Forteza Fitness

Armizare – The Knightly Arts

New Workshop! Hugging the Lion, Slicing the Griffon: Italian Martial Arts from Medieval to Modern (February 20 – 21st)

“Cum li braci vegno acusi ben distese per guadagnar in ogni modo le prese…” “With the arms extended I come to you to gain the grappling in any possible way..” – Fiore De Liberi, Flos Duellatorum, XV century

Forteza Fitness & Marital Arts and the Chicago Swordplay Guild welcome Dr. Marco Quarta of Nova Scrimia for a weekend long immersion in the unarmed combat  taught in Italian fencing and gymnastic academies from the late Middle Ages until the early XX century!

Italian Martial Arts can be divided into Zoghi di Concordia – Games of Concord, or combat sports, and Zoghi d’Ira – Games of Fury or Games of Rage, real combat. Based on ruthless efficiency, Abracar developed from the need of surviving in battlefields, as well as quickly defending in dark streets where people could attack armed with daggers at any time. Compared to its combat-sport counter parts Lotta (wrestling), Pugilato (boxing) or Pancrazio, (also called), Abracar shares the use of strategies and techniques (Zoghi), speed (Celeritas and Presteza) and strength (Fortituto). However it is characterized by less elegant and sophisticated actions, focusing instead on quickly escaping, injuring and ending a fight.

This combative approach didn’t disappear at the end of the Middle Ages, but was maintained across the centuries – the XIX century schools of mani libere (“hands”) maintain the same principles, and also focused mostly on self-defense (like in the case of Master Luigi Carmine or Alberto Cougnet schools). Today, similar methods are preserved within south of Italy schools, such as “calci & schiaffi” (kicks & slaps).

Part One: From Abrazare to Mani Liberi – Grappling and Hidden Weapons
In this workshops we will cover basic and advanced strategies for the transition from gioco largo to gioco stretto (long to short measure). We will also focus on the flow of grappling toward striking and back to grappling, including:

  • trovar di braccia (finding and binding the arms).
  • aprire e chiudere i cancelli (opening and closing the gates), to change measure during actions aimed to finalize an opponent. We will see:
  • Prese avantacade e Ligadure (trapping and blocking the opponent’s arms and legs);
  • Rotture (breaking joints and weaker bones of the body);
  • Percussioni (striking with hands, arms, elbows, legs and heads);
  • Lesioni (injuring with pressure and clinching on soft parts such as eyes, genitals, ears, etc.),
  • Gambarole, Capofitti and Stramazzi (different actions aimed to throw and take down the opponent on vital parts, such as the head, in combination with striking).

We will also study the actions in the context of hidden weapons. Indeed, Abracar (and the Italian school in general) is an art of unarmed fighting for armed fighters (ex. daggers, knives, sticks, swords). It is designed not only for unarmed combat, but in particular it is aimed to display fencing geometries designed for opening opportunities to grab your own or the opponent’s weapon, if available. By doing so, at the same time trying to prevent him to arm himself. Similarly, living traditions in Italy maintain the same concept in the use of the knife.

Part Two: Hands Against the Knife!
Fol 12Now that we are armed with a dagger or a knife, the workshop will move into the second part, dedicated to dagger and knife fencing (short range fencing). Translating abracar dynamics into dagger dynamics, we will:

  • Translate abracar dynamics into dagger dynamics – two weapons, one method!
  • Learn to flow from gioco largo to gioco stretto with short blades, in transitions of opening and closing the gates.
  • Study the use of gioco largo to control measure in opposition to gioco stretto aimed to finalize the opponent while neutralizing his weapon.

SEMINAR DETAILS

Date and Time:
Saturday, February 20th (11:30 AM – 5:30 PM)
Sunday, February 21st (11 AM – 5 PM)

Cost: $125.00 prepaid by February 15th, $150 thereafter.

Required Knowledge: None, but experience in unarmed and knife martial arts is helpful

Required Equipment: Comfortable training clothes, long-bladed training dagger, water-bottle, fencing mask. Additional masks and daggers are available at the studio.

Registration is limited to 30 people so register today!

