GW: I’m here today with Mike Prendergast, founder and head instructor of the Historical Combat Academy in Dublin and translator of Pietro Monte’s Exercitiorum Atque Artis Militaris Collectanea, which is otherwise known as the Collection of Renaissance, Military Arts and Exercises, and anyone who wants to mock my Latin pronunciation is free to do so. So without further ado, Mike, welcome to the show.
MP: Thank you very much, Guy. Great to be here.
GW: It’s nice to see you again, it’s been ages. So whereabouts in the world, are you?
MP: OK, so I live in nice rural north county Dublin. I do most of my historical fencing stuff in Dublin city, where I teach with the Historical Combat Academy, where we focus on the art of Pietro Monte, who you mentioned. And I also teach in an SCA, a Society of Creative Anachronism group, called Dun in Mara. So I tend to do rapier and Fiore with the SCA currently, and I tend to do Monte’s poleaxe, two-handed sword and his full system with the Historical Combat Academy.
GW: OK, so the Dublin area is a hotbed of historical martial arts, then?
MP: Well, not so bad. I count about five HEMA or historical events and groups here. There’s three of us in the HEMA Ireland fold and there’s a guy called Nathan Grey who does Spanish under Tom Pui’s system. And yeah, I mean, there’s a friend of mine, Nathan Grey, who’s got Kerr in martial arts in the teaching Irish stick fighting as recreated. So there’s a quite a variety from like German longsword, Italian systems. So yeah, it’s a good place to be for historical fencing.
GW: Excellent. There’s an awful lot of people who want to go to Ireland just because it’s this sort of magical place with like fairies and things.
MP: I won’t disillusion you. Come!
GW: Yeah, I’ve been to Ireland a couple of times of the time before last I actually did a seminar for you in Dublin. So that was super fun. We’ve known each other for quite a long time. We will probably get into how we met, but I remember you coming to Finland for an event, it must have been 15 years ago, something like that.
MP: At least.
GW: And you had the wit to come to my school and get some classes from me while you were there, because, you know, you might as well. But obviously, you’d been training for a while already by that point. So how did you get started?
MP: My very first understanding that something like historical combat existed was probably around 94/95. I went to my first SCA activity, so the SCA is an international historical recreation group. It’s quite large. Mainly US based. But there are European, Australian groups, et cetera. But I went to a one day armoured combat seminar and SCA armoured combat is often full steel harness. I got to wear a full steel harness for the first time, fighting with rattan tournament clubs, so it’s very full contact. It’s real full contact, unlike what a lot of what people describe as full contact, not as quite as nuts as Buhurt, but it was intense.
GW: Can I interject. The guys and people who want to know more about Buhurt and more about the SCA. I’ve had Stephen Muhlberger, who’s been in the SCA for over 50 years on the show, and we’ve had a couple of Buhurt people, Dayna Berghan-Whyman, I may be getting the exact name wrong, and Beth Hammer. So I’ll put links in the show notes to those episodes so we don’t need to go into long details as to what exactly Buhurt is and what exactly the SCA is. We’ve covered that already on this show.
MP: So having a day fighting, being in armour, doing a mini tournament. I heard this random comment by the trainer, who was a guy in the SCA, called Du Garrick, who is a legendary fighter who’s been in lots of different areas and just he mentioned that sometimes he fights in a period style and I kind of did a mental double take and went, how is that even possible? How do we know how they fought? You know, we have books, we see movies, but we really know this exists. And I didn’t even get to pursue it with them. But it planted a seed. And I was in college, I was studying architecture. I had no time and no money. So this was a once off experience. It was really cool. I planned to come back to it. So when I graduated from college, got back to the SCA and was very into armoured combat, but it was easy to get into fencing as a side thing as you could wear a mask, you could pick up a sword, need all the gear. And I gradually kind of got into SCA fencing. OK, so I, after having that first experience and that SCA combat fighting and full steel harness, horrifically uncomfortable, didn’t fit me, was loaner gear. But it was it was interesting. It was fun. Fast forward to May 1999, I went to my first sort of event in the UK, which was a collegium of defence. It was an SCA fencing get together and that day I had classes from Bill Wilson of Tattershall School of Defence and Gary Chelak as well was there.
GW: I know them both. Yeah, yeah.
MP: I remember talking to a Gary who’d been given a seminar in your school in Helsinki later on. But Bill was teaching distretta with Gary’s aid. There’s also classes by Stefan Dieck, who went on to found Alter Kunst in Germany. He was teaching Meyer. He was one of the first people to translate Meyer. He was doing Meyer’s rapier. There was another US lady whose name eludes me, who was doing Degrassi. So like in just one day in a churchyard in rural East Anglia, I had this amazing introduction to actual historical fencing.
GW: Wow. Where was it?
MP: It was somewhere, I think it might be a place called Spaldrick.
GW: And I’m in East Anglia and nothing like that happens these days, but that’s epic.
MP: It was amazing. It was an immersion. So that kind of set me on the path to find out more as much as possible about historical fencing as opposed to a lot of SCA fencing at the time was sort of like competitive fencing, in a way, like boxing is competitive, but you’re not trying to recreate Victorian pugilism, you’re going out and fighting, which is good for, yeah, it’s fun, but it kind of missed something for me.
GW: Wow, so I mean, yeah, Stefan Dieck is also set up as a professional, but he was actually quite a long time ago now, maybe 2005 or something like that. I remember him from the very early days, I mean, we’ve been friends a really long time. And yeah, Gary was teaching seminars for me in Helsinki, in I think it must have been 2006.
MP: Gary was one of the early pioneers in Giganti, so he was kind enough to share his work in progress translation with me, maybe around 06. So I a head start on Giganti and he became like my favourite rapier source.
GW: Ah, well, I mean, if you just want to learn how to fence for rapier, Giganti is the place to go. But I have to show you something. OK. This is useless for the listeners. Listeners, I apologise. But this arrived this week and Mike is one of those people who will appreciate it. This, sir, is an original 1610 Gran Simulacro.
MP: Oh my God.
GW: Yeah. Oh yes, there’ll be photos in the show notes, but I’m actually literally holding up a four hundred and twelve year old copy of Capoferro’s fencing manual.
MP: That is beautiful. Awesome, awesome.
GW: Isn’t that glorious?
MP: Capoferro is just the best illustration series. It gives you the text, it gives you the visuals.
GW: I have a Fabris already. I now have a Capoferro. And when I have sold probably, I don’t know, both my kidneys and my liver, and a Giganti comes on the market, that’s next on my list.
MP: That is that is undeniably epic, Guy.
GW: I thought you’d like that. Well, come to the house and you can sit and have a read.
MP: I will try not to drool.
GW: No, no drooling on the books. OK, we’ll give you a napkin, don’t worry. Yes, so you were talking about Giganti and Gary Chelak introduced you to it. So you’ve been into Giganti for a while now?
MP: Quite a lot. In fact, it was Bill Wilson introduced it to me. It was an SCA event in Lincoln Castle in the depths of time where again we had I think we had Bill Wilson over as a guest teacher for a two day event. And he went through a Capoferro, Giganti, and so forth. He described Fabris as very kind of erudite, academic and very rich fencing. Capoferro is kind of salle fencing and Giganti is street fighting. And I kind of like that vibe.
MP: I sense some alternative opinions there?
GW: Well, Fabris is a totally complete and very thorough theoretical and physical, practical and academic exposition of the art of fencing as it was in the early 17th century. No question.
GW: Capoferro. He calls it the great representation of the art and use, or art and practise of fencing. Right. So it has the theory and it has the practise, and the practise is very clearly not salle play. Because if you do half of those techniques at the measure prescribed with your friends, you’re going to be breaking ribs and collarbones and really hurting each other. Even with blunt swords.
MP: He does have quite a lot of blood spurting in his illustrations.
GW: He does, and Giganti actually calls himself “the school” or “Teatro”, which is like “area in which the thing is done” of fencing. I mean, so if anyone is going to be salle play, I would have to say. I don’t think Giganti is salle play. But if any one of those three was to be described as salle play, I think it would have to be Giganti because he calls it salle play himself.
MP: Well, I think it’s fair to say Giganti’s first book is very salle play. It’s well, it’s very kind of formal. Doesn’t really get into the cuts and other less untidy techniques so much. But I do find there’s a beautiful directness in Giganti’s book. There’s so much in so little in his plays and in his feints and his systems, his invitations. It would be hard to start with as a complete beginner without some background and more subtleties of gaining the blade and movement and measure because he runs through that very quickly. But I think as a condensed explanation of the art of fencing with a rapier, it’s amazing.
GW: We also have slightly different pedagogical approaches then, because I would say beginners are better off with Giganti because it doesn’t go into all that detail, it just gets you doing stuff. Simple things quite early and it’s very straightforward.
