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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 28 Jul, 2008 8:31 pm    Post subject: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Within the past decade, it has been a common (and to a degree, necessary) occurance to have to battle sword myths by taking the opposite extreme. For example, we've all heard the myth of the heavy, cumbersome European swords that were made of low quality metal, which couldn't compete with the near-magical abilities of the Japanese katana. Most of us in the community today know this is patently false. Several years ago, though, this lead many of us, with good intentions, to combat this myth by exclaiming that all European swords were super light weight, and that Japanese swords were garbage compared to the superior European weapons. Obviously this second view is just as bad as the first, and I think most of us have come beyond this kind of extreme, polar comparisons of the weapons. Still, we as a community have definately had more than one of these types of attitudes in the past for various subjects.

There is another view, primarily with Western Martial Arts, that I hope we can move beyond. There is this false idea that medieval and Renaissance Europe was this lawless, rough and tumble world where anything went, and you might have to fight for your life at any turn of the corner. I recently watched a series of videos where the narrator went above and beyond to make the point that fencing in the Middle Ages was all about brutal efficiency, that Chivalry was left at the door when it came down to fighting, and that historical martial arts where all about dirty fighting as a means to an end in those violent days.

Yes, some fighting was brutal and vicious. That is always a factor to violence of all time periods and cultures. But if we actually look at the cultures of these arts we study, we really overemphasize this WAY too much. There is this sort of willingness to romanticize the anti-romantic, where we as modern people seem to love thinking that historical Europe came right off the pages of some spaghetti-western novel, that lawlessness abounded and people drew their swords whenever someone looked at another man cross-eyed.

Here are only a handful of the memes surrounding this myth:

-Medieval martial arts were about killing, plain and simple.

Some medieval combat was about killing. Much of it, however, was about non-lethal self-defense, personal/spiritual development, and plain old fitness. Johannes Liechtenauer's introduction to his martial arts zettel begins with a nod to Chivalric ideals, telling the "young knight" in training to learn knightly ideals (such as revering women) as well as to become strong in combat, not to become an unstoppable killing machine, but so "that your honor grows". And lets not forget the many tournaments of skill and prowess that were a large part of medieval life. While these tournaments had the benefit of training warriors for real combat, they still served an important cultural device that went beyond "kill or be killed".

In many of the various fencing treatises, there are a number of techniques that have both lethal and non-lethal techniques. For example, the master Lecküchner mentions at least once (if not more than once) in certain techniques that you can kill your opponent with the edge, but if you don't want to hurt him too badly, you can use the flat instead. And many of the dagger fighting techniques end up where you put the person in an arm lock instead of thrusting your dagger into the person (which would have been easier, truthfully, unless if you knew you didn't want to kill the person). Quite frankly, just as in modern times, you couldn't just go around killing people, sometimes even in self-defense. If your drunk father-in-law got angry at dinner and started waving a knife around, would you draw your own and kill him? Maybe, maybe not... if you could use any one of the hundreds of non-lethal take-downs taught by medieval masters, though, that'd make for a much happier marriage.

Matt Galas made a recent post on SFI that showed a number of reasons why a person in medieval France may have been pardoned for murder, showing how certain deaths were viewed as being done with the intention of being non-lethal, even if a person died by accident.

http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=90829

-Chivalry and honor are just romantic ideals. Combat is combat.

See above. Martial training in most cultures goes hand in hand with personal development, and European arts are no different. I already mention Liechtenauer's praise for chivalric honor, but he was certainly not alone. Several manuscripts talk about virtue and honor, and how these martial arts are not to fall into the hands of the unworthy who would use it for ill-will. Why would a culture spend so much time praising the deeds of both knighthood (i.e. a doer of violence) and chivalry if the two didn't cross paths? Why would knights have a code of honor if they knew they'd never use it? Sure, we know there were dishonorable men, and we know many would have broken their own vows. Does this mean that *all* knights did this? Or is it just another example where we, as modern people, are again claiming something is nothing more than romanticism, when we ourselves are guilty of romanticizing it?

-The rapier was invented in the Renaissance for street brawling, which was common in the day.

I have never seen a single shred of evidence to suggest that street brawling was common. Europe had laws, after all. Duels certainly happened, but in Italy there was a legal process that one went through... it wasn't Disney's Three Musketeers, where you offended someone and you drew swords and fought. If you did that, you'd get arrested, plain and simple. Killing was illegal, and even for duelling there was a formal legal process.

