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Dr. Reinier van Noort is a martial arts instructor and translator of over a dozen historical fencing treatises. He now lives in Norway but is originally from the Netherlands, so we talk about his impressive skills in translating from one foreign language into another. You can find Reinier’s work at www.bruchius.com, and his list of publications here: Publications - Ense et Mente (bruchius.com).
We covered a lot in our conversation as you can see from the following notes:
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter you’ll probably know that I have been working on the Jägerstock as promised in the interview. Reinier’s book that includes the Jägerstock is: The Martial Arts of Georg Johann Pascha. There's also a free translation of the Jägerstock material here: http://www.bruchius.com/docs/Pascha%20Hunting%20Staff%20by%20RvN.pdf. The book version is a newer translation, based on a later text that has a few more lessons, and some better plates.
In my newsletter of 18th March I posted my first Jägerstock video: https://vimeo.com/688832535/a4fc0fa994 Please note, I shot it before I’d even finished making the proper Jägerstock, so I’m winging it with a bo staff. I’ve also got a longish video of me actually making the weapon (while musing on matters history and craft),
Another on lessons 1-3 with the finished weapon,
And several more in the works. My current plan is to create a course on my teachable platform (which will be bundled in with the Mastering the Art of Arms subscription, of course), where I’ll post the videos as they are made. And when I have a working interpretation of the whole book (which is 34 lessons, each one of which is a short form), add those to the Solo Training course as a new section, and also release the whole ‘from book to working interpretation’ series as an object lesson in how I go about the interpretation process with an unfamiliar source, style, and weapon.
Fabris and Capoferro
After the Jägerstock chat we also have a bit to say about Fabris and Capoferro. As mentioned in the episode, here is Reinier’s Fabris lecture: Longpoint 2017 - Lecture: From Fabris to Pascha - YouTube. Reinier says he has expanded the lineage a bit since the lecture.
We have a bit of a discussion about the lunge – read more on how to Max Your Lunge here: https://guywindsor.net/2022/04/max-your-lunge/
As promised, here is the picture of Guy’s 1610 Capoferro, with the 1609 page stuck over the top of the 1610 page:
GW: I'm here today with Reinier van Noort, historical martial arts instructor and translator of a dozen or more historical fencing treatises. You can find him and his many works at bruchius.com. That's where you'll find Ense et Mente, which is his sort of brand through which he disseminates his extraordinary output. So, without further ado, Reinier, welcome to the show.
RvN: Hi, Guy. Thank you for having me.
GW: Well, it's nice to see you. I’m not sure we've met before, have we?
RvN: No, I don't think we ever have.
GW: No, I don’t think we have, which is extraordinary, given that we move in such similar circles, we should have crossed paths at some point.
RvN: We should, but I hung out at slightly different events than you did for a while and then around the time I moved to Norway you moved away from Finland. So it seems you've been avoiding me.
GW: Scared of the competition, that's what it is. OK, so you mentioned you are in Norway now, but you come from the Netherlands, right?
GW: OK, so I am fascinated that anyone can translate historical treatises into their own language. Translating it into a language it isn't your first language is... magic? How do you do it?
RvN: Well, I think as a Dutchman, I may have had a step up. It's different now, but it used to be compared to the countries around us that the Netherlands, the people, the children there, learn more languages younger. I think other countries are catching up now. I know my daughter is, in addition to speaking Norwegian and Dutch is speaking a lot of English as well, which is amazing at 10 years old. But in the Netherlands, when I grew up, we started getting English at about 11, 12 and then two or three years later, French and another year later German, so that gives a strong basis in languages. And then in addition, I did the highest tier of middle school. So that's in the Netherlands from 13 to 18 or so. I have the highest tier where you add Latin and old Greek to it.
GW: Oh God.
RvN: At least for some time. And I think especially that's been helpful, partly because you get even more grammar thrown at you, but also partly because these classes basically had to teach through translations. I mean, the only reason to learn old Greek is to read texts and translate them. So with hindsight, I realise I had basically learnt translating in school. So that’s on one hand.
GW: That’s very handy.
RvN: Yes, indeed. And then, on the other hand, I studied geology and most of my classes were taught in English, and all of our work was done in English. So from that, I went to university at 18, essentially working in English. And I think that's given me a good basis to continue from and the ability to translate into English to some degree.
GW: So I guess the takeaway for that is ideally go to school in Holland, if you can, and if that doesn't work out, then training does actually work.
RvN: Yeah. Well, I would say that by now, a lot of the other countries here in Europe have caught up, and they're also teaching more languages younger is the impression I have. I think language education on the whole has gone up a lot.
GW: It's definitely not the case in Britain. Not at all. My eldest daughter is 15, and she's doing her GCSEs, which are exams you take when you are 16, and she is not doing a single language other than English. Well, I mean, she actually also has a 400 and something day streak on Duolingo in Finnish just because she felt like keeping up her Finnish. But that's her, that’s entirely on her. But the yeah, the schools here are not particular interested in teaching people foreign languages. We don't like foreign languages here, no. We’re British, goddammit, the world should speak English. It's a terrible, terrible, terrible state of affairs.
RvN: Anybody who speaks Finnish as a non-first language or even as a first language, I have to be impressed with, regardless.
GW: Do you mind my asking, why did you move away from the Netherlands to Norway?
RvN: Because I got the opportunity, basically. After getting my master's degree or the equivalent, I did a Ph.D. as well in Utrecht. And I stayed there for a while as a postdoc and at some point, Dutch law dictates you can only get so many temporary contracts. So they kicked me out. And I ended up working for a big international cement company doing applied concrete research, and that was near Rotterdam, so we bought a house there. My spouse and I moved there, and we had a daughter and I worked there for about three years. And just before I accepted that job, I also met a German lady working in Norway at a conference, and that was an interesting talk and she sent me a vacancy. But I just accepted a job, so I told her, “Well, that's very interesting, but I've just accepted a job, so I can't really go, it’s bad form to switch right away”. So about two and a half years into my job at the cement company, I got another vacancy through my network at the same institute, the same lady. And I thought to myself, you know what? I'll just apply, and you know, maybe I get a trip to Norway. And if it goes even further than that, that's the point where we need to actually decide anything. And until then, it's all fun and games. So I sent an application. I had a telephone interview. I was flown to Norway for an in-person interview for a day and then I got a job offer. So then my spouse and I had to actually make a decision. Well, the short of it was Norway has always been on my list, my very short list of countries I would like to live. I love this country. And our daughter was two, so we realised that if we moved at that time, our daughter would just perfectly adapt to life in Norway. Whereas if we waited for another opportunity to do anything, we'd be stuck in the Netherlands until our daughter was 20, at least. So with that scary foresight, we took the jump and it was for a two-year contract initially, but luckily that got extended into a full contract. So I've been here since 2014.
GW: Wow. OK, so you're practically Norwegian, then.
RvN: [speaks in Norwegian]
GW: I should go back and correct the intro because I didn't remember your PhD. So I just called you Reinier van Noort, instead of Dr Reinier van Noort.
RvN: Oh no.
GW: But it sounds good, right? OK, so at some point in all of this studying languages and going to university to do geology and Ph.D. and what have you, you must have picked up a sword at some point. How did that happen?
RvN: So that's the other interesting thing. As a kid, I was really interested in knights and swords and things, and the medieval LEGO was always my favourite, so I had arguments with my friends because I wanted to build a castle and play with knights and he wanted to build spaceships. So eventually one of us would win and the other would gradually go with it. And then that kind of disappeared out of my system for a bit. And in high school, a friend got me into Warhammer, and so I did that for a few years. I wasted a lot of money on that.
GW: No, you spent a lot of money on that. It wasn't wasted. That's money well spent.
RvN: Well, I traded most of most of the Warhammer I had, I traded that for a pocketknife when I moved to Norway. So yes, it’s money well spent. And the idea that you could do sword fighting, that just never came up to me. It never popped into my mind that it could be an option. Then, as I was doing my PhD, a friend of mine went to a fencing club and said, hey, why don’t you join me? So I did that for about two years on and off because I had some field work and stuff, and in that time I bought a Hanwei sword. I still have it. For some reason my Hanwei swords don't break. I got myself one of these practical…
GW: Oh yes, I know those swords very well.
RvN: Early 2005. And you know, I bought a sword that says “practical hand and a half”, and it still didn't occur to me that that would mean there would be people actually using it. You know, it was right there in the name, but even that wasn't enough. So what happened also in 2005, is I got an invitation for a summer course in sword fighting that was being given close to where I lived and my spouse had some surgery, so we couldn't travel. So I said, you know what? I'll just do this this one-week summer course in sword fighting. It was more stunt fighting with an interest in, well, calling it HEMA, at least. And that got me hooked. So that was organized by the Orde der Noorderwind. It was Yuval Kaiperson and Rauco Pau. And they were just basically just starting out as well. They'd been at it for about a year. So I joined the course, I liked it a lot. I stayed with that group for a couple of years. And that way, I started going to events, started learning more about HEMA, starting getting access to sources on the internet and looking at that, basically.
