Forteza Fitness

Events

After Action Review: Spartan SGX training.

By Jesse Kulla Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture &Martial Arts Personal Trainer and Martial Arts Instructor

Obstacle or “Adventure” racing has become one of the most popular ways to test your mettle and inspire yourself to a new level of training. At the top of the obstacle race food chain is the Spartan Race – a race of pure craziness. When you are going to call yourselves “Spartans” and label your skill levels as “Beast”, “Ultrabeast” and “Death Race”, you pretty much have to be ready to throw down and throw the kitchen sink at competitors. And oh how they do, as you can see at the Spartan Race website.

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The pyramid of excellence – and pain – racers can challenge themselves with at a Spartan Race.

As an athlete, I’ve taken part in the Spartan Race for several years now, as a personal trainer, I’ve respected the Spartan’s goals of seeking excellence, and then pushing one level further. Of course, that means that once there was an opportunity to become an actual certified Spartan trainer – the first in Chicago – I wasn’t inspired to go, I had to do it! So, what do the founders of the Ultra Beast put would-be trainers through?

Wow, Where to start? I carried myself to Atlanta, in hopes that the weather would be nice, and so it was. We call that a small mercy, because it would be the only gentle thing that weekend. Got some sleep. Woke up, and got to the venue. It was a fancy gym, with everything you could want in a health club and spa. Not what I expected – I was thinking more like a sand-pit with ropes and stones. Nor did I expect that the first thing I would become acquainted with wouldn’t be the gym, but the first rate conference room. (More on that in a minute.)

Introductions were made, and stories from races that we have all run were shared. I did not win the farthest traveled award, there was a gentleman there form San Francisco. I also met the winner of the 2012 Spartan Death race. It was inspiring and humbling to learn that he had absorbed over 60 hours of punishment to claim that title. Yeah, 60 hours. I have some new standards of “toughness”.

Before we got started, we took a 5 minute burpee test. Yes, that means we got up, paired up, and did “hands off the floor” burpees for 5 minutes, to see who was could hack it. I was not at the bottom of the heap, but 63 was nothing to brag over either, I think 84 was the winning number. Now, I expected something like “drop and give me 5 minutes of burpees” – these are the Spartans, right? But see, like the Spartans of old, who were both warriors of supreme physical skill and tactical warcraft, we were here to hone our minds alongside our bodies.

And that was why we went from burpees to that conference room, where my brain was filled with science data, recovery charts, and the importance of Mental Grit. Vital to all racers, and more so to those who profess to learn the arts of defense, Mental Grit is the power to preserve despite terrible odds, nasty surprises, and truly “long haul” exercises. We then did a little work out before breaking for lunch: about 300 meters of bear crawls, just to whet our appetites. Lunch was all business, talking with other trainers, sharing success stories and work out tips.

Of course, having just filled our bellies, it was time to dive into nutrition as soon as we got back. That was extremely in depth, and changed how I viewed athletic nutrition. After a few hours of that, we broke, and did an hour long “level one” work out, which is just the Spartan way of saying “Good job in the class room, see you tomorrow”. I went back to my hotel and soaked for an hour, rehydrated, and got ready for day two.

Day two was all talk of program design and goal-setting. This was partly a refresher course, but had a lot of insight into helping clients set goals, as well as getting to the root of clients’ health issues. The program design was intensive. We talked for hours about how to “Spartan folks up”. Far and away, this was my favorite portion of the weekend. Skipping lunch, we broke into groups and went running, with one group running their work out, start to finish, and the other two groups sweating through them. Three hours of pure brutality. It was hard, but I got through all of it. Not everyone did. Survival is the first step on the road to excellence!

I now know why the Spartan gym has a full spa – you need it just to go home. After some time in their hot tub, I felt better, I limped to the hotel, packed, returned my car, and spent 18 hours In the airport getting back to good old Chi-town. This was a mind-blowing weekend, and my ideas about training for peak performance will be broken into before SGX and after. My clients are already profiting from the new ideas and strategies, be they there to cut weight, increase functionality or race train, and I can’t wait to share more of the techniques for honing Mental Grit.

Later this summer, I’ll begin my preparation to run the Beast. I’ve beaten the Sprint, and I’ve beaten the Super. Time to go for the gold, and come home with my running shoes or on them. I hope to see you there, because I’ll need a team. Spartans, are you ready? Aroo!

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Zombie Survival Seminar at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts.

Saturday, May 25th Noon-5pm
Cost $50, $40 for Fortzea membership holders.

Z-Day is coming, are you prepared?

You’ve packed your bug-out bag, you’ve got your Survival Guide, and you know the truth behind the growing reports of “Bath Salts” and “Bird Flu”. But you still have to get out of the city alive! Our staff offers the best and most unique edged weapons training and combat acrobatics, and we will teach you how to hone these skills for when you need them most.

