The International Armizare Society’s First Provost Exam, Part Three: Combative Ability and Conclusions

One of the most important steps in the progression from the grade of scholar to master is the concept of prize playing. This is the western equivalent to the promotion testing of Asian martial arts systems. The “play for the prize” is comprised of two steps. The first step occurs as an internal event, comprised of written and physical tests to assess the student’s skills. The second step is for the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for.

Section One: The Dagger Gauntlet

 Using an idea developed from IAS member and CSG daughter school the Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild, the first part of the Provost’s Prize is dubbed the Dagger Gauntlet, and tests the candidate’s ability to employ dagger defenses creatively and spontaneously.

Dagger combat is surprisingly difficult to simulate through sparring. Rondel daggers are meant to compromise heavy woolen clothing and plate armour, require strong, committed blows. However, when sparring, adrenaline tends to make combatants use small, quicker “picking” and slashing actions, such as those popular in modern self-defense, when using small, very sharp knives against lightly dressed opponents.

Since the Prizor, not the Challengers is the one being tested, the RMSG developed a model pioneered by Tomiki Aikido for their randori (free-play) competitions, and used in slightly different formats in judo, jujutsu and aikido. The student faces one or more (in this case five) attackers, each of whom enters with a single, committed blow, one after another, for five minutes. If the defender misses his defense, he gets hit; if he fails to control the dagger after making cover, the attacker will strike him again. If a strong cover is made, then the Prizor will apply the “Five Things” Fiore dei Liberi recommends against a knife attack: disarm, strike, bind, break and throw. In the interests of safety, more aggressive arm-bars and triangle locks are not allowed, giving priority to disarms, ligadure and throws.

While certainly still an artificial expression of dagger vs unarmed combat, this method at least provides a dynamic and creative environment for the student to work in, particularly as their energy wanes and they need to manage fatigue and rely on increasingly gross-motor skills: exactly the environment in which armizare was designed to be used.

Section Result: Passed

Section Two: Unarmoured Combat

(Spear, Sword in One and Two Hands)

Building on the Prize Play model used by the Chicago Swordplay Guild since 2001, the candidate fights three challengers for a timed limit. As at the Free Scholar level, the rounds are four minutes in length, and the three weapons are sword in one and two hands, as well as spear, for a total of nine bouts, and 36 minutes of fighting.

The Challengers were Devon Boorman, Maestro d’Arme of Academie Duello, Sean Hayes, Maestro d’Arme of the Northwest Fencing Academy and Christian Cameron, Hoplologia.

Examiners’ Overall Comments
  • Jesse’s fighting skill and athleticism wasn’t really in question, but how well he’d adapt to different opponents using a variety of different strategies was, he rose to this challenge well, rarely falling to the same ruse twice, and often adapting mid-fight to his challenger’s tactics.
  • A particular technical weakness was thrust-cavazione-thrust attacks on the centerline when he was seeking to close. At measure, he was less susceptible to the line change, but if he was caught bridging distance, he had a harder time compensating.
  • A secondary technical weakness was sometimes allowing the sword to track too far behind him when recovering from action to another, so that in making complex attacks, Jesse sometimes found himself entering in a false-time (usually by passing in with the left while the sword was still catching up), and he got punished for it.
  • Whereas in his earlier armoured prize fights (see below), he had shown an over-willingness to close to zogho stretto and grapple, Jesse was cagier in these fights, and a few times Challengers sought to draw him into a close play, such as his longsword fight with Christian Cameron, he refused to take the bait.
Section Result: Passed

A complete playlist of all the unarmoured fights is being compiled at the Chicago Swordplay Guild YouTube page. Meanwhile, you can view a selection of the fights here:

Section Three: Armoured Combat

(Dagger, Spear, Sword in Two Hands and Poleaxe)

Unlike at previous levels, the Rettore d’Armizare Prize has both an armoured and unarmoured component. Since it was impractical to hold both armoured and unarmoured components at the same time, Jesse fought the armoured section by holding the field on Saturday, 17 September 2017 at the Western Martial Arts Workshop in Racine, Wisconsin.

