3 book reviews fencing/European martial arts

3 book reviews fencing/European martial arts

Post by Zoergieb » Thu, 08 Feb 1996 04:00:00

The following reviews are taken from the current issue of ***Hammerterz
Forum*** (vol. 2, #3, Winter 1995/96), the only periodical exclusively
devoted to the practical traditions and literature of sword fighting
techniques and the related martial arts.

***Fighting Words***

In the glorious day of the Sun King, courtiers regarded their fencing
exercises as conversations with blades, where a bold argument was
enveloped, disengaged and redirected against the adversary in a resounding
riposte. That, of course, was in the good old days when a master could be
expected to teach his students a more or less closed system that was
transmitted in an easily understood terminology.
Today you have the descendants of the French and Italian systems
gridlocked in competition for linguistic pre***, each slightly
distorted in the respective rendition into English, German, Russian and a
host of other languages, each in turn subdivided into different usages
depending on period and teaching system.

        To establish a common terminology for use in the Joint Board of
Accreditation of the USFA Coaches College and the San Jose State Military
Fencing Masters Program, Maestro William Gaugler compiled a short but
precise ***Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing Terminology***, printed
in a small edition by Laureate Press of Sunrise, Florida.

        Most writers would have limited their efforts to brief
definitions. Not so Maestro Gaugler. He not only explains the commonly
accepted terms but manages to reflect the divergent meanings of the
respective term in the context of the individual fencing tradition. The
***Dictionary*** thus is not only the most comprehensive reference book of
fencing terminology on the market today, it is in fact a crash course in
fencing historyand a must-have for anyone with competition-level or
teaching aspirations in fencing.

Hammerterz rating: +++
(+=fair; =++good; +++=very good; ++++=excellent)

Bibliographical ZIP:
Author: Gaugler, William M.
Title:  ***A Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing Terminology,***
Sunrise, FL: Laureate Press, 1993; 62 pages, 2 b/w illustrations;
paperback brochure.
        This booklet is available for US$9.95 from Laureate Press, P.O.
Box 450597, Sunrise, FL 33345 USA; credit card orders: tel. (800)946-2727;
fax: (305)370-5993.

***Cum grano salis...***

Reviewing recent books on fencing sometimes puts me in a quandry: There
are so preciously few books being published on the subject that I would
love to write a great review for every single one of them, just to help
the author and publisher sell enough copies to keep churning out books on
fencing, swords, duelling. But some books are just so riddled with
mistakes that I am not sure if they do more harm than good to fencing

        In Nick Evangelista's ***Encyclopedia of the Sword,*** the good
points clearly dominate, albeit by a narrow margin. In regard to
20th-century fencing and the Anglo-American tradition, it is the best and
most comprehensive reference book published thus far. It is the first to
systematically devote space to cover swordplay in the movies, television,
pulp fiction, and comic books. The ***Encyclopedia*** also provides a
refreshingly global perspective, uniting Western and Asian traditions,
particularly in regard to Kendo and the related Japanese traditions.

        Each entry refers to a small bibliography of more or less recent
books on the subject matter. Unfortunately, you can't believe everything
you read. Evangelista's reliance on the rich reservoir of published
reference also constitutes the major weakness of the ***Encyclopedia***.

        Most reference books used are recent English-language books and
articles that in themselves are restricted to Anglo traditions, with all
their little factual distortions and ethnic prejudices. That in itself may
not be sufficient to warrant a negative review. But a book claiming to be
an encyclopedia ought to be more than an anthology of fencing related
clippings. For one, it should be factually correct.

        All sections referring to German Schlaeger systems and the
medieval fighting guilds in Central Europe, for example, are overly
simplistic or blatantly incorrect. (For some odd reason, Evangelista even
defines the Hiebcomment, a set of rules regulating the old German cut
fencing systems, as a type of duelling sword! And I have not been able to
document the term Landsknecht being used for the Landsknechts' Katzbalger
short sword or lansquenette.)

        The documentation and information included on medieval and
Renaissance schools has not been critically re-examined since Castle's
***Schools and Masters,*** to which Evangelistalike most modern
authorsowes a heavy debt: The derivation of the name Federfechter from
Feder (supposedly a slang term for rapier), for example, was proven wrong
by Wassmannsdorff way back in 1888 and then again by Lochner in the 1950s.
The Marxbrueder fare even worse, being reduced to an (orthographically
incorrect) Burgerschaftcitizenry!from being a Bruderschaft or
brotherhood. To add insult to injury, they find themselves limited to the
use of the two-handed sword even though they, like Feder-, Lux-, and
Klopffechter, were masters in all weapons.

        Taken with several bagfuls of salt, ***The Encyclopedia of the
Sword*** represents a rather complete synopsis of popular modern fencing
historiography with all its imperfections and factual distortions. It
provides answers for nearly all questions regarding the sword and its use
in history, as well as starting points for much-needed critical
investigation into modern fencing mythology. For serious research
purposes, however, the information contained should be handled with
liberal amounts of critical care.

