian names for the closed wards have been changed to please the bull fighter or huntsman, here the appeal must be to military sensibilities, in both vigilance and stout defense.

It is impossible for us to know the mind of Johannes Lecküchner in full, but seen through this lens, it seems he altered Liechtenauer’s language to project a more muscular sense of the art – a valuable distinction when attracting noble eyes.

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Alphabet - A martial artist, linguist, historian and tireless arms and armour researcher, Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani (Germany) is an award-winning author who won the prestigious awards of the Book Prize of the Islamic Republic of Iran (2012) for his book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology and Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period(2009), which also won the World Book Prize in the field of Iranian Studies in 2009. The latter book is based on over 800 primary and secondary sources and features a detailed analysis of over 520 artifacts from ten Iranian museums for the first time. Some selected items from private collections are also featured in this book.

Dr. Khorasani is also the author of the book Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection (published 2010) and has written well over 100 print articles, lexicon entries and book contributions related to arms and armor from Iran in 30 print journals and magazines, an encyclopedia and one in a book in English, German, Spanish, French and Persian for American, Argentinian, Austrian, British, Canadian, French, German, Indian, Iranian, South Korean and Spanish magazines.

We have known Dr. Khorasani for many years in his role as a moderator and consultant at Swordforum International, and were particularly excited when we learned that he had been combining all of his passions and backgrounds in a new project: Razmafzar – Persian Martial Arts. His latest book, Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: The Martial Arts of Iran, is the first publication of his results, another massive, meticulously documented analysis of artifacts, artwork, and literature, this time cross-analyzed with surviving Persian fencing, archery and riding manuscripts and the many living-traditions of Iranian wrestling. We are pleased to offer this interview, where Dr. Khorasani gives us some insights into the (re)development of Razmafzar, living martial traditions in Iran, and what is forthcoming from his prolific pen.

QUESTIONS:

Shamshir and Separ (Buckler) vs Mace and Buckler. In Razmafzar the small shield (separ) is used with a variety of weapons, including the sword, mace, axe and dagger.

Shamshir and Separ (Buckler) vs Mace and Buckler. In Razmafzar the small shield (separ) is used with a variety of weapons, including the sword, mace, axe and dagger.

FAP: In the simplest terms, what is “Razmafzar”? Where does the name originate? What fighting disciplines does it entail?

Khorasani: This is a combined Persian term, a New Persian lexeme which consists of razm (battle/fight) and afzar (tools/weapons). It means “Battle Weapons”. Actually, this word is related to zinabzar or zinafzar which means the weapons for a mounted warrior. The term zinafzar can already be found in the Poems of Onsori Balkhi (1990, p.22). This word is an old word which derives from the Middle Persian word zēn afzār (war implements/weapons) that can be found in Karnameye Ardeshir Babakan (see Farahvashi, 2007, p. 30). The reason for choosing razmafzar and not zinafzar for this historical martial art is that it deals not only with cavalry techniques and tactics but also with infantry techniques and tactics. So it is a more general term encomassing both fields. Although the fomer has received some cursory look, the latter has been completely ignored in the studies of martial hertitage of Iran/Persia. It entails all techniques which are documented in manuscripts, poems, battlefield accounts, miniatures, arts, stone reliefs from Ancient Iran and also Islamic period of Iran.

FAP: You had already established your reputation as a researcher into Persian arms and armour? How did you come to turn your attention to Persian fighting arts?

Khorasani: I have been an active martial artist almost all my life and surely after years of research, measurement and recording hundreds of Iranian arms and armor in 14 museums in Iran and many private collections in Europe, Russia and USA, the intriguing question has always been how these weapons were used. That is why I turned my attention to a detailed study of these weapons.

FAP: One of the unique things in Persian Archery and Swordsmanship is your detail to language – in tracking a lexicon of martial terminology or technical vocabulary, that can be found in non technical literature and then comparing that to iconographic depictions of the same actions. This is an area that is still awaiting more serious attention in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Can you discuss the process you used in going about this?

