Tag Archives: Marozzo

In the Middle…

A brief Biography of My Life as a Martial Artist, part II;

In regards to my later days at Academie Duello,  there is one more pivotal moment in my life that should be mentioned; the Duel.

Randy and I decided to stage a mock-duel at the first annual sword camp that Duello was hosting. (This has since come to be called Cascadia North, and has changed venues.) It was to be a fight to first blood with sharpened sabres – a demonstration of the ritual of the tradition and, in the case of ourselves, the psychological experience of agreeing to such a fight.

Gut-wrenching would be my choice of phrase.

A full account of the demonstration was included in one of my earliest blog posts, and can be found here; https://scienceofdefence.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/duel/

However, back in day to day life, there were a few conflicts arising in the latter days at Duello. Partially it was my own attitude, especially during the Palestra classes. I began to question some of Randy’s ideas, and as such I frustrated him as much as myself by my stubbornness. Some mild ugliness ensued.

Also, put simply, Randy was becoming increasingly interested in expanding both what he was teaching, and how he was teaching it. There were many experiments in conditioning and instructing that he was not able to do within the parameters of the regular classes at the school, and it became apparent that he would have to strike out on his own if he was going to really develop them.

Naturally I felt that I should leave with him, since I was his friend as much as I was his assistant instructor and staying behind seemed like it would be rather awkward in regards to my position at Duello. Not only that, but at the time I was receiving no real pay for my time coaching the newer students. Though I did make some money from teaching a childrens’ summer program, as well as a workshop that I ran on my own, it was not nearly enough to keep me from being very poor. Following Randy to a new project meant that, if the concept was successful, I could actually be a partner in the profits and business planning.

I believe it was late in the year 2007 that we agreed that we were both going to resign from Duello and try and start a smaller club on our own.

We were to be dubbed Nova Spada, and the locations we eventually settled on were Sapperton Pensioners’ Hall in New Westminster, and the Cloverdale rodeo Grounds in, obviously, Cloverdale.

Our focus changed drastically from what we were teaching at AD. We all but abandoned Rapier for the time being and went back to square one on trying to figure out what the best way to teach might be. Rather than focusing exclusively on swords, Randy began drafting drills for footwork, basic posture and body mechanics. In terms of swordplay, we began by working through the tenants of the i.33 manual – which is one of the first martial arts documents known to the western world. We also dabbled in Marozzo, as well as beginning to develop the style of unarmed combat that would eventually mature into a whole new style of fighting.

It was at the Cloverdale fairgrounds, in a large concrete arena, that the 5×5 system was born. Originally it was just a thought about knife fighting. “Hey, there are really only so many angles a knife attack can take, and really only so many responses a person can make in time – so why don’t we boil those down and make a free-style drill out of it?”

I think we knew right away that we had hit upon something valuable. The 5×5 knife drill became our favourite thing to work on, and it wasn’t long before we realized it wasn’t that hard to adapt it to all self-defence scenarios. Thus began what I still feel was one of our best inventions. The idea that all aggressive attacks and all ‘flinch’ responses to them can be boiled down to a simple set of principals.

I won’t go in to the exact details of how the drills work, since they are only partially mine to give out. I believe Randy is still working them at his introductory classes at http://boxwrestlefence.com/classes/ for those who are interested.

Now, I wont lie, getting out to the Cloverdale location sucked. I had to bus to the skytrain, ride the train to Surrey Central, walk up a hill to where Randy lived at the time, then the pair of us would drive out to the fairgrounds. The whole trek could take up to two and a half hours. Once there we would run classes for another couple of hours, and then I repeated the whole process to get home.

At this point I was also working forty hours and five days a week at my regular job, and spending both my days off at Nova Spada. Eventually my value and enthusiasm as both a student and an instructor began to fade. I knew nothing of nutrition in those days, and I was essentially working non-stop for seven days a week. I was exhausted. I would sometimes make the journey all the way out there only to feel strung out and half-asleep most of the time I was there. It was not good.

However, as it turned out we didn’t keep the Cloverdale practice running all that long. The expense of the two locations was not practicable considering the amount of money we were taking in, and some of the financial help we were hoping for didn’t come to be. Thus perished the Cloverdale Practice. There were a few classes we ran outside in parks and the like, but it wasn’t long before we were only running sessions at Sapperton, and only on one day a week.

The Nova Spada group in Cloverdale

The Sapperton practice, which would endure for another three years after we abandoned Cloverdale, went through many a metamorphosis. At first we were running classes much the same; alternating sword work with knife and unarmed work. The 5×5’s finally came in to their own as a system of training. However, after a while we were at a loss to know where we should go from there.

