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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Thu 23 Sep, 2010 9:12 pm    Post subject: Lecture: ARMA & other WMA theoretical approaches         Reply with quote

Friends,

I know this is late notice, but I wanted to invite anyone in the Dallas area this weekend to the Texas Medieval Association Conference 20 at Southern Methodist University. http://texasmedieval.org

I'm a panelist for the session "What's New in Medieval Military History?" on Saturday morning, and my contribution will be "The 'Rosetta Stone' of Western Martial Arts: The Unit-of-Analysis Problem." There was a thread by this title on this forum last year which helped me better articulate some ideas I've been advancing for several years now at this conference, specifically regarding the boundaries and limitations of the field of Western Martial Arts research.

The issue I will put forth is that based on the unit of analysis selected -- broad civilization (eg.ARMA's approach), national tradition (eg. some of the current German longsword instructors), or individual manual or master (eg. Bob Charron's Fiore work) -- the scope of "Western Martial Arts" will necessarily differ and ultimately produce rival and contested versions of what WMA is. This is because, since no WMA tradition comes down to us complete, the unit of analysis chosen will determine what kind of collateral evidence can be used to fill in the gaps. By extension, it also determines what actually counts as "Western" or "European."

I'm hoping to get some good feedback on this issue as I present it, and will report back my results if any of you share my theoretical interest in WMA historiography. If anyone does manage to make it to the conference, let me know! Would love to meet fellow forumites.

r

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 23 Sep, 2010 10:07 pm    Post subject: Re: Lecture: ARMA & other WMA theoretical approaches         Reply with quote

Interesting topic, Ruel. Wish I could make it.

Ruel A. Macaraeg wrote:
This is because, since no WMA tradition comes down to us complete, the unit of analysis chosen will determine what kind of collateral evidence can be used to fill in the gaps.


If I may make a minor correction, that's not actually quite true. No *medieval or Renaissance* tradition comes down to us complete. There are plenty of arts that have been passed down from later periods, such as classical fencing, jogo do pau, Greco-Roman wrestling, etc.

*edited to fix typo*

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Last edited by Bill Grandy on Fri 24 Sep, 2010 8:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 23 Sep, 2010 10:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
This is because, since no WMA tradition comes down to us complete, the unit of analysis chosen will determine what kind of collateral evidence can be used to fill in the gaps.


Can you clarify in more detail what you mean by this?
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Steven Reich




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Sep, 2010 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Quote:
This is because, since no WMA tradition comes down to us complete, the unit of analysis chosen will determine what kind of collateral evidence can be used to fill in the gaps.


Can you clarify in more detail what you mean by this?

I'll jump in here and give a simple example. The classical fencing system taught by the Fencing Masters Program in San Jose is a living lineage of the system outlined in Masaniello Parise's 1884 treatise and what is practiced now is fundamentally unchanged from then. In fact, students and graduates of the program can look at Parise's book and understand everything in it--they've already learned the system it describes.

Steve
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Jon Wolfe




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Sep, 2010 8:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is this forum going to be webcast or later made available for online viewing? I would like to see this, but will in no way be able to attend in person.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Fri 24 Sep, 2010 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Bill Grandy wrote:
If I may make a minor correction, that's not actually quite true. No *medieval or Renaissance* tradition comes down to us complete. There are plenty of arts that have been passed down from later periods, such as classical fencing, jogo do pau, Greco-Roman wrestling, etc.

Thanks Bill. In 2002 at this same conference, I tried to address this issue too -- to contrast approaches that believe medieval/renaissance WMA can be reconstructed from surviving arts (eg. Ramon Martinez's reconstruction of 17thc. Destreza) against those who believe the discontinuity is too great (eg. John Clements' view). John C. was in attendance and naturally voiced his conviction in the latter. Myself, I don't feel in a position to decide which is the "correct" approach, but I do feel it's important that WMA researchers recognize these fundamental differences which stem from fundamentally-different assumptions about what WMA is and how it can or should be defined.

It seems to me that much of the impasse that exists over the nature of WMA, and the often vicious (if entertaining) arguments that they spawn, arises from this lack of a clear conceptual framework. I'm not the one to provide solutions, but do think I can help clarify the deeper issues by probing the ideological underpinnings of the various actors and drawing out their logical entailments.

Quote:
Craig Peters wrote:
Can you clarify in more detail what you mean by this?