To say the rapier was invented for this kind of lawlessness is to assume our ancestors ruled without care for their citizens wellfare. Of course, some people did break the law. But if this were as common as myth would have it, why would you advertise this by carrying around a rapier? In fact, why would the government let you carry them around at all?

There are countless other things surrounding these myths, but these are just a few related ones that I keep hearing over and over again.

This post isn't intended to point a finger at anyone. Rather, I'm hoping we as a community can reevaluate some of the things that many of us spout off as fact, when the truth is that we're really just reacting to earlier myths of romanticism by replacing them with the opposite extreme.

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 28 Jul, 2008 10:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting post and maybe it is valid for all periods of history as humans are social and cooperative creatures otherwise no civil society could function.

This doesn't mean that we are not also " predator's " in nature from hunting to eat and fighting for dominance.

Fights within cultural groups involves status more than pure butchery and killing the enemy is not always the goal: Many times it is one of getting political control, honour, status as the " Alpha dog " , merging enemy groups into bigger wholes, receiving tribute etc ......

On the other hand clashes of cultures, religion, ideologies, tribes can turn genocidal, as well, periods of anarchy cancel out all the rules for a time, but people will naturally try to re-group for safety and some sense of order.

Examples: Assyrians would leave local Kings in charge of their city state if said king paid tributes and acknowledged the suzerainty of the Assyrian Emperor. This seems to have been the pattern in Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian times in Mesopotamia. At the same time revolt or defiance especially by a previously defeated vassal state could lead to extermination of the population and razing of the city down to ground level and the salting of the land.

Mongols would give generous terms to those who surrendered quickly without resistance but would make an example of anyone who resisted.

Anyway, not sure how on Topic this is ? But my point is that the default human way is much more cooperation than destruction, rule of law rather than complete anarchy. The exception are the small number of sociopaths, psychopaths, criminals or power hungry who are dangerous on a one by one basis but really dangerous when they get power as Kings, Dictators, or heads of governments. These people are also a very small minority that can have a disproportionate influence on history and the type of societies humans build.

In other words " GOOD " is more prevalent in human societies but " EVIL " , even by a small minority, can have a disproportionate effect on our history.

Weapons exist first of all for protection and for the good of society and depending on the culture are either ubiquitous or reserved for elites depending on many complex factors as well as " regulated " by either laws or tradition: Where weapons are common they are not abused by the average person because the average person is neither a criminal or insane. Wink

At least that is my theory. Wink Laughing Out Loud

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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 5:18 am    Post subject: Re: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Hello Bill,

I largely agree but I find your third point about rapier a bit overstated...

Bill Grandy wrote:
I have never seen a single shred of evidence to suggest that street brawling was common. Europe had laws, after all. Duels certainly happened, but in Italy there was a legal process that one went through... it wasn't Disney's Three Musketeers, where you offended someone and you drew swords and fought. If you did that, you'd get arrested, plain and simple. Killing was illegal, and even for duelling there was a formal legal process.

To say the rapier was invented for this kind of lawlessness is to assume our ancestors ruled without care for their citizens wellfare. Of course, some people did break the law. But if this were as common as myth would have it, why would you advertise this by carrying around a rapier? In fact, why would the government let you carry them around at all?


I don't know for the rest of Europe, but at least in France there was a definite problem with duelling in the XVIth - XVIIth centuries. The true judicial duel had more or less disappeared after the famous fight between La Châtaigneraie - Jarnac in 1547, but there was a surge in private quarrels fought without permission of the king or any intervention of justice. In these cases the legal process was all but absent... This is a novelty of the Renaissance in France; during the middle ages there were trials by combat, but not nearly as many as there were private duels afterwards.

Of course this was forbidden, in theory. But being arrested after such a private affair was the exception rather than the rule. Partly because the idea of honour was important for the eyes of rulers as well, partly maybe because the state was not so powerful and law enforcement not that efficient. It's only with the rise of absolutism, under Louis XIII and Louis XIV, that a true repression began. So it's not just some people that broke the laws, it's the majority... Probably including those in charge of law enforcement.

