Interpretation in Historical Martial Arts

interpretationThe former school visitor knows the interpretation under the term “What does the artist want to say to me? No text, no picture is created thoughtless and without intention. In the scientific treatise “Visualised motion: iconography of medieval and renaissance fencing books” the author of these lines briefly writes about the interpretation of images in fencing books. A huge book could be written about it. An even thicker one would be to write about the texts.

The interpretation is the first step towards freeing oneself from the letters of the texts and the imitation of the pictures. However, the fencing lore of the original author is not distanced from. On the contrary, it tries to get closer to the teaching. In order to do this, interpreters must have a great deal of knowledge of their own. Without a good training in martial arts and a study of contemporary sources (fencing, regional history and art), an interpretation is only by chance a meaningful product.

BTW if you have not done now, you may consider to read about Reconstruction first.

Implementation of the interpretation

A systematic approach to interpretation is needed. It may go along the following steps. Each of these steps should produce a result and is ideally recorded.

Step 1 Perception

What do I see and read, and how does it affect me?

Answers to the questions:

  • What strikes me most?
  • Which details are particularly highlighted?
  • Which keywords are used in the text?
  • How martial / brutal does it seem?

Exact recording of the visible and the text:

  • Objects, figures
  • Type of text, writing (careful, erratic), printing,

Analysis of the design with regard to

  • Structure, symmetry, asymmetry (in opened book)
  • colors
  • Direction of movement of the figures
  • Rhyme and verse of the text
  • Separators and hyphens in text

Step 2 Reference to the context

Without the context a piece of art or work is not to understand.

Historical classification of the fencing arts

  • Influences of contemporaries
  • Influences of sources, authorities, including faulty copies
  • Influences from guilds and prevailing fencing styles
  • Fashion of Weapons

Art historical classification:

  • art movements,
  • stylistic features
  • Fashion, clothing and footwear

Biographical classification:

  • where and how he lived
  • with whom and for whom he worked,
  • what moved him (religion)?
  • political and social conditions
  • legal rules

Step 3 Interpretation

Now that the reconstructed movements of the figures are known in several variants, the reconstructed fencing play can be critically examined and revised with reference to the actual perception, intention and context. The number of variants is often significantly reduced, because it is highly probable that the fencing play will be recognized as representative of certain laws and principles of the martial art. These represent the teaching content of the fencing play .

If the rules and laws are identical in several variants of the reconstruction, the variant is almost irrelevant. They are interchangeable. If, however, very different principles and rules of fencing are found in the different variants, the interpretation itself is faulty due to a faulty reconstruction. The reconstruction has to be checked. There may be errors, or the original is so incomplete that no clear teaching content can be found.

The final step in the interpretation is to record the rules to be learned with the technique.

Step 4 Critical Discussion

In the interpretation there is the danger of wishful thinking and the self-fulfilling prophecy. If an interpretation is shaped by the wish that it should convey a certain law of the art of fencing as its core, or always has a teaching content, then the interpretation in the sense of historical fencing will suffer from it (the art of fencing as a martial art itself rather not). Thus, caution should be exercised here. Some fencing pieces are simply a nice piece of jewellery, serve the art of showmanship or are “corrupted” in content by tradition and copying. It is also not advisable to generalise that each piece of the source must prove a usefulness in the battle of life and death. The critical examination of the source is an essential part of the interpretation. Even medieval masters are not freed from nonsense and charlatanry.

In the final analysis, the interpretation must be viewed just as critically as the source itself. The interpretation is checked (possibly again with the scorecards), among other things, whether it is

  • is in harmony with the reconstruction,
  • corresponds to the visual material and the texts of the source,
  • adds relatively little personal contribution of the interpreter,
  • appears meaningful in the sense of martial arts (for example, no excessive cooperation of the partner is required),
  • and does not pose an unreasonable risk to the dedicated winner of the fencing piece,
  • a consisting a teaching content.

An interpretation does not have to completely fulfill these aspects and can nevertheless be the best possible interpretation of the source. If the evaluation is predominantly negative, it may be necessary to reconsider the source, since the cause of the error may lie in the reconstruction.

Criticism and Corrective

It is thanks to the lucky coincidence of a lively community that a great corrective has revised the often bewildering products of the early interpretations of historical fencing. In the current state of research, the willing learner has at his disposal useful interpretations. However, there are still an incredibly large number of groups that refuse to correct and mediate interpretations that, in our opinion, have little to do with the intention of the old fencing master and his teaching. In most cases these are also completely unsuitable to learn fencing.

Mediation of interpretations

Interpretations are excellent to be taught in seminars or workshops. The interpretation of several well-chosen pieces of a work teaches the intention and the fencing style of the author in a good way. It expands the participant’s horizon by an important aspect of historical fencing: the understanding of the respective source.

If an interpretation is taught in regular lessons, however, an incomplete product is passed on again. Although the gaps have now been filled and the interpreter has gained an understanding of the intention and the teaching, the essential step of implementation is missing. This is comparable to memorizing laws and formulas in mathematics, where only very few and only very easy tasks are calculated. These tasks can be solved by the student with the formulas, but the transfer to another, deviant or complex task, he must work out for himself. The student is also unaware of limit values or the cases in which the formula simply does not work.

In summary: the teaching of interpretations teaches the fencing student the content of a source as well as simple principles on the basis of a few examples, but no understanding of the art of fencing.

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