MP: I think beginners with a teacher are great with Giganti. I remember puzzling over some stuff myself when I was looking at the book.
GW: OK, from a research perspective, if you have to figure out what everything means.
MP: Yes. But I think as a system, as it is basically a curriculum, I think it works really well.
GW: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And yeah, it’s funny. I’m a Capoferro man by accident because I was getting into historical rapier, like proper research and what have you, in about 2002 and in 2003 I took a Capoferro class with Sean Hayes. Which just unlocked the thing for me. I mean, he didn’t go into that much of the thing and that interpretation is now 19 years old. It’s no longer how we think it’s all done, exactly. But it was just like, Oh, OK. At the same time, Bill Wilson, bless his name, produced that translation, because my Italian wasn’t that good back then, produced that translation of Capoferro that was free. And so with Bill’s translation and with the kind of the impetus of Sean’s class, I got deep into Capoferro and I’ve basically never left. Only after that did I sort of get into Fabris and Giganti and what have you. But my core base is Capoferro and probably always will be from a rapier perspective, not because it’s the best book, but because it’s the book I fell into first.
MP: Oh yeah, it’s history plus accidents sometimes which leads us on a path.
GW: Exactly. Obviously, you’ve read the second book, the 1608.
MP: I love the second book, it expands so much.
GW: I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. Tell me what you want, what you really really want. I’m going to tell you what I want, what I really really want. And it’s not where you think I’m going with the Spice Girls. I want a proper facsimile of the 1608 because we only Piermarco Terminiello’s translation, which is good. It’s great. It’s pretty accurate. I have a couple of, you know, some places where I would translate. I mean, I went to The Wallace Collection and I got the 1608 in front of me and I went through the translation and I checked it against the original and there are things I’m not going to talk about on the internet because it’s not strictly what I was supposed to be have been doing there, but put it this way, this way I can check a translation at any time now if I want to. OK, but I can’t say how that’s possible.
MP: Your eidetic memory.
GW: That’s it. Yes, I do.
MP: Is it that small?
GW: Yeah, it’s tiny. I got the fancy leather bound Lost. The translation is produced in the same format and about the same size as the original.
MP: it’s a nice touch.
GW: Yeah, although the images are just appallingly crap.
MP: Yeah, they are quite nice in the first book, in comparison.
GW: Yeah, you get the feeling that the first book didn’t do so well financially. And so he couldn’t quite afford to pay for a decent engraver for the second book.
MP: I also wonder if it’s something to do where he was based, because the first book he was in Venice and then I guess he moved to wherever the Crusading Order of Santa Stefano was based, so it could have been a little more away from the centre of art and book production, perhaps.
GW: Yeah, but people communicated back then. It was slower, but they did it, and so he could easily have got the illustrations done somewhere else. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but yeah, that second book. My favourite bit in the whole book is if you have a dagger and you are attacked by somebody with a lance or spear and you’re supposed to look like you’re really afraid. That’s going to be really hard to do, right? Someone’s coming at you with a spear. Yeah, look like you’re going to be afraid to encourage them to overcommit, and then you parry it out the way and charge it. Oh, that’s wishful thinking on the page right there, I think.
MP: I guess it’s his best option for a bad situation.
GW: Yeah, and no one would expect necessarily to survive that. But now we’ve had this lovely detour into Giganti. Let’s just wiggle back a little bit. You founded the Historical Combat Academy in Dublin, right?
MP: About 2013.
GW: Let me just sort of preface my question with some context here so you get what I’m getting at. One of the most common problems my students in the world come to me with is they don’t have training partners, and my usual response is, well, start a club. That seems to be this, really difficult thing in people’s heads, I mean, I’ve started several clubs and a professional school, and it’s actually not that hard, really. If you’re willing to put some time into it, but I co-founded the Dawn Duellists society many moons ago, precisely so that Paul and I could have people to fight. That’s the whole point of it, right? And so the context of my question is, basically, what led you to found the club? And how did you go about it? And basically what I’m looking for is some sort of practical encouragement for those people listening who are thinking, I don’t have anyone to play with. I don’t want to start a club. So go on Mike, make it look easy.
MP: So I think you kind of hit the nail on the head there, Guy. I think the main impediment for people starting a club or group or a sparring group or whatever, a study group is how they think about it. I think there’s often the perception that if you’re leading a group, you have to position yourself as an expert, the master who knows all things. And there’s a lot of like people don’t feel that’s them. Well, I think if you’ve got a lot of experience like yourself and you’re running a professional school, then you do need to show some credentials. If you want to find people to play with and study with, there’s different ways that you can say it is a club, you can say it is particularly a study group is a great way of going. If you get two or three like-minded friends at a place you can meet regularly, say once a week, you can easily start a group. You can go to a resource, you can look at videos. I think a great piece of advice for anyone interested in potentially setting up a group is, first of all, to either visit another group, which can be expensive and sometimes time-consuming, or often better invite somebody you respect that you think might be online with your thinking to come and do a seminar for you to come and train with you. Now you probably need 10 or 12 people, maybe to support the seminar, venue, or whatever, at least. But if you can get someone to visit, like in Ireland, we have a National HEMA Federation, HEMA Ireland, and we one of the things we do is we act as a sort of a starting point for people who want to find out more. So you might come to HEMA Ireland, you drop a mail to us, we go, hey, well, you’re in Cork. We’ve got Andrew Rozycki in Cork Blade Masters. You can talk to him. We’ve met people in Limerick, for instance, that people in Cork went over to do training with occassionally. So I think reach out and reach out on HEMA groups. Facebook is good for this. It’s quite interactive. Look at YouTube videos and don’t try and learn martial arts from a book completely. But I think just feel that you can work with people. And as long as you’re not positioning yourself as an expert instantly, you can work on that. Even when I set up the Historical Combat Academy, I had been doing martial arts, like European historical martial arts for, I guess, about 12 years. I felt I knew what it was doing, but still my experience was in Giganti and Fiore and some Angelino predominantly, so an Italian base. A bit of Vadi, a little bit of Vadi. But I was beginning to interpret Monte, and I needed this group because I needed to figure out my interpretation of Collectanea because I’d started working on it with Ingrid Sperber in late 2013, and I figured, well, I need to do this. Also, I’d been having discussions with people about setting up HEMA Ireland. I was a founding member of the National HEMA Federation and it’s kind of like, well, I’ve mostly been teaching with the SCA, but I kind of do need to have a HEMA club to be involved in this as a side dish. Historical fencing is the word I tend to use, HEMA is a term that’s out there a lot.
GW: I hate that term. It’s a horrible, horrible term. I think it’s best left as the name of a Scandinavian department store type thing, which is called Hema.
MP: Oh yeah, you see it in the Netherlands a lot.
GW: How did you start the club?
MP: I just kind of let people know I was doing it, and I had a base of people I knew who were interested in historical fencing, because I knew people. I think the Dublin HEMA club was starting up at the same time, I knew people who had been training with me in the SCA, to let people know what I was up to. And because I had a base of people already interested, it was easier for me in many ways to get people to come along. I think the people who started training with me had already been training with me in the SCA to some degree. But we started just going through the book because I’d done the first draft translation myself and Ingrid and, you know, trying to puzzle out the Latin. And especially when you’re getting into wrestling, who does what to whom, when? It’s quite difficult.
GW: Let me just clarify. So you know your Fiore stuff, you know your Giganti stuff and what have you, but you started your club because you were basically starting from scratch with a source that you wanted to work from. So you started effectively a study group to study Monte. That is the thing that is the Historical Combat Academy in Dublin.
GW: OK. This is fantastic because that’s pretty much, leaving aside the having a background in historical martial arts, that’s where an awful lot of people are. They want to do Fiore, for instance, but they don’t have a club and they want to start one, and so basically this is perfect. Please carry on.
MP: I’ll just say as well, when we started, we had maybe five or six people, maybe sometimes three or four. We just found a really cheap upstairs room in a primary school that was available on a Thursday night. And we used it. A lot of it is, I think, the main challenge in many ways, once you get over the main challenge of how do we do this, is the practicalities of getting a good venue, at least in Ireland and I think UK and maybe some other areas. It’s not always so affordable if you’re in an urban centre. So get a venue, if you regularly show up once a week and two or three people come, if it’s a reliable thing, you will build and people will know it’s a thing and they will come, as long as there’s consistency there. I feel.
GW: It’s a bit like having a podcast. Doing two or three episodes every now and then doesn’t really help. But if you do an episode a week every week after about three, four, six, ten months, people start to notice and they start to show up. That’s been my experience anyway. OK, so your Monte thing, most people listening have probably heard the name, but probably don’t really know anything about him. So who was he? Why should we care?