GW: At some point you decided you're going to sit down and translate one run of these sources. What made you do that?
RvN: The internet, the internet made me do it.
GW: Yeah, right, OK.
RvN: It was late 2009 or so, and I was sick. I think I had a stomach flu, so my head was feeling fine and my stomach was quite upset and I was at home. And then somewhere on the internet, people were talking about sources, and I think Bruchius was mentioned there. And we'd been trying a bits of Paulus Hector Mair sickle translation for that, but somebody mentioned Bruchius and people talking about it, and I was like, hey, here I am a Dutch guy with an interest in sword fighting and there is a Dutch book. At that time, I wasn't really interested in rapier yet. But I figured if I make a translation, at least I speak the language, I'll make a translation and maybe other people can use it and bring this particular source back to life. So I started doing that and I made this horrible, horrible translation.
GW: Your first one is always horrible. Always. Unless you are a genius.
RvN: The first twenty are horrible, at least. But as I was making this translation, I was also realising that that work was more interesting than I’d initially thought, so I was also building an interest and that friend that took me to Olympic fencing a couple of years before, they came to me and said, hey, Reinier, I got an interest in rapier fencing. Do you have any idea where I could do that in the Netherlands, because you do sword fighting? I was like, well, you can't do that anywhere yet, but I have a cunning plan. So we ended up renting a hall close by. We lived in the same town. We rented a hall and we just took our old foils and this book and we started playing around with it. And yeah, that's where we started getting into rapier.
GW: Wow, OK. There's a lot of stuff to unpack there. But let me just sort of start off with I'm guessing that most of the listeners don't know who Bruchius is or was what his book is about. I mean, it's interesting to me that you started out by translating something from Dutch into English, and that makes perfect sense because how many people can actually read Dutch? Well, there’s the Dutch, and that's about it.
RvN: It's about 25 million, I think. There are also some other places.
GW: Right. But it's not exactly a huge language base compared to say like English or Chinese or Spanish. So, fascinating that you take this Dutch source and then translate it into English so that we could all enjoy it. But who was Bruchius? Tell us about him.
RvN: Yeah. So Bruchius was a fencing master who was active most of his life in the Netherlands, but he was born in Germany. So there's been the research that I did together with John Schaefer, he was probably born in Zweibrücken around 1630. We found a baptism record for a Johannes Georgius Bruchius, on 17 December 1630, which may have been our Bruchius. So that's around the time he was born, and we also know he was born in Zweibrücken because it’s in one of his portraits. So then at some point he started working as a fencing master in Heidelberg, which is a big town in Germany. And a couple of years later, 1655, I've got my records here so I can just stick it. He came to Utrecht, according to the notes, we found he was invited by some German nobles to become a fencing master in Utrecht. He is allowed to start teaching there, and he does that for a while, he gets married to a German lady and has some kids, and then at some point he moves from Utrecht to Leiden to become the fencing master there. So that looks to be about 1660, he moves to Leiden, and he becomes the fencing master in Leiden at the university. And so he spends some time there and then in 1671, he publishes a book on fencing, which is the book that we were talking about, the "GRONDIGE BESCHRYVINGE van de Edele ende Ridderlijcke SCHERM- ofte WAPEN-KONSTE". So that's published. And then after a while, he decides to go back to Utrecht again in about 1680ish. And then he is one of the fencing masters in Utrecht up to his death in 1718, so, you know, apparently fencing masters grow old.
GW: Apparently. So 17th century Germany, mostly. And he's then obviously mostly teaching rapier. So you're translating a source with a weapon that are not terribly familiar with. I can see pros and cons to that because you're not going to read your own current interpretation of rapier into your translation, but also you're not going to have the sort of background to, in some places, perhaps, understand exactly what's going on on the page. So how you balance that?
RvN: Well, that's where the horrible translation comes in, I guess. I always do my best to give a translation, that first and foremost is representative of what's actually on the page. And I try to keep interpretation to a minimum. Lately, in my last few works I have been a bit more forward in making things a bit clearer, because I've come to realise that where I feel sometimes and also from reviewing translations that other people did when they asked me to take a look at this, I've come to realise that sometimes when you preserve what's on the page, you may actually understand what you're preserving. But a reader who hasn't seen the original or never looked at the original is going to be completely lost. So somehow you need to balance that. But yeah, that first translation, I basically a lot of technical terms, which, you know, they were Italian terms of origin and changed into German. And Bruchius learned them, and he wrote in Dutch, he changes the German grammar into Dutch, which is luckily fairly similar. And then I decided to then change that into English. So I got some horrible, horrible things there.
GW: Do you now have like a chart or glossary of “this is the Dutch term. This is the Italian term, and this is the English term”. Do you have a table like that somewhere?
RvN: I have to do a new one for each translation.
GW: Yeah, of course. But I mean, do you have on for Bruchius?
RvN: I have one for Bruchius, I try to have a table like that with the original term and my English translation in each work that I do. And I also try, when it is a technical term, I would try to be consistent in only using my translation for that technical term and not for any other words. So that you, as a reader, can also know if it says “to disengage”, for example, that it would refer to caviere, cavare, or something like that. So that you can know it's consistent there.
GW: Fascinating. OK. Is Bruchius’s book... I'm not even going to try to pronounce the title, I'm sorry, but it'll be in the show notes so people can go there and they can see how it's all spelled out, and I'll copy and paste it from your website so it will be accurate. But would you say it's actually a good fencing book?
RvN: I think it's a decent fencing book, actually. I think it's not a bad one to work from. A lot of these 17th century books, at least the ones that I've looked at, they will combine a theoretical part with lessons, and the balance between these two things changes a bit. So first they will explain what the main terms mean, what they are, and then they'll just give lessons. And I think Bruchius had a decent balance in giving some theory so that you can understand sort of what's happening and then two hundred and twelve lessons to play with. And for us, getting started, that means we have a big selection of lessons to choose from and to just experiment with and get better at.
GW: Just to put that in context, Capoferro provides about 43 plates, I think, and so probably about 100 drills, something like that. So it has twice as much technical content as Capoferro, for instance.
RvN: Perhaps, but the lessons are sometimes also quite succinct. But of course, working on that, I didn't just read Bruchius in isolation. When I started doing rapier, when I started trying to learn this, I also bought any book I could in English and read it. So Fabris has been a very important support there. Thibault was one of the things I read early that I wish I had time to read again now. Now that I know a lot more.
GW: I think we're overdue a new translation of Thibault because Mr. Greer, who translated it in 2001, 2002, it's a pretty good translation. I think he does a pretty good job of it. But it's, you know, it's 20 years old and it would be good if someone would go to Thibault and translate the whole thing. I have photographs of the entirety of the inside of the National Fencing Museum’s copy of Thibault, so I have the scans. If you would like to translate Thibault, I can hook you up.
RvN: Thank you.
GW: And then 20 years later, he comes out of this hole holding this gigantic translation saying it's finally done, because the book is huge.
RvN: I’m at a place where I can either translate Thibault and make you happy and Michael Chidester angry, or translate Schöffer, make him happy and you angry. I think I'll just make both of you angry.
GW: That's a very good idea. Yes. Yeah, and honestly Michael's further away. So the chances of you getting into trouble are slim.
RvN: He's also fairly short.
GW: But he's a pretty good fencer, so I wouldn't underestimate him. Excellent. OK. Now. I have a question here, I know you’ve read it, about translation. We’ve discussed it a little bit, and I have done a bit of translation myself, so I know how hard it is. And so I'm just curious from a technical perspective, let's say I dumped a fencing book in your lap that you had agreed to translate and you've never seen it before, and this is the book you're going to translate. What do you do to start creating the translation? How do you go about it?
RvN: Ideally, if I have the time, I would first make a transcription of the work that I would then next change into a translation. There are two reasons for that. The first is that if I have a transcription and I then start translating that, I can more easily check that I don't miss anything, I don't skip parts unless, of course, I've skipped them in the transcription and I can better refer back and forth to what I'm typing and what I’m saying. And also later on, when I'm doing the review, I can more easily use Control+F to find instances of words that I need to find. That's an even bigger reason. So preferably first transcription. Then for the translation it's just checking each individual word and then checking what these words together mean in the original language and then try to say the same thing in the target language. Preferably in a similar way, which doesn't mean exactly using the words in the same order, because that's not the similar way, that's the wrong way in English if it’s the right way in German. But trying to pervade the way it's said as well as what's said. What we used to do in old Greek class, because I dropped Latin, is we just write a translation above each word, each individual word, and then try to puzzle that into a sentence. But you always have to make sure also, like there's a lot of idioms, you have to make sure you kind of take that into account. And it's always nice if you can translate that for a similar kind of idiom into target language.
