Works of Richard Marsden

The Works of Richard Marsden. Writing and Historical European Martial Arts.

Western Martial Arts Book Reviews

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I have an extensive library of WMA material and would like to share my thoughts on the material I have and discuss how you can purchase it yourself if you don't have it already. All of these books can be found with Google Searches or on Amazon.com and I tried to post their price and availability below.

 

What about the original text books? Well, go over to your stand up computer desk, bring up the internet and you can find mostly what you want. Below are books that were translated for today's WMA crowd or an in interpretation by modern teachers.

 

Rapier 

 

Guy Windsor's Duelist's Companion = This book is modern WMA teacher Guy Windsor's interpretation of Italian 17th century rapier combat. I highly recommend it because the book is directed at creating a complete system in the modern context. There are guards, thrusts, several footwork plays all with a good explanation and step by step visual instruction. Where the book falls a little flat is in the concept of gaining the blade, or stringere. Windsor does his best to explain the concept and show many pictures to elaborate, but the photography is not up to the challenge of clearly depicting what rapier blades are up to. Cost-wise the book retails around 20 bucks when its in stock, so feel free to check it out on the computer via Amazon. Well worth it and a good easy start for the WMA rapier enthusiast.

 

Tom Leoni's Translation of Giganti = GOLD! The book is cheap when it is in stock, under 20 dollars. The author, a Veneitian master, wrote in a style perfect for teaching newcomers to rapier. While footwork isn't expressly discussed, the basics in all other things are. When working from the ground up, Giganti is great! The images and text show how to gain the blade, lunge, use the sword alone, or with a dagger, the correct use of passing steps with the off-hand and some more subtle advice about what 'not to do' if one looks at the 'losers' in the plates. The book is readily understandable by a modern audience and while simple and short, it's great to start with because.... it's simple and short.

 

Tom Leoni's Translation of Fabris = Hard (Anyone who tells you different has to prove it to you with video and witnesses). Salvator Fabris wrote a book so epic on the use of the rapier that very few, even those outside the Italian tradition, had anything negative to say about him. When it comes to thorough, Fabris does not disappoint. Fabris, unlike other masters, shows many variations of guards, including ones he saw and didn't like and why. He treats attacks, and plays in much the same way. Additionally, Fabris looks at sword alone, sword with the dagger, using the dagger and the left leg as the lead (rare), sword and cape, hand to hand, sword and polearm (no kidding) and if that's not enough, he has a second book (included in Leoni's translation) that covers advanced tactics, such as defeating the opponent while moving toward them at the very start of a fight. However, the book is hard. There is a lot of material, the directions for each plate while understandable, are not easily digested, nor easily performed. Many of the body-positions are acrobatic, to the point that Fabris himself in the instructions of one of the guards reminds the reader that the illustrations are drawn from real life, an indication he knew people would believe the body-positions impossible. Fabris isn't for beginners, or at least, it's that and much, much, much more and a book that I still have to re-read, time and again and each time find something new. The book is often out of print and can be purchased for an outrageous sum of money. If the book goes back into print, or can be found for under one hundred dollars, it's worth it for it's sheer depth.

 

Spanish and Italian Rapier DVD by Ramon Martinez  = These DVD's are difficult and expensive finds, and unfortunately offer the viewer too little, despite two DVD's for both Spanish and Italian rapier-work. Ramon Martinez has a slow, methodical method of presenting the information that typifies his style. Personally, I think the work may be a bit too slow, and time could have been better spent on historical techniques, with references as to where they came from.

 

Mike Loads Renaissance Combat VHS = That's right, it's the 90's and time for some VHS! Mike Loads, who hosts shows like 'The Weapons that Made Britain', produced a video on Renaissance swordsmanship for actors. The video teaches core-concepts of rapier-play but does things backwards to make the movements of the sword slower. This is on purpose so that the actors can safely fight, but still 'look' authentic. Surprisingly charming and never claims to be more than what it is.  