MP: You know, just looking at my bookshelf here. So I first heard about Monte back in 2001, when Sydney Anglo brought out his book on Renaissance Martial Arts. Most people haven’t heard of Monte, but Monte is quite significant. I mean, I think we look at a lot of the history of various people we use as sources in our in our fencing. Some of them are no one’s heard them historically. Some of them are famous amongst practitioners. I think you can say that Liechtenauer was really well thought of because as the society of Liechtenauer promulgated his work for centuries afterwards. Fiore’s got great bragging rights with his student, Galeazzeo de Mantua who defeated Boucicaut.
GW: Galeazzeo de Mantua. Twice. Twice he defeated him.
MP: I mean, Boucicaut was like the officially the greatest knight in Europe at the time, and he was beaten by Fiore’s student. I mean, there’s no better bragging rights, right?
GW: That’s probably why the main street in his home town is named after him.
MP: That’s kind of cool.
GW: That’s there’s a street in Oudine named after him, too.
MP: But Monte is a person who was actually quite famous in his day and is mentioned in some significant sources. For instance, you’ll be familiar with Castiglione, the Book of the Courtier. So Castiglione is talking about Monte. It is set in Milan in the corte de Sforza, even though it was published quite a bit later. They talk about the essentials for a noble and obviously the most essential thing to be noble is to pursue the art of arms. And you talk about legendary fighters and how to get grace. And they talk particularly about someone called Galeazzo Sanseverino, who’s an Italian French condottieri who I think he commands the cavalry for the Duke of Milan. But there’s this quote from Castiglione only about how Galeazzo Sanseverino gained his physical grace and agility. He says he performed so well in this respect because “in addition to his natural aptitude, he has made every endeavour to learn from good teachers and to keep company with outstanding men. Taking from each of them the best he can give. Thus as for wrestling, vaulting and the handling of various kinds of weapons he has taken as his guide, our Pietro Monte, who, as you know, is – get this – “the sole and unchallenged master in regard to every kind of trained strength and agility.”
GW: Wow, the unchallenged master of all kinds of strength and agility. That is quite a recommendation.
MP: That is an amazing recommendation. So Monte is somebody who is mentioned by Pietro Bembo later on as well as and other Italian historians in later decades as being a really significant figure.
GW: Just to orient people, when was Monte active?
MP: He was active from about 1480…. I think he was born in…. I’m confusing two dates now, so bear with me a moment. I know that he was I think 1487, he was captain in the Italian wars. He was born, I think, 1457. So he was active from the age 21 and at age twenty one he was actually a captain of 200 soldiers in a in a minor conflict in northern Italy, He was born in Milan, apparently. The period of his fame probably goes from about 1492 when he came to join the Court of the Sforzas in Milan. And he was serving this Sanseverino who was a famous war leader. And he goes on to work for, like he fights with the Genovese. He fights with Venetians. He fights for the Milanese. He spent some time in Spain. It was commonly believed he was Spanish by a lot of people because he uses Spanish terms in his masterwork the Collectanea. And he had written a first draft of that, essentially, a handwritten version that’s in the Escorial library that is entirely in Spanish.
GW: You have to be pretty comfortable in the language to write the first draft of your new book in it.
MP: You certainly would, you certainly would. And he also brings Spanish weapons such as the darde, or the dart, which is connected with the Jinete style of light cavalry fighting from Spain. And he writes about that. How to skirmish on horses and other things like that, which are quite Spanish in their approach.
GW: OK, so we’re talking active from 1470s onwards and famous from, shall we say, mid 1490s until, what, he died about 1510, wasn’t it?
MP: 1509. Died in battle.
GW: Of course. How about else was a man to go?
MP: He died fighting as he was one of two Venetian constables who were appointed as professional captains in the battle of Agnadello. When the Venetian rearguard, maybe about 4000 mostly infantry, met the full French army of about 9000 troops and they fought all day and Monte went down fighting. We actually have some later, I’m not sure you’d called it eyewitness accounts, but we have some description of him from the battle even. So Monte’s military career, he was a famous soldier in general. It’s worth mentioning also he was a writer. He was a philosopher. He wrote probably five or six books that are known on everything from the temperaments, which is essentially Renaissance personality profiling coming from ancient Greece. He wrote on ballistics. Apparently, he made observations about the nature of ballistic trajectories that predate Galileo by about a hundred years. There’s a really good paper on him. A lot of information I’m getting of Monte’s background comes from a French researcher called Pascal Brioist, who I met at the Monte Symposium at the University of Tours back in 2018, and he’s written a book, a short publication in Acta Periodica Duellatorum on contextualising Monte’s military experience. It’s 11 pages, but it’s amazing amount of depth to sort of put the man in his context as a famous general, war leader, tactician, from his era. So it’s fascinating stuff. One quote I really want to really want to drop on you here. It’s basically about the battle of Agnadello.
So this is from a chronicle of the Senuto, from a Venetian source. It talks about seeing a squadron of heavy cavalry come at our poor infantry and in order not to abandon them, “I brought them help with my 400 men at arms and Lord Pietro del Monte told me, Lord Bartolomeo, it is time to despise death, to obtain victory.”
GW: That’s a good line.
MP: He’s committing to the fight. And there’s a last quote from Degli Agostini describing Pietro Monte in this battle. He says “But the good and brave Pietro Monte did so many deeds, but the fact that he and his men were killed is very beautiful. And he was covered in blood, killing on the battlefield to his left and to his right side, are at times like a furious wind that knocks down the plants and trees of his plague.” Actually, that translation should be flail, but “he slaughtered the people in this war. Wounded, smashed, brought down, spurned and killed his enemies.” So it’s like ancient Irish myth.
GW: Yeah, yeah. It’s almost like the stories of the Berserkers.
MP: But what’s cool about that is in Monte’s description of how to fight with two-handed swords, he talks about moving a sword like a wheel, continuously in motion, and I can see him doing his tremendous cuts left and right as he fights, covered in blood. There’s a sense of the techniques described in the Collectanea coming to life in the eye witness, well, at least handed down, account.
GW: He must have been on horseback and he’d have been using a single handed sword, I would imagine.
MP: Well, he’s otherwise described as one of the premier infantry of Italy.
GW: OK, so maybe he was on foot with a two hander.
MP: It doesn’t say what weapon he has, but the two weapons Monte teaches as his base weapons are the poleaxe, which is the basis for all long weapons and the two handed swords, which is short weapons. So I think as a commander, he’s more likely to have the swords, but I can’t say.
GW: Possibly. OK, interesting. All right. There’s lots we’re going to get into. I’ve taken some notes so that we’re not going to miss anything. All right. Let’s just have a talk about the translation and the book because you can be a great fighter and I’m willing to take it as read that Pietro Monte had his fighting chops. No question, but what is it about the book, the Exercitiorum that works for you? Tell us about the book.
MP: There’s so much in the book and it’s more than a fight book. It’s a mélange of philosophy. A lot on the temperaments, training, physical exercise, combat, a compendium of detailed information, descriptions of armour from the period, masses of stuff on horsemanship, stuff about jousting. Really granular detail about where to point the lance and how to hold yourself on the saddle. How to tie yourself into the saddle when jousting. And it’s just this compendium of arms. And also it comes in three volumes, so the first volume Monte describes as being principles. Though there are some details. Second volume is kind of into the weeds, as a HEMAist, it’s my favourite bit where he describes techniques in more detail. The third volume is a book on military strategy, and it’s from the point of view of a General. So he’s sort of got a very wide gamut. For me personally, it explains so much about how fighting works, because there’s just so much text. There’s one hundred and seventy three odd chapters. And it’s about 90,000 words in Latin if I remember rightly.
GW: So is that all three volumes?
MP: It’s all three volumes. And you know what I love, like Fiore is amazing. But Fiore is like, it’s very much a picture book with some text.
GW: Oh, we can have discussions.
MP: There’s very nice smack talk at the beginning in the introduction. But like, there’s a lot of puzzling, I find, in Fiore and you’ve got to look over. It’s a coherent system, but he doesn’t spell it out very much. It’s like there’s eight lines.
GW: Await the peasants blow in a narrow stance with the left foot forward. When he comes to strike, meet his sword about the middle and let it run off and step out of the way with your left foot and pass across and strike him in the head or the chest, as you see. Just for example, and there’s a picture of the crossing and of the running off and of the strike afterwards. It’s detailed.
MP: It is beautifully illustrated, and in the Getty he does give us eight lines.
GW: He does, but he does that for pretty much everything. I mean, he tells us an awful lot. I mean, there are a few mysteries, like no one really knows what the three turns of the sword are because he says, “And thus I say there are three turns of the sword”, and he doesn’t actually say what those turns are and he doesn’t actually use the expression, “turns of the sword” anywhere else. But the introduction, it’s pretty comprehensive like it has, for example, the eight principles of wrestling. And he describes the fundamental idea behind how to train. And what kind of material he is trying to teach you. Yeah, I do get that it doesn’t go into lots of theoretical detail. And it’s not a book of martial philosophy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a thoroughly practical How To guide if you just read it that way.
