What got you interested in swords and fencing?
You’ve recently switched from selling complete weapons and parts, to just complete weapons. Why the change?
What does your typical day look like?
What got you interested in swords and fencing?
You’ve recently switched from selling complete weapons and parts, to just complete weapons. Why the change?
What does your typical day look like?
Richard Marsden is a teacher, writer, and historical fencing instructor from Phoenix, Arizona. I became familiar with his work early this year when I was searching for information on Polish military history. His book, The Polish Saber caught my eye and was immediately dropped into my Amazon wish list. So… dear loyal readers, due expect a review (which many Amazonian’s have listed as a 5-star book) by the end of the year. As I got to know Richard from his Phoenix Society, Facebook page and website, I was certain that he belonged on our list of CombativeCorner interviewees. Without further ado…. 10 Questions with swordsman-extraordinaire, Richard Marsden.
What brought you to the world of historical fencing?
At 15, in the 1990s I was dragged by a self-proclaimed Hawaiian Prince, Nick Kalanawani Makai Among to Central Phoenix where the SCA, Adria and other groups met. I was put in Adria and quickly latched onto Greg Hinchcliff who had zero interest in dress up and a huge interest in swordsmanship. We had no manuals, nor did we appreciate them, but we had sideswords and rapiers and learned through fighting. Greg created his own organization, the Loyal Order of the Sword and we fought among ourselves for around 15 years. The group did not die so much as age out, and some of them are in HEMAA today. I even have a tattoo on my right shoulder with the group’s symbol and a custom ring or two. Greg is alive and well and is still the best fighter I have ever known. After the group dispersed I started one at the High School I teach at, and decided to focus on manuals. This was in 2006 or so. As the years ticked by I discovered more and more historical treatises and came across Jim Barrows who taught Italian Longsword at his house. For two years I worked with Jim and around 2011 John Phoenix and I decided to create our own group, the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship. Today, my group is the largest HEMA group in Arizona, and I have a host of students and instructors, including Jim Barrows, Kyle Cimerian, John Phoenix, Adam Simmons and up and coming Chris Phoenix. My students are many, but my longest is Randy Reyes, who I trust will be a HEMAA certified instructor in no time!
What is it about teaching swordsmanship that gives you the most joy?
I am a teacher by trade, so I must have a passion for it. My greatest joy is in seeing my students be successful, and better than that, my students’ students. This is now happening, and I feel I have done my job in passing on HEMA to others. Reviving a dead art means we need more people involved, more teachers, more students, and so forth. Small cults, led by a single irreplaceable sensei like figure, do not survive the sensei. I am hoping my cult lives beyond me. I am on a mission to spread HEMA, which is why I ran a High School club, run a large club, attend events, have served for years in the HEMA Alliance to expand services for HEMA, wrote a book, and plan to write more.
What principle/concept/exercise do you wish for your students to best understand/practice/embody?
All of them in the end. However to start with the simplest.
Hit and do not be hit.
Make others better when you are better.
What is your favorite technique to use in sword fighting? Can you describe how it is executed?
There are no favorites, because every opponent is different and I have a host of techniques. However, for effective and or crowd-pleasing…
Inquartata. In rapier stand with your chest slightly presented as a target. When the opponent lunges, intercept in 4th, while your rear foot swings to the right and your hand flings back. You will then void, intercept and thrust your opponent in a showy display.
Agrippa, Capo Ferro, Giganti, Fabris all have variations of it.
When it comes to longsword I enjoy using Boar’s Tooth. Fiore spends a great deal of time explaining how to work from Boar’s Tooth and one I like is the deflection.
From Boar’s Tooth, have a wide stance, wait for the opponent to strike (make sure they are in measure). As the opponent strikes, the front foot moves a bit left and forward, but does not cross the rear. It’s like going from a wide stance to a narrow. Deflect with the false edge of the sword, batting the opponent’s sword to your right. Pass and cut them. I get fancy and do this from Boar’s Tooth but also Left Woman’s Guard and Left Window.
When it comes to Polish saber a cut to the opponent’s right with power, so they parry or get hit. If they parry, then pass while performing a reverse moulinet , where the blade spins backwards, and deliver the tip of the false edge into the opponent’s right wrist.
Invitations. Out of measure, or just barely in, strike any pose you want. The Lee Smith vs Richard Marsden saber fight on you-tube shows a couple of those.
Should all fencers with a love for historical fencing do HEMA? Why or why not?
That is for them to decide. I wave a flag and people come to me, I do not try to push people into HEMA.
How important or unimportant do you consider competition? Why or why not?
