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CFAA Welcomes the Freifechter

Freifechter logoThe Chivalric Fighting Arts Association is pleased to welcome its newest member, the Freifechter (http://www.freifechter.org)

Founded in the year 2000, ‘Die Freifechter’ are one of Germany’s oldest historical fencing clubs. Their training focuses on the single-handed, single-edged sword from various historical eras. Systems trained include Messer according to the so-called ‘Glasgow Fechtbuch’ and Johannes Lecküchner’s magnum opus from 1482, Joachim Meyer’s Dussack, Napoleonic era sabre/backsword according to Taylor/Roworth’s ‘Art of Defence’ and late 19th century sabre according to Alfred Hutton’s ‘Cold Steel’. Wrestling and dagger from various German Medieval and Renaissance sources round out the curriculum.

For more information, you can either contact us through the CFAA at secretary@chivalricfighting.org, where we will be happy to direct your request, or directly via their website : www.freifechter.org/kontakt/


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Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia

(First presented at the Renaissance Society of America’s Venice conference in 2010. Presented also as part of an academic session followed by an armoured combat demonstration, organized by Dr. Regina Pskai, at the American Association for Italian Studies conference at University of Oregon, 2013)

This paper is part of a larger study on medieval and Renaissance martial arts manuscripts, their art historical context, their relationship to medieval arts of memory, and the practical interpretation of the arts they represent. I will address the work of Mary Carruthers and Kathryn Starkey on medieval techniques of reading to show how a medieval martial arts manuscript makes use of visual rhetorical devices to address the problems inherent in notating fencing actions. MS Ludwig XV 13, dated to 1410 and commonly known by its title Il Fior di Battaglia or Flower of Battle, is a Northern Italian manuscript by a military captain named Fiore dei Liberi. The manuscript, currently held by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a complex performance document which employs specific notational techniques to record for later use the elements of a physical performance.

The difficulties of understanding and interpreting historical martial arts texts lie partly with their semiotic remoteness from the present day. It is not simply that the teachers of those traditions are now long dead, or that the manuscripts themselves invariably seem to assume some prior knowledge of the arts they record, but also that they employ a literary, academic, and artistic vocabulary that is different from our own. To arrive at reasonable interpretations of the physical performance and use of these arts requires study of the complete cultural context in which these arts were performed. Only with this type of study can we begin to assign degrees of confidence to our interpretations of these arts.
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Wide and Close Play in Armizare, the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi  

Gregory D. Mele, ©2014

[N.B: This article greatly expands and upon an earlier one “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi”, first presented in 2008 and later published with photo interpretations in In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I. In addition to a new introduction that is about a third of its entire length, substantial revisions and citations extend throughout the article, so those familiar with the earlier work will still want to read this in its entirety.]


I first discovered the works of Fiore dei Liberi in 1995, with a poorly photocopied, badly-translated edition of the Pisani-Dossi manuscript. I soon found a copy of Novati’s original facsimile, and over time learned that a wide variety of Italian authors, from Giacopo Gelli to the famed fencing master, Luigi Barbasetti, had written on the man and his work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Further a new generation of Italian researchers, most notably Massimo Malipiero and Giovanni Rapisardi, were also working with this “father of Italian fencing”, building on the work established by Novati almost 100 years earlier.[1]

What all of these authors agreed upon was that control of distance was critical to how Fiore dei Liberi conceptualized his techniques, or “plays”, which he divided into two categories, one meant to maximize range, and one meant to collapse it. These two distinctions were:

Zogho Largo (wide play) only appears when discussing long weapons, such as the sword, spear or axe. At this measure, combatants may use the weapon’s edge and point, bind or grab the weapon’s head and, depending on the weapon’s length, make long-range unarmed attacks, such as kicks. Grabs will not reach any deeper than the opponent’s elbow; body-to-body contact is not possible.

Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi describes abrazare (grappling) and dagger combat occurring. When fighting with longer weapons, it is the range at which one uses those same techniques: hilt/shaft strikes, grabs of the opponent’s sword arm, body, or head and includes body-to-body contact such as throws.

We second-generation researchers blissfully accepted this notion of wide and close play, picked up our swords and daggers and set to work. However, as we struggled to make sense of dei Liberi’s text, discovered the much larger and better explained Getty Manuscript, and wrestled with mastering a slightly archaic form of a new language, it became clear that sometimes, the more you learn, the less you are sure what you know.