MP: It’s very “how to”. Let me illustrate what I have in mind of what exstretta is. If you take a source, I know you’re very familiar with Vadi. There is fabulous stuff in Vadi about how you move, what happens at the crossing of the sword, at the mezza spada and how you move, how you feint and how the whole play flows and translates.
GW: He bangs on about it at length.
MP: Yeah, yeah. And Fiore, you kind of look at it and you figure it out. But I would say there’s quite a lot of interpretations of Fiore out there because people can see their own shapes in the clouds and you can read, I agree, very specific and very practical text. But I’d be curious how many words there are in The Flower of Battle, if you were to count them up, compared to something like the Collectanea. Now a lot of Collectanea is completely random for a lot of people, like how to use the temperaments to determine the quality of a horse, for instance, by looking at the shape of the formation of the limbs. Really interesting to someone choosing mounts for combat, I’m sure. But kind of out of my ballpark. But there is a lot of interesting philosophy of combat about how you move with the sword, what kind of footwork you use, when you want lightness, when you want to move fast, how you keep your balance. Stuff that connects with how you fight in armour I feel. A lot of Monte’s about being very upright. Being above yourself is how he describes it. Like your torso above your legs, like in the Historical Combat Academy we sort of have a saying “get over yourself” that that would reinforce it.
GW: All right, which Fiore describes in a simple picture of an elephant with a tower on its back.
MP: Right, which is majorly concise, if you’ve studied his system. Yes, you could read lots of things into that, but I need to be bulky or I need to have a long nose.
GW: Or I need to eat a lot of grass.
MP: Right. There you go. So I’m totally not dissing Fiore. Fiore has been my home system along with Giganti before I got into Monte. And it’s formed the basis for my understanding of two-handed swords. And I love Fiore to death. I say that there’s an extra layer of detail in Monte. There is ironically some very annoying lack of detail and lack of clarity, like Monte, uniquely amongst the sources I know, never mentions like which edge of the sword you’re supposed to use, like the true edge and false edge never comes up. It’s maddening.
GW: OK, OK, OK, OK, here’s the thing. It’s my belief that if you’re moving properly, the edge you use is obvious. Right? You can’t do a zwerchhau as described using your true edge from the right in any kind of normal sense. It would be a really weird thing to do. So it’s natural to use the false edge, and it says it is the false edge in the text, or the short edge because it’s German. So that’s helpful. And Fiore, he just says that the mezzano goes true edge from the right, false edge from the left, but he doesn’t say strike the fendente with the true edge because it’s just bloody obvious. And if you’re, he says, the sottani end in longa. And if you’re striking from a low guard to posta longa, it has to be the false edge. You can’t do it with the true edge or you don’t end up in posta longa. Now, Vadi. He says that all blows from the right want the true edge and from the left want the false edge, except the fendente which wants the true edge. But then there are exceptions. So like for example, some of the rota blows. You can do those with the false edge from the right, and it’s perfectly normal. It’s almost like we, as researchers, are fixating on details that anyone who’s just spent enough time swinging a sword around doesn’t need to be told because it’s just obvious. But we haven’t grown up swinging swords around, so we don’t have that background noise that they expect. But I can kind of sympathise with Monte not spelling out, well, you hold the sword with the blunt end and you hit with the person mostly with the pointy end. Like, why would he?
MP: Yeah. Some things are very open to interpretation. I’ve seen quite a few different topics of how Monte does some basic fundamental techniques or even what his fundamental techniques are. And yeah, we figured out our version of how it makes sense. I guess I’m looking for confirmation. I’m looking for another data point to go, I’d feel more secure in this. But now we have an interpretation that makes sense of a whole lot of very fluid motions with the sword that have a kind of a tactical logic to them. But you know, it would be nice if you ever mentioned the word falsa. Just to give us a clue.
GW: And Italians before him did and Italians after him did.
MP: All of the time.
GW: So it does beg the question why he didn’t.
MP: It’s just an odd omission. It’s the oddest omission for me. But that’s the nature of translation and interpretation. You know, you’re figuring things out and you have to work through it. It’s very hard to start with an interpretation and then end up with the same interpretation, having worked with this voice for a year, in fact, it’s probably quite dodgy to do so.
GW: Yeah. I forget who said this. I read this recently. Trust people who have consistent principles but don’t trust people who have consistent facts. Have principles, yes, but if your facts don’t change, you’re not learning anything.
MP: It’s like strong beliefs loosely held.
GW: Right. There you go. So you translate, I mean, presumably your Latin must be reasonably good.
MP: It’s not bad now. It was pretty much nonexistent when I started.
GW: Excellent! OK, listeners hear this. Mike didn’t know any Latin. Mike fell in love with a book written in Latin. Mike learned Latin to read the book. Learn from Mike. This is how it should be done. I’m the same with Italian.
MP: So I got to say I stole for a long time. I was interested in Pietro Monte and also even the descriptions in the Anglo gave of his fighting style matched my kind of way of fighting. He mentioned like he uses feints a lot, misdirection. And that’s something I hold on to, something Giganti very much speaks of too as well. So from 2001 to 2013, I was like sitting on my arse waiting for someone to translate it because first Sydney Anglo was touted as going to translate it, and then there was a rumour that somebody else, Toby Capwell, I think, or somebody.
GW: I know Jeffrey Forgeng did translate it.
MP: Eventually. I think I heard a rumour. Or maybe Toby Capwell mentioned something online something about translation might be underway, I even emailed him on it. But I didn’t get any clarity on who was doing it and finally I decided, look, I don’t speak any Latin, but chatting it over with my brother John, actually, who’s quite a proficient rapier fencer, who actually got me involved in fencing in the first place. Just work with somebody, which is the obvious way of approaching it. So through a friend of a friend, I managed to meet Ingrid, who was actually a guest in my house because she was a friend of my then housemate’s wife and she was over working on medieval Latin texts with Trinity College Dublin. And we got talking and I said, hey, I’ve got this book, and actually just I was really interested. It was this one section in Monte on fighting with large shields, which is not commonly dealt with in Italy, at least until you got Rapello in the later century. So she just translated this chapter with me. I was like, wow. And she thought it was fun and I was like, fantastic, I finally got some of Monte and we discussed it. She had a kind of a gap period between one or two academic projects, so we agreed an arrangement where she would work on translation. We Skyped once a week for about an hour to go over the chunks that she’d worked on because she was the Latinist. I was the practitioner who could help interpret what’s making sense.
GW: Oh, OK, that’s a good working relationship.
MP: So, you know, she would say things like, oh, he says something like “Twice with the right hand and once with the left hand”, I don’t get it, I’m going, but that’s a mano dexter and a mano reverso. So that’s a right handed blow and a left handed blow.
GW: Or a forehand and a backhand.
MP: From context, from other Italian sources, you know what that means. So, yeah, it was really fruitful and it was kind of challenging and there were whole chunks we left out with we’ll come back to this. It makes no sense or subject / object, who’s doing what to whom. Sentences that run on for entire paragraphs. Monte’s really fond of commas. Daniel Jaquet actually said to me at that Monte symposium he organised in 2018 that Monte is impossible to translate. I think he felt to get an accurate, verifiable academic translation, he felt it was kind of more than he wanted to bite off. Fortunately, I didn’t know any of that, and I wanted a practical, as accurate to the language as possible translation. And I just ploughed ahead.
GW: Yeah, many things are possible if you don’t care how long it takes.
MP: Right, right.
GW: Wow. OK. So is it complete your translation now?
MP: It’s very complete now. I’ve done the last reading over and making a few notes here and there, but I’m ready to send it to some test readers just to get some feedback. And, you know, does it make sense for them? So some people who are experienced HEMAists, some people who are like newbies because, you know, the book is not just for experts. And if you’re interested, I’d be very happy to send you like a world exclusive. Send you a current text.
GW: Yeah, please do. And listeners listening. He was talking to me, not to you. So I’m going to get it before you do so I can go “ner ner I’ve got Monte. I can read Monte!”
MP: I would very much appreciate frank feedback as well.
GW: I don’t give any other kind.
MP: That’s the only kind that’s useful.
GW: The only friends I actually want are those who can take honestly meant criticism on the chin. Brilliant, so is any part of the draft available in any form at the moment?
MP: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve got the first draft that I published back in 2018, which is on basically it’s mikeprendergast.ie/monte.
GW: OK, and I’ll put that link in the show notes, of course.
MP: Perfect. So there’s a link there. If you basically drop your email address and it will send you a link to it, you can download the PDF.
GW: Perfect. Okay. So people who want to get into Monte can do that. From a sword fighting perspective, it’s mostly two-handed sword?