Sparring is important, which is a form of competition. Sparring strangers is important. One teaches application, the other teaches application against the truly unwilling. People who never spar are missing out on a valuable teaching tool. Sparring has its faults, but so do static drills.
Competition, such as tournaments are another matter. I have a host of medals, my club has buckets of them. We like tournaments, but we are well aware that they have faults. Tournaments are a good way to showcase one’s skill, meet new people, but also understand that there is a game element to it. There are rules, there are judges, there is a ring, and so forth. Again, like sparring, I think it is a good teaching tool.
You wrote a book on the Polish Saber. What brought you to this weapon in particular?
The introduction to the book explains! Go buy it…
Ok, so I watched a dueling scene set in 17th century Poland and asked myself, “Wonder what the system is really like?”
No set system.
Not much in English.
How can I fix that?
Two years later, with international help, the book was made on what we think the Polish saber system of the 17th century on foot looked like.
Many instructors feel “A Jack of all trades, a master of none.” What do you feel about this as someone interested in many different weapons?
I have enough wins or placements in tournaments in different weapon systems to be a pretty good Jack of All trades, and some of the top performers today are the same. I find that you can’t focus on too much, so I have two or three I work on hard for a time, but I also find that by working with many different weapon systems, even if some for only a few weeks, gives me a greater understanding of HEMA as a whole.
Besides, Fiore for example was meant for wrestling, dagger, sword in one or two hands, spear, pole-axe, mounted and more!
Rapier treatises show single rapier, but also rapier and cloak, or dagger and so forth.
Even inside our systems there are nuances.
My suggestion for most is that they consider, longsword, rapier, single-stick/saber/ or sword and buckler at the same time. Each compliments the other, each teaches a specific set of skills. It’s ok to focus heavily on one, but delving into the others may be beneficial.
What goals do you have for the near future?
Ohhhh you know. Things. A podcast (history), HEMA-centric books, maybe put my Sci-fi novels up as a podcast, possibly another RPG with John Phoenix. More successful students and more HEMAA certifications within the Phoenix Society so one day they can go off and make their own clubs. I have spent a few years on working for others, so I may try to do some catch-up for myself. I need to up my stock portfolio so I can one day pull in a 1000 a month through dividends. I want to visit some places with my family. I’ll be at events for sure, and I’m in hot demand to teach abroad or give seminars, so I’ll work some of those in as well. I’d also like to see the HEMA Alliance continue to grow and support more members and affiliates and certify more people.
Maybe I will sit on the dunes of Arrakis and wonder when the sword-messiah will come from the outer worlds.
Spend time with the wife!
What does Richard like to do with his spare time outside of teaching and fencing?
I am a writer, and I do like video games, especially those with immersive stories like the Witcher 3 and GTA V. Here are my publications.
You die and come back to life as a fencer from the past (real or fictional)…who is it and why?
Interesting one. I am often asked, “What time period would you like to live in?” My answer is, “This one, or 50 years from now is probably pretty awesome. I love A/C, good food, drink and video games and housing….”
But your question says if I had to be a real or fictional fencing person who?
Stilgar of Dune has a fancy knife, rides worms and gets to be in a long, confusing film, but with great imagery.
Syrio Forel from Game of Thrones would be divine justice of a sorts. Teaching… again.
Drizzt do Urden has twin scimitars, but… how would I pick anything up, and all that family drama.
The Emperor does know how to fight, he is a Master, and I get to rule the galaxy for a bit but then get thrown down a shaft that does not have proper OSHA safety precautions.
Solomon Kane, sure I’m dour, but… fighting evil.
Fiore lives in a rather violent time and had to kill/wound five men because he wouldn’t share his secrets. I’m not much into really killing or hurting people.
George Silver seems bitter.
Rapier masters all come across as prima-donas and chasing work.
Jan Pasek, a cool 17th century Polish noble and swordsman, but a life too filled with drama. So, not for me as much as I love the guy.
Alfred Hutton…hmmm, good lifestyle, modern era, interested in HEMA, and seemed happy enough. Maybe him.
Maybe a highwayman?
Maybe a drop of rain?
Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship
THE POLISH SABER (BOOK)
Matt Easton is fencer, weapons historian and researcher and runs Schola Gladiatoria in Ealing, West London. We’ve been following his Youtube channel (which to this date has nearly 50K subscribers) for a few years now and we’ve always been impressed with Mr. Easton’s knowledge, enthusiasm and scientific approach. Now, for your reading pleasure you can hear the top 10 questions posed to Mr. Easton from you (the reader), us (the Combative Crew) and from myself (the fencer). Enjoy!