These duels were certainly deadly, all the more so with the custom of "seconds", friends of either party taking part in the fight. The famous Duel des Mignons, involving favourites of Henri III, was fought 3 against 3, with only two participants surviving the event. The king mourned his favourites but never pursued the murderers. It has even been said (by a writer of the time) that the duel craze killed more nobles in France than the Wars of Religion.

Of course all these new deadly customs were blamed on the Italians Wink

Surely these were not really street brawls, in the sense that the participants were warned in advance (that is, given time to draw their swords, at the very least Wink ). But technique-wise, apart from a relative equality of weapons, it's quite close. It seems logical to me that the custom influenced the development of rapier fencing to a good extent, and thus the shape of the weapon. To say that the rapier was perfected to face this kind of challenge is in my opinion not wrong... If it is, then what has the rapier been designed to do?

Regards,

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Vincent
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Allen Andrews




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An interesting and thought provoking thread. I don't feel I have the knowledge base to usefully contribute to the discussion, but this is exactly the sort of thing I like to ponder and pass on to the High School students I work with. This is one of the reasons I love this website.
" I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood. "

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 7:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Vincent,
I definately concede that France probably had a much worse problem with duelling than the rest of Europe. But even in France, a duel was not, "You offended me, let's pick up swords and fight." And even still, that doesn't account for the rest of Europe.

In Italy, the duel went in and out of legality, but remained a fairly strong part of the moral code for their culture far beyond the Renaissance, well into the age of classical fencing (sabre and "epee"/spada).

Further, a brawl suggests that anything goes. That attitude was completely unacceptable in a private duel: The purpose of a duel was for the plaintiff and defendent to resolve their point of honor within a set of rules. If you agree to fight with swords, and I threw a rock, I am clearly showing my disregard for the duel, and therefore deserve to be the loser. This is not to say that duels were not vicious, because they were certainly violent and often deadly.

Tom Leoni wrote up a very nice summary of the rules on duelling in Italy (which were also applied in France):
http://salvatorfabris.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=104

These are very rigid rules, and yes, sometimes they didn't get followed to the letter. But it gives a strong insight into what went through a person's mind when deciding to take up the sword. It wasn't about brawling, it was about a belief to put your life on the line for something you viewed as important enough to do so.

Some highlights in particular from that:

Quote:
"the duel's goal is to "render manifest a hidden truth." If this truth could be proven in any other way, the duel would be unjust and therefore not granted. "


Quote:
"Dueling is not a science, but an art, because its dictates proceed from moral philosophy--an art. And as a practical art, it is a specie of the genus military art. "


Quote:
"Duels are not necessary for the happiness of the individual "


Quote:
"In order to have a viable case, the actor has to meet the following five conditions (from Marozzo):

1 - The actor has to have suffered an injury
2 - The provocation has to be difficult or impossible to prove through credible witnesses
3 - The actor has to be of equal or greater social status than the accused
4 - The cause needs to be personal
5 - The case has not been tried before in civilian court, even if it did not end with a verdict (i.e. was not proven).

To which Pigna adds:

6 - The defendant has to claim that the supposed injury is untrue (mentita). The mentita is what obligates the plaintiff to prove his case through the duel. "


And that doesn't address the subject of the rapier's creation. Considering the amount of people who carried long thrusting weapons into war, and considering how many of these weapons were carried by men such as body guards, I don't think you can make a case that it was developed for street fighting. Honestly, I think a dagger or langes messer would make much more sense for street brawling. I would agree that the art of duelling was certainly a factor in developing the techniques of rapier fencing... but I would say that this is true for earlier weapons, including the longsword, as well.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 8:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill, some excellent thoughts here. Thanks for posting! It's definitely an interesting discussion.

You often hear people comparing the medieval and renaissance periods to the "Wild West", but most people's notion of what the "wild west" was is also influenced by similarly romanticized and villainized misrepresentations of the history. I read somewhere that the relevant period for the "wild west" (which was really only one or two decades) saw less than a dozen recorded bank robberies for the entire region and period. Crime was lower than in the cities back east, per capita, and that people generally looked out for each other and cooperated for common goals. Most of the "wild" portion of the popular concept of this time came from journalists and novelists of the period who romanticized and dramatized what was happening for their readership in the cities back east.

So it's a false comparison, unless the comparison is being made to intentionally point out how popular misconception can create a distorted view.

This is a very interesting discussion.

