The Guild Inaugural Seminar at The Royal Armouries, 2001
By Jonathan Waller, Guild SecretaryThe event took place from the 3rd – 5th of August 2001 at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, the purpose built museum of arms and armour. This special event marked the official unveiling of the Guild and was the first chance for Guild members from the Guilds chapters in Europe and America to come together to exchange knowledge and to train together in the special surroundings of The Royal Armouries. Over 60 people attended from 7 countries. A wide variety of backgrounds were represented, Guild members, academics, martial artists, historical combat researchers, all sharing an interest in European historical combat. The main body of the weekend would be the lectures and training sessions that would take place on Saturday and Sunday, however there was to be a dinner in the War gallery on Saturday night. Some of those attending arrived in Leeds on the Friday evening and informal drinks had been arranged in the Nelson bistro at The Armouries. This allowed both Guild members and non-members to meet and socialise before the main events of the weekend.
After registration on Saturday morning, the Guild Master, John Waller, Creative Director of The Armouries, gave a short speech in The Armouries Bury theatre where he expressed his pleasure that such a varied group of people interested in European historical combat had gathered at The Armouries for the event. He also expressed how glad he was to see the growth of interest in the field over the last forty years. He reiterated the Guilds objectives, the bringing together of groups and individuals to share and exchange knowledge and practical experience.
He then introduced Jeffery Forgeng, Paul S. Morgan curator, from the Higgins Armoury, Worcester Massachusetts, how was to give the first lecture of the weekend.
The talk, "Fence and Insensibility" looked at the interpretation of the masters of historical martial arts, which, as Jeffery stated in his introduction, " is often like listening to a train station loudspeaker for instructions for a game of Twister". He went on to look at some of the difficulties posed by these texts and some of the ways of dealing with them, in particular using system analysis to allow a structured approach to the work. Jeffery made particular reference to the work that he and his group have done on both the Walpurgis Fechtbuch (Royal Armouries MS I.33) and Joachim Myers treatise on the Long-sword, using slides of illustrations from these and other works to show some of the problems that are faced when dealing with sources of this kind. The lecture was extremely informative and Jeffery injected much humour into the subject.
After a short break the second of the mornings lectures took place again in the Bury theatre. This was given by Tobias Capwell BA, MA, MA. Tobias is a former interpreter at The Armouries and is a talented jouster. His Lecture, "15th Century pictorial depiction of European fighting arts" focused on the wealth of pictorial reference to combat and fighting styles in 15th century art. He pointed out that although much of our understanding of historic fighting styles comes from the manuals of the masters, there is a vast number of depiction’s within the art of the period which, perhaps contrary to popular belief, displayed realistic portrayals of close combat. Many of the actions shown could be cross-referenced with techniques displayed in the fight manuals. Some of his examples included the comparison of material in the Getty edition of Fiore Dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum with frescoes by the Italian artist Aretino Spinello of Arezzo, where the same close combat techniques could be seen. He also showed mounted combat techniques from both Fiore’s and Talhoffer’s manuals that could be seen in Veronese drawings and Burgundian tapestries.
He went on to point out that, although the works dealt with pseudo-historical and sometimes fantastical subjects, the artists had used the realistic and accurate portrayal of combat to add reality and authenticity to the subject. Many of the works included details that would in all probability, not be included if artistic expression were the only goal, or if the artist themselves were not aware of the combat techniques used at the time. As with Jeffrey’s talk, Tobbias’ lecture was both informative and highly enjoyable and showed that there is another source of reference available to those involved in research into period fighting styles.
After another short break, there was the oppurtunity to view one of the fight interpretations in the foot combat ring in the Tournament gallery. This was pollaxe fighting in Tonlet armour, demonstrated by Adam Des Forges and Andrew Deane, both veterans of The Armouries Interpretation department and members of the Guild. The demonstration was given in the usual Armouries style, beginning with a set sequence of moves taken from the fight manuals, carried out at speed. These same moves were then repeated, but at a slower speed while the interpreters spoke about the techniques and movements that they used and why, they also gave examples of other possible movements that are available. Once this has been done they repeat the sequence at speed to allow those watching to view the fight with a greater understanding of the mechanics of the actions. This is an extremely effective way of giving fight demonstrations/interpretations, as it is both informative and entertaining. It also allows the actions to be carried out with a high level of intention while maintaining the best level of safety for both the combatants and those viewing. It also allows techniques to be shown both in detail and in the fluid context that would define any combat, rather than the demonstration of specific techniques and possible responses.