How did you get into sword-play?
As far as I can remember, I was born interested in swordplay; I can’t remember an age at which I was not obsessed with swords and everything to do with them. Like most kids I played with wooden swords, but in my teenage years I started modern sport fencing at school and also started trying to work out how real swords might have been used. I got a weekend job and saved up for my first real sword (a replica longsword), which I then used for lots of solo practice, just working out what could be done with it and how such a weapon should move. I also managed to find an instructional video by Mike Loades on renaissance swordsmanship for stage and screen and while I was at university I heard about Terry Brown’s English Martial Arts classes. I became a student of his for a couple of years and that was my proper initiation into historical fencing, from which I branched out to work on various other historical swordsmanship sources and eventually to become a teacher.
How would you mark your evolution as a martial artist?
I think that when I started studying various different martial arts, be it kung fu and kendo, or different Western historical swordsmanship treatises, I was first struck by all the similarities across different systems. Then as I started to focus more on specific systems and teach them I was struck by how some things are done so differently from one system to another. Some people talk about doing ‘German longsword’, or ‘Italian longsword’, for example, but actually there are a lot of significant differences between sources like Fiore dei Liberi, Filippo Vadi and Achille Marozzo – despite the fact that they all teach the longsword and are all Italian. Even more notable are the differences between a German source like Paulus Kal and an Italian source like Fiore dei Liberi – whilst there is a lot of common ground, the differences are really significant as well. There are some quite basic things that they did differently, despite both being in Europe in the same century and using the same weapon. Now I have been studying these systems for over 15 years I start to look beyond similarities and differences and I feel like I’m starting to understand the reasons for the differences more. Not the simple principles – anybody who has been fencing for a couple of years understands the basic universal principles of time, distance, line and so on. Rather I feel like I’m starting to see more complex patterns across various martial arts. So I would say that I mark my progress in martial arts through depth of understanding, but I’m sure that in ten or twenty years I’ll look back and realise I didn’t understand much at all. I think that the main purpose for depth of understanding is to enable more acute transfer of knowledge to students. Someone can become a competent fighter in quite a short period of time, but most competent fighters are not able to transfer their skills without a long period of teaching experience.
As a collector of various weapons, what 3 are closest to your heart?
That is a very difficult question for me, as I own a rather large number now, of which I have probably 15 swords which I am very attached to, for various reasons. I’ll give the first three that come to mind: A non-regulation infantry officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to 1858, which has a special extra-long wedge-section blade and steel hilt covered in gilding to make it look like a brass regulation guard. This was owned by the adjutant of the 61st regiment of foot, who survived the siege and fall of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny – I also have his diaries. Secondly a non-regulation steel-hilted Royal Engineers officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to the 1860s, which was owned by an officer who was a sort of Victorian James Bond. Officially an Army officer, he used to travel to areas which the British government had interests in and act as a spy, reporting back details of geography and defences, also trying to broker alliances. He was eventually killed in the Egyptian desert whilst trying to secure the alliance of the Bedouin prior to a British invasion. Lastly a current favourite of mine is a ‘Lead Cutter’ made by Robert Mole of Birmingham in around 1890. Lead cutters were over-sized, over-weight cutlasses, made specifically for sword feats, whereby various objects such as a lead bar or whole sheep carcass would be cut through with one blow. Sword feats were designed to improve cutting skill and also for fun and exercise. This example weighs 3.5lbs and is great for training with – it’s also in fantastic condition and still sharp.
When did you start putting videos on YouTube and how has the process been?
I started putting HEMA-related videos on YouTube several years ago to represent my club to a HEMA audience and potential new students, but around 2 years ago I decided that there was an un-filled niche for information videos about historical fencing, arms and armour. Most other people making HEMA videos were doing it for a HEMA audience, but I saw that there were a couple of popular multi-topic YouTube channels that had started to branch into HEMA. I saw them making some basic errors and realised that YouTube really needed a HEMA person to talk about HEMA – we shouldn’t be leaving it up to other people to represent us and nobody else in the HEMA scene was really doing it, at least not with regular videos. So I got a camcorder and started filming – I never had even the slightest sense that they would become anywhere near as popular as they are now. I genuinely wanted to do the videos to get the information out there and at first I wasn’t thinking about how to make them popular. Now I have nearly fifty thousand subscribers I’ve started thinking about it a bit more as a job and thinking about scaling it up – I’ve actually started editing my videos slightly now! The process has been very rewarding and I have been really amazed at how large the response has been, but also how positive it has been. We have had a really tiny number of negative responses and having run a discussion forum for many years I can say without doubt that there has been a lot more peaceful and civil discourse on the YouTube comments than there is on an average forum. As well as really positive input from the viewers I have also received a lot of positive feedback from other HEMA instructors and I know that many groups have now got more students thanks directly to my channel, which is hugely satisfying. YouTube really is an incredibly powerful medium for spreading information – more so than TV documentaries, publicity events, newspapers or any of the other mediums I have worked with over the years. And that is really what the channel is about – spreading the word of HEMA and getting more people into it.
