Students practice real 15th-century Italian martial arts

A 15th-century martial arts manuscript was brought to life in a live demonstration of the techniques, including grappling, dagger and long-sword systems.

On Feb. 4, Brennan Faucher and Alex Unruh from the Niagara School of Arms presented some of the techniques and styles that they practice, which are based on the teachings of the Medieval Italian knight and fencing master, Fiore dei Liberi.

“Fiore’s system allows for an easy transition from one system to another,” said Faucher. “If you study how the human body works, you will be better able to use all the weapons.”

Fiore’s treatise on martial arts, The Flower of Battle, was written in 1410 and includes pictorial demonstrations of different moves for a variety of combat styles. Fiore starts with a basic grappling system, and then moves on to duels with a dagger, long-sword, spear and pole-axe. He also includes instructions for fighting with or without armour and fighting on horseback or on foot. Fiore’s system is called “Armizare”.

Faucher demonstrates a successful killing stroke on Unruh / Taylor Wallace

Faucher demonstrates a successful killing stroke on Unruh / Taylor Wallace

The practice of such martial arts is referred to as Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). The Niagara School of Arms is one of several that bases its training methods on Fiore dei Liberi. The main difficulty with attempting to reconstruct Fiore’s method is interpreting an entire technique from one simple drawing.

“The Italians like to tell how good they are and then only give you one picture,” commented Unruh.

“The idea that your interpretation could be wrong and that you’re missing something is always there,” said Faucher.

Faucher has been doing historical research of Europe’s martial arts history for just under 12 years. For the past year, he has been actively teaching the techniques.

“We will never properly use swords in real life, but seriously [fighting] with them brings a better understanding to the technique and may better our fencing,” said Faucher.

“As you practice, you learn about the history and what life was like,” added Unruh.

After a brief explanation of Fiore’s treatise and how they interpret the images, Faucher and Unruh proceeded to demonstrate a few of the techniques. The key to Fiore’s technique are that the same basic principles underlie all of the systems. Therefore, a grappling move can be easily replicated with a dagger or a long sword.

Most of Fiore’s techniques rely on disarming the enemy or repelling him in such a way that allows you to strike the opponent. His systems are more defensive in nature and not overtly aggressive.

“Fiore works on the idea that he wants you to come back alive,” said Faucher.

Faucher explains how the Niagara School of Arms uses  Fiore’s martial arts techniques

Faucher explains how the Niagara School of Arms uses Fiore’s martial arts techniques

A few brave students in the audience volunteered to try out the long swords and learn some of the basic principles. No one was injured but there was some wild sword flailing involved.

Ernesto Virgulti, Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MARS), had organized the evening after he had been approached by Faucher for an academic inquiry on the subject.

“Normally we organize academic events and I thought that this would be a lot of fun, thinking outside the box,” said Virgulti.

The event was well received by those in attendance and for the MARS students in attendance, it showed once again, the applicability of their studies to the modern day.

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