During that time classes became very informal. There was a period where we were more of a drop in facility with no structured classes. Randy and I more or less stepped back as instructors, working on bettering ourselves while occasionally giving advice to those who asked for it. The one advantage of this un-ambitious period was that we were actually able to pocket a small percentage of our earnings as opposed to putting all the money into new equipment.

Nevertheless, neither of us were really happy with the way things were.

I was constantly trying to think of a way to get things rolling again, as I felt that we were coming up with some really great material that was begging to be taught. Eventually I hit upon the idea of taking a page from history and trying to re-vision ourselves as a guild – kind of a less biased version of the London Masters of Defence from Elizabethan England.

When I first proposed this idea to Randy I didn’t think he was that taken with it. I thought that he felt it was too big a leap from what we were doing. I was a little disappointed, but I shrugged it off and filed the concept away for future use.

However, the idea was not as rebuffed as I had initially thought. A few weeks later we began discussing it again in more detail. By this point my girlfriend, Holly Maclaren, had become a regular part of our endeavours, and we all began planning how we would re-brand the school. The four of us, Randy, Courtney, Holly and myself began meeting at least once a week to brainstorm, plan, plot and scheme. It was a fairly lengthy and often frustrating process, but in there end we disseminated what we had done with Nova Spada and created Scatha Combat guild.

The early days of SCG were spent offering a series of workshops designed to bring in some new students and spark some more interest in what we were doing. Randy and I both ran long, two hour sessions that covered our own particular skills. Randy did two part introductions to the fencing master Marozzo, as well as German longsword and other favourites of his, I did the same on the basics of Bartitsu. and Angelo’s Highland Broadswoard (or Backsword) military style. We also ran classes devoted entirely to fitness for the first time.

To a certain extent, the plan worked. We did get more interest online and a few more people started to check us out in person. After a few months of this, we were ready to start buckling down to regular classes again.

Eventually the standard night ran along these lines: work out, 2×2 drill (a simple practice of all the basics strikes against a target), the 5×5’s then some in depth work on a particular field, followed finally by free sparring.

The biggest shift over time was the work out portion.

When we first began running classes we still kept the model we had used from Palestra; run around, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, a little plyometrics. However, over time our conditioning portion of the night became a melting pot of new and old ideas. Randy was always trying to find the best ways to train people to move more naturally and more gracefully, so we we always experimenting with something new. We researched everything from Parkour to La Canne looking for new ways to condition our students for athletic movement.

What we ended up with became a mix of basic gymnastics, the essentials of Capoeira, and a smidgen of on-the-floor break dancing. It was a fascinating blend.

I was not a fan of the gymnastics at first. I liked the idea of making all our students capable of handstands and planches, but I wasn’t sure we were going about it the right way. The issue I had was that a lot of the basic exercises are a both very difficult, and not particularly rewarding for the first few months. For one, it was frustrating to feel like there was a whole aspect of strength that I completely lacked (and I did). Also, I sometimes felt that we were throwing ourselves into the more difficult positions when we hadn’t really taken the time to build up the co-ordination of the basic postures.

Eventually I came to accept that the attempts at seemingly impossible feats of gymnastics were in fact building a much better sense of movement in our students, and a balance that they had never possessed before. It took time, but the day finally came where I could hold a free-standing hand stand and I realized the progress I was making. However, I still wished we had taken a little more time to work through and coach the basics before pushing forward into the more intermediate stuff.

Meanwhile the four of us were still planning to expand our business. Our hope was to make a business plan, attain some money, and set up a small, permanent location somewhere in Vancouver. Once there we could advertise the hell out of ourselves and perhaps get on our way to actually running a successful establishment.

I still get starry eyes over the idea of having a modest club somewhere, and being able to show the world some of this amazing stuff that surfaced over the last half-decade.

Yet that was a dream that ended up staying in the realm of fantasy…


Knife Fighting

A Fairbairn-Sykes; I’ve always wanted one of these…

Knives, knives, knives – they do so much more than sit next to forks. They are mankind’s first real tool, apart from the crude bludgeon; one of our earliest attempts to make up for the fact that nature did not grace us with fangs, tusks, claws, exoskeletons or wings.

And, of course, we didn’t waste too much time in developing a habit of sticking them into one another on our off hours. After all, beating each other to death with rocks was so barbaric…

I think, for many people, part of the brain still feels an immediate and instinctive fear at the sight of a blade. After all, a sharp-edged knife is not something that nature produced and we feel no desire to come into contact with its edge. Most folks will still become very uncomfortable when a knife is held near them.