MP: So Monte’s got about 18 different weapon forms, but the bulk of his teaching is actually wrestling. First of all, because he says wrestling is the foundation of the art.
GW: Which Fiore would agree with.
MP: Yeah, that’s an Italian precedent we have there. And basically, how you walk in arms should be how you walk in the palestra, the wrestling ground. And wrestling teaches the lightness of movement and speed and balance like nothing else can. So it’s wrestling. Then it’s two other weapons. It’s the poleaxe. Monte’s poleaxe is larger than average. It’s as high as you can reach, plus a little higher.
GW: Bloody hell. It’s more of a bill or halberd.
MP: Well, that’s the point. Because the poleaxe works for the partisan, the ranseur, the al bada, the spetum, and this also is basis for the staff and for the spear.
GW: So what word is he using for poleaxe?
MP: Monte is not one to restrict himself to a single word for anything, Guy. It’s an atsa, it’s a tripuncta, it’s a tricuspis.
GW: OK. Tripuncta would be a trident.
MP: It would be if the points were all pointing in the same direction.
GW: Oh, I see.
MP: Right, right, right. So it’s kind of a bit of a fuzzy word because obviously one of the points is a hammer. The reverse point is a spike. There’s a top point. And actually there’s a fourth point because the contass or calx, which is to say heel, or spur at the bottom, is pointed also.
GW: Which Fiore would call the pedale, or the foot.
MP: Right, right. So the word is calx, which can kind of imply a spur. It’s the word for heel in Latin. So, yeah, there’s a lot of pole weapon, which is great because I can’t think of another system where, maybe there’s a German system or two, but I don’t know of any system where the pole weapon is kind of the primary weapon.
GW: Le Jeu de la Hache
MP: Oh, absolutely.
GW: It’s just pure poleaxe.
MP: because it’s pure poleaxe. Actually, how could I forget the Le Jeu de la Hache? But yeah, so then there’s the two-handed sword which is the basis for all short weapons. So it’s worth understanding that the short weapon is the sword that comes to your nose or your eyes. The lower. It’s a system for a single sword and for the two-handed sword. They are the primary single weapons. He has other advice and chapters on the dagger, something called the mucro, which “mucro” just means blade. The version of Fiore in the Bibliotheque Nationale, they call the sword a mucro, but the mucro is virtually just described as being only having a point like an estoc, and separately as a tool for slicing your meat. So I’m not sure it means anything more than generically a blade in Monte’s system. He has some advice on the warhammer, which is fun. It is used exclusively on horseback, you batter your people with it repeatedly, it’s best to carry two rather than have one. And the estoc. But really his small weapons are the two-handed sword and the one-handed sword with a variety of like five different shields which are mentioned.
GW: All right. So from our perspective, the two-handed sword is a very big sword. It was like five feet long or something like that.
MP: Yeah, yeah. Well, Monte’s would be as long or longer.
GW: What this reminds me of really, is the way soldiers talk about guns. The standard infantry weapon is a rifle, the pistol is something you carry as a backup. But if you ever actually have to shoot somebody with a pistol, something has probably going wrong. Because the gun is the rifle. And the sword, as we think of a sword, carried on the waist, as part of your accoutrements, as you’re wandering around town with your hands free, with the sword carried at the waist, it has the same sort of place, I think, as a pistol.
MP: Yeah, a sidearm.
GW: Yeah, it is a sidearm. It’s not the main event. But if you’re wandering around with a rifle or with a two-handed sword or with a poleaxe you are properly armed for actually going around killing people.
MP: One hundred percent, that’s actually exactly the way I organised those thoughts as well. And Monte’s a military teacher. He’s teaching the military weapons, the battlefield weapons first and then the other weapons come off of that.
GW: Huh. OK. So I do have to ask, who is Temperantia?
MP: So Temperantia has been my main training partner for the past year.
GW: She is very beautiful.
MP: She’s quite elegant. You can see her here and her slender Italian looks. Temperance or moderation is Monte’s kind of main principle for fighting, keeping in balance, being over yourself. So when I wanted to get a sword made to replicate the description that Monte gives us as much as possible, I thought Temperantia was the natural name. So Temperantia is 1.7 metres long. She has a quite large handle and quillons at about 40, 42 cm and was made for me, by Chris Adams of Bellfire Blades. He’s definitely my favourite blade maker. He did a custom job on it for me last year, and it was based a lot on some Italian swords that are still surviving. You can get some large Italian swords that don’t have parrying hooks and don’t have rings because those are not things that Monte describes. There’s a particular sword in the Bardini Museum in Florence that an Italian guy called Niccoló. Oh, I forget his name. My apologies, Niccoló. Niccoló Menozzi. He runs the Spadone project on Facebook. He’s made a detailed study of Italian large two handers. So, yeah, so this sword is what Monte describes. It’s come to your eyes or nose. It’s got wide quillons to protect your arms. It’s a reasonably light. It’s about 2.4 kilos, which is about the same as the Bardini museum sword. The handle is long. The pommel is small, so Monte’s not a fan of heavy weapons with large pommels as a counterweight because it slows you down. You want a longer handle and a lighter pommel. So the leverage is doing the work for you. So he’s very particular about manoeuvrable weapons that you can then move in a wheel-like manner, which, as he describes in his system. But it’s been fantastic to train with. So I kind of feel like I’m using the right weapon at last, you know.
GW: OK and we will be posting photographs of Temperantia into the show notes, because she’s very pretty serious. Next time I’m in Ireland I’d like to have a go, please.
MP: Absolutely. It’ll be my pleasure.
GW: Excellent. So, OK, the problem with really long swords is it’s not that they’re hard to control, but the way you’re supposed to use them does not imply stopping the weapon before you hit somebody. It implies smashing it through their skull and out the other side. So how do you train safely with a sword like that?
MP: OK, so some of this is practical, and some of this is theoretical. So practically, in Ireland, we had quite severe lockdowns and we only really got back to training a bit sort of in the autumn or late summer for a while. And I haven’t actually struck a human being with Temperantia yet.
GW: Oh, but you’ve got to. She’s thirsty.
MP: She is. You know, I commissioned Chris to get me a sword as light and as well-balanced as possible, consistent with, holding up to sparring. It’s got a spatulated tip. I particularly wanted Chris to work on it because he’s really good at making sparring weapons as well as works of art in metal. So it’s got really nice flex. So I think the answer is put on lots of pads and do it carefully. I know Niccoló Menozzi in Italy has put up some nice videos. We’ve chatted about sparring with Montantes and Spadones and they have done some and I’ve seen some video and you know, the reports are if you do it carefully with control, it’s not a tournament weapon by any shape of the imagination, but I think with friendly play and probably slow play. So myself and my friend Phil, who is quite interested, are going to have a go I think, before too long and we kind of get the pads on and go at it, slowly.
GW: So I would think full plate armour would be the best way to go.
MP: The best way to go with it fully, actually. Yeah, yeah. If you had like Buhurt-level eye protection, you know, the grill or whatever.
GW: Because if you were in full plate, I mean, the weapon is not that heavy and particularly at the tip of the sword is not that heavy. It is not going to crush the armour like a poleaxe might. I mean, you still do run significant risk of broken fingers or maybe concussion if you take too many hits to the head. But I think I would probably want full harness for two handed sword free play.
MP: I believe that’s probably the historically correct way of doing it. I have a long term plan, medium term at least, of getting harness made. I’m working on just sorting out the soft garments to fit correctly underneath because I do want to. There’s so much in Montes about fighting in harness that’s explained, that’s quite different as well. So I want to get into that. But for the meantime, we’re going to do some experiments with lots of padding, slow work experiments, so we’ll see what we can do. I’m looking forward to the experiment, but we’re treating it as an experiment, not as a contest.
GW: OK, you’ve done a lot of solo training with the lovely Temperantia. Presumably you’ve worked out like forms and drills based on your research into Monte? I have a question. If you say no to this question, I’ll edit it out. So feel free to answer however you like. For my solo training course, would you be interested in videoing some of your Monte forms, if you like, for me to put into the solo training course for my people to do that?
MP: Yeah, it sounds like a great way to share it and even get feedback, hopefully, on how people find the forms and how it works for them.
GW: And also to maybe help get something of a market for your translation when it gets published.
MP: Absolutely. Even on a more local level we’ve been doing, as we’re currently not in training until February because there’s just a lot of COVID stuff happening in Ireland at the moment. And one of my students, Lisa, has organised a training challenge. You may have met Lisa when you were doing a workshop in the west of Ireland. I’m not sure if she was there, but I found the training challenge is a great way to be active when you’re solo training. I’ve done like ten times more training when I was logging it and reporting on a WhatsApp group every day.
