This past January, I participated in a Kettlebell instructor certification seminar with the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF). This was the third kettlebell certification course I’ve attended, and it was both the most comprehensive in terms of technique, and yet also the most sparse in terms of catalog of techniques. Since my reason for taking this course was to focus on the primary kettlebell lifts used in sport competition, this suited me just fine. The IKFF website describes their approach as such:
The music has gone quiet, the lights have dimmed, and the Founders’ Ball is over. As Edwardian-martial arts researcher, gymuseum curator, and bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf explained to Saturday night’s attendees, Forteza was inspired as a fusion of two, bygone institutions: the antiquarian arms and armour society of the Kernoozer’s Club and perhaps the first fitness-martial arts gymnasium, the Bartitsu Club, which between them had also led the first attempts to reconstruct the forgotten martial arts of Renaissance Europe. So, for one night a window to another time opened, and the studio filled with finely-dressed ladies, escorted by gentlemen of quality (although it is said a rapscallion or two were spotted, as well!) as we celebrated our one year anniversary.
The Founders’ Ball was the celebration and culmination of many different dreams, efforts, occasional misadventures and hard work. It is also our hope that it was the inauguration of a new era at the studio and many new adventures to come. At the center of the event was the opening of the “Captain Alfred Hutton Lounge”. Hutton (1839 – 1910) was a military man, amateur historian, author and renowned swordsman who helped pioneer the “rebirth” of “ancient swordplay” both in the fencing salle and on the stage, and so is a man without whom Forteza would never have been born. Our hope is that the Hutton Lounge will become a fitting tribute to Hutton and his fellow Kernoozers – a place where fellowship, scholarship and good humor will bring to together the many sub-communities of the Forteza family. (If you don’t know about Hutton and his history, you really owe it to yourself to read his Wikipedia entry. )
The Lounge is not quite done – a new ceiling is in the offing and there are more appointments and furniture to come – but we think that those who were at the ribbon-cutting this weekend got a feel for what it will be in its full flower.
Although we woke up exhausted Sunday morning, it was clear that the Ball was an unqualified success. Many, many times over the evening, we were told “you guys throw a great party”, and while that is appreciated, it must be clear that the “we” was far more than Keith and Greg, who in the end just OK’d ideas and cut checks. The heart and mind of the Founders Ball (aka as “the Hand”) was Dawn Marcotte, who brought her immense organization skills, energy, cleverness and ability to be simultaneously classy and quirky to create a wonderful event that helped match our Donald Trump ambitions to our Donald Duck budget. Dawn put together an amazing team of ladies, including Rebecca Smith-Cruz, Erin Fitzgerald and Heather Hilchey, who lent their talents to create beautiful invitations, table decorations, gnome hats (you had to be there) and other little attentions to detail that exceeded all of our expectations. As the day drew near, Dawn was also ably assisted by the “Hand of the Hand”, Patricia Murman, who helped coordinate logistics, organize staff and make sure that the construction was done and the space ready to go as the ball drew near. This team of ladies proved that Forteza is blessed with a crew of train hard, fight hard women, but creative, stylish and “get things done” ones as well!
Our construction foreman and “man-of-a-thousand-tasks” Treyson Ptak once again spent a little life-blood and a good chunk of his soul getting the lounge floored, painted and ready to go, assisted by Jesse Kulla. Husband-of-the-Hand Jacques Marcotte and Jonathon Cruz served the all-important task of bartenders and “ministers of merriment”, and kept spirits high, just in time for the evening’s entertainment. We had promised “an exhibition of swordplay”, and no doubt, considering what we do at Forteza, folks were anticipating yet another martial arts demo. But since the studio is blessed with a cadre of actors, fight directors and stunt folks, we thought it might be more fun to honor Capt. Hutton with a little theatre, in this case a small vignette called “The Cliffs of Insanity, Or: The Princess Bride, Reduced to One Really Good Scene with Lots of Action, and None of that Kissing Stuff.” Libby Beyreis stepped in to direct and Trey Ptak (Man in Black), Victor Bayona (Inigo Montoya), Joe Rutugliano (Vizzini), John O’Meara (the Grandfather) and Dave Carlin (the Kid) took on their roles with great gusto, and some delightful improvisational flourishes that delighted our guests.