 

Renaissance Swordsmanship by John Clements = This is an early work in the WMA and as such is dated. Reviews for the book are quite poor, but this is partially due to its age and because some people don't like John Clements. Personally, I like the guy and he's always answered my emails, so I read this book with a more positive view in mind. Result? Yes, the book is dated, yes the stance in rapier is incorrect, and yes, some of the techniques aren't to be found in the pages of Fabris, Giganti and Capo Ferro, but on the other hand there are plenty of things that are correct, and the style of art is clear. His work on side-sword in particular seemed more accurate and relevant to me. Clements also has plenty of advice about entering the WMA field such as - question everyone and everything -, which might not make friends, but will keep the WMA world academically moving. Amazon.com still sells used copies under the $30 range. 

 

Small Sword

 

The Art of Fencing, the Use of the Small Sword by L'Abbat= A translation of an 18th century small sword manual. The book has poor illustrations, lacks in description and is perhaps better appreciated by someone who already knows what they are doing with a small sword. The book is cheap and thus a good buy for those interested in the use of the small sword, but will not provide enough how-to like some of the DVD instructions Maestro Martinez and his wife produce. 

 

Acosta Martinez's DVD on the Small Sword= A great find. The set has three DVD's that in typical Martinez style patiently, methodically, and step-by-step lead the viewer through the basics of the small sword. This was filmed outdoors and I believe within a time-limit. Anthony Delongis, stuntman and theatrical swordsman, shows up briefly to talk about how neat canes are. This is unintentionally humorous as the video is about small-sword fencing and Delongis' take on 'why you can take a cane on a plane' doesn't quite 'fit' with the rest of the video. However, I do hope he produces a video on Bartitsu cane-work soon!  

 

Longsword

 

Guy Windsor's the Swordman's Companion = I love Windsor's rapier book, but I'm not thrilled with his treatment of Italian Longsword. What makes Fiore's Italian Longsword fascinating is that there are many plates with which to see his techniques in action. Windsor's book only addresses a scant handful of these. The book's take on cutting and footwork is incorrect, or at least it doesn't match up with the instructions and diagrams of the original manuscript. His take on the guards are much the same with the feet and weighting not matching the original work. Also, the guards are not explained in very much context, so their use remains unknown to the reader. To be fair, the book is older, and since it was written there is far more material available on a system. Before Guy Windsor Italian Longsword had no modern interpretation . Worth purchasing? I ADORE what Windsor does and that he takes the risk of writing and publishing books, but I'd not pick this one up. Hopefully he'll write another that is more comprehensive and accurate, or I will beat him to it.

 

Christian Tobler's Fighting with the German Longsword = This book is, like Windsor's, a bit dated, but in my opinion a far better buy. Tobler introduces the German system from the ground up, has footwork, drills, guards, guard relations, as well as various combat scenarioes. As a bonus he also includes some work on the spear and hand to hand. While there is better and more focused material, as a starter, I found Tobler's work to be engaging and despite its age, enduring work. Out of print the book can cost over three hundred dollars, so seek it out used or await for it to come back into print or a new version to appear.

 

Sigmund Ringeck's Knighty Art of the Longsword by David Lindholm...and a bunch of dudes.= Gold! The book is designed to be opened and remain open for instructional use. Rather than use photographs, the author interpreted Ringeck's material with modern drawings to help make it clear what was taking place, where often black and white photography fails. The book I find is best approached after the basics of German longsword are understood. While the basics are covered in the book, the majority is spent on techniques to use while in a fight, making it incredibly applicable. Like many of the older works, out of print it can cost too much, but with diligence a used copy can be purchased for under one hundred dollars.

 

Sigmund Ringneck's Knightly Arts of Combat: Sword and buckler...etc etc...by David Lindholm...and a bunch of dudes= As much as I liked Lindholm's prior book, this one is a bit more limited because it covers multiple fighting disciplines and doesn't have the page-space to properly address all but one- combat in armor. While interesting, to be honest, most WMA practioners do not have fulll suits of gothic armor. If you are one such a person, and have a friend who has the same, then this book is for you, otherwise your money is better spent on other works. Out of print, so seek a bargain buy.

