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Thread: Article: Historical Rule-Sets

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    Article: Historical Rule-Sets

    Historical Rule-Sets
    By Matt Galas, Copyright 2010

    It is not uncommon to come across WMA / HEMA practitioners who oppose any attempt to impose limits on targets or techniques in sparring practice or tournament bouts. Their rationale is typically that any limitation on technique or target is “unrealistic” and therefore detracts from the martial value of the art. For those of us with a sport-fencing background, that viewpoint is certainly understandable, given the artificialities that have crept into the sport of fencing over the course of the last century. (The infamous “flick” is perhaps the most commonly-cited offense).

    While this view is reasonable, it does overlook the fact that historical rule-sets which survive from several European martial traditions contain substantial limitations on both target and technique. To some degree, these limitations were related to safety concerns. They may also have been linked to entertainment value, with the idea of creating a more interesting or exciting fight. However, it is clear that there was a great deal of careful thought given to these rules, and that one of the considerations involved was also the development of particular fencing skill-sets that needed to be cultivated and encouraged among swordsmen. When dealing with young fencers with a competitive mind-set, there are few better ways to shape a fighter’s behaviour than through the careful construction of tournament rules.

    The paragraphs below review a number of competitive rule-sets from across Europe, examining limitations in target and technique, and looking at the skill-sets which those limitations might encourage or promote.

    The Gladiatorial Combats of Imperial Rome

    Roman gladiatorial combat occupies an interesting place in the realm of violence, somewhere between a duel and a competitive match. Not all gladiatorial matches were fought to the death, or even with sharp weapons. And the nature of the armor and weaponry was such that it had the trappings of a professional sport, despite the often-deadly outcome.

    Although little is known of the rules which applied to the combats held in the Roman arenas, it is clear that the nature of the fight was dictated in large part by constraints created by the gladiator's equipment itself. In many categories of gladiator, the head was protected by a helmet; the lower legs by greaves or padded leggings; the left arm, thighs, and torso by various types of shield; and the sword arm by an articulated arm guard called a manica which reached from the hand to the shoulder. In some cases, the thighs were also armored. The only parts of the body left bare were the torso, (in some cases) the thighs, and (in some cases) the face. These comments apply in particular to the types of gladiator known as myrmillo, thrax, secutor, hoplomachus, and provocator.

    This pattern of armoring the fighters meant that only the deep, vital targets were easily subject to injury, and must have formed the focus of gladiatorial technique. Surviving depictions of gladiatorial combat confirm this, often showing a variety of hooking-type thrusts designed to reach around the shield and get at these exposed areas.

    The type of weapons provided to the fighters also dictated the choice of technique: Both the gladius and the sica (a curved sword), are very short weapons compared to medieval or renaissance swords. This had the effect of shrinking the absolute range between the fighters, and making attacks at lower targets (such as the leg) even more difficult than normal.

    The reason for this choice of gear is unknown. It may well have been for entertainment value, since it required the fighters to close distance, where not only blade skills, but also wrestling skills and blows delivered with the shield would play a more important role. This may have been considered as creating a more impressive, exciting fight.

    However, it also forced the gladiator to focus on skills that were likely to have been of great use in battlefield combat, where a more distance-oriented style of fencing may not have been practical, such as in the crowded press of a melee. Of course, those types of distance-oriented skills were not unknown to the Romans; Plutarch describes an encounter where Pompey the Great defeated a battlefield enemy by a sword-cut to his wrist, disabling him. But it may well have been that the close-in skills were thought of greater value, and more worth training, than more easily-acquired skills such as cutting at the sword arm.

    Germany: The Public Fechtschule Competitions

    In 16th and 17th century Germany, the public fencing competitions known as Fechtschule were typically fought with blunt steel longswords and wooden Dussacks. These competitions focused on the “highest bleeding wound” as the primary criterion for determining victory. At first glance, this emphasis on drawing blood seems to indicate a desire to recreate a “real fight.” On more careful examination, however, it becomes apparent that the German Fechtschule rules contain a host of limitations on fencing technique, making them among the most restrictive of any historically-documented rule-sets from pre-modern Europe. Thus, one German rule-set forbids “pommel, point, running in to grapple, arm-locks, kicks to the groin, eye-gouging, throwing dirt, and all dishonorable tricks that some know well how to use...” This is fairly representative of other surviving Fechtschule rules. These restrictions were announced to the fighters and the general public at the beginning of each competition by the fencing master.