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February Workshop! A Solid Foundation: Medieval Wrestling from three sources

In this day-long class we will explore medieval German wrestling techniques (known as Ringen) from three different medieval and renaissance sources.  First, we will learn to move into and escape from various grips.  As the day continues, we will move from the grip to the throw, seeing a variety of types of actions with the feet and hands, including locks, trips, sweeps and breaks.  We will learn counters to these throws, and learn how and when to apply them.  Towards the end of the day, we’ll continue the fight to the ground and perform some common holds and pins seen in the German corpus of techniques.  The seminar will present techniques from the 15th century wrestling master Ott, the early 16th century master Auerswald and finally from the anonymous writer of the ringen found in the Glasgow Fechtbuch.  After this seminar, the student should have an understanding of the principles of Ringen, and how to continue the study both in the German traditions as well as other unrelated wrestling traditions.
Required Gear:  A jacket either purpose-made for wrestling, such as a wrestling jacket, a judo gi or a bjj gi.  If unavailable, any strong denim or linen jacket can work in a pinch.
Cost: $50 for members, $60 for non-members. Register today!
About the Instructor:

Jessica Finley has been a student of the sword for over twelve years. Her interest began in stage combat, but quickly branched out to German Medieval Swordsmanship. She had been a student of Christian Tobler’s since 2002, and currently is the principal instructor of Great Plains Fechtschule, a chapter of Selohaar Fechtschule, within which she hold a rank of Free Scholar. She also has experience in Judo, and achieved the rank of Nikyu under the tutledge Arden Cowherd of Topeka Judo Club.

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Western Martial Arts Workshop After-Action Review

Forteza Co-Owner and Chicago Swordplay Guild founder, Gregory Mele has just posted an after-action review of the 2013 Western Martial Arts Workshop. Begun in 1999, WMAW is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, international event of its kind!

As a bonus, here is some footage of the CSG’s own Rob Rutherfoord in a rapier exhibition bout with the Virginia Academy of Fencing’s Bill Grandy:

And a high-intensity, Bowie Knife duel between Forteza’s Keith Jennings and Thayne Alexander:

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Getting our History Geek-On: Reconstructing a Trial by Combat

This past weekend Greg Mele, Jesse Kulla and David Farrel of the Chicago Swordplay Guild were at the International Medievalists Conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to present a reconstruction of an early 15th century Judicial Duel in conjunction with members of the living history group La Belle Compagnie. There will be a full write up and video of the event on the Chicago Swordplay Guild website in the days to come, but for now, here are a few teasers:

The First Step: Duel with Spears

The duel began with spears, fought to five blows, afterwhich, if no advantage was reached, the combatants would turn to swords.

Part Tw: A Short Exchange of Sword Blows

Having failed to gain an advantage with the spear, the combatants turn to swords. Note that the fighting in closed visors begins to takes its toll on the fighters’ wind…. (And note that the less-winded is the one who is a regular part of FightingFit!)

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Forteza Instructors team up with Two-Pence Theatre to present an armoured judicial duel next week!

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It’s Theatre with an Edge! (And a point an axe and a dagger!)

Two Pence Theatre provides the Chicago Area with intimate and dynamic experiences of Shakespeare and other artists inspired by the principals of the Renaissance, illuminating what it means to be human. Their new production of Richard II opens on February 28th at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60657). The play opens with a judicial duel that is never fought to its completion. Immediately recognizable to Shakespeare’s audience, the duel and its meaning is blurred to modern audiences.

That’s where Greg Mele, internationally known teacher of Western martial arts, Forteza Martial Arts Director, and Dean of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, and Jesse Kulla, CSG Free Scholar and Forteza martial arts instructor, come in! Join us at the play’s debut, and stay afterword for a glass of bubbly and a live demonstration of armed judicial dueling!

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2012: The Year in Martial Arts

From the clash of swords to a unique program for personal protection and self-defense, Forteza’s martial arts programs are not quite like anything else you’ll find in Chicago. Some of our programs have a long history in the city that precedes the studio’s opening by over a decade, while we are pleased to have given others their start.

HISTORICAL SWORDSMANSHIP: THE CHICAGO SWORDPLAY GUILD

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Martial arts training at Forteza began with the Chicago Swordplay Guild, the city’s only dedicated school for the study of medieval and Renaissance martial arts. In 2012 our new digs allowed us to greatly expand our class offerings in both Armizare (medieval martial arts) and Renaissance Swordsmanship.

Our Introductory, or “Taster”, classes were offered in two separate tracks, a 12-week session on Saturday mornings and a 6-week, twice-weekly session on Monday and Wednesday evenings; both tracks attracted a steady number of new swordplay students. Once the basics were learned, CSG members had a choice of two Novice/Foundation classes per week, firming up basic theory and technique.

Armizare saw a significant spike in new students from a wide variety of backgrounds, age groups, and interests that drew them to the sword.  The influx of new students meant that our Foundations classes have routinely been full and quite lively, as students take the basic lessons of stance, movement, body mechanics and simple attacks and defenses and learn to refine their skills and expand their application. Our expanded schedule also allowed us to introduce a dedicated Abrazare  (close quarter combat) class where students learned basic grappling safety skills, body mechanics, guards, fundamental throws and joint locks, and the nine “Masters” of dagger combat: nine core concepts related to line of attack and type of cover (one or two-handed) upon which the entire, extensive curriculum of nearly 80 formal techniques, and countless variations, can be organized.