As I see it, there are three uses of a knife: First of all, as a multi-purpose tool. It can be very handy in that respect, and there is nothing sinister in that function. The second use is as a weapon of fear. It can be used as a psychological tool of intimidation; nobody wants to go anywhere near the nasty thing and they tend to comply rather than take the risk of doing so.

There are some problems with that theory. Against a layman, yes, a knife is scary and may be intimidating. However, against someone with some experience, the scare tactic is not going to work. Statistically, many people who carry guns and knives ‘for self-defence’ end up having their own weapon used against them. If you try to use such a potentially lethal device to scare somebody away, you are banking on the fact that they will not call your bluff. If that does happen, and you are not willing to seriously injure them, then there is a good chance that the tool will be grabbed  away from you and then it’s off to hospital for you.

Which brings us to the third function; people trying to do grievous bodily harm to someone with a knife.

Incidentally, I should point out that ‘knife fights’ rarely happen. Unless you roll with a 1950’s gang (In full Technicolor!), two people are rarely found to be circling each other with switchblades. The thing is, knife fighting in that fashion is a largely regional thing. There are still some countries where it does occur, but in North America (and I would venture to say most of Europe) knife duels went out of fashion with greased hair and hot rod drag racing. In contemporary situations, the use of a knife in an altercation is most likely going to be a fast aggressive


attempt to kill or maim the intended victim before they have a chance to react.

You have to be a special kind of crazy to want to fight another person knife-to-knife.

I only practice this kind of combat in sparring for fun and sport (and because I love Dune). It’s not a self-defence art.

Now, in the good old days of thick doublets and leather jerkins, one didn’t have to worry so much about slashing cuts with a blade. If you are strutting around with layers of linen, wool and leather between your skin and the world, you are pretty well protected against incidental scrapes. As a result, most of the defensive techniques of the Renaissance are based against hard, aggressive attacks with a long dagger. These manoeuvres were very effective, and I still consider Marozzo’s dagger pressas part of my core curriculum for reliable self-defence. However, they do not always work as well against an opponent with a short, fine bladed knife who tries to attack with quick, spastic cuts. Especially when, in place of heavy Renaissance fashion, one is clad in only in shirtsleeves.

Modern knife defence is a slightly different game. Over the centuries, many people started to favour quick, wounding cuts over direct, killing thrusts. This results in a higher risk of injury, possibly leading to a serious amount of blood loss rather than a immediate kill. This shift also means that an opponent will be much less predictable, especially if they have no real training in using a knife. When dealing with knives (or rapiers for that matter) a person who doesn’t really know what he is doing can often be harder to deal with than a trained martial artist, for the simple reason that you have no idea what insane movements he may try to throw at you. And, if you try to even the playing field by drawing a knife of your own you run the risk of trading off injuries until both of you are bloodies and scarred.

There are obviously opposing viewpoints on the subject, but this is my opinion;
In a unexpected encounter with an opponent armed with a knife, I would choose to remain unarmed rather than try to draw a blade myself. (Well, ideally I would like to have a sturdy cane to defend myself with, but I still get odd looks for using a walking stick in daily life.) Two knives make for a whole lot of panic, and that can lead to a very nasty conclusion. I have spent many years training with knives, and I am finally confident in my ability to deal with them. As such, I would actually feel safest relying on good footwork to help me find an opening to close in and disarm/grapple/hit repeatedly a person who threatened me in this way. I could try to draw a knife as I closed in, but I would personally try to refrain from doing so.

No matter how tough you think you are, actually killing a person with a knife, even in self-defence, is not something you want on your conscience or your legal record if it can be in any way avoided.

Breaking bones is fine, though – I can live with that.

Now if you don’t have many years of training in dealing with knife attacks then run. Just run. The last thing you want is to end up wrestling over a knife as if in a cinematic fight scene, as it never works out how you want it to.

As to techniques for dealing with these situations, there are plenty to choose from. Personally, I would never rely on any specific technique too strongly. As I mentioned before; If a strange, possibly inebriated, lunatic comes at you with a knife, you don’t really know what they are going to do. A ‘do-this-when-they-do that’ approach may leave you unprepared for a clumsy, frantic slash from a desperate foe.

Simply blocking a knife attack, for example, is rarely a good idea.

The key is to understand the angles, distance and timing of attacks. The best counter is to be able to position and reposition yourself so that you can deceive you attacker while also defending yourself, then to close in quickly and decisively. Once you get past the point where the opponent can stab at you, you can use whatever striking or wrestling art with which you are most confident. I favour elbow and grapple tactics myself. It is always handy to hit someone in a fairly painful place before going for any kind of wrestling hold, and a quick elbow does a good job of that.

