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Pamela Muir




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 10:33 am    Post subject: Captain of the Guild - book review         Reply with quote

Whether you are a practitioner of the medieval sword arts, in either the German or the Italian traditions, a hobbyist or a sword and weapons collector Captain of the Guild: Master Peter Falkner’s Art of Knightly Defense by Christian Henry Tobler deserves a prominent space on your bookshelf.

Captain of the Guild is primarily a full color photo reproduction in 1:1 scale of a medieval “how to” manuscript in the fighting arts, usually referred to as a fechtbuch. The manuscript has sections on fighting with the sword, messer, dagger, staff, poleaxe and fighting on horseback. It also includes a section on a Franconian Rite shield and club duel. Each section is illustrated and captioned with verse or a more detailed prose description of the illustrated techniques. Facing each reproduced plate is a transcription and a translation of the text. In addition to the reproduction of the manuscript is a marvelous introduction by Mr. Tobler to explain the provenance of the manuscript, a bit of history about this type of manuscript in general, background information on Peter Falkner and the Marxbrüder fencing guild and detailed commentary on each section of the manuscript.

As this was a project that I knew was in the works and I was eagerly awaiting, I ordered my copy the day it was announced. The consistent high quality of customer service by Freelance Academy Press meant that I received my shipping notice within a couple of hours of placing my order. As I was a tad impatient, I paid for a faster shipping than the media mail option, with the result that I placed my order on a Friday afternoon and received the book in Monday’s mail. Delight truly is the best word to describe my first impression. The cover, layout and design of the book captures the feel of Master Peter Falkner’s manuscript, but also conveys a feeling that this book is special on its own. I almost expected to find tales of heroic and wondrous knightly deeds inside the cover.

After flipping through and marveling at the charming reproduction, I settled down to read the quite meaty introduction portion of the book. As mentioned above, Mr. Tobler gives us background information which helps in the appreciation of the work. He also provides useful commentary, speculation and interpretation on the manuscript. For instance, he discusses which sections are in verse and which are in prose and what the reasons for each might be. He provides us with information about other manuscripts and how they might be related to Master Falkner’s. There is also plenty of commentary on individual plates themselves. He points out some plates which appear to be inconsistent in that the illustration and the text do not seem to match. Mr. Tobler lends his expertise in the interpreting some of the techniques themselves, giving the reader a better idea of what is going on in the illustration than a simple reading of the often cryptic verse in the original provides. He also points out other things we should notice as we peruse the manuscript such as inclusions of what appear to be glued in plates of the Crucifixion and of the Lion of Saint Mark. I found, for me, the best way to read this book was to read it straight through first, the introduction followed by the reproduction of Peter Falkner’s manuscript, then go back and re-read the introduction, flipping back to the reproduction section as needed when reading about specific plates.

I would be remiss if I did not remark over the illustrations themselves. Thank goodness Freelance Academy Press published this one in full color. As has been mentioned by others before, the illustrations have a most charming cartoon-like quality to them. Some are barely sketches, such as those that show the Franconian rite duel, and others have extraordinary detail, such as the final illustration, also used as the cover for the book, which shows fabulous detail on the armour and the expressions on the fighters’ faces. The poleaxe section shows not just poleaxes but a variety of polearms. Along with the illustrations being so carefully photo reproduced the cover and even the blank pages of the manuscript are included, with the result that you can almost imagine holding the original itself.

My favorite section might very well be the Franconian rite duel with shields and clubs. It seems to follow a duel from the beginning when both fighters have their shields, clubs and daggers, progressing to shield versus dagger where both fencers have lost their clubs and one has lost his shield as well and concluding with unarmed versus dagger with the other weapons scattered on the ground around the opponents.

A nice bonus that Mr. Tobler includes in his book is a glossary of the German terms, a very nice reference to flip back and forth to as you read the book.