Jesse fought over a dozen combatants from the Academie Duello, Chicago Swordplay Guild, Forteza Historical Swordwork Guild, Hoplologia, Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild, Selohaar Fechtschule, and the Southern Academy of Swordsmanship. Examiners were Devon Boorman (Academie Duello), Sean Hayes (Northwest Fencing Academy), Marco Quarta (Nova Scrimia) and Gregory Mele (Chicago Swordplay Guild).

A summary of the fights, in order they were fought and examiners’ notes follows:

  1. Shannon Hernandez — Scholar, Chicago Swordplay Guild
    Weapon: Longsword to five blows
    Result: Victory to Jesse by throw and ground submission.
    Examiners’ Comments: Too anxious to close to grips, not taking advantage of the sword.
  1. Kyle Lazzerich — Swords of Chivalry
    Weapon: Longsword to five blows
    Victory to Jesse 3/2
    Examiners’ Comments: much cleaner fight, used the sword for both offense and defense. Good point control.
  2. Allen Bahn — Companion, Chicago Swordplay Guild
    Weapon: longsword to five blows
    Victory to Jesse by controlled throw
    Examiners’ Comments: Nicely broke measure against a wide thrust by Alex, to set-up final throw.
  3. Ian Marrs — Scholar, Selohaar Fechtschule
    Weapon: Spears to five blows
    Victory to Ian by throw.
    Examiners’ Comments: Jesse was leaning a lot in the fight to engage. His attempted throw led to a reversal by Ian.
  1. Scott Farrell —Principal Instructor, Swords of Chivalry
    Weapon: Longsword to five blows
    Victory to Scott 3:2.
    Examiners’ Comments: Very clean, dynamic and swift-moving fight, with organically flowing shift from sword to grappling and back.  Nice one handed thrust from Jesse to open. Fight ended with Scott getting Jesse under the breastplate. Jesse did a good job of controlling measure – countered two grapples to his arms. In fights before this he wasn’t using measure well, too close much of the time, but here corrected that.
  1. George Lewis – Scholar, Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild
    Weapon: Poleaxe to five blows
    Victory: Jesse 4:1
    Examiners’ Comments: Jesse did best when settled into Breve Serpentina. His Vera Croce wasn’t a well formed guard – his armour seemed to be causing problems – and the end result was that his covers from there were too wide.
  1. Christian Cameron – IAS Free Scholar, Principal Instructor Hoplolgoia
    Weapon: longsword to five blows
    Victory to Christian 3:2
    Examiners’ Notes: Christian kept distance and forced Jesse to play at the point. He did a good job ad adapting, closing the line and using complex actions to set-up openings, especially against an opponent with superior point-work.
  1. Bob Charrette — Forteza Historical Swordwork Guild, IAS Advisor
    Weapon: Daggers to five blows
    Victory to Bob by reversing a throw.
    Examiners’ Comments – thrust to Jesse in the back of the mail, then to armpit, then to inside thigh, excellent control, great feint into attempted ligadura, although Bob countered.
  1. Devon Boorman — Maestro d’Arme, Acadmie Duello, IAS Advisor
    Weapon: Two blows with spear, three with longsword.
    Victory: Devon
    Examiners’ Notes: First sword point to Jesse with a brilliant use of the 14th play of sword in armour. Again, Jesse was stronger on his right, than his left side guards. Devon felt the feint to get thrust into armpit was exceedingly easy to get.
  2. Ed Toton — Free Fencer.
    Weapons: Two blows spears and three with swords.
    Victory: Jesse with a throw.
    Examiners’ Notes: Fatigue clearly beginning to show, particularly with lance, but in spite of exhaustion using solid tactics to capitalize on a wide entry by Ed and use a collar throw (Play Seven of Sword in Armour) to finish the fight.
  1. Jessica Finely — Provost, Selohaar Fechtschule
    Weapon: Spears to five blows
    Victory to Jesse 3:2
    Examiners’ Notes: First point to Jesse under her cuirass, followed by a point to Jessica for a thrust into the inside of elbow. Jessica got Jesse underarm, but he beat a follow-on thrust to the groin to the ground and used it to set-up hip throw. Well done, even though Jessica slipped it, and he recaptured his spear, shortened it and thrusted her under the cuirass again as she backed out of grappling range. Very dynamic fight, probably his best with lances.
  1. Scott Wilson — Principle Instructor, Southern School of Arms
    Weapons: One blow each axe, sword, spear
    Victory: Scott 2:1
    Examiners’ Notes: nice one-handed thrust by Jesse under the armpit as Scott flew-out. Fatigue clearly now an issue, and it was decided to allow only one more fight.
  2. Patrick Naleway — Swords of Chivalry (Formerly Northwest Fencing Academy)
    Weapons: longsword to five blows
    Victory: Jesse by throw.
    Examiners’ Notes: first point to Jesse thrust under arm, next point to Jesse inside thigh – really nice structure using his whole body to get low target. Ironically, despite his fatigue, he was not leaning forward, as he did in his earlier fights. Cut into thrust behind the breastplate against, Patrick got the 4th point with a thrust into the neck. Jesse won final action with controlled throw
Examiners’ Overall Comments
  • Consistently leaning forward to get a low shot, jeopardizing structure and balance.
  • Spear covers were generally wider than they should have been, and gave up opportunities to recapture the initiative by instantly claiming the center-line.
  • Too often feinting high and going too low, creating a big tempo for the opponent to strike into.
  • As fatigue set in, Jesse became cagier and adapted his fighting. Ironically, he used measure better, and became particularly savvy in countering a grapple, or hitting an opponent with a thrust as they sought to escape from close measure.
  • Good entry in Zogho Stretto but once in, favored using abrazare as a “default,” rather than using the weapon or grapples as appropriate to the situation at hand. Needs to grapple with weapon not just drop it to go into grappling.
  • Signature moves: a one-handed thrust as opponent flies out of measure; ligadura mezzana on entry; hip throw or rear-leg takedown when wrestling at the body.
  • Good persistence of actions – staying in and action.
Section Result: Passed
COMBATIVE ABILITY OVERALL RESULT: PASSED