        The price (US$80) is rather steep, even for a quality hardback,
and thus probably will elude less-than-committed fencers seeking a good
albeit light read.

Hammerterz rating:  ++(-)
(+=fair; ++=good; +++=very good; ++++=excellent)

Bibliographical ZIP:
Author: Evangelista, Nick
Title:  ***The Encyclopedia of the Sword,*** Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press, 1995;  691 pp; b/w illustrations; hardback. It is available for
US$79.50 from Greenwood Publishing Group, 88 Post Road West, Box 5007,
Westport, CT 06881; tel. (203)223-3571. Credit card orders call tel.

Old Masters

In his ***Paradoxes of Defence**, George Silver deplores the decline of
wrestling and boxing elements that were taught in the old schools of

There is no maner(sic) of teaching comparable to the old ancient
teaching, that is, first their quarters [guards], then their wardes [i.e.
parries], blowes, thrusts, and breaking of thrustes, then their Closes and
Gripes, striking with the hilts, Daggers, Bucklers, Wrastlings, striking
with the foote or knee on the Coddes, and all these are safely defended in
learning perfectly of the Gripes. (1)
        Up until the time when the Italian and Spanish fencing
entrepreneurs streamlined the Noble Art of Defence to comfortably fit the
busy schedules of the fops and wags at Northern Europe's courts, the craft
of fighting with edged weapons had always been supplemented by
hand-to-hand combat techniques.
        To practicians of modern Asian martial arts, the "wrastlings,
gripes" attacks against the "coddes", the   German ***Chronik alter
Kampfknste*** (chronicle of old fighting arts) may present the one or
other experience of dj vu.  This hard-bound volume combines five manuals
(or excerpts of manuals) on old European wrestling, disarmament, and
close-combat techniques dating from 1443 to 1674.

        The first segment, techniques from ***Talhoffers Fechtbuch***
(Gothaer Codex, 1443), should ring familiar to anyone interested in the
history of swordplay. It is followed by an excerpt of the ***Fechtbuch***
ascribed to Albrecht Drer (c. 1512), with 120 ink drawings of wrestling
moves. The center of the book is a complete facsimile of Fabian von
Auerswald's ***Ringerkunst*** (Art of Wrestling). Published first in 1539,
this book is one of the most complete sources on European wrestling
techniques available today.

        The fourth work, ***Klare Onderrichtinge der Voortreffelijcke
Worstel-Konst*** was compiled by Nicolaes Petter and published at
Amsterdam in 1674. Written in Dutch, this book illustrates techniques that
have a breathtaking similarity to modern judo or ju-jitsu, particularly in
regard to the featured defensive techniques dealing with knife attacks.

        The last segment presents the ***Vollst?ndiges Ring-Buch***
(Complete Wrestling Book) by Johann Georg Paschen (1659) whose favored
repertoire focused on upright defense that combined head-butting and

        The ***Chronik*** comprises five feisty arguments to support the
high level of technical sophistication in Renaissance and Baroque martial
arts systems. Some historians (mostly those without practical fighting
expertise) still claim that these books do not reflect closed systems of
martial arts practice, but rather collections of "tricks."

        Modern readers need to keep in mind that most contemporaries would
have been familiar with empty-hand and armed combat skills from their
early childhood on. Printed books (let alone hand-written codices) were
not only prohibitively expensive but also useless to the illiterate layers
of society. The repertoire represented  presupposes a high degree of
common knowledge of basic techniques. Their authors never intended to
replace traditional hands-on training with their respective treatise.

        Berlin-based sports publisher Weinmann is one of the leading
Continental publishing houses for martial arts. Their ***Chronik*** is one
of the best values to be found if you're interested in reconstructing a
complete picture of the state of martial arts prior to the expansion of
the Romance fencing traditions. In my opinion, this book is worth every
Pfennig, and despite it lack of edged-weapons techniques, highly
recommended reading for fencing historians.

Hammerterz rating: ++++
(+=fair; ++=good; +++=very good; ++++=excellent)

Bibliographical ZIP:
Author: Verlag Weinmann, Berlin
Title:  ***Chronik alter Kampfknste***, Berlin: Weinmann (1979), 1990
(4th ed.);  286 pp;  369 b/w illustrations; hardback.
        It is available from Verlag W. Weinmann, Beckerstr. 7, D-12157
Berlin, Germany; tel. (011-49-30)855-4895; fax (011-49-30)855-9464.
        The company prefers payment via check drafted on a German bank.
For those of you who do not have this infrastructure in place, you can
order the book for US$45 (plus US$3.50 s/h) from Hammerterz Verlag, P.O.
Box 13448, Baltimore, MD 21203 USA. Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery (special

(1)      Silver, George.        ***Paradoxes of Defence*** (1604) p. 25,
in Jackson, James L.    ***Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals,*** Delmar,
NY: Scholar's Facsimiles and Reprints, 1972; p. 523

Responsible Editor: J. Christoph Amberger.
***Hammerterz Forum*** is published quarterly by Hammerterz Verlag, P.O.
Box 13448, Baltimore MD 21203 USA.