Forteza Fitness

From the Blog

The Forteza Clubhouse: funded!

Over the past month we have raised $6970 towards our new library/art gallery/lounge (complete with a secret passage entrance) – well over $1000 more than our target goal!

Many thanks to all who contributed financially (enjoy your perks!) and by sharing the campaign via social media, etc.

Watch this blog for updates as we rehab our dusty old storeroom into a neo-Victorian clubhouse for the ladies and gentlemen of Forteza (and their guests) …

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Creating the Forteza Clubhouse!

Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts is a revival of the grand tradition of 19th century gymnasia, which were often centers of cultural, as well as physical, development.  It’s also a labor of love that we’re building into a solid business with an enthusiastic community of clients.  We’ve hosted open house days, martial arts seminars and action choreography sessions for video game and theater projects as well as our daily and weekly classes.

The past nine months have seen the completion of the main training floor, personal training area, reception area, changing rooms, a pro-shop and our unique “gymuseum” of antique exercise equipment.

The Forteza building also includes a large upstairs store-room, which hasn’t changed much over the past hundred years; it’s dusty and grimy, with an uneven concrete floor, rickety bannisters, etc. Our next remodeling project is to turn that room into a neo-Victorian style clubhouse (with a secret passage entrance … shhh!) and that’s where this fundraising project comes in:

Click on this link – Creating the Forteza Clubhouse – to go to our fundraising webpage, including a unique video, background information, contributor rewards, etc.!

The Forteza clubhouse will feature:

  • a boutique library of both antique and contemporary books on Western martial arts, fencing, fitness and related topics
  • an art gallery showcasing our collection of rare, original edition 19th century newspaper prints of combat sport athletes, historical fencers and gymnasts
  • a multi-media learning center featuring WiFi, training DVDs and a discussion lounge and research area
  • we cannot stress this enough, a secret passage entrance

Transforming this ancient store-room into a steampunk library/gallery/clubhouse will be a big project, but luckily we already have some of what we’re going to need.  Funds raised through this campaign will pay for the installation of a new wooden floor, cleaning, painting etc.  Funding over and above the target level will allow us to build an even better clubhouse, faster!

Please help us by contributing (check out our great perks!) and by using the share tools below and on the Indiegogo page to help us spread the word; social media buzz is the best way to make this happen.

The Forteza clubhouse will be the heart of our studio and community, and a home-away-from-home for people who share our passions. We look forward to the challenge!

All best wishes –

The Forteza Team

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Traditional Italian Knife and Staff Arts Workshop – November 17 & 18

Forteza is proud to be hosting Maestro Roberto Laura  on November 17 – 18 for a seminar on Italian knife and stick fighting. Mestro Laura has been spending years trying to document and preserve living traditions of Italian combatives, some of which are quite old. This will be his first visit to teach these arts in the United States.

The first day of the workshop will include training in the knife system of two schools: i Cavalieri d’onore e d’umilita (Knights of Honor and Humility), an extremely old school of combat that  derives from Manfredonia, Apulia in southern Italy (15th century). It is a highly specialised and elegant fighting system with the knife. Besides solo and partnered forms there are plenty of dueling positions which all have their respective tactical purposes. This school is NOT for self-defense! The intension is rather to survive or win dueling, to kill the opponent. The Cavalieri school also contains the fighting art with the shepherd stick and the straight-razor. The second is la Scuola Cielo e Meraviglia (the School of Heaven and Its Marvels) which also comes from Apulia, and is about two-hundred years old. This is a close-quarter fighting system which uses grips, joint locks, throws. As very old traditions these schools use  a wide variety of daggers and folding knives, including cloak and dagger techniques and improvised weapons.

The second day of the workshop will focus on using the Italian bastone – an approximately 4′ long walking staff/shepherd’s staff, as taught by in the Onore e d’Umilita school and in the modern Sicilian tradition.

This is a very unique chance to study actual, living martial traditions of Italy, and we are hoping to do our part to see that these traditions not only survive in the 21st century, but get off of life-support. Once Roberto is gone, we’ll be developing a small study group to continue working with this material.