GW: Right, and the context changes the meaning to the point where your individual, if a particular word can have multiple meanings, like the English word, “set”, for example. There are at least seven completely different meanings of the word “set”, like a jelly might set firm or you might set a bag down or, you know, a badger lives in a sett. OK, that's a double T. But you know, spelling is not necessarily consistent. Words have these absurdly many meetings, I would say, if you write down the wrong meaning of that word in your list, it'll pop up in its context as being “hang on, that doesn't make any sense”.
RvN: So, yeah, I think most of the time you take that out of context. I've also found that a combination of Google Translate and Wiktionary websites can be very helpful. Not that I put a sentence in Google Translate and trust what’s coming out, but I can use it to get a starting point. And then you just said, well, that's completely wrong, but it helped me or to say, well, actually, that fits.
GW: Yeah, now, when I'm translating from Italian, there are some fantastic and sort of old school Italian dictionaries online, like Battaglia's dictionary, for example. It is Italian to Italian, but some of these words have become obscure and you can find their meaning in these dictionaries. Do you have similar resources for Dutch or German?
RvN: Yeah, there's not a lot of works in Dutch to translate, so I kind of ran out on that. For German there is Wörtebuchnetz which is a combination of all dictionaries made searchable. So I do use that from time to time as well. If Wiktionary doesn't help me enough, then I look at Wörtebuchnetz and dictionaries.
GW: Right. Yeah. It occurs to me how much easier we have it to the translators who went before.
RvN: Oh yeah.
GW: On a similar question, I'm going to try the title of this one because why not? There's a book written by an Irishman called Alexander Doyle, called Neu Alamodische Ritterliche Fecht- und Schirm-Kunst, which is the new fashionable knightly art of fencing and events, in German. OK, so you've translated this from German into English, right? My question is why on earth would an Irishman produce a fencing book in German?
RvN: Well, essentially the same reason Bruchius wrote a book in Dutch. I haven't been able to find a lot about Doyle online, about how he lived, what he did etc., but as far as we have been to be able to find he was working in Germany. And do you remember what I wrote? I haven't actually checked that part.
GW: I don't have it in my head.
RvN: He was the fencing master in Mainz at the court with the Archbishop-Elector and Archchancellor Lothar Franz von Schönborn. So he was the court fencing master there. And he published his book as he was working there, dedicated it to his employer and it was published in Nuremberg. So we see that more that these fencing masters travel around. Fabris, of course, famously came from Italy and then worked in in Germany at a high noble’s court and then the court of the Danish king before going back home via Paris. There's a lot of a lot of travelling fencing masters.
GW: So do you think Doyle wrote the book in German or do you think he wrote it in English and had a friend translate into German, so his patron would like it?
RvN: I honestly have no idea.
GW: OK. That's a good answer. I was curious because it just it strikes me as one of these sort of fencing curiosities that you see it and that doesn't make a great deal of sense. And wouldn't it be great to find the manuscript and then we’d know?
RvN: Yes, but I do expect he would have written it in German, he’d probably been there for a while. And based on my own experience living here in Norway, I've been here seven years now and I speak using reasonable Norwegian, especially considering I never took any courses. I never found the time to do that. So just by being immersed in the language, and this is in a time when everybody else speaks English. He would have been working in Germany at a time that speaking foreign languages was maybe less common, at least in everyday life than it is now, I imagine, so he would have been forced to learn German more than I am forced to learn Norwegian.
GW: Fair point. Yeah, I just think my experience of living in Finland, I did learn Finnish, and I got it to the point where I actually taught a class in Finnish and I sweated my balls off getting ready for that class. And this is like fairly early on, it was the fifth-year anniversary of my school. So I'd been there for five years and after my class where I was just a wreck because Finnish is a really hard language. And also back then, the Finns were not used to hearing bad Finnish because there were relatively few foreigners in the country, and most of them, most Finns speak English, and so the Finns would honestly not understand you if you made minor mistakes, right? Whereas everyone who speaks English is used to hearing people speaking English as not their first language, and you just get used to sort of making allowances for different ways of saying things. But after this class, one of my students came up to me and said, “You know, when you speak Finnish, all of your authority just evaporates.” Oh, well, fuck that. I am never teaching a class in Finnish ever again. And I didn’t. I still know what to do when the tax office sends me a letter. I know, do I need to send this to my accountant right now, or, you know, can I do something with this myself? And so my Finnish exists. But it will never be at the point where I could write a book in it. Oh my god. That would be hard.
RvN: But do you also sometimes have like this weird confusion in your head where languages start mixing up. I have some horrible languages mixed up.
GW: Oh god, I have that for languages other than English. So for example, there was a time when I spoke reasonably good Italian, my spoken Italian is very rusty now. But you know, I've had happy conversations about historical fencing in Italian. And my wife and I went to Italy, and this is a long time ago and in the taxi, Italian, Spanish, French and Finnish all mixed up. And it was like, I should be able to just talk to this taxi driver, but bits of Spanish and bits of Finnish keep coming out because it's like there are two boxes in my head, there's the English box and there's a foreign box and all the foreign languages go in the foreign box. They all get mixed up and God knows which particular bit is going to come out. But when you’ve been in the country for a few days, you sort of get used to it and the right one tends come out most of the time.
RvN: I have similar things where I started having bad language confusion between Norwegian and German because Norwegian, Dutch and German, they're all very similar. And so I can't really speak German anymore until I've been there a day or two. And then when I come back, I can't speak Norwegian anymore. And there was one or two words that coincidentally were similar in French and Norwegian. And for some reason, that means that my French is now also completely screwed because I haven't been to France since I moved here, so my French has really evaporated by now. But the weirdest thing is that if I've had like a bunch of meetings in Norwegian, I had it once or twice, I had a phone conversation or a meeting in Norwegian, and then I walked into a colleague's office and I start saying something and I see this weird face like, Oh God, oh, I was speaking Dutch again, wasn't I? And so it's quite scary if this crazy Dutch colleague runs into your office rattling off in Dutch.
GW: OK, so what are you working on at the moment?
RvN: Yeah. So there's this this manuscript Dresden C13, it's a manuscript in German that is held in in the library in Dresden, and it's quite an interesting bit of work. So I'll just refer to it as C13. So, you know, the German fencing master Pascha was active in in that area in the 1650s-1670s or so.
GW: I have to confess, I don't. So who was that?
RvN: So Pascha was a fencing master, German, and he published a bunch of books like a lot of books, but a lot of them were just repeating or slightly edited versions of what is published before and that he would expand it. But one of the more interesting things is that this is one of the few 17th century German fencing masters who has published about more than just rapier. So I’ll see if I have his portrait in here? He doesn't look like a very pleasant man, but he wrote a book also on wrestling and unarmed fighting, self-defence. He wrote a work on the use of Jaegerstock. The two ended stick, long staff, two metre long staff, which is only solo drills, but still is there.
GW: Have you translated the stick book because I want that really badly?
RvN: Yeah, it's on the website, the stick book. It is in this one. This has all the different ones he has, and it's a more recent translation, so it's slightly better.
GW: OK? Can you just read out the title? So the listeners can hear it.
RvN: Yeah, the title I use is The Martial Arts of Johann George Pascha, and it's available through Lulu. So in it, I've got the unarmed bits translated. I've got the thrust fencing and the cut fencing, so, you know, in Germany they separate the two. And he wrote about both of them. And then we've got the Jaegerstock, the stuff, the hunting staff. And then we've got the partisan, which is, in his case, it's a spear with the side prongs that in Italian would be called something different.
GW: like a Ronca, maybe?
RvN: Yeah, I think so. So the Jaegerstock and the Partisan, they're just solo drills and the other stuff is actual lessons.
GW: I absolutely love solo drills. I love solo drills. So OK, I'm going to buy that book. I'm going to do those stick drills. And by the time this episode goes out, I will have videos of my early interpretations of those solo stick drills up somewhere where people will see it. OK, I am using this podcast to keep me honest. We've got about probably eight weeks before it goes live. This is the 22nd of February, I think. So we're going out sometime in May, I think. Right, OK. I will put links to those videos in the show notes. You’ve inspired me, sir.