GW: I can’t work like that because I find challenges just like annoying and it doesn’t work for me. What does work for me is I run… Well, basically what happened was in the end of May, beginning of June 2020, I got up to do my usual sort of morning training thing, and I literally, no exaggeration, I did two squats, one push up and then thought fuck it, that’ll do. And I was like, this is not going in a good direction. So what I need to motivate me the way the training challenges work for other people, I need students. It’s students that bring out the best in me, absolutely. So I started my trainalong morning sessions. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 8:30-9:30. I have to be there because students will show up and because the students are there, I have to do it properly. And basically, it takes all the self-discipline out of it. It doesn’t require any self-discipline and I can’t cancel it or switch it or change it because I have students showing up. And the only ones I’ve missed have been because I was either going up to Scotland to see my parents or I was going to Finland to teach a seminar, so when I’m not actually home. I’ve certainly done ones when I had an injury or something, and I would explain to the class, look, OK, I have injured my shoulder, so I’m not going to be doing this, this and this. By all means put in that stuff if you want. But even when I’ve had injuries, which would have been a perfect excuse not to do any training, I still show up and do something. It has probably saved my life. Because otherwise I would be completely spherical and not able to lift a sword.
MP: My experience is maybe more similar than you realise because the last previous two training challenges, I set up the challenge. So it’s kind of leading the charge and it’s kind of like I’ve got to do it. So for 12 weeks from, I think, last year January till Easter, I put in an average of one hour a day training for 12 weeks, which was the most consistent training ever in my life, and no excuse, I don’t think I missed a day. And that was because I had about a dozen to 20 people who also logging stuff, and it was a common feeling. And even though we were at the same place, we’re sometimes sharing videos of what we did and we were chatting about it. And it feels like a public commitment is amazingly powerful. And I’m someone who often I’d like to do my own thing. I don’t like being told what to do, but if I decide to make the commitment, then I’m holding myself to it. And it does help a lot. But to get back to where we were, we were talking about something, I’m sure before you mentioned training challenges and it was solo training with Temperantia. And so, yeah, I’ve even been asked by one of my students recently to go over, I’ve taught this many places, but every time I’ve been asked to do a video and I’m just revising my interpretation one more time with the final translation. So I’m putting together a video already planning to this week or the next week to just like get my current interpretation and sort of add some nuances and alternatives. So yeah, it’s a really timely thought because it’s something I’m really working on at the moment.
GW: And that would be great because one way that if you’re thinking your motivation is flagging, particularly with lockdowns and travel and classes being cancelled, all that kind of stuff. Doing thing you always do can get tedious and simply just picking up something else and doing something a bit different. Like maybe if you’re a rapier person, have a go at longsword. Maybe if you’re a smallsword person, having a go at rapier or sabre or something like that. I’m always trying to find other things for my students to do that will keep them stimulated and interested, but they’re not constrained to what I can do. I’ve pretty reasonable breadth.
MP: There’s quite a lot you can do, I know this, Guy.
GW: But there’s an awful lot of stuff I don’t. So it’ll be great to get some Monte into the mix. And of course, if it’s on my course, I have to also do it. Because my students will probably ask me questions about it. I can’t say, I don’t know. I say, well, I was struggling with that very same thing and so I rang up Mike and Mike explained it very patiently. And so now I think I get it.
MP: Yeah. Well, that would be great. And I think I’m looking forward to kind of getting Monte out there and getting people to come back, even contradict my interpretations. Give me another opinion because I think it needs that to kind of test it in fire a little and make sure it’s credible. There’s so much explained, but there’s always so much open to interpretation. So it just having other minds of all the people active with you would be fantastic.
GW: And yeah, until you publish, you can’t get qualified feedback. It is really hard to get qualified feedback until you publish. Because getting qualified feedback for like an editing path is either very expensive or just simply impossible. Or you run out of “friends credits”, as it were. But as soon as you actually publish it and someone who’s interested in the topic buys the book, then they’ll look at it with a kind of depth of critical interest and detachment that your friend won’t have.
MP: Right. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. But, you know, there are people out there who do, obviously yourself, do historical Italian martial arts who I really respect the opinions of. And I know there’s other people who’ve actually delved into Monte. Greg Mele in Chicago is probably still on Monte. He’s played with him. Roberto Gotti interprets Monte for the two-handed sword. There’s a really cool book which I just got, the Anonimo Riccardiano translation from Florence from 1550 by Davis.
GW: Who translated it?
MP: I.M. Davis. I’m not familiar with the author, but I’m going to find out more about him because it’s a fantastic translation of a source I hadn’t even heard about before it came out. But it kind of references Monte as being a more similar source to this this system than some others. But I also see out there there’s a lot of lacking information about Monte, which is mostly my responsibility for not putting more stuff out sooner. I think there’s ideas about what the Levata is, which is Monte’s basic training technique for weapons and there are different interpretations of how his blows work and so forth. Which is all fantastic and it’s awesome that there’s an interest out there. So I’m kind of looking forward to putting out more stuff and getting involved in the wider conversation more as well.
GW: Yeah. And ideally getting people to really kind of rip it to bits.
MP: Try it out. I mean, it’s for larger swords, but it’s very applicable to longsword fencing. You have to do good body mechanics when you’re working with a larger weapon. For many people, a standard tournament feder, you know, for many people, it’s almost Monte-length anyway.
GW: It’s not a bloody longsword. Those tournament feders, they drive me nuts. I can’t stand those things.
MP: Aesthetically, I tend to agree.
GW: Let’s not go there because I’ll get cross and make enemies.
MP: Rant avoided.
GW: Rant avoided, yes. Thank you. Now, while I was doing some research for this interview, I noticed you list Strategic Coach in your bio. What is that?
MP: That comes from a lot of background, and I’ve actually said more recently, I’ve kind of morphed towards sports performance coaching because that’s something I’ve trained in over the lockdown time. When I began to learn fencing first, one of the things that helped me a lot was I had done training in this discipline called NLP, neuro linguistic programming, which is basically the study of the internal experience of people when they’re doing something. So the classical approach to human performance would be to maybe video someone’s move and form in a golf swing and break down the biomechanics of the movement. But it’s very hard to teach a human being biomechanics because we don’t think in terms of leverages and angles. What’s going on in the inside is often more interesting. Back the 70s there was a computer programmer called Richard Bandler and a linguist called John Grinder, who came up with the idea of NLP as a way of kind of breaking down the internal experience of really high performers. Initially, he looked at people who were doing counselling, like coaching hypnotism, but it doesn’t need to be applied to that. So the equivalent is there’s a story that Richard Bandler probably talked about Arnold Palmer about swinging a golf club. When he was modelling how he did it, he would observe the action, but then he just noticed some things that weren’t having to do with the swing or the biomechanics. At the point where he was just about to tee off and he paused. And it’s like his eyes, he focussed. And then he swung. So when he asked him about this question, what are you stopping for? I’m just waiting. And what are you waiting for? I’m waiting for the course to become smaller. Now, like the golf course probably didn’t really become smaller, but it did internally for the player. So NLP is kind of how it got into this coaching area or the pathway I followed. It’s about modelling the internal experiences that link to performance or link to success is my explanation of it. You’ll find as many explanations as there are people on the internet. So a lot of it is about using language or about picking up on people’s cues for better communication. But the thing that really interests me is about modelling success, modelling high performance. How can we get another angle on distinguishing what works really well from sort of everyday activity? So, so I trained in NLP back in the day, and more recently I trained with Richard Bandler, who is a founder. It was eye opening. There was a lot of stuff dumped on me, but I’ll give you one example of how it helped me when I began fencing. When you begin fencing, the problem you have is everybody is better than you. And when you’re trying to be successful, it can be a little disheartening. And it’s like you’re going out there and when you do it competitively, you just get keep getting clocked and you’re trying to keep you focussing on what am I learning and focus on that. But there’s an NLP technique called anchoring. So anchoring is when you build up a state. And you maybe do some like touch finger or you stand a particular way. It’s like a Pavlovian response. You know, if you do this enough times when you associate with a certain feeling, especially, if it’s kind of an intense feeling. It can be like button or a trigger for that. So when I trained NLP, I learnt how to kind of create a solid, confident, almost ecstatic state. Anchor it. So then when I went to fence, I would trigger it just before fighting. And then when every time I did something well, I won, or I did a good move or I held off someone who was on the Northern Irish sports fencing team, because we were fighting back with like foils in those days, I swear. I would trigger a success anchor every time I did something well. And then it just enhanced my mood. So it’s like a mood enhancer. So that’s just one example of how you can affect your mindset. And by effecting that mindset, you can put yourself in a more resourceful state to use the skills you have, to use the knowledge you have, to use everything that’s on your side. But for some inexplicable reason, we don’t always access our best self. Sometimes we show up, but we don’t fully show up. So NLP for me is about getting in the inside of that. So I found this fascinating. I found it useful and it led me to train as a master practitioner and a coach, which can be applied to business coaching. And that led to the idea of strategic coaching. And for me, understanding life is very connected with swords and very connected with fencing, right? Yeah, because life is often fuzzy, who wins and loses is a matter of perception and how it’s painted afterwards. But in any fencing match, it’s really pretty clear who wins at the end or who did what and if it didn’t work you have immediate feedback. You can go back and look what happened, what didn’t happen. So I think fencing is a nice metaphor for life, and it’s much clearer than, say, business, where it depends on so many external factors. And in fencing, there’s tactics where you’re trying to win a particular fight and a strategy where you’re taking the long term view. That beginning, you’re going to get dispirited because you lost every fight? Or are you going to look at it from a growth mindset where, OK, I lost that fight, but I held them off for longer or I did three cool parries before I got nailed. Are you taking the long term view? And I feel that a lot of our flaws as humans is we get this comfortable, dopamine addicted, short term satisfaction and it can be almost like an addiction. And to get past that we need to have like a longer term view and to remind ourselves to detach, to step out and look at the longer term view, whatever our goals are. Do we even have goals? Are we working towards those? What are we doing on a daily basis like that regular podcasting or regular training or regular translation is that building up to something that will serve us and we will be satisfied with over time? So the strategic coach is the idea of taking the strategic view to the horizon as opposed to the short term, but then thinking setting that goal, beginning with the end of mind and working towards it. Which can be very abstract, of course, but it can actually be a practical application of abstract thinking because once you’ve set that goal, it sort of gives you a path to walk and then you can kind of follow the milestones when you get there.