    The German Fechtschule rules contain limitations on allowable targets as well. Most common is the prohibition on blows to the hands or fingers, clearly a question of safety concerns. (Even with modern safety gear, today's competitions often result in broken fingers.) Equally common in these rules is the admonition to “strike between the ears, where the hair grows thickest.” This is not strictly a prohibition, but rather a preference; it directs blows to where the skin is thinnest and bleeds most easily, and also trains the swordsman to aim at higher, more valuable targets. Another Fechtschule rule-set adds a prohibition on “injurious blows to the leg,” as a clear nod to safety concerns, but also perhaps from a desire to discourage striking at lower targets.

    France & Belgium: Prize-Playing in the Civic Fencing Guilds

    In France and Belgium, the prize-playing rules of the civic fencing guilds were just as consistent in imposing limitations on both targets and techniques. For longsword competitions, the allowable target area was limited to those areas above the waist, and above the elbow. This meant no blows to the legs, the groin, the forearms, or the hands. When fighting with the rapier, these restrictions were expanded to disallow attacks to the face. While these limitations were doubtless motivated by safety concerns, they also had the effect of cultivating a particular series of skill-sets. Since the closest, easiest target (the sword-arm) is placed off limits, the fencer is forced to learn how to attack deeper targets. This requires a much higher degree of commitment to the attack, requires more demanding foot-work skills, places a premium on the use of feints, and rewards the swordsman who learns to take advantage of any tempo given by the opponent.

    Similarly, the Franco-Belgian guild rules placed limitations on allowable technique. When using the longsword, one-handed cuts and thrusts were prohibited. So were half-sword techniques, pommel strikes, and grappling. These rules forced the fencers to develop purely two-handed skills. Added to the limitations on target area, these rules have the effect of breeding longsword fencers whose offensive skills are aimed at deep, high-value targets, and whose defensive skills are focused on protecting the highest, most valuable targets. Likewise, the Franco-Belgian rapier rules typically forbade the use of the cut, requiring the fencer to specialize in thrusting technique, in accordance with generally-accepted fencing doctrine among rapier fencers of the time. They also forbade the use of the off-hand to parry, and make disparaging comments about the habit some fencers had of parrying with the hand.

    Italy: The Bolognese Tradition

    Moving to Italy, the rules described by Antonio Manciolino (1531) used weighted scoring to encourage or discourage technique. Whereas a blow to the hand, arm, or body was worth one point, the Bolognese fencers awarded three points for a blow to the head, since it was such a valuable target. On the other hand, they awarded two points for a blow to the leg, citing the difficulty in striking this lower target. In the latter case, this is perhaps the clearest surviving example of encouraging a specific skill-set, awarding more points for this distant target than for a closer, more practical target such as the sword-arm.

    Conclusion

    Each of the historical rule-sets described above contains elements that apply to a real fight with sharp swords, such as fighting for bleeding wounds or favouring the head as a target. However, each of these rule-sets also clearly excludes behaviours that are of obvious value in a real fight, and likely to be encountered. Excluded behaviours include grappling; pommel strikes; one-handed attacks; attacks aimed at the sword-arm or sword-hand; prohibition of cuts (for Franco-Belgian rapier); and prohibition of thrusts (for German longsword).

    Each of these historical rule-sets is oriented toward particular skill-sets, rather than creating a simulacrum of an earnest encounter with sharps. These rules were of an enduring nature, lasting for hundreds of years in some cases. (The Franco-Belgian guild rules were used for at least 250 years, and probably far longer.) They appear to have been the practical result of an evolutionary process of trial and error, balancing the competing concerns of safety and desired behaviour. Our martial forebears appear to have found them a useful way of developing, testing, and encouraging the particular skills they valued in their students.

