Forteza Fitness

From the Blog

Renaissance Swordplay: The Deadly Art of the Duel

One of the centerpieces of the Forteza curriculum is historical European swordplay. There are a number of traditions of swordsmanship, which can be divided by period: early modern, Baroque, Renaissance or Medieval; and by nationality: English, French, German, Italian or Spanish. As the home of the Chicago Swordplay Guild (and as the Italian name of our studio might suggest), we focus on Italian swordsmanship of the 14th – 17th centuries.

When the Renaissance brought sweeping changes to European culture, Italian fencing traditions also evolved, with a new focus on civilian swordplay. A new, uniquely Italian weapon and fencing style —that of the elegant rapier—swept across Europe; influencing most of the continent for well over a century, and laying the theory of Italian swordplay for the next three centuries.

Now, you can take up the sword and study one of history’s most scientific and dangerous fighting arts, as taught by the early 17th-century fencing masters Salvatore Fabris and Ridolfo Capoferro.

THE RAPIER – DUELING WEAPON PAR EXCELLENCE

rapier

A rapier is a long-bladed sword with a complex hilt, optimized for the thrust but still capable of debilitating cuts. The blade is fairly thin and stiff, and counter-balanced to provide greater point control. Rapiers were neither light nor flimsy; a typical rapier of c.1600 had a blade of 42″ in length, a weight of 2.5 – 3 lbs, and was capable of parrying the blows of broad-bladed military swords.

The rapier was generally used either alone, or in conjunction with the sidearms a gentleman would most likely have with him at all times: the cloak and dagger. In keeping with the advice of the ancient masters, you will begin with the sword alone, then add the dagger and cloak after your proficiency with the sword is developed.

THE SIDESWORD – COMPANION IN BATTLE OR SELF-DEFENCE

sideswordaThe rapier never entirely supplanted the older, broad-bladed “cut-and-thrust” or sidesword. Instead, the old medieval sword was fitted with finger rings and a knuckle bow to protect the hand and continued to serve on the battlefield and in duels amongst traditionalists and military men. Like the rapier, the Renaissance sword was taught both alone and in conjunction with a wide variety of defensive arms:

  • Brocchiero (the round buckler)
  • Targa (square buckler)
  • Rotella (large, round shield)
  • Cappa (cloak)
  • Pugnale (a long, double-edged dagger)
  • Guanto da presa (armoured gauntlet

As you progress through our curriculum you will have the chance to study this ancient weapon, first alone, then with the buckler, and finally, against the rapier.

RENAISSANCE CLOSE-QUARTER COMBAT
Also in keeping with the custom of 16th century fencing schools, concurrent with learning the sword you will also learn basic grappling, dagger and counter-dagger fighting, Abrazare (Italian for “embracing”) is unarmed combat. The goal of the system is to get the opponent onto the ground as swiftly and effectively as possible without going there yourself. Much like classical jujutsu, the fundamental principles of abrazare include:

  • Control of the center – Work from where you are strongest, move the opponent away from their own strength, and control the center of the fight;
  • Opportune Striking – Use strikes to points of pain to eliminate advantages of size and strength.
  • Breaking structure – Use strikes and holds to break your opponent’s connection to the earth.
  • Taking space – Occupy your opponent’s space to eliminate their options.

These strategies are applied through a diverse range of techniques, including throws, holds, joint locks, breaks, binds, and disarms, all of which are applied both unarmed and when wielding or confronted by the dagger.

As the sword evolved, so did the dagger. The Renaissance dagger was a large, double-edged weapon, with a hilt identical to that of a sword. You will not only learn how to use this deadly sidearm with the sword, but as your principle defense, fighting in dagger vs. dagger dueling, unarmed against the dagger, and with a particularly unique form, the cloak and dagger.

RENAISSANCE SWORDSMANSHIP AT FORTEZA
Through the study of Renaissance Swordsmanship, you will learn

  • A fighting art over 400 years old, that revolutionized the art of swordsmanship and gave rise to modern fencing;
  • How to wield the elegant, agile and deadly rapier and the powerful cutting sword, both alone and when combined with daggers, shields or cloaks;
  • A solid foundation in natural, elegant movement and universal body mechanics;
  • Combative integration – learn how to move from weapon range to grappling range, and how to fight with against diverse weapons in dissimilar combat scenarios;
  • The evolution of both the sword and dagger during the Renaissance;
  • The history of the duel;
  • The history of our tradition and the stories of its most famous (and infamous) students;
  • The ethical system of chivalry, in theory vs. practice, and its evolution over time.

Finally, the Renaissance arsenal was a diverse one, and senior students in the Renaissance Swordsmanship curriculum will also have a chance to study a variety of polearms, and the spadone – the massive, Italian two-handed sword.

IS THE RENAISSANCE SWORDSMANSHIP PROGRAM RIGHT FOR ME?
This program will especially appeal to you if you:

  • Are looking for an ancient martial art, taught with an eye towards tradition and historical context;
  • Want to study an integrated fighting system of armed and unarmed combat that will exercise both body and mind;
  • Are interested in working with a diverse array of weapons.
  • Come from a background in traditional Asian weapon arts, such as escrima, iaido or kenjutsu;
  • Are drawn to history and culture of the Italian Renaissance;
  • Are interested in cultural ethos of chivalry and Western traditions of honor;
  • Want a martial practice that has the depth and diversity to keep you engaged for a life time.