Conclusion

This was a challenging exam for all involved, both candidate and examiners. As the first of its kind, the testing was less tight and focused than the examiners would have liked, and ran to over seven hours of questioning and instructional testing, after the candidate had already undergone his school’s internal exams. The examiners each had slightly different ideas of what they needed to see, and in what detail, and a clearer discussion prior to convening the board would have shortened the process and would have at times given the candidate clearer instructions and expectations.

The candidate’s own performance was also inconsistent, in part due to the above, in part due to insufficient preparation by his instructor, and in part due to current weaknesses in his own development as a teacher. His combative skills were never in question, as he amply proved in his skills tests, dagger gauntlet and prize fights, in and out of armour. While his internal skill tests showed that he clearly knows and can perform the various technical drills used by the Chicago Swordplay Guild, oral testing showed that his technical vocabulary was somewhat lacking, and his comfort in teaching close quarter combat obviously outshone that with the sword. Likewise, his grip on some elements of the historical context was looser than the Board would like. As sword, dagger and abrazare are the three pillars upon which armizare is built, and it is an historical martial art, the Board was concerned with the overall implications of these deficiencies should they grant Mr. Kulla a Provost license.

However, both in two of his three individual lessons, and in the play building and deconstructing exercises, the candidate showed clear instructional ability and understanding of the source material itself, which he was often better able to transmit informally in a one-to-one lesson then to discuss in theoretical language. Balanced against this was also the fact that the candidate has been serving in a de facto Provost position for a number of years, and had a clear hand in preparing and testing the many Scholar present at his Prize, including the two students playing their Free Scholar Prize the same day.

Taken as a whole, Mr. Kulla failed the first section of the exam, passed the second section with mixed results, and cleanly and easily passed the third and fourth sections. However, as a Provost is a teaching position, the board felt that theory and pedagogy should and must outweigh personal skill and therefore provisionally granted the rank of Provost, with the requirement that he take and pass the theory exam again within a year’s time.