EUROPEAN MARTIAL ARTS: ALIVE AND SMITING
Upon the very mention of the words 'martial arts' European origins may not immediately spring to mind.
The European martial arts are however, very much alive and well in the UK and undergoing impressive revival and resurgence worldwide. The UK is presently home to a number of different schools and societies dedicated to researching, practicing and teaching historically accurate European armed combat duelling techniques of various styles from the thirteenth century to the nineteenth century.
So, where does all this come from?
European masters throughout the centuries were pleasantly obliging enough to have their techniques put into print, detailing theories, principles, approaches and techniques of their particular weapons and teaching style: It is directly from these historical treatises that we research and revive these same systems and techniques. These treastises also dictate our historical boundaries, with our earliest treatise dating from the late thirteenth century.
As we are drawing from six centuries of development, many different styles and weapons are practiced. Weapons may be used with discernable national style (i.e. Italian, German, French, Spanish; even Scottish!) or more particularly with the style of a certain master or school within a country.
There are several main weapons forms studied e.g. fifteenth century long sword, sixteenth century sidesword and; broadsword; seventeenth century rapier and eighteenth century smallsword to name but a few. In all there are over forty different discernable weapons forms practiced from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century.
All societies and schools within the UK practise safe freedom contact duelling with unsharp weapons and safety equipment i.e. padded jacks, fencing masks and the appropriate amount of protection required for the particular weapon weight and style. Although weapons are blunted they are, whenever possible, of the same weight / balance (therefore handling) as the original weapons.
So besides looking with a sword what do we have to offer?
As a martial art, instructors must teach far more than just 'how to swing a sword', such as the following considerations.
Historical background and knowledge. As our weapons techniques and styles are researched from historical sources, their very origins and development should be part of their presentation. Any particular style or technique may be better understood by a student when explained in suitable context with regard to the particular weapon, school and period.
Each individual weapon's form and style requires a unique mindset and approach to its combative use. This proves essential teaching for the understanding of any singular or combination weapon form or style. There is also the general mental approach to the reality of the combat.
itself, which as we train with the weapons as though they were sharp, is highly necessary.
A full understanding of these for control of the students' own mechanics in martial use is essential, be it guard position, specific hand positions in weapons techniques, footwork, balance or full body application in techniques. Students must also acquire an understanding of their opponent's body mechanics in order to use these against them,
The very techniques themselves are taught in contact with all other considerations given here. These techniques may be of a guarded, defensive, offensive or counter-offensive nature.
It is not enough for any student to be simply shown or told what to do without any explanation of the physical or mechanical principles necessary for the specific technique. These must be taught with regard to the judgement principals of their combative application.
So when and where is this all happening?
These arts are happening now and are being taught and practiced throughout the UK and worldwide, as we presently undergo the second renaissance of European martial arts (the first being at the end of the nineteenth century).
The British Federation for Historical Swordplay is established as the co-ordinating and representative body for the UK European martial arts groups. There are presently ten member groups throughout the country, with some specialising in particular periods or weapons styles.
The Company of Maisters of Defence based in London, studies purely English martial arts of sixteenth century origin. The group is run by Ancient Maister Terry Brown, who maybe known, to readers as the author of English Martial Arts.
The Sussex Rapier society specialises in the rapiers of the seventieth century and its various combinations and styles, while the Edinburgh based Dawn Duellists Society studies all forms from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, including some weapons that have been made and used for the first time in some five hundred years.
The British Federation itself has close links with the world's other national European martial arts federations, namely Italy's 'Federazione Italiana Scherma Antica e Storica' and the 'Association for Historical Fencing' in the USA.
As these national federations are covering studies from the same historical sources and masters, maestros from each body have established the International Masters-at-Arms Federation in order to further internationally recognised teaching qualifications for European martial arts.
So there we have it, a brief blast of what, is happening in the discipline of European martial arts in this country and abroad, where they are not only taught within individual societies, but can also been seen at various public demonstrations and training workshops throughout the UK, Europe and the USA.
So now you can look good with a sword and know what you are doing.
Paul Macdonald is a professional swordmaker and master-at-arms based in Edinburgh, where he works and teaches. He is the founder of the Dawn Duellists Society, the British Federation for Historical Swordplay and co-founder of the International Master-at-Arms Federation.
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This article appeared in Martial Arts Illustrated magazine is presented to you by courtesy of Maestro Paul Macdonald of the Macdonald Academy.