 

Lessons of the English Longsword by BP Helsop and BG Bradak= I have a soft spot for this book. I email and have asked questions to the authors of nearly all the books and works I have read. All of them, to date, have responded and done their best to entertain my thoughts. Even John Clements, who gets a bad rap for being a mad-man, answered my email politely and at great length. Authors win me over, the Helsop and Bradak team won me over with their replies to a few of my questions and their good-nature. They have an excellent sense of humor and had a very ambitious plan. Take an obscure and short poem from England, and use it to create a complete fighting system. What they came up with is heavily based on the pan-European theory of swordsmanship, in that a sword is a sword is a sword, no matter what nation it is from. They took the German system and tried to match it up to the poem's descriptions. The work they created is ambitious, sure to get criticized, but it's also the kind of academic daring I like to see. At fifty dollars the book makes a fine second or third choice when looking into Germanesque longsword.

 

Lichtenhauer Longsword I DVD = This German production is a touch-clunky and very basic. The DVD is pricey and the method intended is to create a basic foundation from which the viewer can review techniques at their leisure. In combination with Tobler's book, I think the DVD has much more value, providing the motion for the techniques he describes in depth. 

 

Fiore de Liberi Armizare by Robert Charrette = This book is a designed to be a companion to someone who has a mentor in the Fiore system or is reading the actual manuals. Charette is the 'guide on the side' and his book is full of information. While other Fiore books cover only the longsword, Charette covers every system Fiore wrote about. This meant that the author had lots to say and only a limited amount of page-space to do it. As such, the writing is often hurried with many plays jammed into one page. The author also takes some risks in supposing things- but calls his educated guesses out. The photos are well done including close-up views of some of the complex hand to hand plays. For anyone interested in ANY of Fiore's systems, this book is a great buy and companion.   

 

The Art of the Two Handed Sword by Ken Mondschein = This book is great for anyone interest in historical swordsmanship. The author provides translations of three works on the two-handed sword or spadone. Alfiere, Di Grassi and Agrippa- all three of which are more famous for their single-sword work, but have something to say about the use of the two-handed sword as well!

Alas, the translations provide hints, but not a complete picture of the system involved. The artwork is sparse, the instructions simple and sometimes frustratingly lacking and even with three translated texts- there is a sense that something is missing.

Not a problem!

Ken Mondschien, PHD has taken the bold step of providing his interpretation of the system and included photos, instructions, reasoning and text-citations to support his conclusions. It's hard to take a large work and interpret it for a modern audience. It's truly yeoman's work to take sparse text and do the same thing.

For the price, the book is a steal. You get THREE translations with art, then a whole interpretation from the author with photos. For anyone interested in medieval longsword the book shows 'where things went', for those interested in Renaissance swordsmanship, the book is ready to go for drills, techniques and application. A fine addition to one's historical, or western martial arts bookshelf! The book retails for around $30.00.

 

Pole Axe

 

Polearms of Paulus Hector Mair translated by David James Knight.= The books is a faithful reproduction of Mair's 1500's work on the use of a variety of pole-arms. The book, sadly, is not for beginners. Mair's work is intended for people who already have some idea of what they are doing. His illustrations sometimes show a play where person A is defeating perseon B, but not always, worse, the positions of the figures are not necessarily at the end of a play, but during the middle, or at the start. The language is decipherable, thus vague and as much as I wanted to be enlightened, I found my base-line knowledge not enough to truly soak in Mair's work as easily as I had hoped.

 

German Pole-Axe DVD by Christian Tobler.= This DVD is short, but organized very well and presents the information in a smooth way. Like Tobler's book on German Longsword, the DVD on Pole Axe works from the ground up to give the viewer a strong foundation on the weapon. There is some delving into history that I found interesting, but also too limited in its nature to really bother with and time might have been better spent on techniques, or even Christian just giving his own opinions about the system. Cost trends around $50 and the DVD can be purchased at Amazon.com. 

