|Back in the spring, Clint reminded us about the importance of reading – and understanding – the texts necessary to progress within the Academie Duello ranks. Further, as an Instructor, he also reminded us of the importance to read, and possibly re-read the required texts whenever we have new experiences or knowledge. Reading should not be a ‘cramming’ effort undertaken just before an assessment.
As WMA/HEMA students, we should look forward to more study and discussions about our chosen art form – and would benefit from reading most any of the wealth of books detailing the history, technology and techniques of historical sword play.
The swordplay initiate can build a satisfactory reference library with naught but three books; a history of swords and their use; a ‘tech manual’ featuring different blades as used through history; and a ‘fight book’ – a nitty-gritty, how-to manual describing the discipline or period of your choice. Once you’ve digested the low-hanging fruit of each of these, you will be able to discuss intelligently with your peers the common elements of your craft, avoid the faux pas of quoting sword myths and fallacies, and generally have the academic background necessary to make the most of your practical in-salle lessons – to say nothing of the inevitable beer call afterwards.
But as with everything WMA/HEMA/sword-related: do your homework before hand. When investing precious personal time in a book; consider who’s writing it, what are their qualifications – and they’re writing for what reason and from what point-of-view (or even prejudice)? Before selecting an ‘authority’ to initially guide your further book studies – check around to see what others ‘in the field’ are saying about the book.
To wit: my favourite ‘history of sword fighting’ book to demonstrate the minefield that is sword-related history is Richard Cohen’s “By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions” 2002.
Reviewers of the book range from various degrees of support; such as the Australian Army Journal and ‘fencer’ the blogger; some ‘neutral’/professional reviews by London UK newspapers such as The Guardian (both in 2002 and 2003), The Observer and The Independent; and we finish with comments by one of our own (http://www.sword-manufacturers-guide.com/by-the-sword.html).
Notwithstanding the Scottish fencing master Sir William Hope*, well written books are effective (and often entertaining) tools with which to better understand the weapons, Guards, Cuts, Thrusts, Parries and customs of honour that We practice in the salle.
Choose your three carefully … I may want to borrow one!
* “Sir William Hope, with Scottish candour, certainly warns those who buy or borrow his ‘Scots Fencing Master (1687)’ that they can learn little from books except what he calls scathingly the ‘contemptible ability of posing as expert swordsmen’, and he is unique among his colleagues in confessing to scepticism about the virtue of the written word.”
Aylward, J.D. The Small-Sword in England. Hutchinson & Co., London, UK. 1960 p. 126