Forteza Fitness

Renaissance Swordplay

The DeKoven School of Arms: A Weekend of Renaissance Swordsmanship


The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. This full, three day event features:

  • A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
  • Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
  • Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
  • A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
  • Lectures and demonstrations;
  • A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee  includes entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!

DETAILS:

Dates: September 5-7, 2014

Location:

The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)

Accommodations:

On campus; all rooms have two single beds. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.

Nine hot meals.

Class Descriptions:

Class Roster

Costs:

$375.  No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014

Registration Info:

wmaw.registrar@gmail.com

DKSoA registration form

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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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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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Traditional Italian Knife And Stick Training With Maestro Roberto Laura

Greg Mele and Jesse Kulla training in traditional Italian knife dueling.

This past weekend (actually, for the last five days), Forteza had the privilege of hosting Roberto Laura for an immersion in the world of Italian folk arts. For those who do not know Maestro Laura, after many years in traditional Asian arts, he has spent the last twelve years traveling back and forth from Germany to Italy to research, document and train in traditional Italian arts. I first became aware of his work from some internet forum posts by Tony Wolf, and then, about two years later was introduced by our mutual friend, Jorg Bellinghausen. Since Jorg was also responsible for recommending Roland Warzecha and Christian Eckert, I’ve learned to instinctually trust his opinions on what makes for a good martial artist.

This rather long review will give readers some sense of the arts themselves (I hope), as well as how they feel to a long-time student of Italian medieval and Renaissance martial arts.

PROLOGUE
From my first discussions with Roberto, he was friendly and open, explaining the nature and history of his arts, including that while many of them have traditional histories that are said to go back to the Middle Ages, as peasant traditions, none can truly be documented before about 1700, and all have obviously added, refined or adapted their curriculum over the years (for example, the introduction of boxing strikes in some lineages during the ’20s, or the introduction of more Asian style kicks in the ’70s). I was extremely impressed by Roberto’s dedication to a) preserving these arts, some of which only have one or two living teachers, b) documenting both their legendary and verifiable history and c)his dedication to track the alterations and evolutions of the art, and to faithfully transmit the art as his teachers have given it to him, but also to maintain knowledge of the traditional elements that may have been changed.

Sadly, there are many people who learn of a dead or dying martial art and graft its history and a few of its moves to a related Asian art they already know and “presto” they are a Spanish, Italian, Native American, even an Atlantean martial artist. Sometimes, this is painfully obvious (anyone ever seen Stav?), but other times a good fighter and salesman with just enough of something new can be successful selling snake oil. So, I am always cautions and skeptical, without being cynical.

Then I saw video of what Roberto taught. This sure as hell was *not* Filipino martial arts, nor even savate and la canne with Italian names. It was something else, and the guards, movements and sensibilities of the knife work had a “feeling” that was reminiscent of Bolognese swordsmanship, the stick was uncannily like a left-handed version of Fiore dei Liberi’s two-handed sword. NOT identical, but related in movement, tactics and footwork – much like you might think of how unarmoured sword might influence unarmoured staff; or more to the point, how the same *culture* might think about using such a weapon.

Roberto does not teach martial arts for a living, nor does he intend to do so, so he is fairly conservative about how often he travels abroad to teach. Fortunately, Jorg told him that we weren’t nutters, so when I asked him to come teach, he not only agreed to do so, but agreed to come early so that the Forteza instructors could really try to get down the basics of the system.

DAYS ONE AND TWO – PRIVATE TRAINING

“Il Castello Nicoletta”

Nicole Allen opened her magnificent Victorian home with its private sala d’arme to be Roberto’s home in Chicago, where he was joined by our dear friend Sean Hayes from the Northwest Fencing Academy. Nicole’s sala was where we all gathered to begin training. Roberto told us that we would start with the 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 footwork is circular and precise, using both an open and closed body position. (Armizare students – to understand the closed position, just think Fiore’s sword in one hand – it is identical.). The instruction includes two solo forms – one for each direction you walk the circle, and a series of partner training exercises, as well as a variety of specialized tactical instruction. Training begins with “la scuola”, which focuses on the use of the knife in the formal duel and then “la strada” – fighting in all contexts.

We spent a great deal of time learning the first form and its partnered applications. I can’t really explain in words how elegant the movement is – when you see video it seems florid, with hops or jumps that seem “dancey”. Then you see how they are used, and how they are meant to counteract the limitations of a knife – as Silver said, it cannot form sure wards. A knife is even worse than a dagger, as it has no guard, so you have to learn how to manage distance carefully, as well as how to thrust without running your own hand on the blade.