Once the basics of a particular art are mastered, then I consider slow work to be the best way to become more comfortable with this aspect of defence. It is important to be non-competitive while doing this.

My favourite knife drill is to begin with one partner attacking constantly while the other defends. Once the pair has engaged, both practitioners continue with a ceaseless flow of motion, using footwork and simple close-fighting techniques. With this drill there should be no point where there is any hard resistance or muscular shoving. This isn’t a combat technique, but a drill to teach positional awareness and adaptability. Once the defending partner manages to get the knife away from the attacker, the drill does NOT stop; the student who gains the knife immediately attacks back with the same constant assault. Now it is the other person’s turn to defend and disarm.

This continues back and forth, with the knife being taken from one partner and then the other. There are no set rules to what each person can do; anything from leg sweeps to joint locks are fine as long as they are slow and constant. It is important that both students never stop moving. Gradually the pace of the drill is increased, until eventually both students are moving at more-or-less full speed.

After a student has performed this drill consistently, it is often true that they  become much more effective in sparring.

Picture Perfect

In working with Western Martial arts there is no denying that half of the interpretations of the old manuals come from studying the plates and illustrations. (The other half being deciphering the arcane grammar…) I feel that there is something that many people overlook in regards to the pictures and their co-relation to the attached description – they are hand drawn. That means that the artist had to sketch the subject while the fencer did his best to hold still. This is why it is important to ‘filter’, as it were, the images through the descriptions in the text. The person drawing the plate is, unless I am mistaken, rarely a fencing master himself. So while the image may be a static and technically correct demonstration of a technique, it is most probably not how the manoeuvre would look when executed during combat. One has to imagine the moment AFTER the plate. The fencer would not pause as he finished his attack, he would recover immediately to guard without any pause.

Take modern boxing as an example. If I were to take still photos of a champion boxer demonstrating a perfect jab and cross then I would indeed have an illustration of a perfectly sound technique.  However, the dynamic and athletic way in which the fighter transitions between those positions cannot be captured in posed illustrations. The pictures of the techniques would come nowhere near doing justice to the graceful way the person actually moved when fighting freely.

Therefore it seems like folly to try and PERFECTLY replicate the plates in renaissance fencing manuals, since they are intended as a scientific demonstration of artful techniques as opposed to a captured moment of elegant combat. You have to take into account that the illustration displays someone who is doing their best to hold still, as opposed to someone who is actually moving quickly and lightly on their feet. For instance, I have sometimes seen interpretations of such masters as Marozzo (depicted above) that seem to step statically from one guard to the other, rather that throwing cuts that facilitate a smooth transition between guards. It is quite possible to throw two dynamic cuts that pass perfectly through four guards without pausing in between each motion. When I look at the illustrations of Marozzo I notice his wide stance, and that his body weight is held over the lead leg. To me, that bespeaks of someone who is moving quickly and prepared to angle and sidestep without having to pause and shift his balance. Fencing is like all martial arts; when it is done at full speed it should be dynamic, fast and efficient. It should be a constant flow as opposed to the steps of a clockwork soldier.

So by all means, study the academic side of these historic fighting styles. However, do remember in your studies that they ARE fighting styles. Like any skill; the academic side isn’t everything, you need experience making it actually work in your own way.

The Trouble with WMA

Oh Western Martial Arts…

It has been mentioned elsewhere that us guys at Scatha Combat Guild have distanced ourself from the distinction as a Western Martial Arts school. That is because we are, first and foremost, a plain old fashioned Martial Arts school. It is true that our curriculum includes techniques and theories that were originally derived from the study of aged manuals, but following in the footsteps of the ancient masters isn’t our intent. The WMA label no longer suits what we are. We no longer teach Marozzo, or Capo Ferro, or Fiorre. Everyone is different, and no one style derived any one master will work for every student we have. Martial arts is about adaptability, finding what works best for each of us. The dogmatic recreation of specific individuals simply doesn’t allow for that.

And, frankly, I could do without ever having another debate about the interpretations of oft-cryptic texts. Fencing manual arguments, and the ego that goes with them, just bore the hell out of me these days. So, that is that. No historical labels for us, we focus on the training not the research. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in WMA’s philosophy.

That said, our derivative sword work is second to none, but our approach of contemporary. Historical weapons and techniques tempered with modern, in-depth physical training. Has anything ever resembled being a superhero more than this? I like to think not.