Craig, Steve,
Steve stated my point accurately: There's discontinuity between us and the major medieval/renaissance European martial arts, and what we have are textual and physical artifacts without their living human context. Knowing that we must reconstruct that human context to grasp WMA completely, we must decide what kind of information is proper to consult when making that reconstruction. The argument of my lecture is that such decisions are guided, even predetermined, by the unit of analysis a researcher selects, with rippling consequences for what kind of WMA s/he ultimately reconstructs.

Quote:
Jon Wolfe wrote:
Is this forum going to be webcast or later made available for online viewing?

I wish! For years I've been leaning on them to at least publish proceedings, but there's alot of inertia to overcome. I'll try to put together my part, at least, in written form later on, hopefully improved by the feedback I get.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 25 Sep, 2010 2:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The argument of my lecture is that such decisions are guided, even predetermined, by the unit of analysis a researcher selects, with rippling consequences for what kind of WMA s/he ultimately reconstructs.


I strongly agree with this statement. My personal preference lies towards historic European martial arts preserved in fencing books, since they will not suffer from evolution or the idiosyncratic changes which tend to occur in living lineages.
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F. Carl Holz




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Sep, 2010 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Bill Grandy wrote:
I wish! For years I've been leaning on them to at least publish proceedings, but there's a lot of inertia to overcome. I'll try to put together my part, at least, in written form later on, hopefully improved by the feedback I get.


please do! I'd love to get a chance to hear (or short of that read) what you come up with.

also, i don't know if this is something that you can do or not, but have you considered getting them to just let you video record the lectures and then put them on you tube? it's rather unofficial but I'm sure a lot of us would appreciate even that.
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F. Carl Holz




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Sep, 2010 11:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
My personal preference lies towards historic European martial arts preserved in fencing books, since they will not suffer from evolution or the idiosyncratic changes which tend to occur in living lineages.


If I have understood it correctly the argument at hand is actually that the problem with European martial arts preserved in fencing books is that we have no context (or little context) in which to place them; which, imo, equates to a certainty of incorrect interpretations. These may perhaps be ironed out over time but such evolution and idiosyncratic changes are bound to be based on our own experience of what works and thus, once again, be fraught with inaccuracies. Their experience so many centuries ago was not the same as ours, and because of this we will never have more than a passing certainty that we are doing it right.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Sep, 2010 5:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

F. Carl Holz wrote:
Quote:
My personal preference lies towards historic European martial arts preserved in fencing books, since they will not suffer from evolution or the idiosyncratic changes which tend to occur in living lineages.


If I have understood it correctly the argument at hand is actually that the problem with European martial arts preserved in fencing books is that we have no context (or little context) in which to place them; which, imo, equates to a certainty of incorrect interpretations. These may perhaps be ironed out over time but such evolution and idiosyncratic changes are bound to be based on our own experience of what works and thus, once again, be fraught with inaccuracies. Their experience so many centuries ago was not the same as ours, and because of this we will never have more than a passing certainty that we are doing it right.


We can only do our best to approximate the period techniques by staying close to the texts but filling in the gaps with what seems to work although we may be missing key information to make techniques work that seem to not to work well or easily.

A period master seeing us might give a very subtle suggestion that would make an ineffective or hard to use successfully technique very much more effective.

But lets face it we can never be 100% certain that we are doing things 100% like the way they would have done it in period.

Starting with the period texts, adding experimental attempts at discovering what seems to work, using comparative examination of " living " eastern martial arts sword techniques ( Frog DNA as Michael Edelson would call it ), both Chinese and Japanese we can come to some firm conclusions as to what works and what seems to not work or be too complex to use in a real fight even if it look " cool " and theoretically is a viable interpretation.

In case of doubt, simple is better than complex, direct better than complex sword chest games: Keep your point menacing, don't waste motion, be better at the sword ( fühlen ) control distance and timing, be better at reading your opponents intentions, kill him before he kills you without being hit ! ( All easy to say but hard to do ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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F. Carl Holz




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PostPosted: Sun 26 Sep, 2010 6:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
In case of doubt, simple is better than complex, direct better than complex sword chest games: Keep your point menacing, don't waste motion, be better at the sword ( fühlen ) control distance and timing, be better at reading your opponents intentions, kill him before he kills you without being hit ! ( All easy to say but hard to do ).


