This fall, I have been thinking about why some communities did not feel right for me. I enjoy learning from different types of experts, from craft workers to retired thugs to academics, but the kind of journalists who write opinion pieces and columns always gave me a bad feeling. I have trouble talking about feelings, but I think I can articulate two reasons why I feel this way.Continue reading
Today is Remembrance Day. I am not as mobile as I would be in an ordinary November, and neither of the ways people often talk about Remembrance Day feels right to me. Some people turn it into a festival of peace and forget the third verse of John McCrae’s poem, others (mostly in other countries) a festival of aggressive nationalism. But I am in Canada, and today I will remember something.
Once about 35 years ago, a boy was born in Canada to Canadian citizens. As a child, he was brought across the sea to a hard place to stay with some of his parents’ friends who were not very nice people. And then fire fell and killed his parents and their friends and faceless soldiers came and a grenade blasted. He was fifteen.
Those soldiers took him to a place beyond the law and kept him there for questioning. And while they did not have any basis for this and a wounded child did not have much to tell them, his parents and their friends were dead or escaped, and they wanted someone to punish. So they paid witnesses their thirty pieces of silver, and invented a new charge that had never before existed in law, and announced that he was some kind of enemy combatant or terrorist who had laid mines and thrown a grenade. Sometimes, people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time and get used as props in a political stage play.
And to their shame, four Canadian prime ministers from two different parties went along with this, just as they sent Canadians to fight and kill and die alongside those faceless soldiers. For many years he was in that place beyond the law in front of a kangaroo court, although he was a Canadian citizen born in Canada and an alleged child soldier. And so as people before kangaroo courts do, he eventually confessed and was sent to Canada, and Canada is not beyond the law so a little while later he was free. And one of those Canadian governments kept fighting him in court, until the government’s lawyers went into a conference room with their bosses and shut the doors and the bosses walked out sweating and announced a ten million dollar settlement. The last I heard he was studying nursing.
Some people with different passports were even unluckier: the same people who ran the kangaroo courts and the hiring of witnesses and place beyond the law had an organized program to murder or kidnap and torture people who got in their way. As I write this, some of those tape-shredders and book-burners are in offices with title and pension and the power of life and death. On the 21st of January 2021, some of them will be carrying their effects out the door in a cardboard box. And that is not justice, but it is a start.
I do not know how many people remember Omar Khadr. But I remember.
In September and October, I came across several projects in archaeology which help us understand early warfare. This week’s post will take us from China to Germany, Italy, and England and from the Bronze Age to the 18th century CE.
I will start with the Bronze Age (best age!) then move on to ages of other metals. A German-UK-Chinese team published the latest project trying to understand how Bronze Age swords were used. They examined damage to the edges of originals and then compared it to damage on replica swords by Neil Burridge after performing Andre Lignitzer’s six sword-and-buckler plays. I’d like to see more studies like this borrowing ideas from other martial arts like Shastar Vidiya to see which seem to work best with Bronze Age weapons from Europe. Fifteenth-century German fencing such as Andre Lignitzer’s plays has a lot of blade-on-blade contact and twisty actions while the blades are crossed, whereas other martial arts rely on the shield to defend or prefer simpler weapon-on-weapon actions. But I think that the evidence that swords from some periods often have marks characteristic of controlled parrying, whereas in other periods the edge damage is more random, is valuable. I am also glad that they experimented with common matchups like sword against spear, and not just the rare occasions when a sword was used against another warrior with a sword who was ready for the attack.Continue reading
This year I have been thinking about teaching and parenting and the wisdom in books. I had not planned to post this week and I do not have many words in me but this quote touches on all three topics.