During the weekend a team from the Nikko Toshugo shrine, with whom The Armouries are twinned, were also at the museum. They were there to give demonstrations of Yabusame, mounted archery. These took place in The Armouries tiltyard, and after lunch those attending the seminar had the option of viewing this.
Mean while in the Royal Armouries Hall, the afternoon was dedicated to practical training. This involved over 60 people, this was open to all attending, whether Guild members or not. This began with an introduction by John Waller, the Guild Master, into his and the Guilds approach to the teaching and practice of historical combat. This was followed by a short introduction to the philosophy and principles of the Guild by Jonathan Waller, Guild Secretary and Senior Teacher. Those attending were then divided, the Guild members working on syllabus training, while those new to the Guild system were given a short exercise, emphasising eye-contact, balance and intent. Also teaching were Guild members Kristina Søeborg, Steve Tappin, Adam Des Forges and Andrew Deane. Despite the large size of The Royal Armouries Hall, the number of those training made safety and awareness vital, the Guilds safety record was maintained and no injuries or accidents occurred.
Everyone enjoyed themselves and all those new to the Guilds system took something usefull from the training.
After three hours of hard training, the formal part of the days work finished and everyone made their way to their hotels to get ready for dinner that was to take place in the War gallery.
The evening began with drinks in the Tournament gallery and then moved across to the War gallery where over 80 sat down to eat and enjoy the impressive surroundings offered by the displays of the collection, including the group from the Nikko Toshugo shrine. This again offered everyone the chance to relax and socialize, which was enjoyed as much as the other events of the day. After dinner a speech was given by Guy Wilson, Master of The Royal Armouries, in which he acknowleded the the role played by John Waller in development of The Armouries into its present form. He went on to express his pleasure that the inugural seminar was taking plave at The Armouries and wished the Guild a long and active life.
Sunday morning began with a short opening speech by John Waller, he then handed over to John Clements, Director of the Historical Armed Combat Association (HACA)and Jeff Basham, Senior HACA scholar, who gave a presentation, "Medieval Long-sword of the Italian and German masters. Also, Renaissance grappling and dagger fighting". This was given in John Clements usual lively manner and covered several areas He began by discussing the term ‘martial art’ and it’s use historically in Europe, before it’s more modern association with the fighting arts of Asia. He also spoke of the current revival in the study of European historical combat and also of the work done by the Victorian researcher/practitioners who also worked on the subject. He and Jeff then gave a short demonstration of the HACA study approach and training methods.
They then went on to interpretation of various attacks and counters using long-sword techniques from the German and Italian masters. John then handed over to Jeff who then gave a short interpretation of grappling and dagger fighting techniques taken from the manuals of several renaissance masters.
Graeme Rimer, head of collections at The Armouries, gave the final lecture of the weekend. The talk, "Swords in The Royal Armouries Collection" began with a history of The Armouries and its transition from Royal arsenal to Royal collection and current focus as the national collection of arms and armour.
Graeme then moved on to a selection of swords from the collection, dating from the middle ages to the 20thcentury, which those attending were able to handle, inspect and discuss with him. For many of those attending this was the first time that they were able to handle period swords.
As on Saturday there followed an interpretation in the Tournament gallery. "Armoured hand and a half sword techniques", given by Jonathan Brown and Keith Ducklin members of The Armouries interpretation department. This was again conducted using the usual Armouries method. The focus for this interpretation was the use of the hand and a half sword, many of the techniques taken from the works of Fiore Dei Liberi, with the combatants in full 15th century harness.
After lunch, there was the final practical session in The Royal Armouries Hall, where those training progressed from the work of the previous day. Joining John, Jonathan, Steve, Kristina, Adam and Andy with the teaching were Guild members Alan Eyles and Jonathan Brown. Alan, assisted by Jonathan Brown, took a group to work on the Guilds principles through the use of several dagger techniques taken from the manuals of various medieval and renaissance masters.
After two hours of solid training, the session finished and after a short speech where John Waller thanked all those attended and took part in the event and wished everyone a safe journey home.
The Guild would like to thank Jeffery Forgeng, Tobias Capwell, Graeme Rimer, John Clements and Jeffery Basham for their lectures and demonstrations.
Guy Wilson, Master of the Armouries, Graeme Rimer and the other members of The Armouries staff that helped the event take place.
The Guild would also like to thank all those who attended.
I would also like to thank the following members of the Guild,
John Waller, Guild Master
Without whom the event could not have taken place and
Adam Des Forges
For their contribution to the event.