 

Broad Sword/Saber/Side Sword

 

English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver, interpretated by Stephen Hand=The book is a bit dated and in my opinion needs to be read after one looks at the fairly easy to understand original manuscript by George Silver. All that High School Shakespeare will pay off, because Silver's work is in the same vein and direct, thus easy to understand. As for Hand's interpretation, the effort is worth a look at. The techniques fit with Silver's system and are referenced to the original manuscript by the author. The photographs are a weak-point. Busy background, busy ground, less than clear definition, and all in black and white. Out of print, but plenty of used copies can be found under fifty dollars if one looks.

 

Alfred Hutton's Cold Steel= Alfred Hutton was a Victorian who researched historical swordsmanship and practiced it with his English buddies with such cool names as Ergaton Castle. While Hutton's academic thoughts are now seen as painfully Victorian, he is, in my mind, one of us. He wanted to re-create ancient arts of combat and use them in safe way to spar! His book, Cold Steel, is Hutton's thoughts on how to use the saber in a quasi-sporting environment. The book is cheap, in print, and covers a very basic and very effective system should it be used in the environment Hutton intended. As an extra bonus, and for no clear reason (making it delightful), Hutton includes in his saber book a discussion on how to use the police man's baton, the great stick, and some dagger plays from Marozzo's 1500's work. Because Hutton Sabers are readily available, and the system is easy and fun, I highly recommend this work from a man dear to my heart!

 

Tom Leoni's The Complete Renaissance Swordsman= Another one of Leoni's translations that, like all the rest, tries to be understandable and clear for the English reader. This book on the side-sword is well-intended, but Leoni chose to translate a book that had no images, nor did he decide to provide more than a sparse few of his own. This book, therefore, is not for beginners. What makes this annoying is that currently there is no easy to read, modern interpretation of a side sword system, yet there is a need for one. This book requires a greater understanding of the side sword to be truly appreciated.

 

The Art of the Dueling Sabre by Christopher A. Holzman


This book is a combination of translated historical texts and the author's own interpretations of late 19th century sabre. The book is immense and the hard-back version is over 300 pages including a pull out section depicting the plates.

The book is aimed at dissecting the manner of saber dueling as it was used in the 19th century. Cuts are a bit more forceful, and the footwork and strategy is somewhat different from the sport aspect of today, but many things will be familiar to a person already steeped in sport-fencing terminology. For an outsider, the book is a little more difficult to process, but only because the system has its own language. Words like sforzi, cavazione, manchette, radoppio, remise, parade and so on are used throughout the book.

The historical texts, of Capt. Settimo Del Frate's take on Radaelli, and the author's supplements help teach the language of fencing so that the movements, positions, attacks, parries and so on can be properly understood as well as their names.

Much of the book is text, and while plates are provided, they are not found so much in the book alongside their actions, but rather in a folded, pull-out sheet which shows numerous positions. This makes referencing a little difficult, but not impossible.

By having historical text and a supplement, 'Moniteur D'Escrime' Christopher A. Holzman gives readers not only a rendition of the past, but he fills in any gaps. Where the master may have been brief on a subject, Holzman provides clarification to ensure the book, as a whole, is a complete system for those interested. Terms are further defined, actions better explained, and a variety of drills and coaching advice is given to ensure stance, footwork and bladework all turn out well for the prospective student. 

The book has interesting contextual information as well including the rules and regulations for dueling, which comes with a blank contract! Just in case. 

Charts are used to visually depict actions and the forward of the book indicates what difficult and lengthy task this was. The end product though gives readers an easy, if lengthy, system to follow.

Example

Counter of 1st, from Fencer A's parry of 5th:

Fencer A 
Riposte by molinello to the internal face, chest or abdomen. 

Fencer B
Parry counter of 1st by raising the sabre and beginning a rising molinello to the flank, but stop once the position of parry of the 1st is reached. Riposte to any open target. 

Fencer A
Receive the hit.


There are plenty of drills and samples done in this form. Again, the language needs to be well-understood beforehand, otherwise one would be at a loss as to what was said. 'counter of the 1st', 'rising molinello' and 'parry of the 1st' are all simply explained and in the pull-out section depicted with plates.

Overall, the book is very thorough and complete. If one has a sport-background, the transition to 19th century dueling in the Radellian tradition should be easy. For outsiders, while the learning curve is sure to be higher, the author has taken time to walk even novices through the steps and once the terminology is understood most of the motions, actions and re-actions are fully understandable.