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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've been looking at this community for, what maybe 6 or 7 years, and I've seen an evident evolution in the way of thinking (although I might say some groups stayed behind...). When I arrived, it was the big knight vs. samurai thing. People were rediscovering that europe had some pretty effective martial arts and I don't know why but the JSA community was the most interesting to bash on. Nobody bashed on the chinese martial arts, korean or anything else. Maybe because of the mystique enclosing it, people were happy to play the iconoclasts, or maybe that it looked so much the same, like some people who hate someone else because they look the same but differ in some major points. This craze lasted many years but it soon lost momentum as many people were seeing the futility of such exercices or just didn't cared. But the good thing that this phenomenon brought was the fact that each community knew the other one a little better, and the cease of hostilities created some links between the two. Of course there are still dinosaurs who refuse to change their look and to stay isolated, but well, that's true in every community.

In the beginning we also saw many backyard groups being encouraged to establish and grow, dissing out the JSA community once again for being elitist that wouldn't let people do their own thing. Now this was necessary for a time, but now the teaching of the art being a bit more spread, people started to recommend going to a teacher and practicing for themselves only in dire situations. I think it is due mostly to the emergence of the Mcdojo phenomenon in WMA, people saw what uninformed backyard training can lead to.

That said I have also seen a split between the way of doing things. some group, I would say the majority, went in for a classical approach, with a part of research in historism, lot of driling, and some sparring. Some other went in for a more sportive approach, considering drilling to be the only way. And finally some others preferred the combative approach, going at it rough and tough, dissing out historism and trying to get close to modern combatives. I think they are the ones who, more often than not, disseminate the idea of WMA being kill of be killed arts for a time of utter barbarism and savageness, because it just help to sell it to the desired public (hey, our art comes from the most intense days of violence ever, so it must be more effective than the others, right?).

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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm under the impression that JSA was the primary target simply because it had gained so much popularity and had taken on its own popular mystique of being nearly magical, or at least being the epitome of sword design and sword-related martial arts. The other sword arts that weren't targeted as such, I don't think ever truly reached the same level of hype in modern western culture.

The backlash, I think, was very specific, rather than lashing out at all other sword arts.

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max Chouinard wrote:
I think they are the ones who, more often than not, disseminate the idea of WMA being kill of be killed arts for a time of utter barbarism and savageness, because it just help to sell it to the desired public (hey, our art comes from the most intense days of violence ever, so it must be more effective than the others, right?).


Hi Max,
I think you hit the nail on the head. It isn't so much that people are trying to spread disinformation, but that they *want* to believe that these arts are as base as possible, because somehow that makes them more legitimate in modern eyes.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's an up-to-the-minute analogy from a story I heard earlier this week:

"A new survey shows that about two-thirds of Alabamians own a gun and nearly half have permits to carry concealed weapons."

Given my home-state's reputation, lots of folks, perhaps especially my European friends, might read this and imagine that Alabama is a fantastically violent place. The reality for most of us here is very different, either because of or in spite of the proliferation of firearms (take your pick). The point is this: Looking at a culture and seeing everybody carrying a gun or an edged weapon might tell us something about perceptions, technology, cultural traditions, etc., but doesn't necessarily tell us anything at all about the level or frequency of actual violence.

Add in the demographics on violence, which tell us what most of already know: Middle-class and wealth folks aren't gunning each other down in the suburbs and exurbs. The Med/Ren scene might be similar, with most men owning/carrying an edged weapon because of status issues, tradition, masculinity display, self-delusion, unfounded fear, etc. But then if we look closer we might see that armed fighting was viewed much as it is today.

Even today we tend to magnify the acts and values of people on the fringes of society.

-Sean

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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:

"A new survey shows that about two-thirds of Alabamians own a gun and nearly half have permits to carry concealed weapons."

Given my home-state's reputation, lots of folks, perhaps especially my European friends, might read this and imagine that Alabama is a fantastically violent place. The reality for most of us here is very different, either because of or in spite of the proliferation of firearms (take your pick). The point is this: Looking at a culture and seeing everybody carrying a gun or an edged weapon might tell us something about perceptions, technology, cultural traditions, etc., but doesn't necessarily tell us anything at all about the level or frequency of actual violence.


That's a good point as well. It could be argued that such perceptions say far more about those making the observations than those they are observing.