Focus classes were organized in bi-or-tri monthly themes, and included “Using Provocations to Break Distance”, “Advanced Use of the Twelve Poste”, “Using Complex Attacks”, “Mechanics of Breaking and Exchanging Thrusts”, and “Extrapolation and Improvisation”. In the dedicated Scholar’s class, students were introduced to two new weapons, the arming (one-handed) sword, and the spear. A number of students successfully completed their basic proficiency exams in the arming sword, and several more will be testing in the spear this February, two necessary steps on the path to the Free Scholar rank.

In the Renaissance Swordsmanship track, our weekly “Focus’” class on specific topics, open to all levels, proved to be most popular; topics covered this year included “Building an Aggressive Defense Using the Guards”, “Cuts and Their Counters”, and “Pressing the Attack”.

With a dedicated 90-minute class of their own on Saturday afternoon, advanced students spent the year focusing on advanced tactics in single rapier, including feints and invitations, and exploring Salvatore Fabris’ variations on his basic guards.

On Monday nights we instituted a Bolognese Swordsmanship Study Group. Open to Scholars of either curriculum, Bolognese fencing is the bridge between the late medieval style and the elegant rapier of the 17th century. A vast curriculum containing virtually every weapon of the 16th c arsenal, although Greg has been researching the material for years, this program is in its early stages of being taught as a formal curriculum. Training focused on fencing with the sword alone; looking at not only the basic actions of attack, defense and movement, but the unique pedagogical training tool of the assalti – long solo forms that can then be applied as two-person exercises.

Finally, the highlight of the year for both sub-programs was the spring Prize Playing, featuring an impressive performance by Armizare Novice Erin Fitzgerald, and a commanding display of arms by rapier Novice Robert Rutherfoord and his graduation to Scholar level. Rob is now a rapier instructor-in-training.

THE BARTITSU CLUB OF CHICAGO

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The Bartitsu Club of Chicago is Chicago’s first and only martial arts club to focus on the Victorian-era cross-training system of Bartitsu.  The Club began in January 2012 with a successful  one-day introductory seminar that marked the first “public” use of the Forteza studio.  The seminar was followed by a twelve-lesson basic course over six weeks, culminating with an Antagonisticathlon; an event in which participants represent Victorian-era adventurers running a gauntlet of obstacles and surprise attacks by “ruffians“.

Graduates of the initial course voted to keep training and so Bartitsu joined the roster of regular weekly classes at Forteza, combining the “canonical” unarmed and cane fighting techniques recorded by E.W. Barton-Wright circa 1900 with “neo-Bartitsu” exercises, combat improvisation drills and progressive sparring.  Over the coming months we were prominently featured in several news media items including articles in New City Magazine and an article and video for the Chicago Tribune.  We held the second Antagonisticathlon during July and the second annual Bartitsu School of Arms event in September (see Special Workshops and Events below).

FORTEZA COMBATIVES METHOD

IMG_6625This past year also saw the launch of the Forteza Combatives program.  Forteza instructor and co-owner Keith Jennings is the only fully certified Martial Blade Concepts instructor in IL and the neighboring states.  For years Keith has conducted seminars in Chicago and around the Midwest,  but there has never been an official home for MBC training in Chicago.  The opening of Forteza has changed all that. In the first half of the year, Keith introduced a weekly MBC class, building a small, dedicated cadre of students. But by summer it became clear that students wanted a chance to train more, and to explore other ranges and components of personal protection. Thus was born Forteza Combatives!

The Forteza Combatives Method focusing on the empty hand and counter-knife tactics from MBC, as well as combining elements of bare knuckle boxing, Catch Wrestling/ground survival, and improvised weapons training, making it one of the most well rounded self defense classes in Chicago! The program has been an unqualified success, quickly growing into one of our best-attended martial arts classes – so much so that we’ll be adding training days and special events – including a workshop with MBC creator Mike Janich – in 2013.

SPECIAL WORKSHOPS AND EVENTS

Tired but happy students of the Bastone Fiorata. A school of incredible fluidity, elegance and power - we all fell in love with the Sicilian stick!

In August, Armizare students were given a look at the extensive collection of disarms, pommel strikes and throws that comprise  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.