Cost: $150 for the weekend, $100 for a single day. Please RSVP and register with info@fortezafitness.com ASAP, as spaces are limited. You can read more about Roberto and his work here: http://www.robertolaura.com/wp/english-site

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The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

Our band of stalwart adventurers met at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighburhood just before noon, embarking in a small but spirited convoy to La Salle, IL to tour the Hegeler Carus Mansion and its historic gymnasium – normally a two-hour trip. Unfortunately we were delayed by unusually heavy traffic leaving the city, but the Hegeler Carus Mansion staff were kind enough to delay the start of the 2.00 tour to accommodate us. En route, a nascent plan emerged to write a Bartitsu-themed “anthem”, perhaps in the style of a c1900 music hall song. We also met SoA instructor Allen Reed, who lives somewhat near La Salle, at the site.

The mansion tour was fascinating, particularly re. the Hegeler and Carus families’ close connections to events such as the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the spread of Zen Buddhism to the Western world and to the publishing industry via their in-house “Open Court” company. By special permission of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, instructor Tony Wolf was then able to lead an extended, “up close” tour of the famous 1876-vintage gymnasium, which he has been helping to research and re-assemble. Two Bartitsu Club of Chicago members were afterwards inspired to construct their own “teeter ladder” exercise apparatus, which would surely be a unique addition to the Forteza gymuseum; as far as we know, the original teeter ladder in the mansion’s gym is the only surviving example of its type.

Our return to Chicago was significantly delayed by extremely heavy traffic, due in part to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but we were just about able to get everyone fed and at the Lincoln Square Theatre in time for the beginning of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride.

The play is set during the late Victorian era and actually opens with the title character – a no-nonsense, Mary Poppinsish member of the Society of Lady Detectives – making adroit use of jujitsu and then her parasol to fend off various assailants. Further fight scenes showcased everything from smallsword fencing to pugilism in the context of an ostensible Jack the Ripper mystery, but in fact the mysteries to be solved were of a different and more personal nature. All ended happily for the heroines and the audience was left hoping for further adventures with the S.O.L.D.

Day 2

We began the first full training day with a tour of the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio and then a mini-lecture on Bartitsu history. Warm-ups began by simply walking around the space for orientation, then jogging, then jogging backwards, then jogging while throwing an antique leather medicine ball to and fro (nothing like it for breaking the ice).

We continued the warm-up with a series of synergy exercises stressing efficient whole-body movement, unbalancing tactics and elbow/hip alignment.

Next up was a set of two circuit training sessions in which small groups rotated between short classes taught by three instructors; Allen Reed teaching collar-and-elbow wrestling and jujitsu throws, Tony Wolf teaching fisticuffs and Mark Donnelly teaching cane techniques. These sessions were followed by some “integration” training, making the point that Bartitsu really comes to life when the various skills/styles are tested against each other and combined together.

After lunch we reconvened for longer, specialized classes with each instructor. Mark taught a session on umbrella/parasol defense via the “bayonet” grip; Forteza Fitness instructor Keith Jennings taught some catch wrestling holds, takedowns and reversals; Allen presented several canonical Bartitsu/jujitsu kata, and drills arising from opponent resistance; Tony taught “combat improvisation” based on various canonical unarmed and armed set-plays.

Then each instructor in turn was invited to contribute to a combat scenario beginning with cane fighting, segueing through boxing and throwing and ending up on the ground.

The last session of the day was devoted to informal “breakaway” groups and included some spirited cane sparring, pugilism drills, scenario-based cane techniques, free submission grappling and even some Bowie knife work. Serious points to those young enthusiasts who, after a very full day of Bartitsu training, still had enough energy to squeeze in a kettlebell session.

At 7.00 pm we met in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House – all dark green velvet, dark polished wood and maroon trimmings – and spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting before retiring gratefully, if not necessarily gracefully, to home and rest.

Day 3

The final day of the School of Arms began with an orientation and quick Bartitsu history lesson for the four new (Sunday only) participants. We started the warm-up with forward and backward jogging and medicine ball tossing, then rotated through whole-group exercises/balance games taught by Mark Donnelly, Allen Reed and Tony Wolf, including iterations of wrist wrestling, stick wrestling, stand-off and finger-fencing.

Next we cycled through two circuit training rounds of small group mini-lessons (roughly 15 minutes each), in which Mark concentrated on cane work, Allen on jujitsu throws and Tony on integrating standing grappling with fisticuffs and low kicking.