RvN: And he wrote a bunch of books, and his books, you know, we talked about Bruchius having a nice balance between some theory and then lessons, but he never really bothered with a lot of theory. He just gave lessons upon lessons upon the lessons and David Copeland and Kevin Murakoshi, they've been going through all his lessons because both the thrust and the cut are divided into eight sections. And I think, you know, doing one section at a time, and I think they've done all of them now and make videos of them in the last few years that they put online. That's pretty nice. It's always really the best thing when you when you make translation and then someone actually works from the translation.
GW: It is the best thing. Because that's you feel all of that work and pain and sweat is actually worth something. You see it come alive, it is great.
RvN: So, yeah, so he wrote a bunch of books on fencing, and then we have this manuscript, C13, which has an introduction that's signed by Johann George Pascha. And in this introduction, he says, oh, this here are the lessons of Salvatore, which are really good, and I got them from a friend.
GW: I know the book you mean, it is the Vienna.
RvN: No, no, no, this is better. I think it's better, this is better.
GW: OK, so a couple of years ago about 2019, this manuscript was discovered, which has the lessons of Salvator Fabris. And we're calling it like the Vienna manuscript. You know the one I’m talking about?
RvN: This one, I have it here.
GW: Oh, you have that, yeah, that's the Vienna Anonymous. So the C13 is not the Vienna Anonymous, it’s the Dresden C13.
RvN: This is the C13.
GW: Oh my God, one is twice the thickness.
RvN: It's also got some images and some extra stuff in there. So the work has an introduction by Pascha. I think it's maybe a dedication and it says, like, I got these lessons off Salvatore, I got them from a friend. They're really good. But they were missing the parries and one or two other things. So I've added these things to make this a complete work. You know, a bit of arrogance there saying that some of those lessons weren't enough. And the better thing is, there's also a manuscript in the British Library, 17533, if I remember correctly and this manuscript presents two versions of the same text. But there are clear differences, exactly what Pascha says I added the parries and in one of the chapters he changed the title of the chapter of this, this and this, and parries. And he added, indeed, a bunch of lessons with the parries and some other stuff. So we've got these two versions of the text, or three because there's 17533, with some differences, but also these very specific differences that the Pascha said he was making changes. And the other interesting thing is that both the 17533 and the C13, they refer to HAV, which is never written out. And in one of the titles, they refer to a Signor Moman. So Johann Chef and I, we are working on this together. We've never been able to find out who this Signor Moman must have been. The best theory I have is that it's a miswriting of Signor Hermann, which was a student of Fabris. And then the other thing is like, who is this HAV that it refers to from time to time? So interestingly, Pascha had a connection to another fencing master you may know by name, which is Hynitzsch. He published a German translation of Fabris in the late 17th century. And in this translation of Fabris, in the introduction to it, he, amongst other things, mentions that mentions written works by Fabris and by a student of Fabris who was his fencing master. And that was Heinrich von zum Velde or something like that. So it's possible that this manuscript that Pascha edited was written by Heinrich von zum Velde, and then somehow a copy made it into Pascha’s hands. And he said, ah, this is really cool, but I can make it better. And then he changed it a bit more. And then unfortunately, it was never properly published, so it's just the manuscript. It also refers to images which the manuscript didn't have, but the version in the British Library did have images that seemed to line up quite well with the references here.
GW: Wow. OK, so what are you doing with all this material?
RvN: Like I said, right now, this is my main book to work from, so again, this is a dose of theory and it's much, much thicker theory section. And then it has hundreds of lessons. Obviously, my life is too short to go through hundreds of lessons, but we can take the main ones.
GW: You have a job and a family. Your boss would probably like to see you at work occasionally, and I'm sure your children would miss you if you spend 24 hours a day doing fencing.
RvN: Yes, unfortunately, that's still the case. But yeah, trying to get better through this book, fence a bit differently.
GW: OK, is it very different?
RvN: Well, when I started out, Bruchius, in his introduction, he mentions two other authors who wrote books and that’s Fabris and Thibault. So when I started out, I took to the say, oh, well, Bruchius, knew Fabris, so there must be a connection there. And then as I started studying these things a bit more, you find that Fabris had this big impact, this big lineage in Germany where people were told by students of his or students of students, etc. and I tried to link it all up, and I have a presentation on it and I did a lecture at Longpoint and that was taped and it's online on YouTube somewhere. I can probably look it up.
GW: Yeah, if you look it up and send a link and I will put it in the show notes.
RvN: Yeah. Please remind me to do that. So there’s quite a few fencing masters we can link directly to Fabris in that way. But then there's also a bunch that initially I wanted to be linked, like Bruchius, like Johann Daniel Lange, but they never really found any proof, as we do for some of the others. It's a pity that people didn't have the habit of saying “this was my fencing master”, like we see in Asian martial arts much more. So whether that connection is there as strongly as I initially thought between Bruchius and Fabris, I don't know, but it is clear that a lot of the German fencing from Köppe onwards is simply very tightly based on Italian fencing. They use those guard names. They stopped using the German guard names. And they start fencing in a fairly similar way, I kind of lost track of where I was going.
GW: No, that's okay. There’s a Swedish manual by a chap called Porath whose brother was fencing master at Helsinki University in the, I think, early 18th century. So I mean, Fabris’s influence spread in all directions. It was going north as well as west.
RvN: Yeah, it's a good thing you bring it up because it reminds me that there is this Norwegian guy all the way up in north Sweden. I can't recall his name right now. He told me at some point he was translating Porath, or trying to, and he sent me a bit. And what he sent me seems to be the same text as this C13 or 17533.
GW: Oh right. That doesn’t surprise me.
RvN: He may have had a copy of that manuscript and translated into Swedish, at least to some degree. Based on the small parts that I compared.
GW: So, yeah, it's funny, because back then that was normal practice, that wasn't considered like plagiarism particularly, that was like, you take this book and you translate it into your own language so that your friends can read it and you take credit for it because you've done all the work of translating it. I mean, these days we would just howl plagiarism. I think back then these things were more normal.
RvN: I'm not entirely sure of that, but at least you would be a lot less likely to get caught without the internet.
GW: Well, that is true.
RvN: Then we have an interesting work here, which is Köppe. And he was not a fencing master, but he was a fencing enthusiast.
GW: Yes, I guess I should let you know a couple of things. Firstly, the level of resolution from your camera over the internet isn't really good enough for me to read that, but also for poor people listening along, they can't see it. So could you just read us the title?
RvN: Yeah, yeah. So Joachim Köppe, he wrote Newer Discurs der Rittermeßigen und Weitberümbten Kunst des Fechtens, which I’ve translated as New Discourse on the Art of Fencing. And he was not a fencing master, but a fencing enthusiast. And a big, big, big fan of Fabris, so at some point in his book he is name dropping like, you know, I met Fabris in Paris in person, you know? That kind of stuff. But he's also very explicitly pointing out that his book, while based on Fabris is not a copy of Fabris. And we can take Fabris’s book, he says, and compare and we'll see it's not the same because he wants us to be sure, you know, he wants to make sure that we don't think of him as having plagiarised Fabris’s work. So, OK, plagiarism, at least for some of them, and he was an academic, I think Köppe. It was a concern for some people. Funnily, Bruchius seems to have plagiarised at least part of Köppe’s introduction later.
GW: OK, so are you translating anything at the moment?
RvN: It's taking a bit of a back burner with the second kid and then COVID and having moved further away from work, which means more travel time.
GW: Seriously, nobody can reasonably scold you for being slack on the translation front. You have this gigantic list of published translations. So I think you're OK. You don't need to worry about justifying the fact that you're taking a bit of a break.
RvN: I am currently working on a translation that I started long ago and that stalled for a while and I came back to it fresh, and I'm currently in a state that Tobias Zimmerman is reviewing it for me. And then we've been in contact with Keith Farrell for getting it published. So that will probably be where we go. We have still some issues to solve with the images because it's a book, it's Weichner, he wrote a manuscript in the early 1730s, which you may or may not have seen, it's got really pretty full colour illustrations of people in yellow and red court uniforms fencing.
GW: And I have seen the pictures now you say, I didn't recognise the name.
RvN: And then so he wrote that in the 1730s and then in 1764, he finally published the work where it's one plate and the note at the end, saying, oh, please buy this book now and give us more money so we can get the rest of the plates done. And then me and the publisher and one court guy will ensure you get a book with all the plates. And then 1765 a third version was published with a large number of plates, though not the number and size that he promised. A bit of crowdfunding there. So I’ve done a translation. First I tried to make one translation in which you could see all three versions of the text using colour to indicate differences.
GW: That's because you hate yourself, right? You might as well just stick a fork in your head.
