The International Armizare Society’s First Provost Exam! Part 1: Testing Process & Internal Skills Examination

Introduction

On the weekend of 9 – 10 February, the Society held its first Board of Examiners and Prize Play for the rank of Rettore d’Armizare, or Provost.

A Provost was the first of the upper ranks in the medieval fencing guild system, and the first formal teaching rank. Provost generally act under the guidance of a Master, and can teach as heads of chapters or specific programs. It is the first rank that is conveyed directly by the IAS, except in those cases where, for lack of a sponsoring academy, the association has directly awarded the rank of Free Scholar, as noted above. First and foremost, the Provost must have a proven track record in the instruction of the art, and is skilled in all weapons as described by Fiore dei Liberi’s treatise.

A Provost must be capable of teaching all of the core elements of the Free Scholar curriculum, have experience in the breadth of the full use of the art on foot (including armoured combat), and conduct original research or technical development of the art. They must swear to the IAS Instructor Code of Conduct, abide by the rules and constitution of their home academy, and agree to the and promote the principles of historical European martial arts within and without organizations that are focused on the formalization of these arts. Upon successful completion, an official teaching license is granted by the IAS to those who have successfully prized at this rank. Provost candidates will be considered if the following criteria are satisfied:

This was new territory for all of us, as it would be the first such board convened by the Society, and while we had previous models, such as those used in the San Jose and Sonoma State Fencing Masters’ programs and by Academie Duello in Vancouver, BC, we entered into the board knowing that there would be some rough patches, and that the candidate, Jesse Kulla of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, would suffer all of the challenges that befall any trailblazer.

At the time of the Society’s inception, the founders determined that the only way both Society and certification process could have legitimacy was if the process was clearly defined, open to revision and transparent in execution. To that end, we offer the following detailed review, complete with embedded video clips of the various stages of the process, Examiners’ comments, and criticism of the Board itself and how it could be refined.

The Candidate

Jesse Kulla has had a lifelong interest in physical fitness and martial arts. He began his training in 1995 in Korean martial arts. After years of study under his first teacher, gaining black belt ranks in two arts, he sought other arts to continue his journey, exploring Wing Chun, Hapkido, and the Filipino Martial Arts.

Jesse joined the Chicago Swordplay Guild, shortly after its founding in 1999, where his focus has been on their Armizare curriculum. In 2008, along with Keith Jennings, he became one of the first two people to earn the rank of Free Scholar of Armizare from the Guild. As a Guild instructor he has taught throughout the Chicagoland area, at events such as Chivalric Weekend and the Western Martial Arts Workshop, and in private seminars around the Midwest

Internal Examination

The Society minimum requirements are listed here. An additional requirement is stated as: Has fulfilled home academy’s specific internal requirements for promoting to the rank of Provost. The internal skills examination was designed to test both these general and specific requirements.

Rationale

The Chicago Swordplay Guild’s Free Scholar exams contain long catalogs of “canonical” set-plays from the abrazare, dagger, sword and spear sections of the Flower of Battle, combined with “training sequences” that link plays dynamically, following Fiore dei Liberi’s pedagogical model of Attack – Remedy – Counter – Counter-to-the-Counter, and then a short section of “Free expression” where the candidate is asked to take a play from one sub-system and apply it to another. (For example, perform the Scambiar di Punta with daggers.) By contrast, as the Provost rank is a teaching license, the skills exam inverts the emphasis. The candidate is expected to demonstrate a subset of canonical plays at request, which means they must still know all of them in advance. However, the text emphasizes:

  1. being able to cleanly and concisely demonstrate the drills and exercises used within the school to teach armizare;
  2. being able to apply a drill or play across weapon systems, demonstrating the student’s deeper understanding of that play’s mechanics and tactics;
  3. spontaneously building training sequences of one’s own to show creativity and adaptation.

For example, the IAS Basic Curriculum is built around a pair of solo drills, or assalti that encodes movement and flow through poste, combined with basic covers and defenses, and three cutting drills (the Basic Fendente, Sottani and Finestra drills) that not only teach proper timing and body mechanics as solo exercises, but encode using the cuts and guards to both counterattack and parry-riposte when done with a partner. In the exam, Jesse was asked to take these same two-handed sword drills and apply them, both solo and partnered, with the arming sword, spear, poleaxe, and unarmed vs. a dagger. Likewise, on his exam, Jesse was asked to take a variety of sword plays, such as Taglio il Braccio (Largo II.2) empty-handed or with the spear.

Here is a few video segment from Jesse’s skills exam to show how this works in practice (shown first here, but actually coming at the end of the testing):

Scambiar and Rompere di Punta, with Sword, Dagger, Axe & Spear

Dagger and abrazare are deeply embedded in the CSG curriculum from the very beginning, with most of the material having been thoroughly covered by the time a student becomes Free Scholar. The exceptions are the doppio incrossada (doubled and crossed) plays of Masters Two, Seven and Eight) which are specifically designed for play in armour. While this is tested at the rote level at lower ranks, most of the Provost abrazare and dagger examination involves having the candidate receive a series of random attacks with and without a dagger, against which they are to demonstrate Fiore’s “five actions”: disarm, strike, bind, break and throw, in a creative and dynamic fashion.

Again, here is a video segment from this portion of the exam:

Abrazare Free-Flow

Daga Free-Flow

The overall skills exam took about two and a half hours, and Jesse passed with flying colors. While I was very pleased with his technical performance, and thus ability to demonstrate these core drills and actions to Guild students, his high-level technical performance may have made us overconfident going into the next phase of the testing: the IAS Examination Board, which convened two weeks later.