    Accordingly, the modern historical fencing community should experiment with the same, rather than maintaining a stubborn insistence on recreating a "real fight." After all, if our goal is to recreate the martial arts of the past, should we not use their competitive rule-sets as well? Our forebears apparently found these rules a useful way of encouraging the development of particular skill-sets among their students; we should give due consideration to doing the same. If we do otherwise, we run the risk of letting our fencing practices be governed by our own fantasies about the nature of combat, rather than by documented, historical fencing practices.

    With luck, we may also find that adoption of similar practices helps to produce fighters with higher-level fencing skills, creating an environment in which historical technique is more likely to flourish and appear organically.
    Last edited by Matt Galas; 12-04-2010 at 03:28 PM.
    Matt Galas
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    Hi Matt,

    Do you have any rules for 15th c. German longsword? I'd be interested in sportive affairs among the knightly class. I've yet to come across any myself, but you've much more material in this area than I.

    Cheers,

    Christian
    Christian Henry Tobler
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    The Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Author, Captain of the Guild, DVD: The Poleaxe, In Saint George's Name

    "Though I love the stout blow and the cunningly placed thrust, my greatest joy when crossing swords lies in those rare moments when Chivalry herself leans over and takes one into Her confidence."

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    Hi again Matt,

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Galas View Post
    Our forebears apparently found these rules a useful way of encouraging the development of particular skill-sets among their students; we should give due consideration to doing the same. If we do otherwise, we run the risk of letting our fencing practices be governed by our own fantasies about the nature of combat, rather than by documented, historical fencing practices.
    The fencing guilds may have been training more 'for recreation' fencers. If our goal is instead to recreate more earnest martial arts, the approach may have much less value. If you've no prospect of deadly conflict, there's no tradeoff to training to the rules.

    Now, I'm largely playing devil's advocate here: I do have an interest in historic fencing rules and in playing with them to 'see what they turn up'. I hope, for instance, to play with the Belgian rules shortly.

    It's also worth noting that we can't really use their rules. Fighting without masks, per 16th c. Fechtschule, isn't feasible. And that changes a lot.

    Another concern is this: period fencers lived in an age of the sword. We don't. And if you don't pressure test some things, you won't learn to do them properly. Remove thrusts, for instance, with the longsword, and you'll simply get modern students who can't perform them under stress.

    Cheers,

    Christian
    Christian Henry Tobler
    Selohaar Fechtschule

    The Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Author, Captain of the Guild, DVD: The Poleaxe, In Saint George's Name

    "Though I love the stout blow and the cunningly placed thrust, my greatest joy when crossing swords lies in those rare moments when Chivalry herself leans over and takes one into Her confidence."

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Galas View Post
    Accordingly, the modern historical fencing community should experiment with the same, rather than maintaining a stubborn insistence on recreating a "real fight." After all, if our goal is to recreate the martial arts of the past, should we not use their competitive rule-sets as well?
    I do not agree with this notion of seeking one way is a correct one. If you look at the examples you had written above, you will notice that practically each guild, tournament, etc. had their own rule set. There was no real centralism as is insisted by some in today's HEMA community.
    If I want to have simulacrum of a 'real fight' why shouldn't I? HEMA is not just one discipline sport, many practitioners have different reasons why they pursue their art.

    I think it is important that we do not fall into a centralization. We should try to build multidisciplinarity and leave evolution its pace in formulating rule sets.
    Let us not limit ourself when there is no need for.

  5. #5
    Hi Matt,

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Galas View Post
    This pattern of armoring the fighters meant that only the deep, vital targets were easily subject to injury, and must have formed the focus of gladiatorial technique. Surviving depictions of gladiatorial combat confirm this, often showing a variety of hooking-type thrusts designed to reach around the shield and get at these exposed areas.
    Although thats slightly off-topic - The skills of hitting vital target was a "secondary" focus - Gladiators were expensive and in case of a popular individual hard to replace (they didnt just fight...) so there was sort of a codex of not hitting the vitals, preferring superficial and "spectacular" bleeding cuts. The vital attacks only came when a nobleman payed quite a lot for a fight to the death.