What is your current view on the way they teach (modern/sport) fencing today?
I actually have a lot of respect for modern sport fencing and I think it has some very well-established and effective teaching methods. Some of how we train historical fencing is taken directly from sport fencing. What I have criticised about sport fencing are some of the rules and some of the equipment – I think it has led to a sport that is further and further removed from swordsmanship and therefore is less and less like what most people actually want to do when they start fencing. A huge proportion of historical fencers are former sport-fencers who started because they wanted to learn how to use a sword – some people do both historical and sport fencing, and the two need not be exclusive. I myself did sport fencing for many years and would recommend any child to do it as a basis for historical fencing. In the future I expect that historical fencing will become more like sport fencing in its attitudes to professionalism, teaching and athletic excellence. I certainly hope that historical fencing will learn from some of the mistakes of sport fencing though and not repeat them.
We know you as having a fondness for the saber/sabre. Why do you think you’ve developed such a fondness for this weapon above others?
My love of the sabre comes essentially from three motivations; firstly that I like the way it is used and systematised in manuals. It is a very developed fencing system, with everything named, numbered and codified. It works very well as a system against any other and is scientific and logical – so much so that as a system you can apply the terms to other systems (for example numbering the cuts and thrusts for ease of teaching). Secondly, I love that antique sabres are still numerous and therefore cheap enough to be easily collected and handled. Nobody except the super-rich can afford to collect medieval longswords, which in good condition go for £20,000 and more. Even 17th century rapiers start at around £1,500, so 19th century sabres at £150 upwards are much more accessible. Lastly, I am really interested in the period that sabres mostly relate to – particularly the British and French colonial wars, which saw very diversely-equipped opponents and far more hand-to-hand fighting that was usual in the 19th century. I find the written experiences, written in basically modern English, by men who fought in India, China, the Crimea, Afghanistan, Persia, New Zealand and elsewhere fascinating. These men only lived 4 or 5 generations ago and were photographed, yet they faced hand-to-hand conflicts every bit as brutal and sometimes more bloody, than medieval warriors.
In teaching students, what are some of the core principles that you try to instill?
Firstly control. With weapons you need control before you can progress. Control is mostly about mind-set I think – learning to respect the weapon, your capabilities and be respectful of the training partners. Next is how to move – the students generally don’t realise they are being taught this, because they think they are learning techniques of attack and defence. For the first few months though what they are really learning is a new way of moving their bodies. In everyday life we just don’t move our bodies in these ways. At first even strong and fit students exhaust themselves in an hour class because they just aren’t moving right. Learning to move is all about efficiency of course and once a person knows how to move with a given weapon then they only use a fraction of the energy to do things that used to exhaust them. Once a person has learned control and how to move, then they really effectively start to learn about attack and defence, time, distance, judgement, line and the other basic themes of fencing.
From when you first started till today, what does your family think of your love for the sword (and fighting arts)?
Growing up I suppose that my parents were fairly supportive of my hobbies, though it was not an interest they shared and it was something I pursued avidly under my own drive. I met my wife through HEMA and she is a co-instructor of another HEMA club, so of course she is very supportive and I hope I am of her also. My brother-in-law runs the club that my wife trains and teaches at.
What advice would you have for a student who wants to learn historical fencing?
Join a HEMA club as soon as you can and go regularly. If you can only get there once a month, or a couple of times a year, then do. If you can’t get to any club then try to travel to HEMA events – they always have classes catered for beginners. Contact with an experienced teacher and other students is invaluable – you learn so much quicker from other experienced people than you will from books or DVDs. If there are no HEMA clubs near you then starting a related activity such as sport fencing or jujitsu is good. It will help you progress if you are trying to learn HEMA from books or DVDs. Lastly, don’t be afraid to start a study group. Be clear with people that you are learning as well and that you can all learn together – this is how most HEMA clubs started, mine included. Once you have one or two other interested people then you can look at pooling resources and maybe having an instructor visit for a weekend, or all travel to an event together to learn.