Some people might at first be put off by the price point of this book. However, as those of you that have spent time in academia realize, this is an extremely reasonable price for a reference book of this quality. For those of you that study the sword arts, this is an amazing textbook that includes some familiar verses along with new twists all providing another reference point to help improve our interpretations. For sword collectors, think how wonderful it would be to include with your collection of weapons a beautifully done reproduction of a historic manuscript which shows how those weapons were used. For hobbyists, this is simply a way cool book to read, enjoy and display.

Pamela Muir

Founder/Lead Instructor
Academy of Chivalric Martial Arts


"I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night. He's gotta be strong, And he's gotta be fast, And he's gotta be fresh from the fight." ~Steinman/Pitchford
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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the review!

Apart from the introduction, what is approximately the amount of text that's not from the original manuscript? Especially, are most of the plates explained or commented (I would also like to know how and in what length), or only some of them? In fact, I'd like to know if this is mostly a translation or a full-fledged adaptation and commentary. Freelance Academy Press' previews don't show any example of commentary, which is mostly what held me from ordering the book for the time being (not that a translation is not a very useful and valuable work, but less high on my list of things to acquire).

Thanks in advance!
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@Pamela - Thank you for the review!

@Simon - My remarks are confined, with the exception of some footnotes, to the introduction. The book is definitely not a guide to practicing the specific techniques that Falkner is showing. However, if you've trained from other books on the Liechtenauer tradition, then layering in my comments on some of Falkner's variations would be of potential help. In short though, this is not a training guide, such as "Fighting with the German Longsword".

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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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Pamela Muir




Location: Arlington, VA
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 12:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello Simon,

I would say that this is mostly a translation. Though many of the plates are mentioned specifically and commented upon in the introduction, this is more akin to having the original manuscript in your hand. Having Mr. Tobler's commentary with it is not a complete interpretation of the manuscript, it is more like having the curator tapping you on the shoulder occasionally and saying "Did you see this?" or "Here is the theory about why this plate was done that way" or "Make sure you notice..." etc.


Edited to add: Oops! It looks like you got your answer directly from the source! Happy

Pamela Muir

Founder/Lead Instructor
Academy of Chivalric Martial Arts


"I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night. He's gotta be strong, And he's gotta be fast, And he's gotta be fresh from the fight." ~Steinman/Pitchford
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can only second everything Pamela has said above. This is a manuscript that *needed* to be reproduced due to it's beautiful 15th century artwork as much as due to it's relevance within the Liechtenauer corpus of fencing material.

I actually was just in Vienna only a handful of days ago with Dr. Forgeng and members of the fencing school Academy of Arms. Due to Dr. Forgeng's connections, we were able to go behind the scenes and see the original Peter Falkner manuscript "in the flesh", so to speak. I can't begin to tell you just how exciting it is to work with a manuscript in digital form for so many years, and then suddenly get to see the original right before your eyes. I got chills when the curator opened it's fragile pages.

More to the point, though, is that the reproduction is more or less the same size as the original, which I hadn't realized until seeing the real deal. The original looks like one of those leather bound journals you can buy at any bookstores, unlike Kal (which we also go to see!), which is the size of a coffee table styled book. The Freelance Academy version really does the original justice in terms of proportion as well as the quality of the images, which are more or less exactly the same. The colors of the original are perhaps slightly more vibrant, but such is the case with most copies of things.

I happen to know that Christian put a lot into this publication (mentally, emotionally, and financially), and authors such as he gain very little compared to the work that goes in. In fact, if not for Christian, I doubt most of the world would have ever seen this manuscript at all. If not for efforts of people like Christian, we wouldn't have these works available at all, so I hope everyone interested in medieval/renaissance fighting, artwork, and even culture will purchase copies so as to encourage this very niche market.



 Attachment: 47.91 KB
falkner-small.jpg
The original manuscript in Vienna, showing the very plate that is on the cover of Christian's translation.

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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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 3:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Christian and Pamela for your answers!

Looks like I'll have to buy it eventually... Razz

Any chance this gets sold in an electronic version? Niche market as it is, my HEMA library is growing too huge for someone as frequently moving as I am, and I prefer having everything on the 'puter...