    So the rules where a bit cash-dependant - another factor for rulesets

    Regards, Thomas
    Erschrickstu gern /
    Keyn Fechten lern.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian H. Tobler View Post
    Hi Matt,

    Do you have any rules for 15th c. German longsword? I'd be interested in sportive affairs among the knightly class. I've yet to come across any myself, but you've much more material in this area than I.
    Hi, Christian!

    Courtesy of Olivier Dupuis, I have the text of the earliest known rules (yet!) from the German tradition: They appear to date from the late 15th century, and come from Strasbourg. I think I posted a summary on the "Fechtschule" thread by Thomas Stoeppler a few months back; would be happy to send you the text if you want.

    These are not "knightly" per se, since this appears to have been a civic event held in the middle of town; but this particular Fechtschule was judged by members of the patrician elite of Strasbourg. As in other German cities (please, no discussions about Alsace being part of France!), the patrician elite contained many knights and noblemen, so it kind of blended into the "knightly" environment.

    If you're interested in recreating these, we need to talk (separately would be best) about the nature of a "Gang," since that is kind of a complicated subject.

    Regards,
    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian H. Tobler View Post
    Hi again Matt,



    The fencing guilds may have been training more 'for recreation' fencers. If our goal is instead to recreate more earnest martial arts, the approach may have much less value. If you've no prospect of deadly conflict, there's no tradeoff to training to the rules.

    Now, I'm largely playing devil's advocate here: I do have an interest in historic fencing rules and in playing with them to 'see what they turn up'. I hope, for instance, to play with the Belgian rules shortly.

    It's also worth noting that we can't really use their rules. Fighting without masks, per 16th c. Fechtschule, isn't feasible. And that changes a lot.

    Another concern is this: period fencers lived in an age of the sword. We don't. And if you don't pressure test some things, you won't learn to do them properly. Remove thrusts, for instance, with the longsword, and you'll simply get modern students who can't perform them under stress.
    All good points, and I'm not suggesting that we adopt these rules exclusively, at the expense of a more "realistic" approach. I do think we need a format where "anything goes" and the full range of technique can be used. Comparing this to modern sport-fencing is useful: You have foil fencing, which has very strict conventions and limited target areas, and develops a very particular skill-set. And in the same sport, you have epee fencing, which has no right-of-way, and no limits on target. People who fence both well are really, really formidable. (Example: As an epee fencer, I had my ass handed to me at a tournament by an A-ranked foil fencer, who used modified foil technique with an epee...)

    As far as the Franco-Belgian (and Dutch) fencing guilds, these were not merely recreational fencers. They functioned (along with the crossbow, archers, and hand-gunners guilds) as a sort of civic militia and police force. There are some pretty interesting accounts of these fencing guilds taking part in quelling major riots (in Brussels) and engaging in sectarian religious violence (in Utrecht, Netherlands). In cities like Ghent, they were specifically exempted from the normal sentry duty required of other citizens, since they already served as a militia. However, the price was that they were required to maintain equipment (swords, polearms, armor...) at home, and were required to take part in regular fencing practice, including prize-playing.

    All of these rule sets contain a hodge-podge of safety, spectator-sport, and martial considerations. But they existed alongside our arts, and in some cases (e.g. the Marxbrueder) were run by the very same people who were authoring the manuals.

    So...
    Matt Galas
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    House Rules

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor Rozman View Post
    I do not agree with this notion of seeking one way is a correct one. If you look at the examples you had written above, you will notice that practically each guild, tournament, etc. had their own rule set. There was no real centralism as is insisted by some in today's HEMA community.
    To be clear, I am not arguing for a "one-way" approach. In fact, there is much to be said for the opposite, since our community is still very much in an experimental, developmental stage.

    One model is to look at how the German fencing fraternities handled (and still handle) their Mensur duels: Each fraternity has its own rule-set, which is called a Comment (from the French word meaning "how-to"). While the broad outlines of these "house rules" are reasonably similar, there are also some striking differences among them.

