Some Addenda to the History of the Historical Fencing Movement
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Categories: Medieval, Modern

Some Addenda to the History of the Historical Fencing Movement

The mysterious (and tracking-heavy and script-heavy) website has a history of the current historical fencing movement. Although they don’t provide an email address, I would like to add a few lines to their chronicle.

1969: Poul Anderson publishes a call for early fencing manuals and a description of the Society for Creative Anachronism in the Conan fanzine Amra (quoted on this blog).

1972: James Louis Jackson publishes Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals (Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints), a facsimile of the English version of di Grassi, Vincento Saviolio, and George Silver’s Brief Instructions. This book is purchased by many university libraries and becomes the starting point for many English-speaking fencers.

1979: Archaeologist William Gaugler founds a program teaching masters of classical Italian fencing (the fencing taught to army officers and potential duelists in the late 19th century) at San José State University in California (Britannica). His books and students have a major influence in the historical fencing community in North America after the year 2000 and help keep this tradition alive in North America where it is threatened by versions of fencing optimized for winning bouts under the Olympic rules and electric scoring. Two articles are Tony Wolf, “The Future of Fencing is in its Past: An Interview with Maestro John Sullins.” Journal of Manly Arts, August 2003 and Puck Curtis, “In Search of the Rudis,” A Midsummer Night’s Blog 18 June 2014

1999: J. Christoph Amberger persuades a publisher to print an expanded version of the proceedings of his fencing-history fanzine Hammertz Forum as The Secret History of the Sword. While the main text is focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, the appendices list people and businesses to contact including Patri Pugliese.

?September? 1999: first Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) in the Chicago area. At some point it sets up a bi-annual schedule at the DeKoven centre in Racine WI, with occasional smaller, off-year events without the WMAW name: they numbered the event in 2019 as their 14th and the event in 2007 as their 8th.

2002: Marco Rubboli and Luca Cesare publish a transcription and B&W photos of the three versions of Fiore’s Fior di Battaglia which were known at the time with Il Cerchio Iniziative e Editore, Rimini. This press goes on to publish transcriptions of many other historical fencing manuals, but their books are not well known in North America for some time.

2005: Il Cerchio publishes a manuscript on Bolognese fencing from Ravenna

2006: Chivalry Bookshelf authors start complaining to the Prices that their royalty cheques have not arrived. The publisher continues to solicit new volumes. For the next six years, energy which would otherwise have gone into writing books goes into dealing with Chivalry Bookshelf or finding alternative venues for what are still very niche books.

24 November 2007: by this date, William Jherek Swanger has posted translations of many Italian manuals from Manciolino (extant edition 1531) to Capo Ferro (1610) on his website Many of these are later revised and self-published by him or his co-author William E. Wilson. By this time, Steve Reich and Tom Leoni have started posting resources on Italian fencing on their website Order of the Seven Hearts; this had new articles posted from 2004 to 2014 and remained online until October or November 2017.

“Cleaning up blood from the fighting field during the Longsword tournament.” Photo by D. Boorman, 2008,2008-_Longsword_Tournament_Blood_Cleaning.jpg

25 August 2008: Academie Duello in Vancouver BC holds its first longsword tournament. There are 17 competitors, 15 of them from groups around the Salish Sea and two from England. After all the blood has been mopped off the floor and all the broken fingers splinted, organizers rethink whether fencers and equipment are ready for tournament fighting.

2009: The Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo in Italy publishes a 16th century manuscript on fencing with Il Cerchio Editore. My understanding is that they found it themselves.

13-15 February 2010: The last Western Washington Western Martial Arts Workshop (4W) is held by Cecil Longino of the Academia della Spada in Seattle WA. This event had been the main one in the Salish Sea area (previous events took place on 25-27 February 2005, 3-5 March 2006, and 15-17 February 2008, their event page is archived on the Wayback Machine). Beginning in 2012, Academie Duello in Vancouver BC takes up this burden.

2010: AGEA Editora of Santiago de Compostela, Spain publishes a critical edition of Thomás Luís’ 17th century Tratado das lições da espada preta. They go on to publish many editions of early martial arts books and manuscrips from Iberia.

February and March 2011: in a forum thread, several Chivalry Bookshelf authors accuse Brian R. Price of having failed to pay royalties and editorial fees since 2005 and published foreign editions and translations without their consent. A number of other people accuse Brian R. Price of dishonesty including plagiarism, reprinting other people’s artwork without permission, and refusal to pay debts from his armoury in the 1980s and 1990s.

Spring 2012: first Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium held in Vancouver BC. IIRC this is a bi-annual event.

6 December 2012: some Chivalry Bookshelf authors announce that they have reached a settlement with the Prices and regained all unsold copies and intellectual property rights to their work.

Edit 2021-04-10: There is a brief history of the Western Martial Arts Workshops in the Forward to Gregory D. Mele (ed.), In the Service of Mars, Vol. 1 (Freelance Academy Press: Wheaton, IL, 2010) pp. ix-xii

Edit 2022-05-25: added links to two less famous Italian manuscripts published by Il Cerchio. Added a link to the archived events page for the Academia della Spada. Added a link to the article by Poul Anderson from 1969. Added photo in case wmawiki goes down.

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2 thoughts on “Some Addenda to the History of the Historical Fencing Movement

  1. A Path not Taken | Book and Sword says:

    […] It is hard to trace these isolated early attempts because many did not keep records and because fencers are proud people whose stories can grow in the telling. But I think that some of these early attempts belong in the history of the historical fencing movement. […]

  2. Fencing Problems: Coordinating a Step and a Cut – Book and Sword says:

    […] taught by many European fencing masters since the 19th century such as John Musgrave Waite and William Gaugler. I got Gaugler’s teachings from one of his students, but Waite left a manual which is on the […]

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