Bill, it really seems a beautiful little book. Thanks for showing us the original. I wondered if Master Falkner carried it in his pocket to give lessons about the art of defense. Big Grin
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Greg Mele
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 5:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Simon,

While we're looking into e-books for the future, this isn't one we'll be likely to do that with, I'm afraid.

Greg

Greg Mele
Chicago Swordplay Guild
www.chicagoswordplayguild.com

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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 8:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the reply. That's too bad, I really wish more specialised publishers were selling ebook versions... Especially with books such as this one where a good part of the price, I suppose, must be caused by the printing costs. Bit of a bummer to think about it when one is not interested in dead-tree versions in the first place. Sad

But oh well, if it's not going to happen then it's not going to and I suspect that I'll have to buy it at some point. Such a nice book by Mr Tobler can't really be ignored, now can it? Razz
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 8:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It actually good to have the original text and a translation and to try to make sense out of it oneself although a future work based on experimentation and interpretations of this book would be good to have some time in the future.

I also see this also as a " collectable book " and as an art-book worth getting for it's own sake.

Waiting a while to buy it because we might be having a Postal strike up here soon and I don't want a shipment/order stuck in transit limbo. Wink ( We should know up here in Canada in a week or so if the contract negotiations will lead to a strike or not ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Pamela Muir




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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is simply my own opinion, but I think this book would lose a lot of what makes it special by being in an electronic format. While I spend quite a bit of time on myArmoury perusing digital images of swords, it is not the same as handling the few quality reproduction swords that I own. I feel the same way about this book. Though the pictures might be just as lovely to look at on my computer screen, it simply is not the same as being able to display it in my home and being able to manually turn the pages and for a few moments imagine that I am actually handling an original.

Though when I say "display", in my case, that means it joins my other Western Martial Arts related books that are scattered willy nilly around the living room. Laughing Out Loud

Pamela Muir

Founder/Lead Instructor
Academy of Chivalric Martial Arts


"I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night. He's gotta be strong, And he's gotta be fast, And he's gotta be fresh from the fight." ~Steinman/Pitchford
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 9:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pamela Muir wrote:
This is simply my own opinion, but I think this book would lose a lot of what makes it special by being in an electronic format. While I spend quite a bit of time on myArmoury perusing digital images of swords, it is not the same as handling the few quality reproduction swords that I own. I feel the same way about this book.


I'm really happy to see you say this. I agree completely, Pamela.

Like you, I find sites like myArmoury.com to be valuable, but I've never once considered it competing with printed materials. They're just two different things and each offer their own value. Books remain a crucial component to learning.

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 10:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Bill, it really seems a beautiful little book. Thanks for showing us the original. I wondered if Master Falkner carried it in his pocket to give lessons about the art of defense. Big Grin


While we'll never know, Dr. Forgeng suggested the possibility that it may have served as a "travelling resume". It's small enough to toss into a pouch and bring about with you to show to a potential patron. But who knows?

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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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all,

There is another dimension to the download question, and one that's really important for a title like this: size.

The images, if memory serves, for this manuscript are multiple gigabytes of data. If we didn't deresolve them substantially, that would make for a massive download product, which introduces all sorts of issues. And deresolving them would compromise the greatest value the book has: Falkner's original plates.

Beyond that, I must agree with the above posters about the feel of the thing - holding it really does create that 'history in the hand' feeling.

Cheers,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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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Sander Marechal




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 7:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Henry Tobler wrote:
The images, if memory serves, for this manuscript are multiple gigabytes of data. If we didn't deresolve them substantially, that would make for a massive download product, which introduces all sorts of issues. And deresolving them would compromise the greatest value the book has: Falkner's original plates.


Not necessarily. To reproduce an image in print you need images of 600 dpi or more (sometimes much more). To reproduce an image on a screen you only need 76-167 dpi (the native resolutions of LCD and E-ink displays respectively). Scaling 600 pdi to 167 dpi is a 92% size saving. That's why sites like Archive.org can offer complete scans out-of-copyright books for download at reasonable download sizes.