    I can see an approach where "house rules" develop, such as at different events: "Dijon rules", "WMAW rules", "Houston rules", etc. That creates an environment where we continue to experiment, but also gain the benefits of transparency and consistency.

    I don't think it's useful to keep changing rules after each event, since you never have a chance to work out the kinks in any rule-set, and never gain enough experience in a given rule-set to really identify what the effects are (good or bad). But this "house-rules" approach allows the best of both worlds, in my view...
    Matt Galas
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    Quote Originally Posted by T. Stoeppler View Post
    Hi Matt,

    Although thats slightly off-topic - The skills of hitting vital target was a "secondary" focus - Gladiators were expensive and in case of a popular individual hard to replace (they didnt just fight...) so there was sort of a codex of not hitting the vitals, preferring superficial and "spectacular" bleeding cuts. The vital attacks only came when a nobleman payed quite a lot for a fight to the death.

    So the rules where a bit cash-dependant - another factor for rulesets
    Yeah, this part of the article is to some extent speculation, and the effects of the "expensive prize horse" considerations are unclear. I get the feeling that a lot of the "hooking" thrusts that you see in gladiatorial illustrations could just as easily be delivered as superficial back-edge blows, which would produce the spectacular bleeding wounds to which you refer. This is especially the case on a bare torso, where the sweat will diffuse the blood and create a pretty appalling effect. At Appelern in 2008, one of the fencers took a superficial cut on his scalp; but scalp wounds bleed profusely, and it mixed with the sweat in his long blonde hair to make a wonderfully gruesome effect - jaw dropping, really...

    There's a group called ACTA in Southern France which has the enviable task of reconstructing gladiatorial combat, paid (!) by the French government. They gave a demo at Dijon this year, and it was fascinating. They used blunt steel, and you can see scars all over them from the superficial cuts caused by the weapons...

    But we digress!
    Last edited by Matt Galas; 12-05-2010 at 02:59 AM.
    Matt Galas
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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian H. Tobler View Post
    Hi again Matt,

    It's also worth noting that we can't really use their rules. Fighting without masks, per 16th c. Fechtschule, isn't feasible. And that changes a lot.
    I know some folks who are considering doing this, using Feders and Mensur-style iron goggles that cover eyes and nose, plus a mouth guard. I think they're nuts, frankly, but it's not outside the realm of possibility...
    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

  11. Many historical techniques can only be applied effectively if the opponent makes a deep, committed attack- not just in HEMA, but in many other sword arts too. But most fighters will not just hand you a deep attack like that in a real bout- you have to set them up for it. I've always thought this was one of the paradoxes of the martial arts. Manuals, kata, sets, etc, all tell you what to do to counter his attack, but they don't tell you how to set him up. For instance, rapier techniques that involve stepping offline with a simultaneous counter. How do you do that if the opponent never makes a deep attack but just keeps jabbing at you? And what do most rapier bouts on Youtube look like? Two guys jabbing at each other.

    A form of ritualized combat where the fighters are forced to use "good" technique would result in a fight that looked a lot more like what we see in the manuals than most bouting actually does. This raises the possibility that there is a certain amount of artificiality built into historical fencing from the outset- the manuals assume something will happen that is not actually what usually happens. We've all been very concerned because most bouting doesn't look like "proper historical fencing." Maybe "proper historical fencing" was itself an artifact of a restrictive ruleset...

    Or maybe the art of setting the opponent up was the "botta segretta" and would not have been put in most manuals. Now that I think of it, the only examples of historical botta segretta I know of (the three "finesses" from Page's manual) are all set-ups.
    "Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid."

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    Chris, I think that's a great observation. I believe tactical set-ups are key. Frankly, I see very few people in our community who are good at doing this, either in martial challenges or in tournaments. Too many of our fencers are purely opportunistic - they go into the fight without a plan, and fly by the seat of their pants.