Consequently, an ever-present bugaboo in the historical reconstruction (HEMA) segment of Western Martial arts is the need to interpret old texts, written in slightly (or very) archaic forms of modern languages, often by non-native speakers. While this is the daily trade of historiographers, and has been for centuries, very few “HEMAtists” are necessarily even truly fluent in those languages, let alone academics trained to analyze a text paleographically, linguistically and contextually.  Some seek to educate themselves accordingly, while others embrace a sort of textual isolationism (“I study Master Z and I don’t need to know what Master Y said or how that relates to  Thomas Aquinas” ) in a manner that is probably best reserved for the reading of sacred scripture by those comfortable with geocentrism or Young Earth Creationism.

But whatever the methods – or intentions – the end result is that we make mistakes, over-analyze or try to force-fit one language into another, blissfully unaware that neither modern Germans and Italians, nor academics trained in the medieval forms of their languages, need amateur scholars armed with dictionaries, Google Translate and good intentions to explain to them how these languages work!

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Why you should train with sharp swords, and how to go about it without killing anyone.

Swords are, by definition, sharp. Anything sword-like that is not sharp is either a foil, or a percussive weapon like a club. I am a swordsman, and so I use sharp swords. Do I let my beginner students fight each other (or even handle) sharps? No, of course not. But my senior students have done all the basic drills in our longsword syllabus sharp on sharp. 

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Stop Complaining & Get Training: A Simple Challenge for 2014

by Bill Grandy, Virginia Academy of Fencing, USA

(Author’s note: Before anyone calls me a hypocrite, let it be known that I am training while I write this. I’ve set the requirement for myself to do 20 squats before typing a new paragraph, with the first set starting the moment I finish this sentence… hopefully this will keep me brief and to the point!)

If there’s one thing that has brought the world of Historical European Martial Artists closer, it’s the internet. And if there’s one thing that has brought about the most dissonance and conflict amongst us martial artists, it’s the internet. It is a medium to share knowledge and trade ideas, but as we also all know, it is a medium where it is very easy to type first and think later. Continue Reading »


Tempo, Vor, Nach & Indes

Quotes from the Von Danzig commentaries are from In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts, by Christian Tobler, published by Freelance Academy Press.
Quotes from Fior di Battaglia are from Fior di Battaglia, 2nd English Edition, by Tom Leoni, published by Freelance Academy Press.
Quote from Filippo Vadi from Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, by Luca Porzio and Gregory Mele. Currently out of print.

Proponents of either German or Italian Medieval Martial arts often express the view that the other system is in some way fundamentally different to their chosen art. One aspect often expressed is the view that “Germans attack and Italians wait to be attacked.” In my view this doesn’t do justice to either medieval system of fencing.

Liechtenauer’s Art expresses the phases of the fight using the terms Vor (before), Indes (instantly or in between) and Nach (After). This is a practical method for categorizing what the Italians, starting with Filippo Vadi, would characterize as “tempo,” and divide into initial tempo, mezzo tempo (half time) and contra-tempo (countertime.)

Vor: Controlling the Tempo

The Vor or “Before” in the German tradition is equivalent to the initial tempo in the Italian tradition. In the Italian tradition, the initial tempo is either an invitation, provocation, or an attack that I create.

“Invitation” is often narrowly – and incorrectly – understood to mean “I stand there and wait in a static position.” It’s not: it’s a dynamic moment of transition offered to the adversary, where at the border of his striking measure you make a transition from one position to another, with the intention of drawing his attack.

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Tournament Rules

Tournament Rules

The following tournament rules are used by Northwest Fencing Academy to train fighters, and for tournament play.  We used these rules successfully for the Accolade Tournament Finals at Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium in February 2013, and we will use them for the upcoming tournament finals at Western Martial Arts Workshop.

Tournaments provide a valuable platform for fighter to test their skill, courage and character, and they also provide a platform for attribute training under stressful conditions.  The goals of tournaments can vary widely: for some, pure sport is the objective, while for others strict fealty to martial tradition is paramount, and there is a vast middle ground where the goals may be mixed.  These are all laudable goals, but they share in common a need to define clearly to the participants the goals and the conditions – the rules – which are set out in support of the tournament goals.  And ultimately a majority of the participants must share the goals for the tournament to be successful.

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