After lunch each of the instructors taught a longer, 45 minute class for the whole group. Mark focused on the technical and tactical dynamics of parrying and countering with the cane. Allen taught applications of two canonical jujitsu kata vs multiple opponents and Tony gave a session on spontaneously combining three canonical kata/set-plays (two jujitsu, one cane) in response to opponent resistance.

We then set up for the Antagonisticathlon, which proved to be by far the roughest and wildest rendition of that event yet. The combination of stirring Sherlock Holmes and Steampunk music via the PA system and the presence of an audience fed into a quite extraordinary mixture of hard fighting and surreal Victorianesque humour. It was a sight to see.

After the warm-downs, the School of Arms ended on a high note, with thanks to our hosts at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts for providing the perfect venue for this event, to the instructors and to the brave souls who volunteered as ruffians in the Antagonisticathlon. We then passed out participation certificates and posed for group photos before retiring to O’Shaughnessy’s for drinks and farewells.

Special thanks to the members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago who volunteered to host and chauffeur out-of-towners, the staff at the Hegeler Carus Mansion and to all the participants, some of whom had traveled considerable distances for the event.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

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Introducing the Forteza Combatives Method

Join us tonight for the official first class of Forteza’s newest martial arts offering, the Forteza Combatives Method (FCM).

The term combatives originates with the military close quarter methods of WWI and WWII were men like Rex Applegate and Col. Anthony J, Drexel Biddle devised simple, direct fighting methods with empty hands, sticks, knives and bayonets that soliders ould learn fast and apply in a wide variety of situations. Combatives weren’t about dueling or competition fighting, but about “getting the job done”.

Today, the term combatives has expanded beyond military combat, but still describes eclectic fighting arts aimed at practical self-defense. In this sense it can be seen as the post-World Wars inheritor of Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self-Defense”, Bartitsu.

Inspired by these predecessors, the Forteza Combatives Method is an eclectic blend of proven fighting arts designed to meet the needs of today’s martial artists and self-defense enthusiasts. We offer a well-rounded approach to take your fighting skills to new heights, by combining boxing, kicking, clinch fighting, ground fighting, edged weapons survival, and physical conditioning into one cohesive system.

  • Closed Fist Combatives: a blend of old school Western bare knuckle boxing, combined with the devastating knees, kicks and elbows of Muay Thai and old school Korean Tae Kwon Do.
  • Ground Survival:  the FCM’s’ ground fighting techniques are a mix of military ground-fighting combatives, jujitsu, and American Catch Wrestling.  Our Catch Wrestling curriculum comes from Dr. Les Moore, in the lineage of Billy “Pops” Wicks.  Ground survival training teaches throws, holds, submissions, and escapes to give you the skills needed when a fight goes to the ground.  This is decidedly not grappling for sports competition, but rather for reality of the street.
  •  Empty Hand Combatives: practical unarmed combatives training focuses on gross motor skills that you can use to brutal efficiency in the chaos of an actual violent encounter.  This includes open and closed fist strikes, joint locks and breaks, throws, and trapping skills.
  •  Edges Weapons Survival:  learn the defensive and offensive use of the knife.  Our edged weapons program is based on the world renowned Martial Blade Concepts system as taught by MBC founder Mike Janich.
  • Combatives Conditioning: get into top fighting shape with a blend of pad work, kettlebells, body weight exercises, and sprints, and more.   You may not be a professional fighter, but you’ll be in shape like one!

If you are like to train hard, this is the class for you! No experience in martial arts are necessary – we’ll train you from the ground up, but the program is also designed to strongly appeal to students coming from a background in Krav Maga, boxing, Muay Thai or MMA who are specifically interested in integrated training and sparring focused on self-defense, rather than competition.

The Forteza Combatives class will be running on Tuesday evenings from 7:30-8:30, right after the Bartitsu class.

Bring a water bottle, a towel and enthusiasm and we’ll see you there!

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August Round-up – It was one busy month!

August was a busy month for Forteza, filled with workshops, special all-day bootcamps and our first adventure into the realm of viral media!

2012 Temple Burning – yes, we took the photo at the end of the day’s training and they were still smiling! Now bring on that Spartan Race!