The book is a great, methodical, historical, and scientific approach to fencing, sure to appeal to anyone interested in the sabre!This book is a combination of translated historical texts and the author's own interpretations of late 19th century sabre. The book is immense and the hard-back version is over 300 pages including a pull out section depicting the plates.The book is aimed at dissecting the manner of saber dueling as it was used in the 19th century. Cuts are a bit more forceful, and the footwork and strategy is somewhat different from the sport aspect of today, but many things will be familiar to a person already steeped in sport-fencing terminology. For an outsider, the book is a little more difficult to process, but only because the system has its own language. Words like sforzi, cavazione, manchette, radoppio, remise, parade and so on are used throughout the book. The historical texts, of Capt. Settimo Del Frate's take on Radaelli, and the author's supplements help teach the language of fencing so that the movements, positions, attacks, parries and so on can be properly understood as well as their names. Much of the book is text, and while plates are provided, they are not found so much in the book alongside their actions, but rather in a folded, pull-out sheet which shows numerous positions. This makes referencing a little difficult, but not impossible. By having historical text and a supplement, 'Moniteur D'Escrime' Christopher A. Holzman gives readers not only a rendition of the past, but he fills in any gaps. Where the master may have been brief on a subject, Holzman provides clarification to ensure the book, as a whole, is a complete system for those interested. Terms are further defined, actions better explained, and a variety of drills and coaching advice is given to ensure stance, footwork and bladework all turn out well for the prospective student. The book has interesting contextual information as well including the rules and regulations for dueling, which comes with a blank contract! Just in case.Charts are used to visually depict actions and the forward of the book indicates what difficult and lengthy task this was. The end product though gives readers an easy, if lengthy, system to follow.

This book is a combination of translated historical texts and the author's own interpretations of late 19th century saber. The book is immense and the hard-back version is over 300 pages including a pull out section depicting the plates.

The book is aimed at dissecting the manner of saber dueling as it was used in the 19th century. Cuts are a bit more forceful, and the footwork and strategy is somewhat different from the sport aspect of today, but many things will be familiar to a person already steeped in sport-fencing terminology. For an outsider, the book is a little more difficult to process, but only because the system has its own language. Words like sforzi, cavazione, manchette, radoppio, remise, parade and so on are used throughout the book.

The historical texts, of Capt. Settimo Del Frate's take on Radaelli, and the author's supplements help teach the language of fencing so that the movements, positions, attacks, parries and so on can be properly understood as well as their names.

Much of the book is text, and while plates are provided, they are not found so much in the book alongside their actions, but rather in a folded, pull-out sheet which shows numerous positions. This makes referencing a little difficult, but not impossible.

By having historical text and a supplement, 'Moniteur D'Escrime' Christopher A. Holzman gives readers not only a rendition of the past, but he fills in any gaps. Where the master may have been brief on a subject, Holzman provides clarification to ensure the book, as a whole, is a complete system for those interested. Terms are further defined, actions better explained, and a variety of drills and coaching advice is given to ensure stance, footwork and bladework all turn out well for the prospective student.

The book has interesting contextual information as well including the rules and regulations for dueling, which comes with a blank contract! Just in case.

Charts are used to visually depict actions and the forward of the book indicates what difficult and lengthy task this was. The end product though gives readers an easy, if lengthy, system to follow.

Example 

Counter of 1st, from Fencer A's parry of 5th:

Fencer A

Riposte by molinello to the internal face, chest or abdomen.

Fencer B

Parry counter of 1st by raising the saber and beginning a rising molinello to the flank, but stop once the position of parry of the 1st is reached. Riposte to any open target.

Fencer A

Receive the hit.