RvN: Because, you know, I figured like, OK, if I if I use black text for word A and then I use red, yellow and blue for each of the individual ones. And then where two of them agree, if red and yellow agree, you can make it orange.
GW: I love your ambition, but oh my god, no.
RvN: That didn't work.
GW: I mean, do it for a paragraph, a single paragraph just to so people can see the relationship with the text, but for a whole book. No way.
RvN: No. What I'm doing now is I ended up pulling this one translation into three again. I put it in tables next to each other with the differences as indicated in the colour. And Tobias is now checking the 1765, and from there on we go back checking the other two. But we still need to somehow get permission to publish the plates with it, and they are at the… I think it’s the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in München. They tend to be a bit expensive. I think we have permission for the full colour illustrations in the manuscripts because they are in a different library and they are not so expensive, but the 1765 plates, if we want to include them, we may be in trouble.
GW: Honestly, I think these museums and libraries, they often behave this way. It drives me absolutely nuts, but it is a perfect candidate for a Kickstarter or some sort of crowdfunding campaign. If the Library wants this chunk of money for these rights, you know how much money you need to raise. And the selling point is really clear and with the right sort of push behind it, it should be doable.
RvN: True, on the other hand. My experience is that the 18th century books is the audience for that is rather small.
GW: Yeah, the trick is, yeah, it's a marketing problem because most people aren't doing early seventeen hundreds German rapier stuff. So I guess to make it work, we would need to find some way of getting interest from people who are interested in the art itself for its own thing and also sort of expanding the minds of the existing rapier community to understand that this stuff is actually super useful.
RvN: It's also interesting because if you take the 1731 date, it's actually the earliest written text in the Chrysler lineage that we know of. There's also that. Do you know the Chrysler lineage?
GW: I know of it. I'm not an expert, but I'm guessing that most of the people listening have never even heard of it, so why don't you tell us exactly what it is?
RvN: So Chrysler, Johann Willem, I think, was the first Chrysler, was a fencing master in Germany, and he was a student of, again, Fabris. And they founded a lineage. They managed to get exclusive teaching rights in Vienna for a bunch of decades, and they ran one and then two schools in Vienna, where they taught their style of fencing. And some of these, you know, like it's done from father to son. And if there were two sons and one of them would go to a different city and start teaching there. And they built a very strong reputation and a strong lineage that was active into the eighteen hundreds, late eighteen months, I think, and was still being written about in the middle of the 20th century.
GW: The Angelos of Germany.
RvN: In a way, yeah, they had a really big reputation and some exclusive teaching rights that they used. Well, so there's a nice story, I think about the second or third Chrysler. That at some point August the Strong who was the Elector of Saxony and the King of Poland. He’d heard of this lineage and these Chrysler fencing masters and he came to the school in disguise and then the fencing master was out and he fenced with some students and I think he beat them and humiliated them a bit. So Chrysler has to get his revenge and the story is told in a few sources and in different ways that he had to get his revenge. So he disguised himself as a poor schoolmaster or something and when to go to the court of August the Strong and there he started challenging people, fencing people and the Chryslers have this signature technique, which is called the ligada in German, but it's not a German word, when you use a change from quarta to into second or terza to kind of try to strike the blade out of your opponent's hand. Alex Kiermayer in Germany, I'm sure you know Alex, he can teach you that really well. So you can use that as a parry or just as
an engagement. So he used the signature technique on each and every person who wanted to fence him. And pretty soon, August heard there was some old guy humiliating people at court, so he had to come out and fence, and then Chrysler did the same thing to him once or twice. So August got really angry and said, “Well, either you are the devil or you are that Chrysler from Vienna!” At which point he said, “Yes, I am Chrysler from Vienna.”
GW: That's brilliant.
RvN: That’s a funny story. But it's also interesting because I found a similar story about the Johann Andreas Schmidt, who was a fencing master a bit earlier in the 17th century. As far as I know, I've never been able to find a strong connection between Schmidt and Chrysler. But there's a story written sometime after his death that he would have beaten one or two fencing masters with that technique to get his post as fencing master at some courts. So it's a story that's usually told about Chrysler, but you can also find it about Schmidt at least, and maybe some other people. So I'm not sure if that speaks for the veracity or not of that story.
GW: Yeah, I am surprised that in a room full of courtiers who clearly know how to fence the same trick would work twice. Or certainly not three times. Because you’d think they'd be watching and going, oh, he did that thing. He did that thing again. OK. Right. I see what he's doing. And then, because, you know, every technique has a counter, you know, disengage at that point or just don't allow that particular engagement in quarte or whatever. And the technique goes away. So I'm surprised that it works. I mean, I guess these things do. And that's pretty much how you Johan Harmenberg won the Olympic Gold Medal in epee in 1980. You know, he had basically one technique, which he was just really, really, really good at. He says this himself. I'm not making this up, he says itself in his book Epee 2.0, where basically he needs you to attack over into his sixte line, and he would just pick you up in sixte and hit you. And that was the one thing he could do. He had one world class technique, and his whole game plan was getting you to give him that point over his arm so he could pick it up in sixte and do what he wanted to do. So yeah, maybe.
RvN: Yeah. I mean this. This ligada, I think it works best against a thrust on the inside line. A standard thrust, which is probably not for a good fencing master not that hard to induce in a lot of fencing.
GW: Yeah, huh. You're giving me all sorts of ideas, Reinier. But I've already promised I'll do the stick stuff, so I'm not going to do the rapier stuff just yet. Excellent. OK, now I have a few questions I ask most of my guests. I mean, clearly, you've acted on a lot of ideas, but what is the best idea you haven't acted on?
RvN: Yeah. I've been staring at that question. One of the things with ADHD is not being able to come up with examples when asked and I am drawing a complete blank on this one.
GW: All right. I mean, it's not like you haven't acted on plenty of ideas.
RvN: There may have been some professional things where I could have made a lot more money if I'd done things differently.
GW: Maybe you should have bought those Apple shares when you had the chance. But the thing is, if I had bought those Apple shares, Apple would have gone bankrupt and would all be using Microsoft phones. So honestly? There’s no way to know. But it's one quite common answer for that question is, I act on all my good ideas. So you could just go with that one if you like.
RvN: I act on a lot of my ideas and some of them turn out to be good.
GW: And the other ones just remain in the darkness and are never spoken of again.
RvN: The other ones are learning experiences.
GW: Exactly. Excellent. OK. So my last question. Somebody gives you a million euros to spend improving historical martial arts or related fields worldwide. How would you spend money?
RvN: would be really tempted to spend it to set myself up where I can spend more time improving historical martial arts for myself. Pay off the mortgage, get some location and somehow set some money aside that that gives me a support so I can spend more of my time working on these things. But that's probably not the best way to achieve the goal of improving historical martial arts on a grander scale. So a better way would be to put it in a fund. Let's see, if we have a million euros you get about five percent, 10 percent interest if you invest it wisely. So we'd have 50,000 euros a year to spend. So we could maybe give a scholarship to somebody and have an event where we bring some good researchers together. And focus on that, and I would prefer an event with deep, high-level classes over a competitive oriented event. So combine that with some more academic lectures. And set it up as a fund.
GW: OK, so we would set up a fund and used the money to finance a high level academic and practical event and possibly also like scholarships for researchers. I get the temptation to just pay off Reinier’s mortgage so he can, like, work full time on historical martial arts. That would be not a bad way to spend it, but I think we'd get more sort of public backing for a less focussed use of the money. OK, so what would your event look like?
RvN: You know, before the corona thing hit, I organised the international rapier seminar a bunch of years ago, the first one, and that was really a lot of fun. We had it in Delft we rented a hall, got some top level rapier instructors, and we asked each of them to do a beginner and an experienced class because there were not enough rapier people in the Netherlands to run an experienced event. But if I could also get people in for like, hey, I've never done rapier, but I kind of want to try it for an event, then I would have enough people to support it so that the other people coming in for the high-level event would be able to have their workshops. So I asked each instructor to teach one class at a beginner level where you assume the people have, you know, basically held a rapier a couple hours ago for the first time and one class at a level where you assume people have a couple of years’ experience. So that was a really fun event. I was recently thinking like, I live here close to Oslo and you can take a ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen, and in Copenhagen you have these three beautiful velvet manuscripts, velvet covered manuscripts with a text written by this fencing master that you may have heard of, Salvator Fabris. So I actually went as far as to contact the ferry company to see if it's at all at all doable to organise an event on the ferry. Where we have lectures and workshops on the ferry, from Oslo to Copenhagen. And then there we’d have a day trip visiting the library and seeing that manuscript and some and some museums as well, and then go back on the ferry with more lectures and workshops the next night.
GW: What did they say?