    Tactical set-ups create the conditions where a technique is not only appropriate but has the optimal chances for success. This is how we are going to see historical technique actually come out in fencing, in my view. And developing smart, high-level fencers who know how to use second and third intention is the best way to do this.
    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

  13. That's why I came up with the Seven Words concept we use to teach advanced bouting skills. After basic skills are learned, tactical thinking is the real secret of success in swordplay. And as a fencing master in the old days, you could charge one fee for the basic skills, and another (higher!) fee to learn how to set the other guy up outside the context of the school's in-house ruleset. Of course this "secret skill" is not going to go into your published fencing manual.
    "Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Thompson View Post
    Or maybe the art of setting the opponent up was the "botta segretta" and would not have been put in most manuals. Now that I think of it, the only examples of historical botta segretta I know of (the three "finesses" from Page's manual) are all set-ups.
    This is, in modern fencing, the difference between technique and tactics. Fencing is both.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Thompson View Post
    I've always thought this was one of the paradoxes of the martial arts. Manuals, kata, sets, etc, all tell you what to do to counter his attack, but they don't tell you how to set him up.
    Cannot agree with you Chris. Such conclusion as you have made is possible only if you read manuals only on the surface. Of course not every written piece will tell everything on tactics as not all were focused on tactics but on techniques, but it does not mean it was/is never part of curriculum.

    People should know the difference between the two, as Ken pointed out.

  16. I didn't say it wasn't part of the curriculum, just that it's not made explicit in the manuals or in the plays. I agree with you that tactical set-ups can be discerned below the surface of the plays in many cases, but it's not made explicit- and most students would not understand it if it wasn't made explicit. You can see that in the tendency to just "hope for the best" in bouting, rather than to apply tactical thinking- which is what the majority seem to do.

    The manuals usually describe situations where the other guy makes a committed attack and you respond with a counter, while in reality most people will not make it that easy for you unless you trick them into doing so. Thus the relative rarity of the meisterhau in most longsword sparring. There has to be some reason for this discrepancy.
    "Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid."

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    I agree with Gregor (hmm...we seen to do that a lot lately), with both the idea that the tactics *are* contained in the texts (overtly in a work like Fabris, both explicitly and implicitly in works like Vadi or the German compendia), we need to learn how to look for them.

    I also agree with the idea, however, that fencing sometimes does not reflect committed blows that would be used in a lethal encounter. Here is an example:

    In the dei Liberi tradition community, people often note that we see the exchange of thrusts (an absetzen in German parlance), but not a breaking of the thrusts - a transport that buries his point in the ground. There is a simple reason for this. A lot of people don't make deep or committed thrusts with the longsword, the way they do with the rapier. They poke, jab and fish. You simply don't get the same sort of bind, nor the same sort of energy to bind and redirect into the ground. Ie: it is a training artifact and the difference between agonistic and antagonistic fencing.

    I also share Gregor's concerns and refutation of creating a "universal" rules set, or one that excludes too many options - again for the same reason. We've modern arts like boxing, sabre fencing, kendo, etc to show how the combat sport and the martial art drift too far apart once this happens. Having said that, I don't think that is what Matt has proposed; I think we're both on the same page that what we should look at is creating a menu of fencing styles and options that organizers will draw from, and the logical starting place is the historical model. Or really, historical models.

    Ya'all know I'm always in favor of historical models over modern ones, in this case using the advantage of safety gear to allow more forms of rough play (like thrusts and hilt strikes). But, I saw something interesting in this thread, which maybe is the precursor to this discussion. Namely, "what is the role of the fencing Guild in the 15th - 16th centuries"? Some authors, like Chris Amberger, point to them as being a form of rough and tumble health club and the "Fechtschule" being sort of like a Sunday rugby match. Matt discusses above that the Guilds certainly filled this role, but also were involved in preparing the town militia, etc.

    I think that we need to understand the context of the Guilds, and then discuss the role of their fencing.

    Best,

    Greg
    Greg Mele
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    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    "If the tongue could cut
    as the sword can do,
    the dead would be infinite."