And one example, whether loue or feare doth worke more in a child, for vertue and learning, I will gladlie report: which maie be hard with some pleasure, and folowed with more profit. Before I went into Germanie, I came to Brodegate in Lecetershire, to take my leaue of that noble Ladie Iane Grey, to whom I was exceding moch beholdinge. Hir parentes, the Duke and Duches, with all the houshould, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, were huntinge in the Parke: I founde her, in her Chamber, readinge Phaedon Platonis in Greeke, and that with as moch delite, as som ientleman wold read a merie tale in Bocase. After salutation, and dewtie done, with som other taulke, I asked hir, whie she wold leese soch pastime in the Parke? smiling she answered me: I wisse, all their sporte in the Parke is but a shadoe to that pleasure, that I find in Plato: Alas good folke, they neuer felt, what trewe pleasure ment. And howe came you Madame, quoth I, to this deepe knowledge of pleasure, and what did chieflie allure you vnto it: seinge, not many women, but verie fewe men haue atteined thereunto. I will tell you, quoth she, and tell you a troth, which perchance ye will meruell at. One of the greatest benefites, that euer God gaue me, is, that he sent me so sharpe and seuere Parentes, and so ientle a scholemaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speake, kepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merie, or sad, be sowyng, plaiyng, dauncing, or doing anie thing els, I must do it, as it were, in soch weight, mesure, and number, euen so perfitelie, as God made the world, or else I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some tymes, with pinches, nippes, and bobbes, and other waies, which I will not name, for the honor I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke my selfe in hell, till tyme cum, that I must go to M. Elmer, who teacheth me so ientlie, so pleasantlie, with soch faire allurementes to learning, that I thinke all the tyme nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, what soeuer I do els, but learning, is ful of grief, trouble, feare, and whole misliking vnto me: And thus my booke, hath bene so moch my pleasure, & bringeth dayly to me more pleasure & more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deede, be but trifles and troubles vnto me. I remember this talke gladly, both bicause it is so worthy of memorie, & bicause also, it was the last talke that euer I had, and the last tyme, that euer I saw that noble and worthie Ladie.From Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570) pp. 11v, 12r (Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership) as quoted by Erik of Sententiae Antiquae
Choosing Plato’s Phaedo over Boccaccio’s Decameron is a little nerdy even for me (although Boccaccio is a bit too relevant this year). Ascham does not say outloud that a short time after that meeting the adults in Lady Grey’s life had her married to the Duke of Suffolk’s son and proclaimed queen ahead of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor (she was very Protestant, Mary was Catholic); a few months later she was beheaded for high treason at the age of 16 or 17.
One thing about wisdom is that it is timeless. And Roger Ascham, archer and Cambridge scholar, didn’t need education and psychology departments to help him see some simple truths about teaching.
Canadian by birth, American by choice James Randi died on 20 October 2020 at the age of 92. He was an escape artist, author, TV and radio personality (getting his start as a guest with Long John Nebel in New York State), and skeptical investigator who humiliated fraudsters Uri Geller and Peter Popoff and triggered a crisis in parapsychology by demonstrating that a partner had been able to fool respected laboratories with basic slight-of-hand and vaudeville mentalism. His million-dollar challenge to anyone who could demonstrate psychic or paranormal powers was less successful: the big swindlers like Peter Popoff or Sylvia Browne just made excuses while flocks of hopeful eccentrics knocked on the door of his foundation demanding to be tested then and there. In all of human history, I don’t think anyone again will ever escape from a straitjacket while dangling over Niagra Falls, have dinner at the Trap Door Spiders with de Camp and Asimov, and then battle the nonsense of polygraphs and homeopathy and dowsing rods rebranded as bomb detectors and sold for tens of thousands of dollars a unit.
His husband Deyvi Peña (aka. a.k.a. José Alvarez and Carlos) has an uncertain right to reside in the United States despite living there for about 30 years.
The mysterious (and tracking-heavy and script-heavy) website historicaleuropeanmartialarts.com has a history of the current historical fencing movement. Although they don’t provide an email address, I would like to add a few lines to their chronicle.
1972: James Louis Jackson publishes Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals (Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints), a facsimile of the English version of di Grassi, Vincento Saviolio, and George Silver’s Brief Instructions. This book is purchased by many university libraries and becomes the starting point for many English-speaking fencers.
1979: Archaeologist William Gaugler founds a program teaching masters of classical Italian fencing at San José State University in California (Britannica). His books and students have a major influence in the historical fencing community in North America after the year 2000 and help keep this tradition alive in North America where it is threatened by versions of fencing optimized for winning bouts under the Olympic rules and electric scoring. Two articles are Tony Wolf, “The Future of Fencing is in its Past: An Interview with Maestro John Sullins.” Journal of Manly Arts, August 2003 https://www.ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2003/jmanlyart_wolf_0803.htm and Puck Curtis, “In Search of the Rudis,” A Midsummer Night’s Blog 18 June 2014 http://www.puckandmary.com/blog_puck/2014/06/in-search-of-the-rudis/
1999: J. Christoph Amberger persuades a publisher to print an expanded version of the proceedings of his fencing-history fanzine Hammertz Forum as The Secret History of the Sword. While the main text is focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, the appendices list people and businesses to contact including Patri Pugliese.