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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 9:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even circa 1000 there were many prohibitions against dueling. for example, in the icelandic saga of gunnlaug, we have Hrafn and Gunnlaug intent on dueling each other to the death. They try to fight in Iceland, only to have the ruling council there tell them no - no dueling here. illegal upon pain of death to duel here. so they agree to sail to norway to settle their differences but again, the earl there tells them no - no dueling here. so they wind up walking into sweden just so that they could come to blows. that is a heck of a long way to travel just to find a jurisdiction where they would be free to fight. obviously there were probably plenty of deserted early morning beaches in iceland to settle their differences so it speaks to the power and intent of the ruling council there that they dared not breach the edict against dueling. sometimes the facts have a tendency to get in the way of the myths......
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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 10:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the foyning rapier in battle Silver (unquestionably biased of course) states:
"For, you honor well knows, that when the battle is joined, there is no room for them to draw their bird-spits, and when they have them, what can they do with them? Can they pierce his corslet with the point? Can they unlace his helmet, unbuckle his armor, hew asunder their pikes with a Stocata, a Reversa, a Dritta, a Stramason or other such tempestuous terms? No, these toys are fit for children, not for men, for straggling boys of the camp, to murder poultry, not for men of honor to try the battle with their foes."
Regardless of his bias, his criticisms of the shortcomings of the rapier in battle are accurate. Now, that does not necessarily mean that rapiers were not carried on the battlefield, but it does strongly suggest that the battlefield is not the location for the development of the rapier. Rather, personal self-defense off the battlefield is where the rapier excels.

I think of the private duel as the exception to the majority of violence in the middle ages and renaissance. And if by private duel we are talking about judicial combat, "anything goes" seems to have been the rule.

Here are some excerpts from a letter of a country knight which describe the violent conditions in the Holy Roman Empire during the early 16th century. (taken from http://thearma.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=23391)

"under princely protection we still live in constant apprehension. Indeed, whenever I leave my tower I face danger. If I fall into the hands of those who are at war with my overlord, they seize me a carry me away. If my luck is bad I lose half my patrimony in ransom... No wonder we must spend large sums on horses and arms and employ retainers at great expense to ourselves. I cannot travel a mile from my home without putting on armour. I dare not even go hunting or fishing except clad in iron. Not a day passes without some dispute or altercation breaking out amongst our retainers. Often it is nothing more than a contention among stewards....Knights and retainers go to and fro, among them thieves and highway robbers, for our houses are open to all, and how can we tell one armed man from another?"

Other parts of the letter do seem to make distinction between violence in the city versus violence in the country. In the country, the protection provided by such knights and princes is the only justice. But the letter speaks strongly to the inherent threat of violence in every day life for these people. Altercations break out regularly though they are often minor scraps. But who knows when somebody will draw a dagger, sword, or otherwise take it up a notch? The writer is genuinely concerned that at any moment he and his retinue could be assaulted so much that he feels forced to travel in harness. While attackers meaning to capture his person for ransom would not try to kill him, they would probably not spare his retinue. And then there are the thieves and brigands in amongst all of the other armed peoples and knights. And just because someone is a knight doesn't mean that he isn't a thief or brigand as well. The people behind the ransom attacks are other knights, princes, or other landholders.

Hopefully, cities would operate with much more semblance of justice. Violence was certainly still present but hopefully not as common. But very little of Europe could be considered urban during even the renaissance. The larger cities in France, Germany, England (namely London), and perhaps Spain might be "urban." Italy possessed relatively metropolitan cities in comparison to the majority of Europe. For probably 80% of Europe or more, enforcement of law and order rested on the martial ability of local magistrates, often country knights, to safeguard the innocent and apprehend the guilty in their jurisdiction.

Hopefully, the rest of Europe was not as bad off as the Holy Roman Empire during this time. Hopefully, the HRE was not as bad off at other times as it was in the 16th century. But let's look at the national violence in the HRE in the 16th century. There is the peasants revolt in 1524-25. Then the Turks were at Vienna by 1529. Switzerland figths a civil war in 1531 (Battle of Kappel). Then there is the Thirty Years war throughout Germany (followed by French wars of religion). And this does not even touch upon the regular infighting between local princes, knights, magistrates, etc.