Happy fair enough!
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Mon 27 Sep, 2010 1:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's true of any system of human knowledge that something of the original context is lost during transmission over time or in reduction to a formal text. Sydney Anglo's book did much to show how period WMA manuals and treatises relied on standardized graphical conventions, indicating that those authors already expected their readers to have some context which we no longer possess.

Knowing that there are gaps in our understanding of these texts, we have to decide how best to fill them with collateral evidence. What I had proposed is a recognition that there are at least two competing tendencies among modern students of WMA -- one toward a very broadly defined "Europe" or "West" which allows for more collateral evidence at the expense of clarity of subject matter, and another toward discrete, specific traditions based on individual texts, masters, or lineages, which allow for greater precision but at the expense of eligible collateral evidence. In between are various approaches based on national, ethnic, and other divisions which try to balance these opposing tendencies. This is what I call a "Unit of Analysis" problem, because the unit chosen will affect both the definition of and the available evidence for competing conceptualizations of "Western Martial Arts."

I think this problem can be seen in virtually all categories of "martial arts" from all times and places, but it's particularly clear in the WMA community thanks to the very vocal assertions of the major participants.

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 27 Sep, 2010 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that one can adopt the two approaches in parallel in that one can be very prudent and try to learn, understand and transmit the art(s) using the original texts and try to not add anything " modern " or " invented " to it, preserve the core science so that present and future students have a common baseline to work with.

Once the above is well absorbed and learned one can go into more " freeplay " and " experimental " approaches which may diverge very much from the original texts to the point of maybe even being more " performance " based ( Theoretically performance based since we can't really test the techniques as actually fighting ).

The second goal is more trying to be the best one can be and maybe an exploration of what is possible and what seems to work apart and distinct from what was used in period: Almost heresy for some as there are those who don't want to even consider " improving " the art(s) and pursuing the finding of new techniques as if swordsmanship still had modern application: In other words what swordsmanship with 15 th Century longsword might have continued to evolve if our culture had stagnated and science be still at the 15 th Century level. I'm sure that swordsmen would have continued refining the art(s) and continued trying to find new " secret " techniques to win deadly fights with sword.

Now, one can do one or the other approach depending on one's goals or interest but I think one could practice both as long as one was very clear on which one was doing when as separate objectives: One can preserve the baseline historical original techniques and go back to them and then explore alternate options.

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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Mon 27 Sep, 2010 9:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
try to not add anything " modern " or " invented " to it, preserve the core science so that present and future students have a common baseline to work with.

That, though, seems to be the problem in the first place -- a text alone, without some methodology to interpret the words and pictures, isn't enough to reproduce a functioning martial art. We need to bring something to the text hermeneutically, yet deciding what that something is is what WMA practitioners are arguing about. Most people seem to agree that you can infer certain things based on universal constants like the physical constraints of the human body's movement, but that doesn't get us too far and actually argues against defining "Western" martial arts contrastively against other world martial arts.

I see this somewhat like the uncertainty principle in physics, where trying to specify a particle's position prevents us from observing its momentum, and vice versa. We can try to specify the art contained in a single treatise or by a single master, but we correspondingly lose the commonalities that would allow us to speak of a "European" or "Western" art as a whole, but if we give up specificity to make a "Western" art more inclusive, it becomes increasingly arbitrary and the defining features of any of the component arts/treatises/masters. If that's the case, it would forever dash the "Rosetta Stone" ideal proposed by John Clements. But at the same time, it would allow for new connections, eg. one between eastern Europe and the Middle East, that defy traditional Euro/non-Euro boundaries but in fact make more sense in practical terms.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

By limiting yourself to the instructors listed, I think you are focusing on a pretty marginal subset of the current WMA/ HEMA 'scene', in terms of numbers. You may want to at least briefly touch base with some of the European HEMA groups such as the pan-European HEMAC federation since they are currently much larger in terms of active membership and arguably, in influence than the US groups. You also left out the other North American coalitions like HEMA Alliance or WMAC.

Here is a survey of worldwide HEMA groups, including the US.

http://www.hroarr.com/survey/worldwide/practitioners/

You'll notice Finland+France+Germany+Hungary+Italy+Netherlands+Poland+Slovakia+Spain+Sweden+Switzerland+UK gives you over 3200 HEMA fencers, compared to 667 currently in the US, according to the survey.

I'd recommend a viewing of 'Reclaiming the Blade' for an introduction to some of the key European groups.

