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

s the pen mightier than the sword?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro

Italian Foil

Italian Duelling Sword

Heavy Sabre

La Canne

Bartitsu

Womens Self Defence

Victorian Greatsword

Sword and Buckler

Messer

Longsword

Rapier

Broadsword

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ah, science!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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