Can you introduce us to the AEMMA?
The officially granted coat of arms of AEMMA. Taken from http://www.aemma.org
|The Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts or AEMMA is a Toronto based, non-profit, historical European/Western martial arts school whose focus is the resurrection and reconstruction of historical medieval martial arts, specifically for the period between the 11th and 15th centuries. The organization conducts extensive research and study on rare historical fencing manuscripts or "fechtbüch" of the period, and base their development of the training program and skills development on those manuscripts. AEMMA does not engage in role-playing, stage combat or re-enactment. It is truly an attempt to re-introduce historical European/Western martial arts into contemporary culture as a viable alternative to today's popular Eastern martial arts traditions.|
Why did you create your school?
The original intent of creating such an organization was to satisfy my personal desire to develop a fighting skill, however, the focus of the fighting skill having its base on a historical western cultural perspective, rather than an Asian or Eastern perspective. My goal was to identify sources that would support the notion that martial arts is a combat form, which existed, in the western culture. This is clearly evident with the volumes of supporting historical documentation. Being somewhat of an amateur historian also assisted in conducting the necessary research to develop the training program methodology as is defined today at AEMMA.
What measures has your association taken in order to reach that goal?
AEMMA is not an association, but rather a school that trains in the medieval martial arts. It has regular training classes, has training manuals available for the students, and do provide classes external to the school. For example, I delivered 2 classes, the first a 90-minute classes on the fundamentals of armored combat (minus the armour) and the second class, a 3-hour training class on armoured combat techniques, both being delivered in NYC in October at the 3rd annual International Western Martial Arts Workshop, 2001.
What is your definition of martial arts?
The definition of martial arts from our perspective, encompasses the techniques and skills necessary for the art of war or combat. There is no denying that martial arts, at least from a western perspective, are techniques that are designed for combat and therefore can be dangerous. Our intent is not to promote violence, however, the training and skills development of 14th century martial arts can be applied quite readily to today's potential threatening situations. Martial arts is a thing of responsibility. Those individuals that possess these skills must also temper these capabilities with responsibility and maturity. These attributes are an integral part of the culture of historical European martial arts.
Do you have a background in any other martial arts?
I personally possess some Kung Fu background. This was delivered as an offering at the university I attended. It's interesting to note that I had practiced Kung Fu for a couple of years to facilitate my physical development with respect to coordination and movement and control. The objective, in the end was to enhance my skills at playing university level football.
What was it about Asian martial arts you didn't like?
It has nothing to do with being dissatisfied. My only reason is that martial arts is not the domain of the Asian/Eastern community. It exists in all cultures, and therefore, I am simply doing my bit to educate the public that martial arts is part of all cultures.
Where does the European martial arts come from?
The origin of European martial arts would be similar to any other culture's martial arts heritage, that being combat. Human beings are, by nature a violent species and have been engaged in conflict since the dawn of time. I have to make an assumption here, that a martial art describes a formal process of training to create the necessary skills to effectively survive in battle and which through its evolution, certain aspects of the human culture would permeate the martial art (belief systems, spiritualism, philosophies, etc.). The ancient Europeans probably had some basic training, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. This form of history is extremely difficult to identify, however, given the large number of historical fighting manuals available from the medieval period does provide evidence of a martial art methodology.
Who or what do you refer to in order to reproduce medieval martial arts?
The source for the research on the reconstruction are the historical fight manuals or "Fechtbücher" which were written, or at least dictated by the swords masters of the period. Many of the late 1400's (15th century) were written by German swords masters such as Hans Talhoffer and Sigmund Ringeck. Earlier works by Johannes Liechtenauer (c1389) also form the core of the sources. Italian sources include Fiore dei Liberi (c1410) who wrote "Flos Duellatorum" or "Flower of the Battle". It describes a complete training system, which begins with "abrazare" or grappling, followed by "daga" or dagger techniques and then the "spada longa" or longsword. Today, it is thought that the Liberi fight book is probably the most complete from a perspective of a training methodology. The German manuscripts focus on more advanced techniques, having assumed that the student already has the basics.
Hans Talhoffer. Picture from:
Does your art resemble to anything from movies or even, modern fencing?
There is some resemblance to what is seen in the Hollywood movies. This would be no different with the resemblance of Eastern martial arts presentation in the movies. The real issue is that individuals that practice stage combat or physical theatre with a western orientation claims that this is indeed, western martial art. This claim is entirely false. The orientation is the creation of the illusion of violence. Although the practitioners of this particular orientation do possess fairly significant skills, the training and intent is geared towards entertainment and therefore, would not possess the same qualities and attributes of a martial art.
The differences between the medieval martial arts and modern fencing are at minimum, three-fold: a) modern fencing is a sport, not a martial art form, b) the weapons employed with historical martial arts are extremely different than modern fencing, c) nomenclature are mostly different, however, some overlap do occur from a historical perspective.
What is the training focusing on?
The first level of training (i.e. the recruit level) is based on the works of Liberi. It takes the student through the levels of training from grappling through to longsword. This level positions the student to prepare for his/her application or "challenge" for the scholler test. A scholler is essentially the first rank of serious training. The student at this stage not only is familiar with the historical sources specifically for this level of training (the principles, methods and history), the student would also have developed the basic fighting skills for the three forms of fighting. Our attempt is to integrate both the academic/historical & theoretical with the physical skills development.
The more advanced students would train in more sophisticated fighting techniques such as half-sword, or pollaxe weapons. The students at this stage of skills development and training would also require a complete harness, that being helm, plate armour, chain mail and all the rest of the necessary components consistent with the current period of study, that being the 14th century.
Training is initially conducted with wooden weapons, that possess similar attributes of the real thing in terms of structure, dimension. Although the weight of the training swords or "wasters" are about 1 lb lighter than the steel counterparts are historically consistent manner of training.
Do you also have empty hands combat skills? I mean, you can't really walk the streets with a broadsword in your pocket, can you?
|Absolutely. "Abrazare" or grappling is exactly that. The ability to fight with empty-hand combat is so fundamental for the development of timing, distance, judgment and placement. These attributes are carried throughout the training program into weapon's based fighting techniques. The next "level" of skill would involve "daga" or dagger techniques. These techniques include redirection of the attack, the disarming and various defensive maneuvers. Both "abrazare" and "daga" techniques are directly applicable to today's threatening situation. As mentioned, longsword training is simply a part of the overall training methodology. The skills developed in "abrazare" and "daga" are leveraged in longsword, pollaxe, sword & shield and other weapons disciplines.||
Abrazare technique. Photo taken from http://www.aemma.org
How close do you think you are from the real medieval martial art?
That is difficult to tell without direct assessment by the swords masters themselves. Unfortunately, none are alive today. There are masters that exist today, however, their training may have originated with historical masters but none really earlier than 17-18th century. Our focus is much earlier and therefore, there are no masters of that particular period. Through significant R&D, we are able to "reverse-engineer" the forms and techniques. Of course, the manuscripts of the period certainly provide much info on how to deploy the forms and techniques. The validation typically occurs in the practice and deployment of the techniques during fight engagements.
You can also go to the Western Martial Arts Journalor Swordplay Symposium International (SSI)