J

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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The survey results for the US on the HROARR site are incomplete, and therefore off. A number of groups are listed with no membership numbers. I can't speak to the accuracy of the European numbers, but am also sure the Australian ones are way too low.


Cheers,

Christian

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 9:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, they are incomplete, I think they got 52% response. Nevertheless Christian, to you feel the ratios are widely off?

J

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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 9:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Jean,

I don't know about the ratios, because I certainly don't know every group in Europe. But there are a number of larger groups who aren't numbered (VAF has 60+ HES program students; Academia della Spada probably has 40; Gallowglass 20-ish) and a number who are not listed at all.

I'd guess there's roughly 10,000 HEMA practitioners in the US, based on the numbers at conferences, the overlap in those attendees, and the vast number of attendees at single-instructor seminars who don't attend larger events. Plus I'm factoring in book & DVD sales.

I've probably met 700-800 practitioners (and statistically, that must be a fraction) in my travels over the years, so 680 is off.

Cheers,

Christian

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

Author, In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 9:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian,

I believe the survey only lists active, dues-paying members of a HEMA / WMA training group. The 'hard core' of HEMA so to speak. So presumably, not people in the SCA, LARP or re-enactor groups who incorporate a little bit of HEMA on the side or people who have shown up to one or two events but do not do any regular training, or people who dabble in HEMA as part of stage combat or etc.

I think it's fair to say, that there are at least the equivalent number of real, active HEMA schools or clubs in Europe as there are in the US, or do you think that is a wildly inaccurate statement? Or that there are at least the equivalent number of serious HEMA researchers in Europe as there are in the US. There is even some evidence (per above) that there may be as many as 3 times as many active HEMA groups and active HEMA practitioners in Europe as in the US. So given that evidence, per the OP, if I were going to do an academic analysis of the state of HEMA / WMA I would include some of the prominent European membership, perhaps someone who has won a few tournaments for example. To do otherwise would be to ensure a seriously flawed analysis.

WMAW is a big event, but so are several other annual gatherings; HEMACs Dijon gathering in France, Colin Richards international tournament in Germany, the Swordfish tournament in Sweden, Fight Camp in the UK, Dreynschlag in Austria, Scott Browns Houston IOG, Dixie Krieg in Florida and etc., just to name a few of the larger events now.

As for book sales, I own copies of your books, appreciated them as a contribution to HEMA, and have used them as a training resource in the past. But I also know several people who bought one or more of your books, or Guy Windsors, or David Lindholms, out of simple curiosity or for other purposes not directly related to Martial Arts training, as I'm sure you do as well. So the correlation to active HEMA practitioners is difficult.

Perhaps the least thing that can be said about the HROARR survey was that it was in fact a serious academic effort to quantify the HEMA / WMA community, which does directly relate to the O.P. unless I am mistaken.

J

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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Tue 28 Sep, 2010 10:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jean,

Re: WMAW - yes, it's but one of a number of events. And that's really my point. I attend that, ISMAC, CW, and 4W, and those are far from the only events even here in the US. Those events alone account for a non-overlapping population of 250-300, and there are other events I don't attend.

As I said, I've met hundreds, and there are many I know I haven't met. For instance, I've met only a handful of ARMA and ex-ARMA practitioners.

I really can't speak to the proportions between North America (and really, separating the US and Canada is not meaningful here), Australia, and Europe. I do think it likely however that there was a more complete response among members of the coalition the survey-taker is a part of; people will answer a survey from someone they've heard of, as opposed to someone they haven't.

Re: book sales. Agreed - not every purchaser is a practitioner. I'd estimate 3 out of 5 is, however. That's actually one of the problems with our marketplace, it's too insular and limited in reach. We're working on that. Wink

SCA: I'd lump in the "cut and thrust program" practitioners (rapier & sidesword) - they're a huge part of the equipment purchase demographic in the US. As a publisher, I can tell you they're the most reliable purchasers of Renaissance treatise translations, so if we're talking market segments, they're huge.

Long story short: I don't know what the inter-continental ratios are (and, honestly, I'm don't really care either), but I can say pretty confidently that 680 HEMA practitioners for the US is off by an order of magnitude, if not more. If I had to guess, btw, I'd say there are about the same number of practitioners in the US as in Europe; add Canada to the US numbers and there are slightly more here.

That's pretty much all I've got on this...I don't want to derail Ruel's thread too much.

Cheers!

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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