RvN: I don't remember exactly, but it wasn't a direct “no”. So at least there's that and I got into some other stuff, and it kind of disappeared off the radar.
GW: But those ferries really exist to pour alcohol into passengers. I mean, that's where they make their money. And you can point out to them, the historical martial arts community is the community that in a four-star hotel in Lansing, Michigan, literally drank the bar dry. I was there. I helped. We drank. They literally ran out of beer. And we had warned them that this might happen, and they had laid in extra stock, but not enough, so you could take that anecdote to that ferry company and just point out that with a bunch of historical martial artists on board, their liquor sales will do just fine.
RvN: But, you know, if you bring it a little bit more down to Earth, I would say a two, three-day event, well known researchers and instructors, and as I'm organising it, we're going to do a 17th century martial arts. And then, for first, when you can be relatively open, so get some lectures on and invite lecturers. Ask them what they want to lecture on. And the same for classes and some nice dinners and stuff.
GW: So this is sounding an awful lot like the best idea you haven't acted on.
RvN: Actually, I have acted on it. I organised the first International Rapier Seminar.
GW: Yeah, absolutely. But the one on the ferry and taking it to the next level. To be fair, it was COVID that stopped you from acting on it, really.
RvN: COVID and expectations that the library may be difficult and, a lot of a lot of steps, but maybe that should be the idea I haven’t acted on. Yeah.
GW: OK, I have never seen those manuscripts.
RvN: I was really, really lucky at the last International Rapier Seminar, a few people got to go and see one of those manuscripts and leaf through it.
GW: Oh wow. Yeah, you know, I'm more of a Capoferro man than a Fabris man and I know that Roberto Gotti has a manuscript copy of Capoferro with the plates. I don't know whether that's a presentation done by a professional calligrapher or whether it's actually Capoferro’s manuscript itself, what do you think?
RvN: I remember having seen a page or two on Facebook. I don't remember having looked well enough at the handwriting. If it's clearly very beautiful, that may be an indication that this is a professional strike. If it is clearly very poor handwriting then it may be an indication that it's some fencing master scribbling his notes. I don't remember.
GW: All right. There's another mystery around Capoferro where I very recently got my own copy of the 1610. I’m showing up to the camera and the listeners can't see it, but there's pictures of it online and I’ll stick pictures in the show notes. It's clearly the 1610 edition and it's in the contemporary binding, and it's in fairly good nick for a book that’s 412 years old. But the point is, and you may have some insight into this because you know about these things. On the final page, the original printed final page with the Ego Frater Gregorius Lombardellius basically, the permission from the Inquisition to publish the book, he's found nothing heretical in it. And the date and the publisher's colophon and all that sort of stuff. The original is there, but pasted over the top is one which has a date 1609, so MDCIX. And instead of being a professor, he is a doctor. Frater Gregorius Lombardellius is a doctor, not a professor. So clearly he's been promoted between 1609 and 1610. But the question is, do you have any idea why there would be a 1609 colophon page and why it would be pasted over the 1610. Any ideas?
RvN: I'm just a poor geologist, mate.
GW: That is so demonstrably not true. You spent the last hour and a bit basically demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that you are a world expert in 17th century rapier sources. So no, you can't hide behind geology.
RvN: I know a little bit about the contents because that stuff you can read and see. I don't know that much about the processes that go into printing, writing and publishing books. So, yeah. Can't help you very much there.
GW: Well, not to worry. Hopefully there will be a paleographer or something. Specialising in the early 17th century Italian books listening to this episode, you will send me a friendly e-mail saying, well, actually, Guy, what you'll find is “doink” and the mystery will be solved. But yeah, it just strikes me as just completely bizarre.
RvN: One person you could ask is Jacobo Pony who helped me with the Gordio translation. I think he's in the big Italian group that you used to play with as well. There’s this is big Italian school. I think they used to wear these brown leather aprons over their fencing jackets.
GW: Oh, Fisas. Many, many, many years ago. Yes, the founder and I had a bit of a falling out, 18 years ago. Something like that. I haven't seen much of them since. But I can certainly look him up. I'll have a look and ask him and see what he says. Thank you.
RvN: Maybe Roberto Gotti. I don't know how much he knows, and I know he collects a lot, but I don't know if he would also be able to answer a question like that, or the guy in Rome.
GW: There are many fuys in Rome. I've hung out with quite a few of them.
RvN: The really tall one who does well in tournaments.
GW: Yes. I’m horrible with names too, and it’s been a few years since I was in Italy. I'm pretty sure I know the man you mean. In fact, do you know, I don't think I've actually had an Italian on the podcast yet. That's a shocking lapse. Given that I am an Italian specialist. That's weird, isn't it? You’ve inspired me again, Reinier, I need to get Italians onto the show.
RvN: So what keeps you going on a Capoferro because you have been going on Capoferro for 20 years now?
GW: Well, I'm not just Capoferro. I mean, I'm also a Fiore man and a Vadi man and a 1.33 man and an Angelo primarily, also a bit of Girard smallsword man. And various other things.
RvN: But on rapier you are mainly going on Capoferro for 20 years.
GW: Yes. And that's primarily because I am not fundamentally really a researcher. I am primarily a martial arts instructor. And the reason I do the research is so that I have useful stuff to teach. And what I'm looking for in any given weapons style is a sufficiently complete, historically authentic style that then allows me to have a complete curriculum to teach my students. And Capoferro provides that. And the reason it’s Capoferro, rather than Fabris, is really simple. In 2003, I was at Benecia in California at this event where I was invited to teach a longsword class and a couple of things happened. One, I went to a Capoferro class given by Sean Hayes, which just made a load of sense and William Wilson, because back then, my Italian was pretty crap. William Wilson and Jherek Swanger brought out a free translation of Capoferro. So I thought, Oh OK, well, I'll dig in to Capoferro. Sean's class gave me the kind of nudge and then I had access to these excellent free resources. And so I just sort of dived in, and three years later, out came my book, The Duellist’s Companion and I had a pretty solid interpretation of how to do Capoferro’s style, which is not that different to Giganti, and fundamentally not that different to Fabris, just the guard positions are different. There are some mechanical differences, but Fabris himself says you don't have to pay too much attention to the pictures, right? So it's not that I don't have a curiosity about the rest of the century and the other masters and what have you. It's that what I'm looking for in the books that I'm researching is a fencing system that is sufficient to meet my students’ needs. And Capoferro did that, and yeah, I've done classes on Giganti and Fabris, as in taught classes on these things, and I've looked at a bunch of other sources too. I actually have a couple of plates from Bondì di Mazo, hanging up in the next room, which I found. I don't have the original of the rest of the book, but you know, like translations. Actually, isn't that how we first met? You were producing a translation? That's right. Yeah, we first interacted when you were producing a translation of the Spada Maestra and I had the colour plates for you to use for the cover. But there's only so much time. And rapier isn't my favourite system. I like it.
RvN: That’s because you do Capoferro.
GW: No, that's not fair. It’s that I like systems that feel adaptable. And rapier, as it's presented in the 17th century sources and tends to be really specific. And yes, it can be adapted to other things and the principles, right? OK. The logo of my school has crossed behind the shield, a longsword and a rapier because I think they're both the fundamentally important foundational weapons for the study of historical martial arts, they are equally important in that regard. I honestly, I wish a lot more longsword people would do rapier because it would improve their longsword dramatically because they would actually learn things like, you know, blade control, point control and binds and winds and disengages and things that actually work.
RvN: They would learn what the centre line is and why it's important.
GW: Yes. Let's not be too mean to the longsword people though, because they do try. But yeah, my interest is broad. You know, like from 1.33. And if there were earlier sources, I’d be interested in those too. All the way up to basically the end of smallsword, early 19th century stuff. For simplicity's sake I say 1300 to 1800 because stuff after 1800, it gets quite artificial, sport fencingy and classical fencingy. Basically the sword is no longer a sidearm. And before 1300, we don't have any sources. So there's that 500 year period. So, you know, spending significant amounts of time coming up with a complete and thorough working on Fabris, for instance. OK, I should also point out I only work with sources at a sort of professional level where I can read the original, at least to some degree. I did four years of Latin at school, so no, I could not possibly translate 1.33, but I can at least have an idea. I can have an informed opinion about Professor Forgeng’s translation. I'm entirely dependent on it, and that's the only system I teach where I'm dependent on a translation.
RvN: You can take a translation in the original text and at least see what the translator did and decide on whether you agree with it or not.
GW: Right. Exactly. Whereas with German. I have no German or Germanic languages at all. And I could spend some time learning some German, and that would not be a bad way to spend my time. But you know, there's so much stuff I can read that spending the time to get good enough a German and that I can have an informed opinion about, for instance, your translations of German or Dutch fencing sources. That's not necessarily the best use of my time.
