Fashion in the Age of Datini

Quaestiones Forojulienses

I have many open questions about Fiore dei Liberi's art of armizare. Although nobody seems interested, I have moved them here from a private list. I have divided them into two parts, one which are interesting but not very important, and another which affect our practice of the art. Let us begin with theory, for as Cennino Cennini teaches, all arts are composed of theory and practice, but the theory is most worthy.

Most of these questions were written circa 2012 to 2016. They reflect my thinking and reading and training at that time.



Concepts and Jargon





I have added one more section with my confused thoughts on the changes to the historical fencing movement in the 2010s. If you just care about the art and its medieval and modern practice, stop reading here!


Around the year 2012 there was a dramatic change in the culture of historical fencing. As the preliminary stage of research finished, and as the struggle between the "WMA" and "HEMA" parts of the movement was stirred up by corporate social media, the culture of scholarship was pushed to the margins of the culture of historical fencing. This is a problem because I was trained to believe that knowledge advances through communities not lone geniuses. And no one person (except possibly this guy or this guy) is qualified to research early martial arts.

[1] For example, the three martial artists from three countries who translated Hans Lecküchner tell us that "traditional western martial arts, such as boxing, wrestling, and numerous forms of fencing, generally do not adhere to a centerline-based theory of tactics" (Grzegorz Żabiński, Russell A. Mitchell, and Falko Fritz (tr.), A Falchion / Langes Messer Fencing Treatise by Johannes Lecküchner (1482) (2012) p. 29) That seems hard for anyone familiar with 17th century Italian fencing (or Royal Armouries MS I.33!) to agree with.

I was surprised to read in a peer-reviewed article that "It is common ground for most schools that the validity of an interpretation is tested in tournament conditions" but others would be surprised to hear that tournaments cannot answer "is that how they did it back in the day?"

From studying presses like Freelance and watching what fencers talk about, I get the impression that the fencers buy many more translations of fencing manuals than books on other swordy topics such as deeds of arms, but the most prolific historical fencing author says that "You know, I’ve published a couple of translatey-type stuff and they make no money at all. My training manuals make reasonable cash, but translations make no money."

A teacher in the UK tells the Internet that "I believe the vast majority of us come to historical martial arts because of a love of the spectacular: the performance, the daring-do that appeals to us from whatever media we derive pleasure" - that does not match my experience. Some people think that the tournament crowd became more athletic or better fencers than my crowd, but I just do not and did not see that - tournament-focused groups had some uncoordinated people and some skilled athletes, so did historically-oriented groups and deed-of-arms focused groups.

About the actual name-calling ("X's interpretation is crap"), appeals to unnamed authorities ("serious HEMA scholars know that Y is bunk"), and ad hominem attacks ("Z is fat") the the less said the better.

I tried to be polite but question everything and build a framework of provisional truths based on the best arguments I could find and the judgement of experts. And somehow, what I could not see a basis for others took for granted, while the arguments which I found tentatively convincing others could not be bothered to hear or read. It was utterly bewildering.

[2] For example, people seem to be losing the knowledge that a martial art is a way of moving not an instruction manual. And when I try to talk about the date of the Nürnberg Hausbuch (Germanisches Nationalmuseum MS 3227a), I find people who don't know that the 1389 date is uncertain, people who aggressively insist that it could be as late as 1494 when Nicolaus Pol owned it, and people who say that Hans-Peter Hill and other scholars created a pretty good argument for c. 1389 plus or minus a decade or two (but they don't cite the best version of that argument). And many people tell me that Roland Warzecha's method of fighting with a Viking shield is pure I.33, whereas when he was getting started he explained that he drew on the German long shield plays collected by Hand and Wagner. If anything, you could argue that his I.33 is flavoured by his own personal style and by 17th century Italian fencing.

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