HOW DO I BEGIN?
Mastery is difficult, but beginning is easy! Just enroll in our Taste of the Renaissance introductory class and let your journey begin.

Read More »

Armizare: The Knightly Fighting Art of Medieval Italy

 

Armizare 1

One of the centerpieces of the Forteza curriculum is historical European swordplay. There are a number of traditions of swordsmanship, which can be divided by period: early modern, Baroque, Renaissance or Medieval; and by nationality: English, French, German, Italian or Spanish. As the home of the Chicago Swordplay Guild (and as the Italian name of our studio might suggest), we focus on Italian swordsmanship of the 14th – 17th centuries.

By the late Middle Ages, the Italian peninsula had become an ever-changing patchwork of petty kingdoms and free cities. Wars to gain, hold, and influence other cities put the peninsula in a state of nearly continuous, small-scale warfare, as political goals were carried out by force of arms. Dominating the field were the condottieri, mercenary knights who fought the despots’ wars, and had to be versed in a multitude of weapons including the sword, spear, and axe, in or out of armour, on foot or horseback, and against any number of opponents.  In the process, they developed a martial art of a richness and complexity to stand beside any other in the world.

Half a millennium later, the doorway to that martial art stands open to you.

FIORE DEI LIBERI, OUR TRADITION’S FOUNDER
Our medieval martial arts curriculum comes from the 14th century Italian master-at-arms, Fiore dei Liberi, son of a minor nobleman from Friuli in northeastern Italy, who has been called “the father of Italian martial arts”. A wandering swordsman, soldier and fencing master, after fifty years or study he composed a series of detailed, illustrated manuscripts, all entitled il Fior di Battaglia (the Flower of Battle).

Maestro Fiore gave no formal name to his school or his martial art, simply calling it Armizare (are-mee-TZAR-ay), which means “the art of arms”. He divided Armizare into three principle sections: close quarter combat, long weapon combat and mounted combat. Within these subsections, dei Liberi taught his art through a series of zoghi (“plays”) —formal, two-man drills akin to the kata of classical Japanese martial arts.

Scrimia (literally “fencing”, ie: “swordplay”) begins with the sword, but forms the technical, mechanical and tactical basis for fighting with all other long weapons in Armizare, such as the spear and poleaxe. The system also includes the use of several unusual weapons, such as monstrous, specialized swords for judicial combat, a slashing, winged-spear called a ghiavarina, and hollow-headed polehammers, filled with an acidic powder to blind the opponent!

Scrimia includes:

  • Spada d’un mano (one-handed  sword techniques)
  • Spada a dui mani (two-handed sword techniques)
  • Daga e bastone  (staff and dagger)
  • Lanza (spear)
  • Spada en arme (sword in full armour)
  • Azza (poleaxe)
MEDIEVAL CLOSE-QUARTER COMBAT (Abrazare)

Abrazare

Abrazare (Italian for “embracing”) is the unarmed system contained within dei Liberi’s fighting art. The goal of the system is to get the opponent onto the ground as swiftly and effectively as possible without going there yourself. Much like classical jujutsu, the fundamental principles of abrazare include:

  • Control of the center – Work from where you are strongest, move the opponent away from their own strength, and control the center of the fight;
  • Opportune Striking – Use strikes to points of pain to eliminate advantages of size and strength.
  • Breaking structure – Use strikes and holds to break your opponent’s connection to the earth.
  • Taking space – Occupy your opponent’s space to eliminate their options.

These strategies are applied through a diverse range of techniques, including throws, holds, joint locks, breaks, binds, and disarms, all of which are applied both unarmed and when wielding or confronted by the dagger.

The medieval dagger was a large weapon, often the length of a man’s forearm, and designed for both self-defense, and as the call of last resort on the battlefield, where its sharp point could puncture the weak-points in armour. Dagger fighting and unarmed combat are closely intertwined in Armizare, and together form the basis of fighting with all other weapons, especially in armour.

It total, medieval close quarter combat is used in or out of armour and includes:

  • Abrazare (striking, throwing and grapping techniques)
  • Bastoncello (a short stick, approximately 12” long)
  • Daga (the rondel dagger)
  • Daga contra spada 
    (dagger vs. sword)
  • Spada contra daga 
    (sword vs. dagger)

MOUNTED COMBAT (A Cavallo)

837b39f6-9f3d-11de-9f47-001cc4c03286.preview-300

Finally, the knight was first and foremost a cavalryman, and his fighting art was equally adapted for combat on foot or horseback. While we currently do not practice mounted combat, the mounted techniques contain many interesting insights into the other sections of the art of arms:

  • Abrazare
  • Lanza (lance)
  • Spada d’un mano contra lanza (sword vs. lance)
  • Spada contra spada
  • Ghiavarina 
    (a partisan-like weapon wielded on foot against mounted opponents)

ARMIZARE AT FORTEZA

Through the study of Armizare, you will learn:

  • A 600 year old fighting art, tested on the battlefield by generations of medieval warriors;
  • A solid foundation in natural, elegant movement and universal body mechanics;
  • How to wield a wide variety of  swords, daggers and polearms, in and out of armour;
  • Combative integration – learn how to move from weapon range to grappling range, and how to fight with and against diverse weapons in dissimilar combat scenarios;
  • The evolution of the many tools in the knightly arsenal;
  • The history of our tradition and the stories of its most famous (and infamous) students;
  • The ethical system of chivalry, in theory vs. practice, and its evolution over time.