RvN: I was just asking because like I said when I started in rapier, I read everything I could get, so I read Tom Leoni’s translation of Fabris, of course. I read his translation of Giganti and I read three different translations of Capoferro and it just doesn't work for me, it's the source I felt the least for.
GW: Yeah, I get it. Capoferro is a shockingly bad writer. And the reason that we have these three different translations is because it's really hard. I mean, some of it is straightforward, but it's not really well-written. I would say that, with all due respect to the maestro, it is not particularly well written book. But you know, somebody might tell you your baby is ugly and they might even be right, but you'll never see it. And I just love Capoferro, I just do. And you know, I have several original fencing books which I have collected over the years, and I have a Fabris. And it is beautiful and gorgeous, and I love it. But this is the one that I wanted, really, in my heart of hearts. My Capoferro. They won't bury me with it because that would be wrong. Because that would be a waste of a book. But I can see that at some point in the next 40 years or so, I might end up selling the other ones. Just to get other ones.
RvN: Yeah, they won't bury you with it, but at your funeral instead of a photo of you there will be a photo of the book.
GW: Well, but honestly, that's only because the getting the Getty Museum won't sell me the Fiore. And if they were going to sell me the Fiore, I don't have enough kidneys to sell to buy it. At the going rate on the black market, it would probably be about 20 kidneys, at least. I've only got two.
RvN: To continue on something you said, I see some difference between my understanding of Fabris and the stuff in his lineage versus other people's understanding of Capoferro and Giganti, because you said they're all of the same, I think there are some significant differences, actually.
GW: It depends on your point of view. I mean, there are obviously differences. But at the end of the day, a disengage is a disengage and a stringering is a stringering and a parry is a parry. And you stick the forte in the way of their debole and you stab them.
RvN: Yeah, but I think Fabris seems to prefer a shorter, quicker lunge, whereas at least the impression I get from hearing other people about a Capoferro and Giganti is that they still think you should lunge at about long measure and work to lunge long. And I have the impression that Fabris prefers a short lunge. Or maybe even if he can get away with not making the lunge, then that's even better, for example.
GW: Well, OK, Capoferro would agree with him. Capoferro’s single tempo is a strike of fixed foot where neither foot moves. You're just throwing your weight from your back foot to your front. And that's why he has such a wide guard, right? So that you're there in guard and your head is back and your body is back, but your front foot is really far forward so you can throw your body all the way forward onto that thing without having to move your foot off the ground. And if you look at the way Capoferro’s lunge actually works, he is moving his front foot its own length. That's it. That is all. It is as quick as it can reasonably be.
RvN: So then you get a distance of how much between them, between the feet that lunge?
GW: OK. Well, I would work the other way, I would say you start with the length of your lunge. And you recover your front foot back its own length, so your toe is where the back of your heel was. And the thing is, most people are not flexible enough to have their feet that far apart in the guard position. And so most people have a much shorter guard position, but they'd go to that full length of the lunge. And so they have something much closer to a modern sport fencing lunge. That is not what Capoferro tells us to do. Capoferro’s lunge, I think, and I've measured this, if I lie on the floor and I take a tape measure from the outside of my left foot to the tip of my sword. My arms extended above my head, so we get the absolute maximum reach between the outside edge of my back foot and the tip of my sword. And we put the end of the tape measure on the thrusting target on the wall and take that same distance back and make a line on the floor, I could put my back foot on that line and I can hit the target with Capoferro’s lunge. It is the absolute maximum reach you can possibly have with the bones you’ve got and the sword that you’ve got. But he does that with the front foot moving literally its own length, which is on me, hang on, I have a tape measure right here. I don't actually know how long my feet are. I should. My foot is 28 centimetres long, so my foot is moving 28 centimetres, at least if I do it correctly and perfectly, according to Capoferro, my foot is moving 28 centimetres. So yes, the lunge is long in that it covers the maximum distance between your back foot and the point of your sword. But in terms of a motion, it should be very small.
RvN: That’s cool.
GW: Fabris moves his foot a lot further because he had his feet together at the beginning and then he's going into a short lunge.
RvN: But this is some of the things I picked up from the C13, but I think it's also actually in Fabris himself. One thing he describes is a way to attack. To approach an attack from long measure, if you are not being giving a tempo. And one thing you can do then is once you're at the measure where you could hit with a lunge, instead of making a lunge, which the opponent will react to and hit you in the tempo, you just gradually move your front foot forwards while keeping your body still. And once your foot is placed and you creep forwards also with your sword a bit, once the distance from your sword to them is shorter than their parry distance, you just finish that. So then you get quite similar to what you just showed for Capoferro from the guard coming forwards, here you shift your foot forward so you move your foot first in a lunge in a way. And then once you are there you just finish that into a hit.
GW: Right. So the way I would describe that from a Capoferro perspective is starting in a short guard position, you get your foot out to a proper guard position and then you strike them in the action of a single tempo. Yeah, because Capoferro is weird, his lunge he calls it a tempo and a half. Every other fencing master, the strike of the fixed foot is the lunge because the back foot is fixed, as opposed to the pass where the back foot moves. Whereas for Capoferro, the strike of the fixed foot, it is both feet stay still. The front foot isn't moving. And then he's got the half tempo where you step back and thrust at your opponent’s arm as they come forward. So he has those options. And of course, you can also strike with the pass and various other things. But the way rapier is often fenced these days, and I'm guilty of this myself because it's a fun way to do it is much closer to the mechanics of sport fencing, where you have a relatively short guard and relatively long lunges, and you might even try and do blade actions on the lunge, which you should never do with a rapier because it should be too heavy and too long for that to work.
RvN: I should correct myself, Fabris, actually calls this a way to go into narrow measure from long measure, so you shift your foot into the narrow measure. And if you've then still got that line, then you change that into a double fixed foot lunge. So I think that's a really interesting thing. I was working on that before the Covid hit and we had to stop. Everything is all crap now, but it was a lot of fun working on that. But the other interesting thing that I think is not in Fabris himself but is in the C13 is a whole bunch of stuff about “met der fuss”, your foot suspended in the air, for example, he would tell you to make a feint with your foot in the air. Your front foot. And then from there continue depending on whether they parry or not. And that's an interesting balance exercise trying to move your body forwards whilst also lifting that foot off the ground a little bit.
GW: And it's actually something that I was taught in sport fencing in the 80s. So you feint and the foot comes off the ground so that you can lunge or not if you want. I mean nobody ever does it these days in sport fencing that I'm aware of. But yeah, I was taught that. We have the same problem with smallsword. Smallsword is not modern foil and smallsword is not rapier. Smallsword is its own thing. And when it's done the way it's done in the book, it is a knife fight short fought at very close range. It is hideous, it’s so fast, it’s so dangerous. And the lunge is as Capoferro would say, the lunge, we see it again in Angelo, the lunge is its own length. The length of the foot, so like the foot moves, in my case, 28 centimetres or so. It's not these great long accelerating lunges that you see in sport fencing, where you can do like three disengages and accents on the blade as you go forward in the lunge. It is you’re getting in close… you’re getting in close and then, BAM! You’re dead. Or you are, or at least they've got a hole in them, hopefully. We generally don't do it quite the way it's done in the books because honestly, it's really hard to fence your friends that way and have fun and not kill anyone.
RvN: True. So the other thing that that struck me in one of the things you said about a Capoferro that you like a system that's flexible that you can change. I'm not sure if I'm saying exactly what you said.
GW: Yeah, Capoferro isn’t, really.
RvN: Oh, OK. But one thing that I've been also playing with and I've sometimes, you know, because you have to argue with people on the internet, I sometimes throw in some extra power, as in footwork is not important, just to rile up some feathers. One impression I have from studying Fabris is that initially footwork is important. It's always important. But initially, learning to do the footwork exactly as he tells you, is important. You have to learn to step the way you're told. You have to learn to lunge where he told. You have to learn to step or lunge or etc. when you're told. But then I think this is partly what the second book gets at, is at some point is basically, OK, now you know all this. Now you should know how to step, when to step and how to step in the particular way at what time. Now you can kind of forget about it because you'll just do what you need to do. You need to just go. Yeah, just walk.
GW: He says just walk. Just walk towards your opponent. And when they do a bow, you stab them. It is great. Fabris’s second book is awesome.
RvN: Yes, but I think this kind of is the key of the whole thing is like, you learn all these things, but eventually you don't have to think, do I need to make a lunge or a passing step now? It's just you're falling on your face and you need to move your feet to that place so you don't fall on your face. And if all your weight is on your right foot, you're going to move your left foot. And if your weight is on the left foot, then OK, you move your right foot. I think that applies for a lot of this stuff.