There are plenty of drills and samples done in this form. Again, the language needs to be well-understood beforehand, otherwise one would be at a loss as to what was said. 'counter of the 1st', 'rising molinello' and 'parry of the 1st' are all simply explained and in the pull-out section depicted with plates. Overall, the book is very thorough and complete. If one has a sport-background, the transition to 19th century dueling in the Radellian tradition should be easy. For outsiders, while the learning curve is sure to be higher, the author has taken time to walk even novices through the steps and once the terminology is understood most of the motions, actions and re-actions are fully understandable. The book is a great, methodical, historical, and scientific approach to fencing, sure to appeal to anyone interested in the saberand retails for around $50.00.

Bartitsu

 

Thus far every book I've found on Bartisu has offered me something. Be it how to fight with a cane, how to use a bike, how suffragettes learned ninjitsu, or how to be a proper gentleman. 

 

Bartitsu Compendium I and II by Tony Wolf= . Full of historical articles, images, descriptions and more- though not a clear step by step 'how to learn Bartitsu', this is a must for all those interested in Bartitsu. Worth the fifty dollars each book costs.

 

The Cane as a Weapon, by Andrew Chase Cunningham=. The book is simple, very simple, and has amusing photographs by enthusiasts trying to model what is a combat system. The cane, as intended in the book, isn't a sparring tool. It is a weapon to quickly disable a thug, not fence another gentleman with a stick. While sparse, the under twenty dollar price makes the book a steal!

 

Olympic Fencing

 

I'm not into Olympic Fencing, but I did read Aldo Nadi's book, "On Fencing". Nadi was an Italian olympic fencer whose build is similar to my own. Intrigued, I read his book and found it enligthening as to how similar and yet different sport and martial combat can be. Nadi starts his book off with a discussion of the rapier and his one and only duel with a foil. The epiphany he had after that moment, I shared. Useful to the WMA crowd? Eh. But perhaps worth a purchase to get more well-rounded. 

 

Overview 


These books are general WMA information or cover many systems. 

 

Knightly Dueling the Fighting Arts of German Chivalry by Jeffrey Hull= This books covers the basics of knightly combat in the Holy Roman Empire from a contextual standpoint. The book is more a history of dueling, with specific plates referencing them, than a 'how to' book. Of note is a blow by blow visual account of a duel in full armor. The cost is thirty dollars and the book goes nicely with any WMA collection.

 

The Knightly Art of Battle by Ken Mondschein=. This book gives an up close and highly detailed look at some of the plates and images of the Getty Museum's 'Flower of Battle' by Fiore de Liberi. The book, from a historical standpoint is a winner. The background, beautiful images and text weave together an easy to understand story of how and why the historical fighting manual was created. However, for those interested in WMA the book is tantalizing and frustrating at the same time. The book was not meant for just the WMA community, and as such while there are parts of it that will interest a practitioner, much is left out. The images are startling clear and detailed, but there is no translation of text, and the high resolution images cover all of Fiore's weapon disciplines, but not in any great depth. Guards are shown, and this is of supreme value, but plays are hardly touched on. The book will supplement anyone who already has Fiore's work in hand, but in no way could it stand on its own as a training manual, nor was it meant to. At a cost of ten dollars from Amazon, the book is a 'steal'. 

 

WMA Teaching

 

Teaching and Interpreting Historical Swordsmanship by Brian Price= Price is responsible for many of the books about WMA, and apparently he's broke, or doesn't pay his authors or some such making it painfully clear self-publishing is the way to go in the WMA field. Seriously, do a tiny band of people dedicated to WMA need to see a publisher's name on a work before they'll look at a WMA book? Hardly.

 

That aside, Price's book on teaching is a flop. I can say this with absolute authority because I teach for a living, have done so for years and am good at what I do. This book fails because it had a great premise, but was not thought out. The 'best' minds of the WMA community were asked to write small pieces to compile into Price's book. The end result is a disjointed, shallow book, that doesn't really offer anything beyond glittering generalities and WMA teachers doing their best, in a page or five, to write something profound, or at least that makes sense. This book had too many cooks in the kitchen and it would have been better if one WMA instructor, who has an actual school with steady students and routinely gets new ones, explained how he teaches, gains students, motivates them, deals with research, sparring, equipment, insurance and so on. Instead, I can summarize this book with, "Be adaptable to your environment and try to use historical text to back up what you do". Not worth your time or money!

 

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