On August 12th, we had our annual Temple Burning workout. Long before there was a Forteza, even before their was a Chicago Swordplay Guild, there was Jesse Kulla’s Temple Burning: an annual “push yourself to the brink” day of training, training and more training. Over the years, and with Keith and Jesse getting their personal training licenses, the Temple Burning has become a great deal more scientific, but in the end, this yearly event remains the same: a day spent running around, getting dirty, push our bodies to the brink of complete exhaustion, and have a whole lot of fun doing it!

This year’s TB  was going to be the official kick-off of training season for our Spartan Race team, so we thought we’d start them off slowly….wait, no we didn’t! The course this year featured a 4 mile course that combined kettlebell circuits, hill sprints, sand sprints, a pull-up contest, and of course, burpees up hill.

We’ve learned that Fortezans are happiest when you keep them training, so on August 26th, Greg ran four hour workshop called Coming to the Close: Infighting with the Medieval Longsword. After a quick warm-up with a 23 lb medicine ball, stick-wrestling and …why yes….burpees, Greg explained the theory behind coming to grips with the two-handed sword: when you seek to grapple or hilt-strike, and why. With the theory done and out of the way, we spent the next three and half hours disarming, wrist-locking, pommel-striking and exploring a host of other horrible forms of medieval mayhem. Fortunately, one of our students was on hand with his video camera, so we can give you a sneak peek at some of what went on:

Switching gears from medieval Italy to 21st century America, on Friday August 31st, Guro John Kovacs taught a focused two-hour session on combative joint locking techniques. We had a mix of Bartitstuka and Combatives students who gathered to learn the effective application of joint locking techniques, joint lock flow, and counters to various locks and holds.

You might have caught a mention about our dabbling in “viral marketing” as well this month. Just in case August wasn’t packed enough, we also pulled together the entire Forteza family – Asylum Stunts, Bartitsu Club of Chicago, Chicago Swordplay Guild, FightingFit, and members of the new Forteza Combatives Method for an extended photo shoot for our new website (watch this space for the announcement). But more than just getting good shots for the new page, we also shot video for a new project, via Indiegogo.

You guys do all of *that* at Forteza? Yeah, we really do!
(Sometimes it surprises us, too.)

What is this mysterious project? What better way to find out than to subscribe to this blog and be the first to see the big announcement.

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The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture will be hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago between Sept. 8-9. Following the successful model established at the first School of Arms event in London last year, we will be concentrating on Bartitsu as a method of cross-training between fisticuffs, jujitsu, wrestling and Vigny stick fighting via a team-teaching approach.

Highlights will include:

* an optional, but highly recommended field trip on Friday, Sept. 7 to visit the historic Hegeler Carus mansion in LaSalle, IL, which includes the oldest known private gymnasium in the US

* two full days of Bartitsu cross-training at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts, a full-time historical Western martial arts training studio in the Ravenswood neighborhood

* the Saturday night dinner in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, just a few minutes’ walk from Forteza

* an Antagonisticathlon (Bartitsu-themed obstacle course challenge) on Sunday afternoon (spectators welcome!)

Full details and link to the registration page available here.

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Coming to the Close: Infighting with the Longsword

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Date: Aug 26
Time: Noon to 3:30
Cost: $30 to CSG Members in good standing, $40 to guests
Disarms, pommel strikes and throws – all of these are part of zogho stretto, or close play, with the sword. Zogho stretto is where the lessons of the sword merge with those of abrazare and dagger, and the entire system is pulled together. It is also one of the most dangerous places to find yourself in a sword fight, since anything you can do to your opponent, he can do to you. In this special workshop, we’ll delve into a portion of our advanced curriculum to look at:
  • the difference between the incrossada (bind) at largo and stretto;
  • three “bridging plays” Fiore uses to teach how to flow from largo to stretto;
  • how to voluntarily enter into zogho stretto, when to do it and why;
  • pommel strike vs. hilt grab – a binary decision or “Dude, where’s my point?”
  • a truly wicked collection of pommel strikes, disarms and arm-locks.
This material is formally part of scholar and free scholar training, but the workshop is open to all current armizare students. Rapier students are also welcome to attend, as many of the same disarms and strikes occur with that weapon as well. However, you must be comfortable with the dagger curriculum and executing cuts, so it is recommended for Renaissance swordsmanship scholars, rather than novices.
Pre-register now by paypal at Gmele@fortezafitness.com
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How “Old School” is Old School? Personal training for fitness – and survival – in the 15th century

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Sweating to the Oldies, 15th Century-style: Fencing, weight-lifting, stone-throwing, wrestling and tumbling were all considered excellent ways for members of the Renaissance upper and middle classes to stay in shape and gain “a nimble and elegant body in concord with a healthy spirit”.