Officially, we were learning the first form and the basics of its application, both “la scuola” and “la strada”. In reality, we were learning how to move and how to *think* like an Italian knife-fighter.

Take away lesson of day one – fighting a knife duel with an 18″ knife is scary as hell. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

An Italian folding knife in the 18th century style. This long, elegant weapon is the sort of knife wielded in the Calvieri school.

On Day Two, we brought Roberto to Forteza, and showed off our little sala like proud papas. Then we got to work. First we reviewed Day One and then Roberto began to show us a new system: Scuola Fiorata- The Flowery School, from Calatabiano, Sicily. The weapons taught within this traditional dueling art are the shepherd stick and the knife. This lesson also gives a great insight into how living traditions evolve and change, because the 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. They worked to create a new school that would counter Rutatu, producing a system which combines the elements of open and closed guards, dynamic assaults and unites the knife with the stick – the guards, blows, etc are *identical*.

We ended formal training on Day Two with Roberto giving us an historical discussion on the traditions: how the Flowery School was born and showing a comparison between it and the old school; explaining weapons and techniques that are known to have existed but which have been lost, and then discussing the traditions of knife dueling in southern Italy. The Cavalieri school was taught by both common people and the Camora, and he showed how the Camora used the dueling system in a series of multi-level initiations, which were like a combination of English Prize Play and Masonic initiation (except Masons didn’t sometimes use their ceremonies as a way to “whack” the candidate!).

Exhausted and happy, we did what we do best at the CSG – headed off to a favorite pub, to initiate Roberto and Sean in the mysteries of bacon-popcorn.

Take away lesson of day two – there is vast amount of martial culture and history that is still alive in southern Italy, but fading, and it is crucial not to let it be forgotten. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

DAYS THREE AND FOUR – SEMINAR
We had about seventeen people for the actual seminar, including three of my students from the Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild. Sean, Keith, Trey, Jesse and I were tapped to be “teaching assistants” for Roberto, although it just reminded us of how green we really were.

Sean Hayes assists Maestro Laura in demonstrating techniques of the elegant Fiorata school.

The first day was Fiorata knife, a beautiful style (truly flowery), that also is clearly “fencing”. As I had noted with the Cavalieri school, this style uses what we think of as “classical” Renaissance Italian footwork: passes, inquartate, intagliate, girate, etc. It also has certain tactical sensibilities that are identical to advise of the Bolognese masters – such as playing from the left in what we might call guardia porta di ferro e stretta. Not to sound like Inigo Montoya, but if you have studied your Agrippa, Fabris or Manciolino, in the Fiorata school are not just the same *types* of actions, but the very same, if we consider a knife versus a sword.

To end the day’s training, 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.

Although a younger tradition than either the Calvieri school or the roots of the Fiorata tradition, for historical martial artists, this tradition “feels” more like what we see in the medieval traditions: a direct, no-nonsense system of self-defense that also uses a variety of close-combat techniques and finishing moves. It is absolutely fascinating. Here is a short video clip that will give you some small feel for the tradition:

Finally, Roberto took mercy on all of us, and we adjourned to the Fountainhead for wonderful food and drink, and we fed our teacher polenta ala americana. His San Remo sensibilities were actually very impressed with the mix of crab and polenta, so I breathed a sigh of relief. I drove everyone back to Il Castello di Nicoletta and we had a little gelato to end the night at about 10 PM….but then Roberto had a few more things he wanted to show Sean and I…..

An amazing meal ala Americana – Belgian and German beer, crabmeat polenta, frites ala francaise, and good ol’ Yankee burgers! Best of all, good friends. (Little do Greg and Sean realize that they are not done training that night.)

I came away from day three with a much deeper understanding of how the Italian knife masters conceptualize the fight – things that seem like gymnastics for gymnastics sake, flowery purely for the sake of elegance, or restrictive because of the rules of “la scuola” – the first level of the training – all have sound martial, pedagogical or biomechanical principles. It also is some of the most beautiful “poetry in motion” I have ever seen, like a mixture of flamenco, tarantella and classical fencing. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

Day Four
Our fourth and final day was the Fiorata stick, and I truly am in love with this weapon. It is fast, powerful and although it has some resemblance to French baton, to me it is much more like a relative of the Japanese jo, the Italian longsword and the English and German staff (although as a shorter weapon, it lacks the ferocious power of the quarterstaff, which I still think may be one of Europe’s deadliest weapons in the hands of a master).