The common man (and uncommon woman) could expect to witness a fight, get attacked, or be called upon to fight, not frequently, but with some degree of regularity. Fighting was first and foremost for war (whether that be on a battlefield or to intentionally engage in some smaller skirmish), then for self defense, and only lastly for duels, judicial combat, etc.

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Steven Reich




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Coffman wrote:
Regardless of his bias, his criticisms of the shortcomings of the rapier in battle are accurate. Now, that does not necessarily mean that rapiers were not carried on the battlefield, but it does strongly suggest that the battlefield is not the location for the development of the rapier. Rather, personal self-defense off the battlefield is where the rapier excels.

Perhaps, yet we see period treatises that show the rapier in battle situations (such as pike formations), so perhaps it wasn't so horrible as we think. Although I'd think you would want something different, I've never actually fought in a pike formation, so what do I know...

Greg Coffman wrote:
I think of the private duel as the exception to the majority of violence in the middle ages and renaissance. And if by private duel we are talking about judicial combat, "anything goes" seems to have been the rule.

Actually, judicial combat was absolutely not "anything goes." There were very definite rules and "winning" by cheating was not winning at all. What weapon you use, what armor you wear, and such was decided by the terms of the duel and nothing prescribed was optional. For example, if the arms selected by the defendant (i.e. the person challenged to the duel), were a sword and a shield, you weren't allowed to throw away your shield.

Steve

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think a lot of it comes from overgeneralization. We can't paint with broad brushstrokes. Some swords were heavy, some were light; some were in the middle. Some areas were lawless and filled with sword-wielding brigands; some weren't. Some people used rapiers on the battlefield; others didn't. Sometimes knights tried desperately to kill each other in battle; sometimes they captured their compatriots, treated them like royalty and sold them back to their families. And there are areas in between all the extremes that happened, too.

I think the modern mind wants neat, easily definable buckets with which to categorize things. HIstory and humankind aren't that tidy. Happy

The only absolute: there are no absolutes. Happy

Happy

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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 12:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello again Bill,

Yes, I'm aware that there were rules for duelling, however these applied mostly when the duel itself was not illegal, which was not the case in France and possibly elsewhere. From what I've read it seems that the nobles here were in fact quite proud to solve their conflicts swords in hand rather than bring the matter to judges that were often not nobles. One of my books links this with the rise of a central authority in some countries, and gives Spain and Austria as other examples. It would be interesting to find out the real level of "illegal" duelling in these other countries...

In fact even in Italy I wonder how cool they were with dueling, because if I recall correctly the church called for the excommunication of duellists and of those who helped them... But then maybe this was not applied very firmly either Wink In these circumstances, as a fencing master, you'd better be stressing that what you teach is very relevant to battlefield and not mention dueling too much...

When the practice is not lawful it also becomes less reglemented. For one thing there is no one to refuse to grant the duel if it is unfounded. The choice of weapons, location, time is more limited. Careful attention wasn't always payed to the equality between participants. In the Duel of the Mignons I mentionned before, one of the participant complained that his opponent had a dagger and not himself, and he was told that he should have thought of it before...

Many duels were thus fought on completely futile causes, by people who just loved to fight, or who wanted to take someone out for political reasons. Of course honour had to be maintained and so there were things that would have been seen as inappropriate. I also think that many dirty tricks were not used simply because they were not nearly as efficient as the proper use of your weapon...

That does not make these duels brawls, I agree. But it brings them just a step closer. It also means that as a noble, you were expected to be able to defend yourself in these situations without much preparation, in more or less appropriate places (that includes the streets indeed, even the parvise of Notre-Dame from what I've read), against opponents that might have been provoking you just to pick a fight and are not so keen on their honour.

As I see it, the rapier is perfectly suited to these situations. It's versatile enough to face a variety of weapons. Its particular style of use is the most economical and efficient to defend one on one without significant armour on either side. You can carry it all day with you, and it is still a sword, with all the associated symbols of status, not a knife or dagger... I'm not saying the rapier was designed out of nothing with this context in mind, just that this context certainly influenced its development from earlier swords, quite a bit more than concerns of military efficiency. Otherwise I figure that thrusting swords would have been widely used after the disparition of rapier, not just as token of rank.

I get your point and I agree that these times were not completely lawless with the streets overflowing with brawlers, but I don't think we should go to the other extreme. However well designed it can seem, the letter of the law was not always respected everywhere, even sometimes never respected, and the weapons and martial arts had to adapt to that.