You may have noticed that at Forteza we talk about “going old school” quite a bit. After all, our martial arts classes cover subjects that are 100 to 600 years old, and our Gymuseum is comprised of a wide collection of working,19th c training apparatus. Nor is this just “retro-geek-cool”; much of what are now considered to be the height of modern training regimens is based around a new understanding, appreciation and application of “old school fitness”: body weight exercises, kettle bells, performance-based training, etc. But to most people, “Old School Fitness” probably means “before Pumping Iron came out.” Most people probably do not realize just how “old school” the notion of systematic functional fitness training and cross-training, especially in conjunction with the martial arts, really is. The Olympic Games are about to begin, so everyone will be reminded of the Ancient Greek interest in the gymnasium, where wrestling, running, javelin and discuss throwing and vaulting were all cultivated and practiced as part of building a natural, athletic body,  But somehow, in the popular mind, we went from naked Greeks wearing laurel wreaths to Arnold Schwarzenegger and now to Cross-Fit, without much in between.

In truth, the Greek idea of the gymnasia was carried forward, and its martial aspects emphasized, in the Roman palestra, or public training groundwhich combined gymnastics with boxing, wrestling, swordsmanship and javelin throwing. The palestra was essentially the ancient world’s precursor to the modern fitness studio.

It turns out that, as people who lived much more physical lives than we do today, our ancestors knew quite a bit about how to train for functional strength, so we take our inspiration in this from 14th – 16th century texts on health and fitness, which advise the following activities as being the idea set of exercises for achieving health, endurance and grace:

  1. Running – cross country, over-hills and in sand.
  2. Tumbling
  3. Lifting, carrying and tossing heavy stones.
  4. Throwing javelins.
  5. Wrestling
  6. Fencing

While it is clear that throughout the Middle Ages, interest in regimented training exercise, based on the Greco-Roman model never truly disappeared amongst the European warrior elite, the idea of “exercise for exercise sake” did not begin to reappear until the 15th century, when the Renaissance obsession with Classical culture gave the palestra a new lease on life.

The 15th c fencing master, Hans Talhoffer also recommended these same exercises, along with recommendations on diet and creating a specific training regimen, for someone who found himself forced to prepare for a judicial duel. This advice has been translated and presented in a short, evocative video by the fine folks at Blossfechter, a medieval swordsmanship and traditional martial arts club in Germany. The guys put a lot of heart into this clip, do yourself a favor and take three minutes to watch it!

Seem like it would be a challenging way to get fit? And more fun that more time on a Stairmaster? (At least, if you didn’t have to fight a duel at the end.) We think so! Since this same idea of the palestra was at the heart of the Victorian physical culture movement, particularly at Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club, how could we not?

Our historical European martial arts classes all begin with a combination of various calisthenic exercises, that would have been at home in any medieval training hall; amongst the most popular (with the instructors, if not the students!) being throwing medicine balls, stick-wrestling, rolling and falling and tug of war, then followed by the actual sword, dagger or wrestling classes themselves.

While many of these training methods are warm-ups for our martial arts classes, for those who really want to push themselves to lose weight, tone muscle and develop coordinated grace by going really old school, these same activities, combined with Indian clubs, kettle bells and a variety of fitness games, is at the heart of our FightingFit! program: our 2012 answer to 1512 physical fitness! And since, no one is going to make you fight a duel at the end, you can just enjoy swinging swords, throwing javelins, pulling ropes and basically doing all of the things you loved doing when you were ten…only now with a focused way to get in shape and stay there.

You may be fit, but are you FightingFit? Only one way to find out….

(Oh, and you don’t have to wear the “tights”!)

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