Roberto says that he is not as adept at the bastone as he is the knife, and if this is the case, then a master who specializes in the bastone must be a sight to behold! The weapon is not very heavy (although there is another school, the Royal School, who uses a weapon as thick as a man’s wrist!), which means it be wielded with great speed and, like a sword, swiftly change from one line to another. As the Fiorata school sees knife and stick as one art, the training on day three made day four much easier as we worked on the first form – an extremely long form, and only one of four.

I can’t begin to describe how much the stick feels like longsword done by a lefty. There are obvious differences – like using positions that have the arm has a shield for the head so that if you miss a defense, your weak arm takes the blow – something you can’t do against a sword. Likewise the stick strikes are the knee, hand or head only – against, because a stick is not a sword, nor is there a guard to defend the hands.

But having said that, the similarities are profound: the use of volta stabile and tutta volta, not just in principle, but in form; the use of a left leg lead while striking from the right side to create a bind; etc. Also, the guards are familiar: posta di finestra, posta di donna on both sides, but also posta di donna la soprana (used for more power, and to fight against multiple opponents), tutta porta di ferro and coda longa. When transitioning to fight close, the positions are primarily posta di vera croce, posta sagitarria and posta serpente lo soprano. Of course, there are only so many ways to wield a lever arm, but then you look at the tactics – like throwing thrusts from what we would call posta di donna (by “lifting the arms over the head”, and not the way most Fioreists think Fiore means that – Roberto’s way works much better).

The southern schools also all claim that their arts began in Spain, and here is where the pedagogy gets interesting. Although the long solo forms, or assalti, are modern, they are comprised of shorter tactical forms called “lines” or “rules”. One begins from the salute – done by starting with the staff point down, as if holding an armpit height sword with its point on the ground – and kicking it into guard, just as is done with the Iberian montante. Some of these rules include: fighting in a narrow corridor, fighting in a very narrow passage, fighting multiple opponents in an open place and fighting where four streets meet. Anyone who is familiar with Iberian swordplay recognizes at least three of those scenarios. The techniques aren’t quite identical, but they are very, very close. So close I started slipping into the wrong system a few times…

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!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Roberto was born in Italy but grew up in Germany, which means that he teaches with a German work-ethic; ie: we trained until we had to either eat or fall over, ate, and then trained until dinner, had a leisurely dinner where we wrote down terminology and took notes, then often did a little light training when we got home until it was time to collapse into bed so we could train again. It was mind-blowing, exciting, and exhausting, and between my notes and a dozen hours of video I hope I can keep it all straight. When everyone left on Sunday, Roberto asked that we not go out, but order dinner in, so the core students could train more – he wanted to make sure that he was leaving us with enough understanding to train on our own. So, after introducing him to Chicago-style pizza we took to the floor for a final two hours, as he assigned us to which schools he thought we should each focus on first. In the end, we really only stopped because the students simply could no longer differentiate a quacciatura from a calamari.

This seems like a long review, but it is only a touching of the surface. If it seems like I am gushing, it is because I am. This was the best martial arts training I have had …. possibly ever.

First lesson – there is a wealth, no, a treasure hoard of knowledge in these folk arts for anyone who calls himself an historical Italian martial artist, so much so that I will from now on think of my work with Armizare and Bolognese swordplay as BR and AR – before I met Roberto, and after I met Roberto. Put another way, if you study Armizare or Renaissance swordsmanship and do NOT take the opportunity to see what these traditions hold, and the oral teachings that a living tradition can provide about stance, body movement, etc, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. Just as there are a handful of old boxers and Catch wrestlers who are custodians of a wealth of knowledge for English martial artists, the rural and often “backward” nature of southern Italy has allowed it to keep alive arts that I am truly convinced come from the same family as the more patrician arts we seek to recreate.

Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

Final lesson – even if that first lesson was not true, the Cavalieri and Fiorata schools are traditional martial arts of such great beauty, elegance and sophistication, deeply tied to the land and culture of their birth, that I will take every opportunity to study them, not just to help my HEMA studies, but to make sure that they continue into the next generation.

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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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SWORDPLAY OF ROMEO & JULIET: BROADSWORD AND RAPIER IN ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND

A 3-Class Overview for Actors and Fighters.

