There is a surprising amount of available information for the student of the Art of Arms. From original manuscripts, to translations, to interpretations, to variations. Pundits and opinions, descriptions and instructions; from the happiest amateur to the greatest masters. Despite all of that wealth being available I still found that the essence of what to study or how to study it eluded me entirely. It is quite possible to have the full range of information at your fingertips and still not know what it means. Sometimes it needs a key to unlock it.
The spark that first lead me to the current venture was in watching the Australian Seminar held by Guy Windsor, which incidentally was not the first item of resource available. The first item was The Fighting Sword: Illustrated Techniques And Concepts by Dwight C. McLemore, which described sword fighting as a living and modern skill. Then came Old Sword Play: Techniques of the Great Masters by Alfred Hutton and The Art of the Two-Handed Sword by Ken Mondschein. There were various other books on the subject of martial arts and swordsmanship that were all very interesting but did not provide the much needed key, despite being interesting and well written descriptions of how one may learn to fight with a sword. In my naiveté I thought they were all directly related in their core information, in that reading each one would bring greater understanding of the other. It took a long time before the obvious differences in time period, sword type or fighting style really sank in.
It was Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume 2: The Medieval Longsword by Guy Windsor that turned out to be the key for me. A little slow in the game perhaps, but it was this book that fuelled a new desire to take the art of swordsmanship a bit more seriously. No doubt this blog will start to sound like a perpetual advert but this book, along with the other resources that the author has made available through the School of European Swordsmanship, will form the core knowledge set I will be drawing from.
The majority of advice will obviously begin with the student finding their local group, with the thought that all other issues will be resolved by a person that runs the course. The student is then directed in their learning path by someone experienced, who has already been through the mill of working out the details of how to interpret the original treatise or how to incorporate it into the general form of martial training. For myself I have to look to the source, and perhaps all that is really required is the original treatise to work from. In order to make sense of where the work I see in the Mastering the Art of Arms series cane from we of course have to go back to the manuscripts.
In this regard I am using the Getty translation provided by Schola Gladiatoria: English translation and images of Getty version of Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, with translation by Durban & Easton. Of course this is in English but as I do not read medieval Italian I find I can at least read the work and gather some of the context, as the design of it does mess with original in any way. I have printed it out and bound it and now use it as the source reference. I go back to it and look to see where the interpretations have come from.
In this instance I am struck by the difference in the Historical European Martial Arts enthusiast and the European Martial Arts enthusiast in general. For the former it is not enough that the technique works, is effective or can be justified; if it is not written by Fiore then it is not Fiore’s system in action. If we presume that Fiore knew a thing or two about using and teaching the longsword for students who depend upon this skill with their lives, and I can certainly get behind that thinking, then it will follow that what he set down was drawn from a working system he had perfected through his lifetime. The basic tenet of this particular system of study is that the information is there but our interpretation has to be drawn from it and, through practice and sparring, proven.
What strikes me as odd, and perhaps this is peculiar to my own design background, is that the layout and semantic structure of a 15th Century manuscript would have been the first and most simple thing to ‘fix’ for anyone seeking to interpret this work. The mind-set of that time, the use and proliferation of books, the learned process of absorbing written information, were all very different at the time these manuscripts were created. Today’s modern reader thinks nothing of finding an Index at the back or a Table of Contents at the front of a book. Even though the Table of Contents has been in use since 82 B.C., it does not seem to have survived for this document.
The core structure of this treatise is based around the branching tree of an attack, a remedy to that attack, variations that spring from that remedy, counters to those remedies. It is in this structure that it would seem a strong logic is present and would allow the information to be set in logical order but the original is not so easy to read in that way. There are other elements that vex me, mainly because I am a beginner and know no better. Sometimes the plays of the Masters and the Scholars found in this work do not flow logically or reasonably from one to the other. The first option is that I do not understand the true nature of why Fiore placed them in this particular order, which seems the most likely. The second is that the work was never intended to stand alone and would always be passed along by word of mouth. When Fiore mentions in the introduction that one cannot study with books, I believe he used the manuscript as an aide memoir and not as a manual to be handed over.
Whatever the reasoning, part of my study will be to re-write Il Fior di Battaglia in a way that is meaningful to me. The historians may have fits at the very thought of such churlish audacity but I would recommend it. In that sense my study begins with the original work and will hopefully develop as I understand more by way of the books and videos that have already been down this path. Before I get to that point I have created this index of the Getty manuscript to serve me as I continue to research treatise and the videos of www.swordschool.com.