May is Zombie Awareness month! In order to prepare for the (hopefully) coming zombie hordes, the staff of Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts is proud to present a one day workshop on the key combat skills needed to survive the zombie apocalypse, based around three, simple truths of combating the Reanimate.

Rule One: Where there is one Zombie, there are a dozen. 
Greg Mele, expert in Medieval weaponry and tactics, will show you how to put spear, sword and shield to use when the zombies horde swarms. Learn how to choose the best long weapons for the job, and how to form a phalanx, using teamwork to increase your chances for survival.

Rule Two: They WILL get close.
Keith Jennings, Chicago’s only full instructor in Martial Blade Concepts, will show you how to use small blade weapon tactics using both the machete and small folding knives to hunt down and destroy the walking dead. With the proper skill, these last ditch weapons can mean the different between life or undeath.

Rule Three: They keep coming! Sometimes your best offense is a good defense, also known as the RLH (RunLikeHell) method. 
Brian Connely, stunt master of Asylum Stunts, will train you in advanced tumbling and evasion skills. When all of your weapons have failed you, and you find yourself surrounded by the undead, these evasion skills might be your only chance to escape and seek out your friends, or better yet, get to your weapon and turn the undead into dust.

No one knows when the Apocalypse will strike, so better to be prepared!

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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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Bartitsu featured in new BBC TV documentary

The hour-long documentary Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting: the Rise of the Martial Arts in Britain premieres on BBC4 at 10.00 pm on Sunday, Feb. 24th.  Charting the cultural impact of the Asian martial arts in the United Kingdom, it begins with a 12-minutes section on E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu cross-training system and the jujitsu-trained Bodyguard unit of the British Suffragettes.

Forteza Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf was interviewed for the documentary, which also features Edwardian-era “antagonistics” displays by British Bartitsu instructors James Marwood and George Stokoe:

Please note that, because of BBC licence restrictions, the documentary and promotional clips are only intended to be viewable by people within the UK.

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2012: The Year in Physical Fitness

FIGHTINGFIT! CHICAGO’S MOST UNIQUE BOOTCAMP

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Martial arts is one of the most effective forms of cross-training available. It combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise with a diverse workout that builds core strength, cardiovascular fitness, hand-eye coordination, balance, and timing. There are plenty of cardio-kickboxing routines out there, but we wanted something a little more challenging, and more in keeping with what Forteza is all about. Thus, FightingFit!

FightingFit! is a solo training program that combines a great way to build confidence, bust stress, and get in touch with your inner warrior through a combination of weapons training, basic boxing skills, body-weight exercises, Kettlebells and “old school” fitness techniques that literally extend back hundreds of years, you can now use the tools of the warrior to build endurance, agility, raw power, reaction time, and fluid motion.

This was something that hadn’t been tried and we weren’t sure how it would do. The good news is that the program has seen a lot of service this year. Students from all of Forteza’s other programs, and some folks who just wanted a new way to get in shape came together to train. A lot of pounds were lost, and no one failed to get stronger. 2013 is off to a great start, and we are looking at new drills, new routines, and yet another season of fighting our way to fitness!

(The FightingFit! program was also a big hit with the media, being showcased in the Chicago RedEye, and with 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.)

BRING ON THE SPARTANS: ADVENTURE RACING

Forteza had a busy adventure race season, participating in not one, but two Spartan Races!  The Spartan Race is known as the most difficult mud run out there, with only a 70% success rate.  Three of our athletes traveled down to Indiana for a 5K Spartan Sprint in April, and in October, we had a whopping eleven Spartan compete in the 9 mile Super Spartan.  As if the obstacles and mud weren’t enough, the weekend of the Super Spartan also dropped into freezing temps.  However, even through cramping and near hypothermia, the entire team made it through the end.

You can read more about Forteza’s The Road to Sparta on our personal training blog.

TEMPLE BURNING

Bootcamp groupIn order to prepare for the challenge of two Spartan Races, we had to run two Temple Burnings in 2012.  The Temple Burning is an annual tradition of a full day of physical training designed to push each athlete to their breaking point.  Temple Burnings aren’t just for the Spartan Racers; there is a mix of martial arts students, personal training clients, and weekend warriors.  The first Temple Burning was done along the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, and highlighted such fun activities as uphill burpees, a pull-up contest, and sand sprints.  The second Temple Burning was even harder, and only included the Spartan Race team.  Each athlete had to keep a 25-35 pound kettlebell in their backpacks as we ran through the 5 mile course, which included break out kettlebell circuits, tabata rounds, and the dreaded hill sprints.

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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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