Khorasani: Thanks for asking this question. I started my research first by writing a book on classification of Iranian weapons from Ancient Iran up to the end of the Qajar period in 1925. The result was the publication of my book “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period” in 2006. After that I turned my attention to translating and annotating many Persian manuscripts, which have been scanned for me by Iranian museums and libraries. These included manuscripts on making Persian crucible steel (up to that time all unknown in the western world), archery manuscripts (5 of them published in my last book), manuscripts on lance, spear, swordfighting and manuscripts on war wrestling. As an English major, as I have a PhD in English language, languages and their academic study have always been a central area of concentration for my research and analysis. I have lived and studied in different countries and hence learned different languages (English, German and Spanish) as my academic fields. Therefore, I felt that I had to extend my area of research and study battlefield accounts, poems, stories and also popular tales. To my surprise, I found terms and expressions for techniques such as “shamshir bar farq zadan: To strike the top of the head”. I saw this expression in many manuscripts in many centuries. Then I analyzed miniatures and was extremely surprised to see how often this technique was used. Quite often I must say. Then other combinations followed. I went back and saw that even in Ancient Iran, this technique was used. I mean in iconogrphy of Sasanid period. Then I found how manuscripts and even poems describe this technique and how it should be applied. I made a comparative analysis. I did it for all techniques I could find in hundred manuscripts. Many of them handwritten manuscripts which were scanned. A meticulous and painstaking process. It took very long. At the end I found 5700 lexemes and then tried to find the relationship to iconographic items. First I published my lexicon “Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology” in 2010 and then my last book this year “Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran”.

FAP: HEMA practitioners are fortunate in having a a larger number of technical works, “fight books”, on which to base their reconstruction. Is there a similar body of Persian martial texts to draw from?

Khorasani: Yes, there are. I have presented many complete manuals in my last book. Five complete ones on Persian archery. One on mounted lance fighting. One on spearfighting on foot. Three on war wrestling. One on swords. As we are talking, I have received some new ones. This area has been neglected for years. I have received new manuscripts on archery, swordsmanship, mounted combat, etc.

FAP: In the West, many traditional martial arts, particularly “aristocratic” or “chivalric” ones became extinct in the 18th and 19th centuries, and have had to be reconstructed. How does this compare to the situation in Iran? Have you been able to find living sword or weapon arts, and if so, have they played a role in creating modern Razmafzar?

Khorasani: Chivalric code of Iran is best expressed in the Javanmardi code which is similar to European chivalric code or Japanese bushido. We have a living tradition of Zurkhane (House of Strength). Wrestling in Iran is considered as a sacred sport, where the mat is still considered a place to respect and to be respected and one needs to show humbleness and also help people in need. My project of Razmafzar is based on academic reconstruction of techniques in manuscripts, miniatures and reliefs. But it does not stop there. As I have shown in my last book, the tenets and training methods of the House of Strength will be integrated in it. Additionally, we have over 24 styles of traditional wrestling in Iran, we have sword dancing, we have different stick fighting methods in Iran. They are in the process of being researched. We will make comparative analysis and then set up a big data bank and integrate them in Razmafzar as well.

Wrestling remains an important sport, fighting tradition and cultural treasure in Iranian culture even today, and was considered the basis of Persian warrior training.

Wrestling remains an important sport, fighting tradition and cultural treasure in Iranian culture even today, and was considered the basis of Persian warrior training.

FAP: At the same time, there are many European folk traditions, particularly for wrestling and stick or knife fighting, that have survived. In Persian Archery and Swordsmanship you touch on this with traditional Iranian wrestling or Varzesh Pahlavani. Can you tell us a little about Pahlavani – both as it exists now and as it might have related to earlier Persian fighting arts?

Khorasani: The House of Strength symbolizes a sacred place where practitioners not only develop strength, but they need to learn javanmardi rules. They need to be role models for the young generation. Wrestling is one of the most effective combat systems as proven again and again. This plays a major role in Iran.