In September, the Bartitsu Club hosted the second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture , a three-day conference and training event.  Highlights included a field trip to the historic Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle, IL (with a special guided tour of the mansion’s unique Victorian-era gymnasium) and a trip to see the play  Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, which featured Bartitsu-inspired fight scenes.  Then followed two full days of training (including our third Antagonisticathlon) and socializing in the Victorian-themed side room of O’Shaughnessy’s Public House.  The event was a resounding success and now we look forward to a Bartitsu New Year.

A little later that month, the Chicago Swordplay Guild hosted Armizare Academy: A Celebration of the Knightly Arts. Originally held in 2010 to celebrate the six hundredth anniversary of the composition of the massive martial arts text The Flower of Battle (il Fior di Battaglia) by the art’s founder, Fiore dei Liberi, this event, affectionately called “The 600: Prepare for Fiore!”, was such a success with attendees, that we decided to make it a recurring workshop! Since “The 602″ seemed to be missing some flair, the event was been renamed Armizare Academy. This three day retreat featured six instructors from around North America and included both a tournament and a fully-armoured deed of arms!

Finally, in November the studio the privilege of hosting Roberto Laura for an immersion in the world of Italian stick and knife fighting arts. During Roberto’s five day visit, we studied three distinct tradtions. The first was La Scuola Cavalieri d`Umiltà or the Knights of Humility. This school derives from Manfredonia, Apulia (by tradition, from the 15th century). It is a highly elegant fighting system with the knife, shepherd’s staff and the razor. The second tradition was La Scuola Fiorata– The Flowery School, from Calatabiano, Sicily. The weapons taught within this traditional dueling art are the shepherd stick and the knife.  Fiorata is technically a modern school, yet in many ways it is a return to older sensibilities. The school comes from a very old – and still living – tradition called the Scuola Rutatu (Circling School), but after WWII some masters of the system were concerned with the loss of close-fighting techniques and a transition to fast, but smaller, less powerful actions and developed a new school that would counter Rutatu, producing a system which combines the elements of open and closed guards, dynamic assaults. Finally, Roberto introduced us to 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. Roberto made it clear that he is only a student of this tradition, and that he was introducing us to his current understanding of the system a passed to him by his teacher, Maestro Domenico Mancino.  It was an amazing workshop and Forteza will be introducing a stick and knife study group in the new year to continue to study and train in these priceless pieces of Italian culture!

2012: The Year in Physical Fitness

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Forteza, Year One: 2012 in Review

Happy New Year! Not only is it the start of a new year, but we are closing in on the end of our first year together! The concept for Forteza was born from three streams: Chicago Swordplay Guild founder and head instructor Gregory Mele was looking for a way to expand the Guild’s curriculum and training opportunities, and one of the Guild’s senior armizare students, Keith Jennings was looking to open his own personal training and combatives gym. When Tony Wolf offered to let the studio host his growing collection of 19th century exercise apparatus, a brilliant, if madcap idea was born….

To say that it has been a whirlwind of a year would be a gross-understatement. Since opening our doors, we’ve held seven rounds of introductory classes, an Open House, participated in the Ravenswood Art Walk, challenged our students with a Temple Burning work out, ran the Spartan Race, began work on our Clubhouse and introduced three new programs to the Chicagoland area: Bolognese fencing, Bartitsu and our unique Forteza Combatives Method.

As the “new kids on the block”, we also garnered a fair bit of media coverage. In Crossing Swords: A Revival of Traditional European Martial ArtsNew City journalist Kristen Micek checked out the Chicago Swordplay Guild and then moved a few centuries forward to the 19th century when she covered us in Martial Arts, Victorian Style: Bartitsu at Forteza Fitness Brings Back the Lost Fighting Art of Sherlock HolmesThe Bartitsu Club garnered more attention in: Blast into the Pastand the Chicago Tribune article, Defensive actions: Reviving old-school fighting techniques to win a full-body workout. (You can also catch the accompanying video: Old-school-fitness-becomes-new-trend.)

Forteza’s unique Fighting Fit program was also a big hit with the media, being showcased in the Chicago RedEye: Survival of the Fittest – train like a “Hunger Games” tribute with these offbeat exercises. That cover story caught the attention of WGN’s Jonathon Brandmeier. Jesse Kulla explained FightingFit to Johnny B on this PodCast (starting at 6:50), and was later invited to demonstrate on his TV show.

But probably the best media look at what Forteza was all about came from this light-hearted feature on ABC 7′s 190 North!  

Of course, the media only presents an outside view at a particular moment in time. So as we continue to shake our heads in wonder that a year has passed, here is a 2012 year in review from those who were there…

2012: The Year in Martial Arts

2012: The Year in Physical Fitness

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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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