Panel 4: Historical European Martial Arts: Thursday, 3.30-5.00pm, room 0.14




Room 0.14


PANEL 4 – Historical European Martial Arts 1

Room 0.14

Brian R. Price

Aristotle and the Martial Arts of Medieval Europe: The Idea of “Arte”, Pedagogical Method and Historical Context in the Surviving Fechtbuchen

Interest in the martial arts of Europe has, since the late 1990s, focused on surviving fighting treatises that date from the late thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Most of this work is focused on the recovery of technique and the reconstruction of fighting techniques through what amounts to experimental archaeology, sometimes blended with the tools of kinesiology, art history, history, philology, and paleography. Comparatively little has been done to establish the treatises’ historical context and importance. This paper looks at the Aristotelian foundation for the use of the medieval martial “arts,” termed L’arte by Aristotle, and the transformation of art into the “science of defense” during the late fifteenth and into the early sixteenth centuries, establishing a linkage between the teaching methods in grammar schools and the methods whereby urban-based fighting masters recorded some of their teachings in books, in the process answering part of the contextual question for why the books take on their surviving forms.

Alexander Hay

The art and politics of Fence: Subtexts and ideologies of late 16th Century fencing manuals

Fencing manuals of the early modern period have undergone a resurgence of interest in recent decades thanks to the efforts of researchers and practitioners who have sought to recreate these fighting arts in a living context. Naturally, this can only be a hypothetical exercise as, in many cases, the lineage of these Western styles is extinct and so the recreationists must start from scratch, as it were. Yet beyond the sphere of recreation and what is, in effect, a very physical form of experimental archaeology, this paper seeks to demonstrate that these manuals and treatises are worthy of study not merely as historical documents but as works of both philosophy and literary merit, demonstrating, as they do, a clear ideological viewpoint as well as an engagement with the ideological and intellectual shifts of the Early Modern period. This, then, is also a study of a conflict between two very different approaches to controlled and systemic violence, as well as issues of national identity and a growing sense of what in the long term would become nascent modern nationhood, as well as a broader social, socio-economic and cultural context within early modern England. The intellectual underpinnings of these texts demonstrate two differing ethical models and an attempt in both cases to integrate them into the context of Early Modern England. The two texts chosen for this initial study, namely, George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defence (1599)and Vincentino Saviolo’s His Practise (1595), not only contrast with one another, which was Silver’s intention, but also demonstrate an engagement with humanistic and social concerns; we cannot detach these works from the literary and socio-political contexts in which they were written, nor would the authors have intended them to be.

Els Dom, Jikkemien Vertonghen and Marc Theeboom

The analysis of the organization and regulation of full contact martial arts in Flanders

Martial arts involvement is often described in controversial terms. On the one hand, it is associated with negative effects to social and personal well-being and with the stimulation of aggressive and violent behaviour of those involved. On the other hand, however, there is a belief that martial arts practice can lead to positive socio-psychological outcomes. This paradox caused a public discourse on the value and legitimacy as socially accepted sports, often leading to a categorization between “good” and “bad” styles of martial arts. Empirical proof that this “good versus bad” perspective divides along the lines of specific martial arts styles is missing up until now. Consequently, the distinct moral and medical concerns regarding the effects of involvement in harder martial arts—combined with their increased popularity, as well as their perceived positive outcomes for specific target groups—had the consequence that policy makers and administrators often struggle with the regulation and organisation of full contact martial arts. Some of them have started to develop (or rethink) their policy concerning the regulation and support of these sports. By means of a case study this paper discusses some of the key issues regarding the regulation of full contact martial arts (e.g., kick-/Thai boxing, MMA), which are considered to be problematic for (sport) authorities, and which confront sports policy makers in Flanders. These key issues are discussed from an organizational, pedagogical, ethical and medical, and governmental perspective. Furthermore, the different initiatives are described that Flemish policy makers have undertaken in response to the difficult issues related to full contact martial arts. Over a period of 17 months, a deeper insight into the organization and regulation of full contact martial arts in Flanders was obtained, using a number of means (i.e., document analysis, interviews with key witnesses, focus group discussions and observations of training sessions, competitions and events). This paper aims to highlight the need to develop a sound martial arts policy that can provide a legitimation base for the provision and organization of full contact martial arts, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.

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