FAP: Have you yourself trained in Varzesh Pahlavani yourself? Have any modern Pahlavans been interested in your work with Razmafzar?

Khorasani: Yes I am fortunate enough to be in contact with leading pahlavans in Iran and I trained and even documented their training in the House of Strength. They are greatly interested in Razmafzar.

FAP: Before you began reconstructing Razmafzar, did you already have a previous martial arts background? If so, in what? How has it helped with your redevelopment of Razmafzar?

Khorasani: Yes, without name dropping, my students and friends know that. I hold three black belts, a 4th dan in one of them, the others 2nd dan. I have trained and competed in many full-contact sports such as boxing, Muay Thai and of course wrestling. I experimented with BJJ and trained in a team. Besides I also trained in a Japanese Koryu sword art extensively. But I have always wrestled and love this sport. Wrestling has helped me the most, as this is the tenet of Persian armored and unarmored fight. But I have to say that all martial arts and fighting I have done have played a part, by helping me universal principles of combat, like distance and lines of attack and defence. I have to say I love realistic and full-contact sparring and think that is important in all martial arts, including swordfighting.

A Persian warrior should be able to grab and throw in close range at anytime. And then of course to deliver fast and powerful blows with his weapons.

A Persian warrior should be able to grab and throw in close range at anytime. And then of course to deliver fast and powerful blows with his weapons.

FAP: Persia has long been a cross-roads between the Mid and Far east. Have you found commonalities between Persian arts with those of the Arabs to the West or Indians, such as the Sikh Gatka or Shastar Vidiya to the East?

Khorasani: Well possibly, but as I have not trained in Indian or Arab arts, I cannot pass judgments. What I can say is that there always commonalities with certain arts, especially when the arms and armour are similar, but I would say that what I know defines Persian arts is an emphasis on developing strength, stamina, power and only then techniques. This is why wrestling plays a crucial role – it trains the body that is at the core of the entire art. A Persian warrior should be able to grab and throw in close range at anytime. And then of course to deliver fast and powerful blows with his weapons.

FAP: You have chosen to create an international research and development team to develop Razmafzar. Can you tell us a bit about who comprises the team and how your team works together?

Khorasani: I have a very dedicated team and I am in constant contact with them. My team comprises of three different groups. Researchers who write and do research on historical arms and armor from Iran, the other section comprises experienced martial artists and another who work and help in the realm of public relations and also editorial process. To enter my group and be marked as a member one needs to fulfill certain criteria. I am really proud of the members of Razmafzar team and many thanks for asking me questions about them. These are:

1) Mr. Bede Dwyer from Australia is a leading researcher on Asian composite bow. Bede has published many articles in many leading academic journals. He plays a very important role in Razmafzar team. He has been my editor from 2004 and has made useful comments on archery sections on my books. We have written many important articles on Persian archery based on Persian archery manuscripts which have been translated by me. At the moment, I am planning to write a book on Persian archery together with Mr. Bede Dwyer on Persian archery. This book will not only comprise archery techniques and annotated archery texts but we will show techniques and how to execute them with a replica Persian composite bow.

2) Mr. Ali Ghourchani from Iran is an accomplished horse archer who has gained many places in international horse archery competitions. I will test many horseback wrestling and horseback lance and swordfighting in cooperation with Ali. He is an accomplished horse archer.

3) Mr. Heiko Grosse from Germany is an accomplished swordsman who has been training and learning razmafzar under my direct supervision. He is a black belt in kendo with ten years experience in Kendo competitions and a Cateran and an expert in Scottish swordsmanship with five-year experience. He plays a pivotal role in learning and teaching Razmafzar.

4) Ms. Mitra Haji is a Museum Curator of Bonyad Museums from Tehran, Iran. I have been working with Ms. Haji over 7 years. I have analyzed over 500 historical arms and armor from Iran which are kept in Bonyad Museum. She has translated and edited many of my articles in Persian. We organized two historical arms and armor exhibitions “The Power of Iranian Steel” and “Weapons and Combat in the Shahname” in Tehran.