GW: And you can change your mind along the way.
MP: And you probably should at times.
GW: Yeah, but as long as you’re moving in a good direction, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the most efficient direction for the goal that will appear later on.
MP: Absolutely. And it’s often most important to get movement.
GW: Like in wrestling, right? If your opponent is standing still, you can’t do anything, but once they’re moving, you can throw them on the ground.
MP: And then from that, because obviously my thing is coaching and physical activity. And so I did a sports performance coach level one course with a guy called Anders Piper, who’s runs the Society of NLP Sports Performance programme, and he’s worked with professional, particularly professional bicycle teams and so forth. So there’s a lot of really good stuff about, again, just enhanced applications of mental coaching to how to hit flow. How to a lot of it, though, and connect with this is how to listen, how to actually just tease out from somebody and help them get to the point where you figure out what they’re trying to do or what’s stopping them.
GW: Three things have popped up in my head while I’ve been listening to you. First is I did an interview with Lynnette Nusbacher recently. And she’s a strategist.
MP: Lynette’s an old friend of mine.
GW: Oh, right, OK. So I imagine you’ve had long conversations about strategies.
MP: I’ve actually listened to that podcast. I didn’t have so much fascinating detail about her military career before, so it was really, really interesting.
GW: Yeah, OK. And are you familiar with a book called The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin?
MP: It’s one of my favourite books. Yeah.
GW: OK, so you know a little bit of art about building triggers, which is basically what you’re talking about. You find an environment in which becoming your best creative and engaged self is natural. And then you before you go into that environment that you know is going to generate that state, you create a set of behaviours which act as triggers. So I guess you’d call them anchors. And then what you do is you minimise those triggers, say you start out with maybe a whole process of things which become associated with creating that state. But then you kind of bring it down to maybe a single action which can be done quickly, because if you need it quickly, you can just do that thing. And just as an aside from that, I think it was one of Dave Lowry’s descriptions of some of the Mikkyo Buddhist rituals, where they associate specific hand positions with specific mental states. And by creating those triggers, they can simply do the hand thing to enter that particular mental state. And that’s been going on for a very long time.
MP: In Sanskrit, they called it the Mudra. I’ve never heard that published and discussed. But that’s always been my understanding, too. That a trigger, like touching a certain part of your finger to get a success state. It seems like you go into deep meditation in sort of a Buddhist tradition and you meditate in this hand position. So then this hand position is associated again, in a Pavlovian way, with that state. So it kind of induces the state again to trigger. I’m convinced that’s it. You’re the first person I’ve ever come across who’s also made that connection.
GW: Though it was Dave Lowry who made it for me, really.
MP: Dave Lowry?
GW: He’s written some fantastic books. Persimmon Wind, Autumn Lightning. I think it’s in The Sword and the Brush.
MP: Cool. I must re-read that. I’ve read a bunch of his books, I didn’t remember him picking up on that. That’s a really great connection.
GW: I may be mis-remembering because it’s a long time ago. Let’s say a student is having difficulty doing a good longsword strike that’s stiff or clumsy or whatever. So what I do is I create the environment such, give them the stimuli such, that they start to move better for whatever reason, give them the right visualisation. Or let’s say they’re cutting a bit short, I’ll hold something out for them to cut at and that naturally makes them longer. And we don’t talk about mechanics, so we don’t talk about, like any specific technical thing. I don’t tend to make specific technical corrections anymore. I change things so that the person is doing the thing better than they were before. But then the thing is, how do you recreate that? So what I do is once they’re moving properly, I get them to describe the feeling of how they’re now moving.
GW: In whatever language suits them, pick a word that is associated for them accurately describes that sense of moving, that way of moving, that feeling of moving. And it could be in any language. And it may make no sense to me at all why they would choose that word, but for whatever reason, in their head this word in that language means this feeling. So then when I’m in class with them and they start to “crunch crunch”, so moving badly again because people will always revert to old habits, right? I could just drop that one word and immediately, they’re moving properly.
MP: Awesome, that’s really going in deep.
GW: As long as I can remember the right word, that can be tricky sometimes. And it’s often a word I don’t even know what language it’s in, it is a meaningless set of syllables, so it’s hard for me to remember it. But sometimes I’ll just ask them what their word is. And that by itself will do it, because that’s put the word in the head. And then they’ll go, oh yeah, it should feel like this. And as soon as they know how it should feel and that feeling is a stable, supported, strong, powerful, balance, graceful, sprezzatura, whatever. Anything that makes more of that is, by definition, good and anything that makes less of that is by definition bad. And what your opponent is trying to do is take it away from you completely by throwing you on the ground or stabbing you in the head. So it can all be about simply maintaining that sense of graceful, powerful, flowing movement.
MP: That’s a really great sense of rapport, you’re meeting the student in her own experience and then understanding and then inducing it. Yeah, yeah.
GW: And the things that will work to make a student feel that change massively from student to student. Often, like if I’ve not trained with them before, for the first half an hour or so of an hour-long private lesson we’re basically just figuring out what environmental changes I need to make for them so that they will start to get that feeling. And then when we get there, what helps it, what makes it better by it. Tricks like hold a full glass of water by your belt as you move around. And sure enough, if you’re spilling water all over the place, it looks like you just wet yourself. You’re probably not doing it right. But if the style we’re talking about is jumpy, then that’s not going to work. So that doesn’t work for everything. But like many things, you can’t do a rapier lunge with a full glass of water at your belt without spilling it, or at least you shouldn’t.
MP: Challenging for sure.
GW: For Fiore sidesteps, it works beautifully. For Capoferro’s lunge, we need something else.
MP: Yeah. And that’s actually something I’ve really only realised in the past few years by doing this sports performance coaching and becoming aware of profiling tools that are academically supported, like the lab profile or just the University of Luxembourg Lux profile. You talk to someone, you kind of figure out their motivations or how they approach life, and people are so incredibly different. And I realised I was kind of going round with blinkers on for most of my life and kind of imagining everyone’s really the same, and really interested in the same things. I was like, no they’re not. People are really diverse. It’s incredible.
GW: And what people will defend to the death. I mean, some people will defend their injuries to the death.
MP: Right. Their limitations.
GW: Yeah. Let’s say somebody is has had an injured shoulder at some point and actually, it’s OK now. But having that injured shoulder has become like a talisman for them in some sense. You notice it particularly you start collecting lots and lots of things that you need because of that injury. Let’s say you have dietary restrictions and sometimes it’s absolutely the right thing to do to bring your own food to wherever you’re going. It just makes life easier for everyone. OK. But when that becomes the default, you are holding on to your dietary problems. Because everywhere you go, you have to lug your own food with you.
MP: Oh yeah, I can kind of sympathise with that. I’ve made some very specific diet decisions.
GW: Yeah, yeah, sure. And again, I’m not criticising anybody. And there are definitely times when that’s necessary, but also very often it becomes this limiting factor on the things that the person can do, which isn’t actually necessary from a medical perspective, it’s become a psychological thing.
MP: Oh yeah. I think people protect themselves when there’s a need and that, like everything, it can become a habit. Yeah, yeah. I think HEMA, well, sorry to keep using that offensive word, Guy,
GW: That’s all right, it’s fine I’m used to it.
MP: But historical fencing of whatever stripe you favour, a lot of it’s about going into new places where you’re not comfortable and learning new things, and challenging yourself in different environments. It’s very much that to do it well you have to have it like a growth mindset and be able to push your boundaries. Which is just life, it’s not really just fencing, isn’t it?
