What source(s) to use are almost always the first question someone setting up their own martial arts school has to consider. For those with living lineages this is remarkably easy – the one you’ve been studying and are certified to teach in. But for something like Historical Martial Arts (HEMA, WMA, blah blah blah) this is a deeper question. For the post today I want to just chat a bit about why I chose, after several years of running HDA as a Fiore School, to switch things up and focus on different sources.
This first question I had to answer was if I was really ready to “walk away” from Fiore . After half a dozen years of running my own school, in addition to the almost decade of studying & training under others, I felt I had a decent enough grasp on the principles of Fiore’s system to be able to really start delving into other systems. Truth be told, I have never studied “pure” Fiore  – I have ALWAYS added bits and pieces from other systems and arts. Hell, within my first few years of learning Fiore I was already reaching out and studying Le Jeu de la Hache, as well as my instructors’ other forays into I.33 and classical fencing. I had done enough with dagger, longsword, arming sword, and unarmoured spear to know my way around those weapons from a Fiore standpoint. Similarly, I had engaged in enough armoured duels – with sword, spear, and poleaxe – to get a good taste for both how that worked and how well it satisfied my itch. I also watched the community of Fiore and longsword turn into what it currently is. So yeah, after a decade of dedicated focus on Fiore and specifically longsword I was ready to move on to something else. But I honestly didn’t know why I was ready to move on (more on that later).
One of the things that first attracted me to Fiore (after I’d already started training in it. Beggars cannot be choosers after all) was it’s holistic nature. Not just a longsword art nor a dagger art nor an armoured art nor an unarmoured art, Armizare is a COMPLETE art. Empty hand through polearms, unarmoured and armoured, on foot and horseback . So it was inevitable, indeed mandatory, that if I decided to focus on another system/weapon set it would also need to be holistic. In the 15 years I’ve been studying HEMA I had gradually expanded my interests beyond Italian longsword. I’ve added Georgian sword and buckler, Italian sabre, North African stick/sabre, and dabbling in Migration Era weapons and Chinese martial arts. I’d also started getting back to my experience in Italian foil. Talking to my friend Jim Emmons I started looking more and more at smallsword of all things. In looking through various treatises, etc. I came across Zack Wylde’s treatise “The English Master of Defense – The Gentleman’s Al-a-mode Accomplish” . This wonderfully dense little manual covers smallsword, broadsword, staff, and wrestling. More importantly, in light of many other smallsword treatises, Wylde is focused on simple, easy to learn and execute techniques to be used in critical encounters rather than “salle fencing”. “Salle fencing” simply being what we all do now – fencing among friends where there is no serious intent to harm or kill, so techniques tend to get flashier in order to demonstrate prowess. So here I’d found another holistic system, the main difference being that this one explained things in far greater detail than Fiore. I decided to make Wylde HDA’s “primary art” mainly due to cost – smallsword and even broadsword have a less expensive bar to entry than longsword does. Not only that but the lessons in Wylde neatly packaged the most essential of Fiore’s principles. In addition to the weapons, Wylde’s wrestling is, as Sean Mueller has called it, “Judo for Dummies” – a very straight-forward system of throws that all feed and counter each other. Perfect for the base of an empty hand system.
But Wylde is not without his holes and problems. As I’ve written before (here) I have a goal with HDA to not only provide instruction in historical weapons but also give students a system of martial arts that they can rely on to handle modern problems. So to add to Wylde’s empty hand I chose Daniel Mendoza’s boxing system (see the previously linked post for a detailed explanation of why) as well as using some of the power generation lessons from the Chinese art of Xing Yi (more on that to follow next month).
The final piece of HDA’s curriculum is again filling a need that Wylde leaves wanting – two handed weapon use. Wylde’s staff system, designed for a 7 foot staff, is good but very simple. Sean and I were alerted to the bastone system of Guiseppe Cerri, a 19th century Italian. This system we’ve learned covers the basics of body mechanics, specifically in a way that translate well to using a weapon in two hands. Eventually I may even circle back to longsword using Cerri as a base for body mechanics. Also, Cerri is a wonderful system to use when using a lightsaber!
So there you have it – my quick rationale for the main core pieces of HDA’s curriculum. This is not to say that we aren’t still actively pulling from other sources, we will never stop. We are not like most HEMA schools in that our source material is always subject to change. The joy of working backwards from Universals is that you can always find them!
There are always things around the corner though. One of the areas I will soon be exploring will be reconstructing Scandinavian martial arts (I am purposefully avoiding the V word here) using Georgian sword and buckler as a way to better understand round shield usage. It’s not that off base as Georgia was part of the eastern trade routes from Sweden to Byzantium. Also, I plan to dig more into my translation work of Pagano. Stay tuned!
- I will never truly walk away from Fiore. Too much of his system is now my baseline DNA for approaching other systems.
- Nothing in modern HEMA is “pure” in the sense of having no external influences. Sorry. It just doesn’t.
- To be fair I’ve never done any horseback training.
- You can also find online free version here