    Filippo Vadi, "Arte Dimicandi Gladiatoria" (c.1482 - 87)

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Thompson View Post
    The manuals usually describe situations where the other guy makes a committed attack and you respond with a counter, while in reality most people will not make it that easy for you unless you trick them into doing so. Thus the relative rarity of the meisterhau in most longsword sparring. There has to be some reason for this discrepancy.
    One possibility is that people are more tentative in sparring than in some combat situations. Rory Miller has opined that tentative attacks are a lot more common in sparring than when someone is trying to kill their opponent ... but of course he has never seen a sword duel. Sparring, paired drills, and solo drills are all fundamentally different from any type of violence with life and limb on the line.

    Some rules sets also required one fighter to open with a committed attack.

  19. #19
    Hi Matt,

    Good essay.

    Two pedantic points: gladiactor swords weren't all very short. In the early empire gladiator gladii were the same as army ones, averaging a bit over two feet overall length. I think they may have shrunk in the late empire, but that's only 6" less than a short arming sword or messer (and about the size of many big daggers/small swords which the sources don't teach).

    There were also displays of mock combat with wasters by gladiators and free people.

    p. 78 of Tom Leoni's Manciolino translation says it was a blow to the foot, not a blow to the leg, which was worth two. But I haven't read the Italian so maybe there is some ambiguity.

    Quote Originally Posted by T. Stoeppler View Post
    Hi Matt,



    Although thats slightly off-topic - The skills of hitting vital target was a "secondary" focus - Gladiators were expensive and in case of a popular individual hard to replace (they didnt just fight...) so there was sort of a codex of not hitting the vitals, preferring superficial and "spectacular" bleeding cuts. The vital attacks only came when a nobleman payed quite a lot for a fight to the death.

    So the rules where a bit cash-dependant - another factor for rulesets

    Regards, Thomas
    Do you know of any articles? I agree that since the loser usually survived in the early empire (although it was always possible in principle that the loser would die), gladiators probably tried to avoid thrusts to the vitals and deep cuts in most fights. But I've especially wondered how a hoplomachus (with a spear and a small round strapped shield) would be able to fight without thrusts to the vitals.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Manning View Post
    Hi Matt,

    Good essay.

    Two pedantic points: gladiactor swords weren't all very short. In the early empire gladiator gladii were the same as army ones, averaging a bit over two feet overall length. I think they may have shrunk in the late empire, but that's only 6" less than a short arming sword or messer (and about the size of many big daggers/small swords which the sources don't teach).
    Hi, Sean!

    Thanks for the kind words.

    As far as gladiator swords, I guess it's a question of what you mean by "short." I consider 2 feet overall length to be pretty darn short! Most of the gladius examples I know of have blade lengths well under 2 feet:

    Gladius (Rheingoenheim): 21.5 inch blade
    Gladius Hispaniensis (Mainz): 20.5 inch blade
    Pompeii-style Gladius (Newstead): 19.5 inch blade

    I understand that the Pompeii-style gladius was the shortest, with a blade typically around 17-19 inches or so. This type of gladius is associated with the gladiator school which was excavated there, since 4 swords of this type were excavated there. These are the shortest type of gladius. I've seen pictures of the gladii and sicas retrieved from the gladiator school in Pompeii. I don't have the measurements, but they were pretty darn short.

    The sica, used by the Thrax, was even shorter.

    So, when you combine this with a shield and well-armored limbs, it makes for a pretty close fight!

    No idea about the Hoplomachus and his spear. Rubber tips, no doubt.

    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

  21. #21
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    Hi, Greg!