What does Matt like to do when he is not teaching, training, or making YouTube videos?
Outside of working, HEMA, antique collecting, filming videos and other sword-related things, I like going to pretty historical places with my wife and daughter, I play computer games a little, I shoot black powder firearms and I spend far too much time browsing the internet. I also cycle on a daily basis and intend to get back into mountain biking at some point.
It’s the Zombie Apocalypse and you have only one type of sword to choose from – what specific type would wield?
In the Zombie Apocalypse I would choose a cutlass out of all swords, as it is better in confined spaces due to the length, it’s easy to carry, has a good hand guard, but also packs a lot of punch.
Interviewed by: Michael Joyce
For more information on Matt, check out:
And from all of us at the CombativeCorner, thank you Matt and to our readers, we sincerely hope you enjoyed the read!
Gun-related homicides have slightly increased each year since 2002. People between the ages of 15 and 24 are most likely to be targeted by gun violence as opposed to other forms of violence. Intimate partner violence can be fatal when a gun is involved – from 1990 to 2005, two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicide victims were killed by guns* (usdoj.gov).
In a 2002 crime study* (UN/OCJS) the United States ranked #4 (behind South Africa, Colombia & Thailand) in gun-related homicides [#8 per capita].
Let’s compare that with our neighbor to the north, Canada.
United States- 9,369 ¤ Canada- 144
In Detroit, a US city fairly well-known for its crime, recorded 308 criminal homicides in 2010 (a 15.4% drop from 2009) (DN). However, a tweet from director Michael Moore alerted me to the fact that Detroit’s city across the river, Windsor, had a total of ZERO gun-related homicides. Whether you are a fan of Moore or not, you have to ask yourself a question, what is it about us that drives us to kill one another? Is it because of our gun laws? How about our access to guns? Is it just our American nature?
I posted a video on my facebook page on Monday that featured musician Henry Rollins in a 1994 MTV ad on violence (the video). In this clip, Rollins proclaims, “…The strong don’t need guns. Guns are tools of the weak.” I got a fair amount of comments on this video, and I’m glad it attracted the attention it did. This topic has gone on time and time again, and yet, gun-related homicides continue to rise.
My (personal) stance on guns?
Guns serve little purpose in today’s society other than: getting people hurt, creating accidents (many-times harmful and fatal ones), and killing or maiming innocent animals for sport (which I’ve always been against). Guns, to me, are relics of a by-gone era. While I understand that our military and law enforcement may need the protection of a ballistic weapon, our “every-day-citizen” does not.
What about my Second Amendment right?
Yes. This Constitutional amendment “protects” the right of the people to bear arms. But with this, I think back to the words of comedian Chris Rock that said, “You could drive a car with your feet if you WANT to, that don’t make a it a good &%# idea!” What are we scared of that we need a gun around for? Le révolution?
Ok. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. So there’s a revolution.
My next question would be, “Who do you think you are?” Am I trying to be funny by asking this question? Well, yes AND no. While it may be exciting to think that we’re a Clint Eastwood character, it’s humorous to believe you’re going to “Make someone’s day” without first getting yourself killed. Your best bet will be to drill for oil/”juice” and barricade yourself in your fort (see film, The Road Warrior).
What about hunting?
Too cruel for me, but if that’s what you enjoy doing…and if you’re like Dexter and you need to exercise that need to kill something (or you’ll just blow your top), then go right ahead. I can’t stop you. But why not try to wrestle an elk down with your bare hands? Why not learn to spear fish? Give the poor animal a fighting chance, by God! Don’t just dangle its food source in front of him with a hidden spike in it! Wow, you out-smarted a fish! Wow, you sniped a deer as it was walking through a meadow (which was probably the only natural clearing available with all the nearby freeways). I might be impressed if you smeared yourself with dung, crept within range and used a slingshot or bow and arrow to bring the animal down, but that’s just my opinion. Whatever you do though, don’t display the animal’s head on your wall and grin with pride. How barbaric… but then again, somewhere inside of you you must feel that it is too.
If you do plan on owning a gun, make sure it is stored in a safe place and you educate yourself properly on the care, use and handling of the firearm. Understand the state laws and keep in mind that injuring and/or killing (even a criminal or attacker) may like hold with it a prison sentence for you.
Suggested Reading: “Facing Violence” by: Rory Miller.
We’d love to you what you, our readers, feel on the subject.
The underlining question IS, however, “Are guns needed” and “Are guns the biggest problem with America (when it comes to violence)?”
United States Department of Justice, The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends &, Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2002), The Detroit News. January 2010 (Hunter)