All around the HEMA community people use phrases like “Meyer didn’t thrust”, “Fiore didn’t do helicopter stuff”, “Ringeck did this, and Danzig didn’t”. It is a tiny bit ridiculous, and also usually wrong.
We should not forget that we are talking about books here, not actual people. And what these people did as part of both their fighting and their teaching is not the same as what they wrote.
And this is not because they wanted to screw with us (although anyone who has read the Zettel at least once without the glosa can pretty much hear the grandmaster laughing villainously at us from the afterworld). It was just that the idea of the manuscripts was not to teach 21st century nerds how to sword fight. And some where not even meant to teach anyone.
I thought that was made clear by many scholars in HEMA, but people still use phrases like this.
There was an article from Roger Norling entitled “Doing what we are told or what we are taught?”. I liked it, it raised interesting questions. I however think a more accurate question is “Are we trying to emulate the manuals, the masters, or the Art?”.
If its the first one, that is definitely possible. I’ve seen and heard of people who train by doing only what is in the manual. Which is cool, but in my opinion, it is closer to reenactment than to doing a real martial art.
Is it possible to emulate the masters? I don’t think so, for two reasons – we know so little about them and it is fucking stupid. I’ll let Meyer explain why.
Can we emulate the Art? Can we actually do the Art? I honestly think so, if not, I’ve spending an awful lot of time waving swords around for nothing. I think this is harder than emulating the manuals, for two reasons – first, it is technically a heavier job, and second, it requires free and open thinking – something that many instructors in HEMA lack. They are fixed upon their understanding, their interpretations, and their way, because they fear losing their status quo. They play the open-mindedness with other people who share their opinions, and they spend hours discussing anything but the way they teach, the way they train, and by discussing I actually mean exchanging opinions and trying to see reason and understand the opinions of others.
But enough of this. Emulating and recreating the actual Art is a process of training, researching and interpreting. You need to understand not only what th plays described in the manuals are, but what is beyond them – the actual principles and actions of fencing. Recently I saw a messer interpretation of Leckkuchner. It was as a matter of simple movements an almost perfect interpretation. However, just from looking at the videos I could see the guy had no knowledge of actual bio-mechanics of martial arts and fighting. His posture is terrible, his cuts have no intent, the cuts delivered by his partner have no intent, his body shows that he has never actually spend time on the basics and core principles of moving his feet…. And he is making interpretations.
I do not believe that the plays in the manuals (especially the early ones) were meant to teach. So we have to distill the essence, which was not actually meant to be done. And we have to have a solid foundation to put it on. Most people do not have that, and they seem to believe that just doing the movements of the plays without understanding them will make them fencers.
Oh, and about the question if Fiore had the Zwerchau, to quote Caspar and Bradak:
And the colpi mezana are never delivered from above the head?
Fiore himself tells us that they “…go across as middle cuts\And damage from the knees up\And doubling the strike, we wound…”4
“Doubling the strike, we wound…”
A mid-level cut just goes back the way it came, with the false edge. This is found in the English Tradition, as well as the German, and even in a late Portuguese text. This is what Vadi tells us about the volante, the true edge being used right-to-left, the false left-to-right. Performed from above the head (one form of Zwerchhau), it is simply reversed – and doubling it, well – that’s two Zwerchhauen. One Zwerchhau from above the head is usually followed with another to the opponent’s other side.