One day in the desert

I was in the desert when I first heard the name “Marozzo.” It was about the third day of fighting in the dust. I was making the rounds of all the name fighters, getting in a few bouts with all of them. I did a few enjoyable passes with a guy from Saskatchewan, and asked for some feedback when we stopped. He said “I see you are using Marozzo. Where did you learn that?”

As far as I knew, I hadn’t. The local group of fighters taught two styles of fighting: Presented was fighting with the sword-side foot forward, Refused was fighting with the opposite foot forward. Most people were fighting in refused at the time. It had the advantage of offering a strong defense, and keeping the sword safe from attempts to control the blade. One of the local bigwigs had shown me a trick where I could take a presented stance, but twist my left side forward, extending my off-hand defense and keeping my sword low. Most people looked at the extended off-hand and fought as if I was in Refuse, but since my right foot was forward instead of my left I had effectively snuck in closer than they expected. It was my first dirty trick, and I used it to good effect. But it wasn’t a “Marozzo” whatever that was.

So I asked the gentleman, one Kenneth Wildwind, to tell me more. And he did. I learned about period fencing, the Spanish Destreza style, the Italian schools, and a raft of names I could not memorize. The most important thing he told me, learning I was in Vancouver, was to contact F. Braun McAsh, who was a real expert on the material. Braun was semi-regular at the local rapier practice, so I was able to hit him up. My friend Devon even had a copy of a book on historical swordplay that Braun had written. I was absolutely fascinated. And jumping online I was able to find actual scans of the real historical manuals. I found an online mailing list where people like William Wilson and Jherek Swanger were working their way through translations of the material, and sharing the things they were learning as they worked them out. It was amazing.

I attacked the manuals, downloading and printing out each one, painstaking analyzing the pictures, working through each paragraph of translated material as it was shared out. I got to know some great people online, and got to meet even more in person as I started to travel to train at weekend gatherings. I filled up notebooks. I learned to puzzle my way through Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Latin. I got a little obsessed.

I got a reputation for knowing things. I tried constantly to make the things I knew work in the darwinian world of SCA-rapier. It was a brutal laboratory. I had to suffer a lot of losses, a lot of pain, frustration, and denigration trying to make things work. At first it was a disaster. It took years for things to start pulling together, and I started to get a reputation for not just knowing, but doing. And I started to teach.

And teaching got me farther and farther into understanding the material. At first I tried to look for common threads. I tried to reduce each manual to rules, principles…and tested those over and over. Nothing ever seemed right. I looked at other people’s reductions and explanations, and saw lots that was elegant and effective, but still didn’t strike me as right.

It wasn’t until I walked away from teaching for a while, and gave up on fencing all together, that I started to see what I was looking for. When I started to go back to my original martial arts training some things started to click. Boxing with friends, I started to pay attention to my footwork. The strategies of Western and Asian boxing start from the ground up. None of the historical swordplay arts I had studied, my interpretations or anyone elses, emphasized that element. I went back to Marozzo and started reading his work again. Instead of looking at his stance directives as guard transitions, I started to look at them as footwork patterns. A lightbulb went off. Suddenly the material seemed straightforward, easier to understand than ever before. I was able to easily apply the material in combat situations. Marozzo was no longer a style that required partners who played by the same rules. It was now a system of extreme efficiency that could be used at will against anybody, with just a few simple rules.

I still find it amazing how far I’ve come from that day in the desert, and what has come from someone’s off-hand remark. There is some truth to it when they say you really never know where life will lead you.

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