Martial arts, or the “Arts of Mars” are often associated with Eastern forms. The fact remains, however, that every culture throughout history has had its own combat style, and Europe of the medieval and Renaissance period was no exception. Each martial art grows form its particular context, and the styles that arose out of Europe in this period are myriad. The IAS practices the medieval Italian tradition of l’arte d’armizare. It is a rich tradition, more than 600 years old and set down by Fiore dei Liberi, master of arms to the court of Niccolo d’Este.
During the early Renaissance, the Italian city-states were in a constant sate of flux and were defended by “free companies” ofr condottieri – mercenaries hired by the cities to defend and protect their interests. It is during this time that we find professional masters at arms training soldiers in the art of defense, including one of particular interest to us – Fiore dei Liberi (ca. 1350-1420). His manuscripts, dating to the early 15th century (1409) are the earliest known texts relating the Italian lineage, and are the third oldest after the Royal Armouries “Tower fechtbuch” (I.33) and the so-called “Döbringer”hausbuch (HS 3227a).
Fiore dei Liberi’s disciplines can be summarized by the treatise’s title: Flos Duellatorum in armis, sine armis, equester et pedester, “Flower of Battle in armour, without armour, mounted and on foot.” It is a holistic presentation of knightly combat in all its forms: grappling, dagger, sword in one hand, sword in two hands, spear, poleaxe and mounted combat.
Martial arts are developed as a response to cultural needs, and these needs intersect with the technology of the culture to produce an art appropriate to the context in which it will be used. Some common contexts in which armizare was used included war, cases of civil unrest, dueling, sport, and the political/social need to demonstrate prowess in these areas. A given art can actually encompass all of this, as is clearly stated by Sigmund Ringeck, a 15th century German master: “Princes and Lords learn to survive with this art, in earnest and in play.” Other masters and authors have written about use of their arts both in potentially lethal and in sportive contexts also. It is well-documented that European society from the medieval, Renaissance and modern eras have employed various forms of law-enforcement officials, and in the ordinary course of their duties these men would have needed martial expertise that was scalable – that could be used to subdue rather than kill, but also to kill if necessary. And even the use of the arts of war does not necessarily dictate an all-or-nothing “scorched earth” policy: the condotierri of medieval Italy were businessmen who practiced war as a trade, and frequently resorted to less than total war in the execution of their battles, the better to preserve the assets (soldiers) that allowed them to do business in the first place.
The IAS remains faithful to the holistic nature of Fiore dei Liberi’s art.