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregory Mele View Post
    In the dei Liberi tradition community, people often note that we see the exchange of thrusts (an absetzen in German parlance), but not a breaking of the thrusts - a transport that buries his point in the ground. There is a simple reason for this. A lot of people don't make deep or committed thrusts with the longsword, the way they do with the rapier. They poke, jab and fish. You simply don't get the same sort of bind, nor the same sort of energy to bind and redirect into the ground. Ie: it is a training artifact and the difference between agonistic and antagonistic fencing.
    One way to get committed thrusts (for rompere di punta, for example) is to do sparring with longsword vs. spear. I've found that a spear fencer is a lot less hesitant to make committed thrusts, for some reason...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregory Mele View Post
    I also share Gregor's concerns and refutation of creating a "universal" rules set, or one that excludes too many options - again for the same reason. We've modern arts like boxing, sabre fencing, kendo, etc to show how the combat sport and the martial art drift too far apart once this happens. Having said that, I don't think that is what Matt has proposed; I think we're both on the same page that what we should look at is creating a menu of fencing styles and options that organizers will draw from, and the logical starting place is the historical model. Or really, historical models.
    Yes. And when you see that particular skills are not developing for some reason, you can play with rule-sets to bring those out. As long as you still provide a venue where "anything goes", then it should help you stay away from developing artificialities that affect martial attitudes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregory Mele View Post
    Namely, "what is the role of the fencing Guild in the 15th - 16th centuries"? Some authors, like Chris Amberger, point to them as being a form of rough and tumble health club and the "Fechtschule" being sort of like a Sunday rugby match. Matt discusses above that the Guilds certainly filled this role, but also were involved in preparing the town militia, etc.

    I think that we need to understand the context of the Guilds, and then discuss the role of their fencing.
    Part of the problem is that they changed over time. The Bruges guild began with a lot of very low-class members, but by the time it faded away in the early 1900s, it had quite a few members of the Belgian aristocracy associated with it.

    The militia/constabulary aspect was probably the most important social function, at least in the eyes of the city; which was why the French revolutionaries abolished them. They didn't like the idea of a military body that was not beholden to the State. Especially one that had its roots in privileges granted by the former aristocracy...
    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

  22. #22
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    Potential Limitations

    In terms of skill set development and related limitations, here are a few possibilities:

    - Limit one-handed cuts & thrusts to develop two-handed technique
    - Limit grappling to develop bladework
    - Limit target areas to force fencers to learn how to attack deeper targets
    - Use differential scoring to affect choice of targets
    - Give the double hit to the higher blow to favor choice of high targets
    - etc.

    Of course, you can do this the other way around, if you want to favor grappling and close-in techniques. In my article, I didn't touch on the rules for the Burgundian feats of arms, but there were historical rule-sets that allowed the fight to continue until one side had lost a weapon or was on the ground...
    Matt Galas
    Mons, Belgium

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Manning View Post
    Do you know of any articles? I agree that since the loser usually survived in the early empire (although it was always possible in principle that the loser would die), gladiators probably tried to avoid thrusts to the vitals and deep cuts in most fights. But I've especially wondered how a hoplomachus (with a spear and a small round strapped shield) would be able to fight without thrusts to the vitals.
    I´ve talked a lot with some of the well-connected gladiators ´round here, so thats where my knowledge comes from. I would guess that in all non-lethal duels the weapons (including spear and trident) have been half-sharp at best and the current state of knowledge indicates the use of "bowie knife" sized swords. I was actually very surprised on the shortness of most bladed weapons.

    The manner of fight such weapons create is quite interesting - and as Matt points out the gruesome look of blood mixed with sweat probably was visually more attractive than someone just dropping dead.

    Speaking of - what kind of fight do "blood rules" (i.e. fight to the first blood, fight to the bleeding scalp or fight till there is a whole lot of blood.) create?

    Regards, Thomas
    Erschrickstu gern /
    Keyn Fechten lern.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by T. Stoeppler View Post
    Speaking of - what kind of fight do "blood rules" (i.e. fight to the first blood, fight to the bleeding scalp or fight till there is a whole lot of blood.) create?
    First blood rule in French early 20th c. dueling can be seen on some of the survived camera captures. Dynamics of the fight depend on the participators. Some are very static, other are quite energetic duels.

    However that being said... every fencing I have seen, the complexity of it is dictated by the fencer who has lowest skill level of the two.
    Last edited by Gregor Rozman; 12-05-2010 at 01:39 PM.

  25. #25
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    According to a friend of mine, who has done some extensive work on the subject, the Gladiator type that used the longest sword (which still was shorter than a regular army gladius) was the provocator, whose equipment also matched most closely the equipment of a legionary and who also fought always against another provocator.
    Last edited by Jörg B.; 12-05-2010 at 02:02 PM.
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    "It is a bad teacher that does not allow his student to become better than himself" (Sixten Ivarsson)

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