Famine and glut

Reflecting on how times have changed in our industry just in the dozen or so years I’ve been involved… some things that were just starting then may be in the process of moving on, or just changing their character, and I’m trying to figure out what I think about that.

  • Historical European martial arts

These have undergone a huge Renaissance that was just beginning when I started. Through taking those first classes with Brad Waller (an early proponent of this current wave of historical martial research in stage combat) and attending the Paddy Crean workshops since then, there was a time there when I felt like I was really on the cutting edge. Just knowing that historical manuscripts existed outlining historical martial arts of Europe put you in a very small minority, and having studied even the illustrations of a handful of them allowed you a sort of in-crowd access to a sort of exclusive educated discussion happening in early online venues, with a variety of people who became the founders of this resurgence of study. Since then the sheer wealth of information rediscovered, the number of manuals translated and the depth some practitioners and instructors have been able to achieve through specialization and close study of individual manuscripts has left me in the dust as a hobbyist in the study of historical martial arts. I feel a bit like the stereotypical hipster; I was in to HEMA/WMA (Historical European Marital Arts/ Western Martial Arts) before they were cool, man! Now? I hold a somewhat privileged position in having known and/or worked with many of the movers and shakers in the field (Christian Tobler, Ramon and Janette Martinez, Jared Kirby, Brad Waller, Tony Wolf, Brad Waller, Bob Charron, Cecil Longino, John Lennox, Scott Brown, Steaphen Ficke, Michael Lopez, Tomas Leoni, Andrea Lupo Sinclair, Paul MacDonald, Col. McLemore, David Cvet, Brian McIlmoyle, Jeffry Forgeng, Mark Donnelly, the Andys from the Royal Armoury @ Leeds… and that’s just a handful of the ones I’ve meet personally), but I’ve had to settle (as I have in the general field of hoplology and in Asian martial arts) for a sort of general overview of things, letting those who specialize and do this full time pull far, far ahead in terms of specific academic and practical knowledge of the variety of martial arts out there. I think it’s worth mentioning that this is not the first wave of interest in historical martial arts to be undergone by stage combat- in the Victorian era, similar studies were going on in London, including work with Marozzo and other earlier fight masters.

  • Martial arts in general

Trends come and go. When I started study in Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu, Ninjas were just past their trendy stage and fading in to the background- as ninjas should! Kung fu was just about to break out in Hollywood, along with wirework and other Hong Kong influences which were all the rage for years. Since then we’ve seen that sort of wushu fade out a bit in to the background and Mixed Martial Arts take the forefront in the public spotlight… a position that’s starting to slip for MMA now, so I look forward to seeing what the Next Big Thing turns out to be.

  • Conventions/workshops

There’s just so many more of these now than there used to be- especially when it comes to the aforementioned European martial arts. There’s an upside and a downside to this- it’s more accessible to more people now, as they’re more likely to have something local, and the field itself benefits from that larger audience (allowing more people to be full-time instructors, delving deeper in to the material than part-time hobbyists can). The downside for old-timers though is that you just don’t get to see all your old friends anymore- with the increase in workshops, not everyone can do them all, so you just don’t have the same concentration of the original practitioners in one place at one time that you might have had when there were only a few events to consider. The newest one to be added that I’m aware of is CombatCon in Vegas, but this joins a long list of workshops hosted by the SAFD, Art of Combat, and a myriad of Western Martial Arts organizations.

  • Internet forums

This was one of the big revolutions that allowed the current resurgence of study in historical martial arts- as in any obscure subcommunity, it allowed a scattered group of interested individuals to share research, exchange ideas, organize events, and benefit from each other’s knowledge. Early websites allowed for the distribution of these obscure medieval and renaissance documents, through folks like the late Patri Puglisse. Forums like Sword Forum International allowed for the analysis of treatises to move forward, for the sword reproduction industry and custom smiths to find an audience (and for makers and clients to mutually educate each other, leading to better quality reproductions being made available), and for those of us interested in such things to find kindred spirits.

Now I think social networking seems to be moving on. Granted, forums have also multiplied (I run my own, which has never really caught on, but MyArmoury and Sword Forum still have value, and there’s a number of others out there I still check regularly), and with that comes a diffusion of members, which in turns lowers the value of each individual forum. More importantly perhaps, more personal ways of sharing information amongst your network of peers have come to the fore, like Facebook. More personal contact is likely, as more local groups also spring in to being. More blogs are being run- like this one. As all these things step up, the demand for the forum format has gone down- classifieds are still active, but actual discussion has died down some on many of these forums. Is that going to continue, or are we just seeing a blip? Not sure.

For all the promises of the internet, there’s still nothing to replace or rival the value of real-world networks of friends, clients, peers, etc. I still miss those I left behind in Seattle, and can only hope to further those here in Richmond over the next couple years.

Legacy of Light opened this weekend with good response- it opens with a swordfight of mine, and includes a couple punches later on as well (face punches on a small thrust stage- always an interesting challenge). Work has just begun on Bluest Eye (for which I’ll be doing fights), although rehearsals won’t actually start for a little while yet. Already working on lining up the Summer activities- looks like it’ll include a number of workshops and classes, but mostly for high school students thus far. If anyone is interested in adult classes or workshops on any particular subject, do let me know though; in my ongoing quest for venues for lessons, I’ve been discussing some class possibilities with a couple different local theatres.


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