That said, I prefer paper books over e-books any day. I don't like reading long texts off a display. I prefer plopping down with a paper book in front of my fireplace with a glass of wine :-) But, e-books are useful if you're searching for something (if they are searchable).

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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Sander,

You're 'sort of' correct. This is true if you want to produce only the 'reading size' in the native resolution of the device.

However, in our area of interest, once we've got digital media, people tend to expect they can zoom in on the plate and see the equivalent detail they might see in one of the online archives for manuscript images.

Beyond that, many will read such a book on a conventional computer.

As for the combination of book, fire, and wine...we're in complete agreement!

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 9:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Christian,

I don't think size would be that much of a problem. Judging from facsimiles in electronic format I have on my hard disk, 350 pages in very high resolution (one with which you only start to notice pixellation when zooming at 600%) would be around 900 MB tops, but, since half the pages in your book are the translation, which would be in "plain text" in an ebook, it would probably come down to 500 MB at the outside.

For a lower, but still good resolution (pixellation noticeable at 300% zoom), it would come down to 150 MB, give or take.

Pretty big some twelve years ago when a 500 MB file would fill an entire hard drive, but very manageable today...

(Plus, I might add that for those of us not living in the States, a digital download has the big plus of avoiding important shipping costs - paper versions have their own logistic problems, too.)

I must say that modern facsimiles do not give me any "history in hand" feeling ; they pretty much would have to be exact reproductions of the original, on parchment and all that, to have that effect. I am far more fascinated by the possibility of zooming in and see very tiny details I get with digital facsimiles, and in general wonder why digital files have such a bad reputation. Few people seem to see beyond their practicality and feel how they, too, can be mesmerizing in a "romantic" way.

Books have pretty much lost that aspect for me (they had it once, but no longer). I see them only as a means to carry information, a function in which, as I see it, digital files run circles around them.

(PS - please don't read all this as a criticism of Christian's book or of Freelance Academy Press, I love what they both do and have indeed bought their books ; I am merely trying to explain my point of view, since the topic has somewhat veered towards paper VS digital).
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Simon,

500MB is a HUGE ebook! I'm not personally aware of any that big. In fact, our shopping cart system couldn't begin to handle such a file, even if we were inclined to offer one. Nor am I confident that many e-reader devices could handle such a file.

BTW, it's pretty rare (I don't know of any) for manuscript reproduction books to be offered as e-books, likely on account of the above concerns.

As for "history in the hand", everyone's different, of course, but the feel of the book, along with the images being rendered close to 1:1, has been favorably commented on by a number of readers.

All the best,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 11:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Hi Simon,

500MB is a HUGE ebook! I'm not personally aware of any that big. In fact, our shopping cart system couldn't begin to handle such a file, even if we were inclined to offer one. Nor am I confident that many e-reader devices could handle such a file.

BTW, it's pretty rare (I don't know of any) for manuscript reproduction books to be offered as e-books, likely on account of the above concerns.


It is true that, for an e-reader, it is big (and e-readers don't handle big images that well, or images in general, plus it would be in black and white...). I was thinking more about a computer version. Computers rule. Cool

I really don't doubt the quality of your book. From what I have seen the reproductions are indeed top-notch and I don't think they could be any better. I was just making a general comment on how modern paper reproductions in general. But, as you said, everyone's different and I perfectly understand how many, and even apparently most, people prefer the feel of a paper book. I also totally understand how a publisher such as Freelance Academy Press won't take the time and effort to come up with a digital version just to accomodate the desires of the "hopeless computer geeks" niche market - I know my position is a rare one. I only meant to outline the advantages a digital edition offers and to put the idea out here in hope it will be picked up by a publisher in the future...

All the while derailing this thread pretty badly. My apologies for this. Again, it may sound like I'm criticizing your work, but I am really not. I am always glad to see quality work done and HEMA books come out in any format.
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Sat 28 May, 2011 1:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Simon,

I'm not at all put off by the discussion, so no worries!

All the best,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
Order of Selohaar

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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