?September? 1999: first Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) in the Chicago area. At some point it sets up a bi-annual schedule at the DeKoven centre in Racine WI, with occasional smaller, off-year events without the WMAW name: they numbered the event in 2019 as their 14th and the event in 2007 as their 8th.
Freelance Academy Press, dealer in choice codices and excellent ebooks on history, arms and armour, and martial arts, has some books on sale.
They publish books like Steve Muhlberger’s and Will McLean’s Murder, Rape and Treason: Judicial Combats in the Late Middle Ages (2019), a modern moral criticism of warfare in 14th century France wrapped around a discourse on Geoffrey Charney’s questions about the joust, tournament, and war, and Ellis Amdur’s Dueling with O Sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage (2016). They also carry Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani’s books on arms and armour in Iran in the Islamic period, and La Belle Compagnie’s beautiful 1381: The Peel Affinity.
I have not had a chance to flip through their publications since 2014 except for the one on Charny, but their books are always well edited and laid out.
Edit: FYI- they are US based, international shipping may be pricey at the moment.
As a human being, every day I use edgetools to prepare food. This week I want to talk about three of the ones I use most often, and how much and how little some things have changed over the past 600 years. These were all made by the same modern technique (cutting a shape out of a sheet of rolled homogeneous steel and then grinding away the excess)
Scale-Tanged, Bone-Handled Knife TCP8
Overall length: 21 cm
Grip: 9 cm
Blade: 12 cm
Blade thickness (maximum): 3 mm
Blade width (maximum): 21 mm
Cross section: hollow-ground wedge
Material: Carbon steel with a bone grip riveted with brass tube and brass bolsters where the blade meets the handle
Tod’s knife has a heavy spine, a delicate shape in the blade and the handle, and has a pleasing substance in the hand like a Laguiole without being heavy or bulky.
In the past few weeks I underwent a kind of Inanna’s Descent with the help of some dear friends who were kind enough not to point and laugh as I did what had to be done. Another thing which helped was classical music, and listening to my favourite radio station gave me an excuse to talk about ancient history.
Papponymy is the practice of naming a son after their paternal grandfather, so that names alternate between generations. Many ancient cultures sometimes practiced it, just like Anglos today sometimes name a son after the father. The satraps of Dascyleium / Hellespontine Phrygia included a Pharnabazus son of Pharnaces son of Pharnabazus. If you know to look for papponymy, you can use it as a clue in guessing family relationships and how many generations stand between individuals who happen to be mentioned in surviving writing. If the names are the same, one or three generations are probably missing, if different then two or four.
Listening to that radio station, I learned about a family which practised papponymy in the 20th century:
- Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (composer) father of …
- Maxim Dmitrievich Shostakovich (pianist) father of …
- Dmitri Maximovich Shostakovich (conductor)
An ancient historian would call these Dmitri II Shostakovich, Maxim Shostakovich, and Dmitri III Shostakovich (Dmitri I was the composer’s father) because ancient historians value genealogy and umambiguity and have learned about regnal numbers. But in ordinary circumstances, nobody is likely to confuse the grandson and the grandfather.
The Before Times were good for tests of bows or guns against low-tech armour. I just learned that Sylvia Leever’s tests against two 17th century breastplates is available on YouTube:
Sylvia Leever, For Show or Safety? (2005, posted 3 August 2013)
You can find more information about her project in:
- Leever, Sylvia (2005) “For Show or Safety?: A Study on Structure, Ballistic Performance and Authenticity of Seventeenth Century Breastplates” MSc thesis, TU Delft http://resolver.tudelft.nl/uuid:f2638444-04be-4795-8e96-d0da5a91da21
- Leever, Sylvia (2006) “For Show or Safety?” Arms & Armour, Vol. 3 No. 2 pp. 117-125
You can see more videos like this:
- Tod’s Workshop: Arrows vs. Armour- Medieval Myth Busting (29 August 2019)
- PBS Nova Secrets of the Shining Knight (2017)
Enjoy, and when planning your post-apocalyptic raids please avoid Oxford, Long Island, and Delft!