Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology

Abstract - Bringing Lost Teachings Back to Life – a Proposed Method for Interpretation of Medieval and Renaissance Fencing Manuals

There exists an ample number of pictorial and textual sources from the Middle Ages and Renaissance whose sole aim was to describe and transfer the contemporary knowledge of personal combat skills. Despite the common claim of not being able to learn martial arts from a book, a framework for working with such sources is proposed to facilitate their optimal interpretation and practical application, and finally to create a curriculum for their further teaching.
Presented method is a simple recurrent procedure which can easily be applied by both scholars and martial arts practitioners to any source or set of sources. In optimal conditions it leads towards reconstruction of the totality of teachings contained in a given source, in the worst case it shows the limits of given teachings and/or their current understanding.
The proposed ADVISE method consists of six phases. In phase 1 (Analysis) one tries to figure out the elementary actions contained in the described and/or depicted techniques. In phase 2 (Division into groups) these techniques and elementary actions are grouped together for more intensive practice and to obtain better insight into their place in “the big picture”, and establishing decision points allows for better tactical understanding. Phase 3 (Verification) consists of vigorous training and attempts to find out the limitations of the interpretation. Phase 4 (Interpolation) allows for finding out if mirroring techniques (left/right, up/down) would work in this system, as well as for internalization of principles underlying the techniques themselves, and phase 5 (Synthesis) tries to gather everything together to see if there are any gaps in the resulting system. Finally, phase 6 (External Input) looks for the missing clues in other sources, periods or even martial arts systems.
The results of various phases are often fed back to the former ones, due to the new insights obtained during more complicated practice, therefore making this whole procedure non-sequential, which allows for greater creativity, enjoyment, and flexibility in tailoring it to one’s individual style of working with the sources.
It is proposed that using this simple procedure one can indeed “learn martial arts from a book”, and bring the recorded teachings back to life, up to the point of creating a valid curriculum for their modern teaching and training.