It was a magical night, and it was a shame to see it end – though had it lasted much longer, the crew would probably have fallen asleep standing up. But it was all of you who have come to class, turned up to train, run races, attended seminars, or just talked about Forteza on Facebook and with friends who made it possible. Truth be told, you can only plan so far how to launch a venture like this and build it into a sustainable dream – it’s working because of the passion, trust and enthusiasm you bring every time you step through the studio’s door. It has been our honor to build this home with your help.Read More »
This past weekend Greg Mele, Jesse Kulla and David Farrel of the Chicago Swordplay Guild were at the International Medievalists Conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to present a reconstruction of an early 15th century Judicial Duel in conjunction with members of the living history group La Belle Compagnie. There will be a full write up and video of the event on the Chicago Swordplay Guild website in the days to come, but for now, here are a few teasers:
The duel began with spears, fought to five blows, afterwhich, if no advantage was reached, the combatants would turn to swords.
Having failed to gain an advantage with the spear, the combatants turn to swords. Note that the fighting in closed visors begins to takes its toll on the fighters’ wind…. (And note that the less-winded is the one who is a regular part of FightingFit!)Read More »
FIGHTINGFIT! CHICAGO’S MOST UNIQUE BOOTCAMP
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.
In 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.Read More »
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 Arts, New 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 Holmes. The Bartitsu Club garnered more attention in: Blast into the Past, and 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!
You may have noticed that at Forteza we talk about “going old school” quite a bit. After all, our martial arts classes cover subjects that are 100 to 600 years old, and our Gymuseum is comprised of a wide collection of working,19th c training apparatus. Nor is this just “retro-geek-cool”; much of what are now considered to be the height of modern training regimens is based around a new understanding, appreciation and application of “old school fitness”: body weight exercises, kettle bells, performance-based training, etc. But to most people, “Old School Fitness” probably means “before Pumping Iron came out.” Most people probably do not realize just how “old school” the notion of systematic functional fitness training and cross-training, especially in conjunction with the martial arts, really is. The Olympic Games are about to begin, so everyone will be reminded of the Ancient Greek interest in the gymnasium, where wrestling, running, javelin and discuss throwing and vaulting were all cultivated and practiced as part of building a natural, athletic body, But somehow, in the popular mind, we went from naked Greeks wearing laurel wreaths to Arnold Schwarzenegger and now to Cross-Fit, without much in between.
In truth, the Greek idea of the gymnasia was carried forward, and its martial aspects emphasized, in the Roman palestra, or public training ground, which combined gymnastics with boxing, wrestling, swordsmanship and javelin throwing. The palestra was essentially the ancient world’s precursor to the modern fitness studio.
It turns out that, as people who lived much more physical lives than we do today, our ancestors knew quite a bit about how to train for functional strength, so we take our inspiration in this from 14th – 16th century texts on health and fitness, which advise the following activities as being the idea set of exercises for achieving health, endurance and grace:
- Running – cross country, over-hills and in sand.
- Lifting, carrying and tossing heavy stones.
- Throwing javelins.
While it is clear that throughout the Middle Ages, interest in regimented training exercise, based on the Greco-Roman model never truly disappeared amongst the European warrior elite, the idea of “exercise for exercise sake” did not begin to reappear until the 15th century, when the Renaissance obsession with Classical culture gave the palestra a new lease on life.
The 15th c fencing master, Hans Talhoffer also recommended these same exercises, along with recommendations on diet and creating a specific training regimen, for someone who found himself forced to prepare for a judicial duel. This advice has been translated and presented in a short, evocative video by the fine folks at Blossfechter, a medieval swordsmanship and traditional martial arts club in Germany. The guys put a lot of heart into this clip, do yourself a favor and take three minutes to watch it!
Seem like it would be a challenging way to get fit? And more fun that more time on a Stairmaster? (At least, if you didn’t have to fight a duel at the end.) We think so! Since this same idea of the palestra was at the heart of the Victorian physical culture movement, particularly at Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu Club, how could we not?
Our historical European martial arts classes all begin with a combination of various calisthenic exercises, that would have been at home in any medieval training hall; amongst the most popular (with the instructors, if not the students!) being throwing medicine balls, stick-wrestling, rolling and falling and tug of war, then followed by the actual sword, dagger or wrestling classes themselves.
While many of these training methods are warm-ups for our martial arts classes, for those who really want to push themselves to lose weight, tone muscle and develop coordinated grace by going really old school, these same activities, combined with Indian clubs, kettle bells and a variety of fitness games, is at the heart of our FightingFit! program: our 2012 answer to 1512 physical fitness! And since, no one is going to make you fight a duel at the end, you can just enjoy swinging swords, throwing javelins, pulling ropes and basically doing all of the things you loved doing when you were ten…only now with a focused way to get in shape and stay there.
You may be fit, but are you FightingFit? Only one way to find out….
(Oh, and you don’t have to wear the “tights”!)Read More »