IS THE ARMIZARE PROGRAM RIGHT FOR ME?

This program will especially appeal to you if you:

  • Are looking for an ancient martial art, taught with an eye towards tradition and historical context;
  • Want to study an integrated fighting system of armed and unarmed combat that will exercise both body and mind;
  • Are interested in working with a diverse array of weapons.
  • Come from a background in traditional Asian weapon arts, such as escrima, iaido or kenjutsu;
  • Are drawn to the history and culture of the Middle Ages;
  • Are interested in the cultural ethos of chivalry and Western traditions of honor;
  • Want a martial practice that has the depth and diversity to keep you engaged for a life time.

HOW DO I BEGIN?
Mastery is difficult, but beginning is easy! Just enroll in our Taste of the Knightly Arts introductory class and let your journey begin

Read More »

Announcing the Bartitsu Club of Chicago – a key part of the Forteza Family!

Bartitsu Club of Chicago logo

Located in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago offers regular, progressive training in the “lost martial art of Sherlock Holmes”.

History

At the end of the Victorian era, E. W. Barton-Wright combined jiujitsu, kickboxing and stick fighting into the “New Art of Self Defence” known as Bartitsu. Promoted via exhibitions, magazine articles and challenge contests, Barton-Wright’s New Art was offered as a means by which ladies and gentlemen could beat street hooligans and ruffians at their own game.

Thus, the Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture in London became the headquarters of a radical experiment in martial arts and fitness cross-training. It was also a place to see and be seen; famous actors and actresses, soldiers, athletes and aristocrats eagerly enrolled to learn the secrets of Bartitsu.

In early 1902, for reasons that remain a historical mystery, the London Bartitsu Club closed down. Barton-Wright’s art was almost forgotten thereafter, except for a single, cryptic reference in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein it was revealed as the method by which Sherlock Holmes had defeated Professor Moriarty in their fatal battle at Reichenbach Falls.

Our premise and approach

Bartitsu was abandoned as a work-in-progress one hundred and ten years ago, but what if Barton-Wright’s School of Arms had continued to thrive? In collaboration with other Bartitsu clubs and study groups throughout the world, the Bartitsu Club of Chicago is proud to pick up where he left off, reviving and continuing the experiment into the new millennium.

E.W. Barton-Wright recorded the basics of his “New Art” via lectures, interviews and detailed articles, which form the nucleus of “canonical Bartitsu”. These methods are practiced as a form of living history preservation and also as a common technical and tactical “language” among modern practitioners.

“Neo-Bartitsu” complements and augments the canon towards an evolving, creative revival as a system of recreational martial arts cross-training with a 19th century “twist”.

Our venue

Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts (4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640) is the ideal venue for reviving Bartitsu. Directly inspired by Barton-Wright’s School of Arms, Forteza features a unique late-19th century theme; brick walls and a high timber ceiling enclosing 5000 square feet of training space, including a “gymuseum” of functional antique exercise apparatus.

Our classes

Bartitsu classes at Forteza run from 6.30-8.00 pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The price for the six-week introductory course (two classes per week) is $125.00.

A typical class includes calisthenic warm-ups, specialized movement drills, study of the canonical sequences and neo-Bartitsu “combat improvisation” training. Participants should wear comfortable exercise clothing and bring a change of shoes for the class.

Contact info@fortezafitness.com to book your place in the first ongoing Bartitsu course in Chicago.

Our instructor

New Zealand citizen and Chicago resident Tony Wolf is one of the founders of the international Bartitsu Society. A highly experienced martial arts instructor, he has taught Bartitsu intensives in England, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada and throughout the USA. Tony also edited the two volumes of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005 and 2008) and co-produced/directed the feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes (2010).

Read More »

Defensive Actions

Walking into the Forteza Fitness club in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood is like strolling into a cultural time machine.

On some days, the time machine takes us back to Victorian England, circa 1895, as instructors teach bartitsu, a mixed martial art popular in late 19th century Britain, which includes elements of jiu-jitsu, bare-knuckle boxing, French kick-boxing and combat techniques that utilize a cane or walking stick.

On other days, the time machine goes back even further, as instructors teach traditional European martial arts techniques like armizare, an Italian form of sword fighting dating back to the medieval era; or sabre fencing, which goes back about that far too.

And while these ancient fitness and self-defense techniques may seem like the personal trainer’s version of a historical re-enactment, participants say they’re actually much more than that.

Click to read more.

Read More »