5) Mr. Mark McMorrow from the USA is the executive editor and director of Swordforum International, the biggest online community dedicated to the study of historical arms and armor. Mark plays a very important role in making Razmafzar public and we have an excellent working relationship together,

6) Mr. Richard Nable is a police Lieutenant for a metropolitan police department in the Southeastern United States. He is a SWAT sniper and team leader, department rangemaster, and instructor primarily in police weapons, tactics and survival. Richard is our advisor on the mechanisms of historical firearms and has edited a number of articles on historical firearms which I have written and also has been editing parts of my books.
7) Mr. Greg Thomas Obach has been on my team for over 12 years. Greg is a leading and very experienced smith who makes wonderful crucible steel. He has edited the chapters on crucible steel in my books and also articles. His insights into making crucible steel and above all his down-to-earth approach and willingness to learn and experiment make him truly a unique smith.

8) Ms. Venous Pirmomen from Iran is an archaeologist with a Master and a Bachelor degree in archaeology from Islamic Azad University. Her areas of interest and concentration are bio-archaeology, biological anthropology and forensic anthropology. She has played an important role in accessing data for research of Razmafzar team and public relations in Iranian universities. She has found many new manuscripts from Iranian libraries and museums for primary research materials on Persian arms and armor.

9) Mr. Hessamoddin Shafeianis a PhD Candidate at University of California, Riverside in the field of Electrical Engineering Department. He obtained his MSc degree from the prestigeous Sharif University of Technology. He has been a very important team member with unflagging determination to find and access data which are extremely important for the research of Razmafzar team. Together with Venous, Hessam has found and gained access to many important Persian manuscripts.

10) Dr. Denis Toichkin from Ukraine is a leading arms and armor historian and researcher and the author of a book on the history of Cossack cold steel. He is recognized as a specialist in the late medieval and modern history of Eastern European arms and armor. He has published on Persian arms with me in leading Ukranian journals and we are going to publish further articles on Persian arms and armor in future. He plays a pivotal role in arms and armor research in our team.

FAP: Razmafzar is a large, complex art. When a new student wishes to begin training, where do they start? What are the root disciplines of the system?

Khorasani: They will learn sword and shield combinations and spear combinations on foot first. Accompanied by wrestling techniques of course. War wrestling based on Persian manuscripts play an important role in Razmafzar. Persian manuscripts stress that a good warrior is a good wrestler. Then we move to dagger and knife fighting in combination with a shield. Then axe and mace techniques are taught. More complex techniques of sword and shield and wrestling always accompany the curriculum. Then short sword techniques qame and qaddare as civilian weapons follow as the former are battlefield weapons. The whole would take 4-5 years to master. Then they learn archery on foot and then horse archery. The last step will be fighting with weapons and wrestling on horseback. The whole techniques comprise all techniques from ancient Iran into Islamic period. Of course as far as they are evidenced. We do not make up techniques. But Razmafzar deals with all periods of Iran. Participants should also learn about some aspects of historical arms and armor from Iran as well.

FAP: You’ve created the largest single source on Persian Arms and Armour, a companion lexicon, and now a giant overview of Persian martial arts and martial culture. All in your spare time! So what is next for Manouchehr Khorasani and Razmafzar?

Khorasani: Thanks for asking! My next project is finishing my book on historical firearms from Iran. This book contains translated and annotated Persian texts on cannon making, rockets, etc. I have also measured and pictured over 100 unique examples of Persian firearms from Iranian museums. A treasure. I have been classifying and researching all techniques of traditional wrestling arts of Iran. These will be published in different books by me. I am also planning a book on armored combat and horse combat in Persian tradition. And of course together with Mr. Dwyer we are writing a book on Persian archery. Thanks for the interview.

Freelance Academy Press is proud to be distributing Dr. Khorasani’s books here in the United States, and look forward to working with him in the future on other projects.

Here are few video clips of Razmafzar in action:

War Wrestling

Shamshir and Separ (Sword and Buckler)

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!

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.