Following last weeks rant on authority I want to clarify. I am not saying we should not make use of the wonderful works done by the dedicated academics, researchers and practitioners who have made the effort to translate and present their interpretations. What I was arguing for was an increased willingness to question authorities and to do that effectively we need to learn a little bit ourselves, direct from the sources.
In keeping with this I want to tell you about a project I have just embarked upon.
You may remember an old post of mine where I said I was going to learn Meyer rappier from the Art of Combat. Well due to my land purchase, cabin build and assorted other reasons, I didn’t do a whole lot on the rappier. Now, being a bit flighty and prone to whimsy, I have decided to jump off the German band wagon and try a little Italian sidesword instead. At least I already have the sword.
I have obtained a few books (far too many than is strictly necessary) and I tell you what they are hard to read. First of all I started with Giovanni dall’Aggochie’s The Art of Defense: on Fencing, the Joust and Battle Formations and The Duel, or Flower of Arms for Single Combat, Both Offensive and Defensive, by Achille Marozzo. I had this crazy idea that they would be a gentle read that I could mentally skip through them and come out the other side a competent fencer in the style… Ha, no such luck.
No, the reading of these two and the book on Liechtenauer I started, are the main reasons for my recent knocking on about the importance of study. I really do believe in its value. But, between them these books are basically melting my brain. I have them all ticking over at the moment, I pick them up only when I have achieved a zen-like state of calm, when my mind is clear and I am ready to absorb the knowledge. Then about thirty minutes later, when I have gone cross-eyed and there are flecks of blood in my facial hair, I return them to my bookshelf and look around for a Spot the Dog book to take the edge off (they have liftable flaps…).
I will at some point attempt a review of the Liechtenauer book but, phew, not right now.
I may be pretty familiar with the challenges of reading academic texts but the archaic language is head wrecking. For example, all”Aggochie is written as a dialogue between master & student; which may be within a great tradition of classical instructional works but it is tricky to grasp. Digging out the actual information is just harder than it needs to be, from my 2019 perspective anyway. To be honest I am not sure what is causing me the most trouble, is it the language or is it the mental challenge of attempting to turn the written word into a model for physical action? I’m not sure.
After a couple of weeks of getting nowhere (well that’s an exaggeration, just not very far), I decided to do some introspection and ask myself what I am trying to achieve. Look at what my goals are and see if what I was doing was the best way to reach them. I examined a bit more deeply what attracted me to the style
As it turns out I didn’t have to do too much searching to uncover my motivation. Sideswords look cool, they are serviceable tools whose very design allows for quite a bit of embellishment and character. They were used for a decent length of time, including a period I have a personal interest in historically. I want to focus in on the type of fencing that may have been used by the Spanish conquistadors of Mexico near the beginning of the 1500s. This certainly isn’t out of any particular wish to celebrate the conquest itself. The slaughter of indigenous peoples and wholesale destruction of their culture isn’t something I think we should treat lightly nor applaud. As an Anthropologist, I find this period of contact between two disparate culture fascinating, it signals the very start of the colonial period and as we are now, globally, dealing with the fall-out of colonialism and European exploitation It deserves attention.
But I digress. To distill it down, I am tying my current interest in historical martial arts to an historical period that I am interested in, by trying to learn the martial system they would likely have been using, simple.
Except it’s not. I wanted to identify the style learnt by the officer classes at or around the time of Hernan Cortes’ expedition, basically between 1485 and say 1550. I thought I’d get the name of a manual, read and learn that style and I’d be flying. After posting on r/wma over in Reddit and doing some other internet research it turns out that we don’t have any manuals or fighting treatises from the period. The closest we can get is late 1500s through the likes of Sainct Didier, Godinho and possibly Marozzo again. The ‘authorities’ who presented the strongest arguments convinced me that, whilst they wrote upwards of 50 years after my ideal period, all three of these masters would have been continuations of the same traditions that would have been available at the time I was interested in.
It makes sense. There wasn’t the same turn-over of new ideas as we have now, fifty years between 1520-ish and 1570-ish would not have seen so great a change as between 1945 and 1995. The conquistadors themselves would have been involved in conflicts in what we now called Italy and probably been exposed to martial styles from the southern parts of France. It is logical that the treatises and manuals later in the same century by masters from nearby lands would contain at least similarities with, if not exact matches with the style I was after. I’m convinced. I bought an ebook of Sainct Didier’s Secrets of the Sword Alone and was almost ready to pick up Godinho’s Art of Fencing (Iberian Swordplay). Before I did that though, I realised that I was spiralling into just buying more and more books about swords without learning anything from them. Sure, books are cool and books about swords are even cooler; but I wanted to make some practical progress and not just swell my shelves. I can always add books later once I know my Coda Lunga from my Porta di Ferro.
The question was, how? I took a look back over my ‘research’ and I noticed the name Marozzo had come up twice now. Maybe there was something there to work on (I’d already got his book after-all). A couple of people I’d talked to and some of the Reddit guys had recommended the Marozzo.com online course. I looked at the site and watched the intro videos. It seemed like a good value proposition. The videos are high quality, I can understand the accent and the instructor seems more concerned about ease of understanding, clarity and usability of his content than proving what a great fighter he might be.
That’s where I am up to now. I enrolled on the course yesterday and I am going to use it to compliment to my own personal study of the style. It may not be the exact same as the period I was aiming for but it will be a good approximation.The taught course will mean I will learn faster and I can have my own interpretations of the texts either confirmed or denied by an ‘authority’ which seems legitimate. Now I can feel like a sidesword fencer and not just a lost reader.
I will keep you posted on my progress, I promise I will do better now that I have a roof over my head! As always you can get in touch via the comments below or the Wrathful Peasants page. I hope you like what you are reading and if you do I encourage you to share this page.