Regards,

--
Vincent
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 1:10 pm    Post subject: Re: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
...you might have to fight for your life at any turn of the corner.


On some level, I think that is an accurate depiction of reality. It is not as if they expected to have to fight at the turn of every corner, or most corners, or necessarily often. Of course this varied. But the idea that you could have to fight at the turn of any particular corner, that is just the "always be prepared" motto. A comparison today would be the mindset involved in carrying a concealed handgun. I would actually be fairly surprised if I had need to draw yet alone fire a gun at any time in my life. The likelihood is very low, based upon where i live, what my job is, etc., but when I carry, I think it is important to always be alert and prepared. It would be even more important for people back in the renaissance when violence was much more likely, whether that be a local war, uprising, street fight, robbery, duel, etc.

Bill Grandy wrote:
Some medieval combat was about killing. Much of it, however, was about non-lethal self-defense, personal/spiritual development, and plain old fitness.


I'm not sure what you mean about spiritual development. Could you elaborate?

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Wes Pryor





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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 3:29 pm    Post subject: Re: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:

-Chivalry and honor are just romantic ideals. Combat is combat.
See above. Martial training in most cultures goes hand in hand with personal development, and European arts are no different. I already mention Liechtenauer's praise for chivalric honor, but he was certainly not alone. Several manuscripts talk about virtue and honor, and how these martial arts are not to fall into the hands of the unworthy who would use it for ill-will. .


To me that comes across no different than what many modern martial artists tell their students today: "Your learning a deadly art, so be responsible!"

I don't see how that makes the art any less lethal. Now naturally there were non-lethal techniques taught, and I would guess they used the less lethal techniques for much the same reasons back then that they are today.

But the lethal techniques were there for a reason, and I don't think these arts would have proliferated to the degree that they did without an underlying necessity.

I don't think that one walked the streets expecting a fight around every corner, but I think that one did well to be prepared.


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Bennison N




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 5:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Within the past decade, it has been a common (and to a degree, necessary) occurance to have to battle sword myths by taking the opposite extreme. For example, we've all heard the myth of the heavy, cumbersome European swords that were made of low quality metal, which couldn't compete with the near-magical abilities of the Japanese katana...

...Several years ago, though, this lead many of us, with good intentions, to combat this myth by exclaiming that all European swords were super light weight, and that Japanese swords were garbage compared to the superior European weapons...


I'm sorry to have to be the one to moan about this... But why is it always just Europe (in general) vs. Japan? Every sword forum I have ever seen only seems to ever compare these two! There are hundreds of countries that developed swords, and therefore swordsmanship, and even Europe itself is made up of many different countries.

And all have produced excellent quality and highly effective weapons, and all have legendary swordsmen in their histories.

I appreciate that the attitude has changed now to where both Japanese and European swords are accepted as beautiful and supremely functional weapons, that is a great start, but there is still some ways to go until a full acceptance of all sword cultures is achieved. We will never have a full understanding of swords and swordsmanship, no matter how much we study and practice, until we can put all available knowledge, from all available sources, together in one place.

Can you imagine the skill, designs, technology and knowledge that would come from that?

I just felt that someone needed to address that, and this seemed the best time.

"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance" - Confucius

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Steven Reich




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PostPosted: Tue 29 Jul, 2008 5:55 pm    Post subject: Re: Romanticizing the anti-romantic: views on historical WMA         Reply with quote

Bennison N wrote:
I'm sorry to have to be the one to moan about this... But why is it always just Europe (in general) vs. Japan? Every sword forum I have ever seen only seems to ever compare these two! There are hundreds of countries that developed swords, and therefore swordsmanship, and even Europe itself is made up of many different countries.

Well, Bill wasn't neglecting the other swords, just pointing out some WMA history. That is, the perception of the Katana as "the ultimate by far" sword and the reaction against that perception by the WMA community. However, I agree that some of the other cultures really get overlooked--although part of that is just a lack of awareness on the part of the public. I, for one, am fascinated with some of the chinese Jian stuff because in many ways it is not so different from the Bolognese (16th century Italian) stuff that I practice (although in other ways, it is). I've actually been planning on visiting Scott Rodell's school one of these days, although I need to get an introduction from Bill so that Scott doesn't think I'm some sort of LARP/SCA/WMA weirdo... Wink

Steve

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