GW: Right. We have in Capoferro, there’s the Scanso del pie dritto, where you stringer on the outside and the attack comes from the inside and you step your front foot out of the way and stab them. And you have also the Scanso della vita where you take your back foot out of the way and that takes your whole body with it. And it is this beautiful, big thing. It's lovely. At no point does he address when you should do which, right? But the thing is, if you're approaching somebody and you're stepping forward to stringer them. Your weight when they do the disengage and that sword comes towards you, your weight is going to be on your front foot or on your back foot, depending on the timing of your opponent's actions. My view is if your weight is on the back foot, move the front foot and do the Scanso del pie dritto and if the weight is on the front foot moves the back foot and do the Scanso della vita. And they should be your internal experience of them should be just get out the way.
RvN: It starts by turning away the shoulder.
GW: Exactly, and then whatever foot moves, moves.
RvN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've been looking at a lot of stuff that way. Look, OK, I need to hit my opponent with my sword placed there. And because of the way they stand, my body needs to be there. OK, so if my sword needs to be there, and that means my body needs to be there, then my feet need to be somewhere over there and not falling over – victory.
GW: And you know, I sometimes have to persuade my students that they already know footwork. I do that by just getting them to walk up to each other and shake hands. And they never fall over. They never trip over their own feet. They never miss with the hand. They're always in a comfortable measure against their opponent or their partner or whatever, for what they're trying to do, which in this case is simply shake hands. And the thing is, shaking hands is a common cultural thing for us. So they've all done it loads of times before, they understand like stuff about social distance. It's different now, obviously. But it's not difficult. We can do all this stuff and all this sort of fancy footwork and what have you is just a way of understanding what you can do when you're constrained into certain kinds of footwork. So if your weight is on this foot, you will have to do this, if your weight is on this foot you have to do that. We already know how to move freely. Buy you can’t really start with that.
RvN: No, no, because you need to make people aware or of what they're doing. And once they're aware of what they're doing, then they can handle themselves. But when they're unaware of what foot they're using, then they're going to get in trouble.
GW: But also the sword complicates things because until they're used to the length of the sword they will be in the wrong place to do the thing they want to do with the sword. So one exercise I have students do, is holding the sword however they’re held. We have a wall target for thrusting at, put your other shoulder on the wall. You're that close. And hit the target however you need to hit the target and then take a bit of a step back and keep doing it, step back and keep doing it, step back and keep doing it. And eventually you'll switch your feet around and then you'll be lunging, and then even move further back and you will be passing. But all you're trying to do the whole time is just get the point into the target and then with a bit of practice, you want to get the point into the target with the minimum motion of the arm. And then all the rapier stuff just happens by itself.
RvN: So you said that you're further away and you’re passing. Is that in Capoferro? Is passata from long distance longer than lunge?
GW: No, it's just basic mechanics. It's if I need to go a long distance that way, if my two feet are together, it doesn't matter which I move forward with really. OK, but if I am definitely right foot forward and I have the sword in my right hand, my lunge is anchored by my back foot. So the distance of the lunge is determined by the position of the back foot. If I pass, the distance forward I can go is determined by the position of the front foot. So because my front foot is significantly further forward than my back, my pass will always reach further than my lunge.
RvN: Yes. But it was a trick question. Because Fabris explicitly says that you should use the passata only at close measure, and that's the thing when I got started and I read this and I go well, but the passing step is longer. So why would you use it at close measure? And the reason is that with your passing step you need to make sure you pass the point early in the passing step, because otherwise you're going to be vulnerable for a counterattack. So that is why it struck me a bit, as you said, oh, if you're too far away to lunge, then you should take a passing step with your action. That's something Fabris would probably not condone.
GW: I don't know that that's true, because one thing that pretty much nobody is doing and for good safety reasons, is we are not striking to the depth that we're being told to strike in the books. There should be a solid like 40 centimetres of blades sticking out of your opponent's head so that you are well inside their point. While your sword is stuck in their body, you want it to be really difficult for them to get their weapon all the way back to hit you. And so everything is done a lot closer. And the pass is a really good way of getting deep in almost behind your opponent. But we can't fence that way without killing people. Or at least giving them that broken ribs and concussions and all sorts of horrible things. So we tend to fence from further away.
RvN: You said we fence from further away, so that should also mean that simply some techniques are not going to work the way they should. So maybe we should just not.
GW: Just to clarify, if you are not close enough to lunge, let’s say both of you are standing still, OK, if you are not close enough to lunge at that moment when you have the tempo you don't have time to do a pass. Because it travels so far, it will take so long, your opponent will have all the time in the world to write a letter home to their mum, saying “help, I’m being attacked” and then parry and riposte. So I'm not suggesting that if you are far away and you want to attack, you would then use a pass because that's just too long. But let's say we're in close and you’re recovering, and I have a good tempo to chase you, but you're moving backwards and my weight's in the wrong place to lunge. Then a pass will do the job for me. And it will get me deeper, which is a good thing. Also, some of Capoferro’s techniques demand a pass like the scannatura, for example, where you get your left hand in. You've done something similar to the ligada, I think you called it, you’re in quarte and you bind it down to seconda. That action. We have something a bit like that called the scannatura in Capoferro. And it's followed up by so as you basically bound them out to your right hand side, if you're a right hander, you then pass in and grab the hilt of their weapon with your left hand and I mean, scannatura is “butchering”, so you slaughter them at that point. Literally the sword goes in sort of at waist height and it comes out through the shoulder.
RvN: There's one of these German authors, Johann Daniel Lange. He's the one who's fondest of grappling with the rapier, and a lot of the German sources, it's very similar to the Spanish movement of conclusion. Where you step in, you grab the hand and you get the sword underneath as well. So you're holding their hand and you've got the sword under and around so you can stab them at the same time. And Johann Daniel Lange he's got all kinds of fun techniques, including breaking somebody's arm over your shoulder whilst holding the rapier. But this one specifically says, when you do this, you need to lean forwards, as you hold them and strike, because otherwise they will step on your knee and break it. Yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense, who would do that? But then you open Pallavicini, the Sicilian manual and he shows the same thing leaning as far back as he can, just like, break it. Let me go for it.
GW: Fiore shows us a kick to the knee, and Capoferro doesn't. I don't really know what happened to all the sort of kicks and throws and grapples and stuff that sort of should be there because we know that they fought that way because we have examples of duels that went really horribly wrong. And, you know, all sorts of ghastliness happened and a lot of it was grappling and rolling around in the mud, stabbing each other with knives. And, you know, it's not pretty. So it's surprising to me that is missing from the manuals.
RvN: I think in one or two places, there's something written about that grappling is basically beastly, you shouldn't do it. Something like that, I don't remember exactly. I think it may have been that getting to a grapple is seen as sort of a failing in your fencing technique. OK, you can’t solve it with swords and you had to go for the grapple kind of thing.
GW: Yeah, that's a lot like, you know, presuming to teach sort of self-defence kind of street fighting stuff and leaving out of the ground fighting because, well, you shouldn't go to the ground because it's dangerous. Well, yes, you shouldn't go to the ground because it's dangerous. But if you end up on the ground, what are you going to do? But yeah, and I'm guessing that a lot of these books are written to kind of showcase the master's art rather than necessarily provide a complete martial arts education to the reader.
RvN: Oh, yeah, I agree. Though some of them do claim that that's the purpose of the book is that the reader can learn to fence from. Bruchius, for example, makes that claim that the reader can learn to fence. But then at several points is like, well, if you come to this situation than just ask your fencing master what to do.
GW: Yes, in the middle of a duel that's going to us going to work really well. But maybe the book is a complete introduction to how fence, but that maybe doesn't include grapples and kicks and punches and things like that, which are maybe taught elsewhere. And, you know, a lot of these people were riding and would sometimes have to fight with swords on horseback perhaps and Capoferro has one mention of horses in the whole book, where he says basically it's a bit different on horseback because the office of the feet is taken by the horse and you can whirl your arm about to your satisfaction. I'm paraphrasing loosely. But that is not that is not a complete system of mounted combat. That is one passing mention in like 1610, when every gentleman was pretty much riding everywhere. So one has to wonder what else is missing. Marvellous. Well, actually, it's funny, I asked what was technically the last question about 40 minutes ago, we have been rabbiting on in perfect podcasting style about the specifics of Capoferro. That's great.
RvN: I think it was only fair I’d ask you some questions back and grill you a bit.
GW: Absolutely. Thank you very much for joining me today Reinier, it's been lovely to meet you.
RvN: Thank you for having me. It was good fun to talk to you about these things.