Sundays, July 8, 15, and 22
11 AM to 5 PM
Cost: $225

Southwark, London – 1597

A new play is published by a relatively unknown playwright. A tragic love story drawn from older sources, it resonates with Londoners because its characters and dialogue draws from real events and gossip filling the city streets. Filled with romance, plots, and poison, it pivots around a disastrous swordfight, carefully detailed by the author as….

They Fight

While the Bard’s rather vague directions have left centuries of fight directors a great deal of creative leeway, it doesn’t tell us “What did fighting look like to the audience of Romeo & Juliet”. In this three class mini-camp, students step back into 1597, taking the role of actors preparing to debut Romeo & Juliet to a Southwark audience well-versed in swordplay. Nervous of its reception, Master Shakespeare has arranged to bring in a pair of fencing masters to prepare his actors.

Each day of the workshop will have a different focus, but will present real historical martial principles alongside the stage combat techniques that make it possible to safely perform them:

Day One: Broadsword and Bucker
The traditional sidearm of English fighting men for centuries. Taken directly from a text written in London during the 1590s, learn how to use this stout cut-and-thrust sword to mind your swashing blows!

Day Two: The Rapier
An “Italianate” weapon favored by English nobles and duelists, the rapier was a long, elegant and deadly sword, the weapon of Romeo and Tybalt. Drawing from the greatest Italian masters of the year 1600, you will learn the foundations of rapier play and become what Mercutio called the very butcher of a silk button, a duelist and a member of the very first house!

Day Three: They Fight – Creating Effective Elizabethan Swordplay
In this final class we will begin with a short recap of days one and two, then show how to use the sword against the rapier (and vice-versa) before teaching you how to use your hard-won knowledge of real Elizabethan fencing to create believable fights on stage!

Presented by renowned stage combatants R&D Choreography and respected historical swordsmen from the Chicago Swordplay Guild, this is a workshop unlike any you’ve ever seen and will appeal to actors, stunt performers and martial artists alike!

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Forteza hosts its first Playing of the Prize: an exhibition of historical swordplay.

This past weekend (April 22) Forteza hosted its first Playing of the Prize for the Chicago Swordplay Guild. Of course, for people new to Historical European Swordsmanship, the question arises…

What is a “Playing of the Prize”?

The Chicago Swordplay Guild utilizes a ranking system based on those of the medieval fencing guilds of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, which included three to four ranks: scholar, free scholar, provost, and master. These grades are not really analogous to the “belt ranks” in modern martial arts, but rather are closer to the system of licensing found in classical Japanese martial arts. They reflected a junior and senior level of two different roles within the school of arms: that of student and teacher. A scholar was one accepted as a student in the school of arms. In the English tradition a second grade of free scholar denoted a senior student who had grasped enough of the art’s foundation, usually encoded in the sword, sword and buckler and/or two-handed sword, and now had the “freedom of the school” to move on to more advanced training. Particularly dedicated students might press on to the grade of provost. This was the lesser teaching grade: a provost was licensed to teach students, but only under the auspices of a master, who oversaw all advancement testing. A master at arms or master of defence was the highest rank, and referred to a swordsman who had attained a high level of both martial and teaching skill. They were able to maintain their own schools and promote their own students.

Chicago Swordplay Guild Bill of Challenge for a Scholar’s Prize to be fought at Forteza, 22 April 2012, adapted from its Elizabethan antecedents.

One of the most important steps in the progression through the grades was the concept of Playing the Prize. This comprised of two steps. The first step occurs as an internal event, comprised of written and physical tests to assess the student’s skills. The second step was for the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for. These Bills of Challenge were posted of the event and a wooden scaffolding was erected in a public square. A good number of formalities were observed. On the appointed day and time, following a procession of drums and flags the Player was paraded to the raised scaffold with much fanfare.

Usually fought on raised stages in inn yards or playhouses, Playings of the Prize were the precursors to the “prize fighting” that would become associated with boxing in the 1800s. They were boisterous affairs, including music, food, and rowdy, cheering (or booing audiences) who would throw coins (or if displeased, perhaps less savory “awards”) onto the platform.

At the start, a senior Master would declare the name of the Player, the rank being sought, and then announce “The first bout to be at [whichever weapon]”. Bouts were fought using blunted weapons and played to a number of ‘hits’ rather than to a ‘victory’. Although not real, the fights were not displays or exhibitions, but rather a sort of sparring tests to  evaluate the Player. The bouts could sometimes be bloody, but never lethal. No armor was used and blows were limited to above the waist, but even the bare head and hands were targets. The job of the “answerers” or “challengers” was not to break or beat the Player but to seriously test them. The ‘Prize’ itself was promotion to the new rank.

Playing the Prize in the Chicago Swordplay Guild

Although this was the first Prize to be fought at Forteza, Playing the Prize has been part of rank advancement in the Chicago Swordplay Guild since 2001, and we proudly embrace the traditions of our ancestors.  Family and friends of the candidates, Guild members past and present, and guests from other martial arts schools, are all invited to attend this public exhibition of arms. Much like the original Prize, ours are a combination of formality and raucous celebration. Refreshments and music entertain the audience before the Prize begins and during breaks between challenges. Rather like watching a tournament, spectators are encouraged to cheer good blows, and to boo wild, uncontrolled blows.

This cheerfully irreverent atmosphere offsets the formality of the Prize itself. The list (cordoned off combat ring) is decorated with heraldic banners representing the Guild and the virtues ascribed to the medieval warrior (if you’ve been paying attention to our website, you already know that these are strength – speed – knowledge and courage!).  Guild instructors trade in their black Forteza t-shirts for our formal uniforms, which are a modern homage to the arts origins in the 14th – 16th centuries, much like the hakama seen in traditional Japaneses martial arts. The Prize begins with a formal opening ceremony, taken from their Renaissance precursor, and then each candidate is called forward one at a time, their challengers are announced, and combat begins.

Armizare students fight their Prize with the longsword, while Renaissance Swordsmanship students fight with the single rapier. Challenges at the Scholar level are fought under a set of rules somewhat more “permissive” than those of the 16th century, in large part because of access to additional safety gear:

  • Each match is 3 minutes in length;
  • The entire body is a target;
  • Strikes may be made with the point, edge or pommel of the sword;
  • Disarms, grapples, leg sweeps and throws are permitted, but combat will stop once both parties are unarmed, or one is thrown to the ground.
  • Combatants acknowledge their own blows, and the Judge intervenes only to part combatants with his baton for safety reasons or because a throw or disarm has occurred.

Erin Fitzgerald performs a little “death from below” in her bout with Shannon Winslow

As this is not a tournament, but an examination, each Challenger is given a specific task for their match with the Prizor, based on the observations of the instructors. For example, if the candidate has trouble initiating attacks, one Challenger might be told to hang back, forcing the Prizor to pursue and open with attacks. Conversely, a Prizor who starts strong but tends to “stop and look” might find their opponent continuously presses in with an unrelenting barrage of blows.The purpose is to push the Prizor physically and mentally, under the added stress of the watching eyes of friends and family.

One place where we have decidedly improved upon the past is that Guild Prizes are distinctly co-ed. Weapons are a great equalizer in terms of strength and size, and female students face men and women Challengers equally. Guild membership has traditionally been about 1/3 female, but this past Saturday saw three ladies take the field as Prizors, out of six competitors in total!

The candidates await their judgement by the instructors and challengers.

Once all the bouts were over, if the Prizor was judged victorious by the four Masters, he would be declared “a well-tryd and sufficient man with divers weapons”. He would then (after collecting the change littering the stage)  swear his oath of obligation, and be escorted by his new peers back to the school and from there off to do much drinking.  Our modern Guild’s Scholar’s oath is adapted directly from the Elizabethan one, requiring the student to treat those above and below him or her with respect, to train diligently and with pride, but not vanity, to be sure that their actions and deeds in the list or the classroom bring renown, not shame, to their fellows and teachers, and to be a good citizen. Students kneel and swear this oath on the hilt of a sword, receive their license and are gifted with a green garter tied under the left knee – a symbol of their rank. Finally, they sign their names in the Guildbook – a custom-made, leather-bound volume containing the history, rules and doings of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. (One such guildbook is in Ghent, home of the oldest surviving fencing school in the world. While the modern guild is a sport-fencing club, the records and entries in its book go back to its founding in 1614!)

And then, it was time for a celebratory Guinness….

Or course, it would be quite foolish to preserve all of these Renaissance customs without including the celebratory drinking at an inn! And so, with all due diligence, the tired, and bruised newly-minted Scholars were escorted by their colleagues to O’Shuaghnessy’s Public House for a pint or four. Slainte!

Our hearty congratulations go out to Christina, Erin, Heather, Jake, Robert and Nathan and our thanks to Shannon, Dan, Davis, Jacques, John, Phil and Trey for serving as Challengers!

Here are a few videos of the day’s combats:

Longsword

Rapier

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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.

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