GW: That’s very true. I think that’s actually one of the things historical martial arts can do because swords are so attractive to people like us, that people are willing to leave their comfort zone to reach the sword. It’s like they’re lying on the sofa, eating chocolate and watching crappy TV, and you dangle a sword in front and as they reach for it, you just pull the sword slightly further away then they have to get off the sofa and the chocolate falls on the floor. But that’s OK, by this time they’re out of the house and running down the street, running after to the sword. It has that kind of magical attractiveness.
MP: It certainly did for me, yeah, for sure.
GW: Yeah, I think for most of the people listening to the show. Now, I have a couple of questions that I tend to finish up on, and as someone who’s listened to the show before, you probably know what’s coming. Well, also I sent you the questions ages ago. All right. What is the best idea you haven’t acted on?
MP: It’s actually to put out, I think, more video work and maybe a training course on the art of Pietro Monte.
GW: Oh, I know exactly how to do all of that.
MP: Yeah, you do. I should pick your brain more. I actually should say for listeners, Guy, you were very helpful in allowing me to pick your brain when I was approaching the book some years ago and just how to think about publishing, to get a map of how to do it. So I do appreciate your help and input already. So thank you for that.
GW: Well, you’re very welcome. So you need to put together something like, well, my syllabus Wiki, maybe.
MP: Mm hmm. Yeah, that too. I think there’s two aspects to it. I think it’s something we’ve been talking about in the HEMA Ireland committee as well as about something we want to take from the lockdown experience is that you can do a lot of useful and interesting content in a video format. It’s not the complete package, but especially for beginners or someone who wants to find out about something or get into it. Especially it can be really useful to have video and talk throughs. I’m working on the syllabus and I’ve put together quite a bit of syllabus for poleaxe and two-handed sword especially. But as well as that it’s just a video to kind of explain an interpretation, to show the movement, to show the flow. That’s very hard to translate into words.
GW: And that’s part of the problem we have. If we had a video of Monte doing his sword stuff, your life would be a lot easier.
MP: It would be, yeah.
GW: And the same is true for the students, so yeah, I think really the trick is to start small. If you think yourself, I’m going to video every play in the whole of Monte and get it all in perfect 4K with makeup and lighting and everything.
MP: And blood effects, of course.
GW: And blood effects. Yeah, of course, it’s never going to happen. But if you go well, OK, I have this flourish that I do, I’m going to video that and I’m going to talk people through a couple of times and then I’ll just demonstrate it, and then I’ll just put that somewhere. I would suggest not YouTube.
MP: OK, that’s interesting, actually. Why not YouTube?
GW: Because the way YouTube works, people provide free content, which creates traffic so the advertisers can target their advertising more effectively so that YouTube makes money from the advertisers and the advertisers make money from the stuff that they sell. And the people producing the content can make some money. And a few people on YouTube make a fortune from their advertising. But if you think if you’re getting 100,000 euros a year from your advertising revenues on YouTube. YouTube will have taken a million and the advertisers must have taken more than that or the advertising budget wouldn’t be there.
GW: Think of it like that.
MP: OK. Yeah.
GW: Yeah. I mean, I’m using Facebook ads which I absolutely hate, but I’m not doing it myself, I have somebody else doing it. Part of my justification for it is this is an outreach project to get people off Facebook and onto something like swords, doing them properly. But you know, I give money to Facebook to show my ads but those ads sell my books and courses, which makes much more money than I’m paying on the ads. So I’ve experienced it from the perspective of the advertiser. So the problem with YouTube in my head is its business model. And likewise, Facebook and Twitter, all these social media platforms have the same fundamental ethical problem. And a user of those platforms, if you’re the one producing free content for them, you are the one who’s been taking massive advantage of.
MP: Yeah, it’s always like you’re working for YouTube.
GW: Exactly. You are working for YouTube, really, really hard and they’re giving you a tiny fraction of the money they make from it.
MP: I had no idea the proportions were like that.
GW: Oh, they do. I mean, if you just think about it for a minute, they have to be like that. I mean, your advertising budget can’t be much more than 40 percent of your turnover. Assuming you’ve got overheads. So if you’re giving YouTube a million dollars a year, you must be making, two, shall we say, to make the maths easy. And of that million dollars that you’re giving to YouTube, how much is going to the person putting the thing on? Pennies. A tiny, tiny fraction. Because YouTube keeps the money. Why wouldn’t they? It’s their business.
MP: Yeah, it’s actually worse than the book publishing where you sell a book for twenty dollars and the author gets two dollars.
GW: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Not if you’re self-published. If I sell a book for $20 I get about half of that. But the rest goes to the printers and the distributors and what have you. And that’s fair enough. So my videos are all on Vimeo. I basically destroyed my YouTube channel and moved over to Vimeo because I pay Vimeo to host my videos for me, I am the customer. My online courses, so I don’t use Vimeo for. You can monetise your Vimeo with pay per view or whatever, but I prefer Teachable as a platform for online courses. The primary reason I use Teachable is because I have access to all of the data. In other words, I am paying Teachable to host and organise, to provide a platform for me to run my courses on, and they take the money and they sort out the VAT, they sort all that out. But they don’t keep a commission. I pay them a flat annual feel, but all the money that I get paid for the course, apart from VAT, and the credit card processing thing takes a percentage, but that’s it. So I’m paying Teachable, I am the customer. So when my students buy a course, I’m getting almost all of it.
MP: Yeah, yeah, so the creator is actually benefiting, not the middle man.
GW: Exactly right, exactly. But I mean, things are different for free. I mean, for my syllabus wiki. When I killed my YouTube channel, one of the more awkward things, or annoying things is I had to upload all of those videos to Vimeo and then go through the entire wiki and change all the YouTube links into Vimeo links.
MP: Oh yeah, that sounds painful.
GW: It took a while. And on my website, there’s loads of YouTube links to my YouTube videos and I haven’t caught all of them yet. And every now and then I come across one and I find the video on Vimeo and stick it into the blog post. So switching platforms is a pain. So I would suggest don’t switch because then you see if you posted your video Vimeo and it’s free you then use the social media platforms to distribute that. So, post it on Facebook and share it on Twitter and share it or wherever else, Instagram or whatever you do.
MP: Cool. This is very timely conversation because I’ve tried to putting up a few videos on YouTube, but I haven’t really got a channel off the ground. So it’s definitely strategic talk to have now before I plough down that road.
GW: But then there’s nothing wrong with deciding to use YouTube’s fantastic searchability and fantastic simply gigantic user base for your own strategic purposes. It’s just, I don’t like their business model. I find their business model unethical, fundamentally. So I don’t partake of it. But, it’s a judgement call and, well, OK, I came across recently this woman called she calls herself Miss Excel.
MP: I’ve heard of her.
GW: She has the most fantastic attitude towards social media, right? She has fantastically popular videos on TikTok and Instagram. She just uses those two platforms, where she basically in a cheery and chatty manner, tells people how to do stuff with Excel, which I have no interest in. If something involves a spreadsheet, I generally pay somebody else to do it because I just don’t want to go there. But anyway this is what she does and millions of people have to use Excel for work. And most people are miserable with Excel because they don’t know how to use it properly, and they’re very unhappy. So she makes these very cheerful, very charming, sort of chatty videos and what have you. And she doesn’t take advertising revenue from TikTok or from Instagram. What she does is she sells her online courses. She uses the Thinkific platform, not Teachable. And I would like to have a quiet word with her about why Teachable is better. But that’s her business, and she’s clearly very good at it because she started in the middle of 2020, and within 12 months she had turned over several million dollars.
MP: It’s incredible. Yeah, it’s phenomenal.
GW: Because she’s not trying to make revenue like a tenth of a cent per view on her videos on TikTok. She’s making revenue at well, a million people have seen her TikTok video and a percentage of that go buy the course for some hundreds of dollars.
MP: It’s great in a way, it seems, to be able to empower people to get their stuff out now, in a way that before widespread internet social media was in the hands of publishers or rich corporations who could like control what was out there. So it is it is very freeing. It means it can be a lot of random stuff out there, but it also means if you’re the creator and your motivation, this is your time more than anything.
GW: Yeah, yeah. And I guess really the trick is just to think strategically about what you’re doing.
MP: Yeah, yeah. What’s the endgame?
GW: And who you’re doing it with. Yeah, that was a gigantic digression where there was Guy banging on about business models when I should be asking you questions. My last question. If you had a million dollars to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide, how would you spend the money?
MP: Yeah, I got this question in advance but I still don’t know. My best thought on this is it would be cool to have something like a bursary or a scholarship that would help organise basically a transfer of ideas between historical groups in different areas. Probably to support events that involved research and creation of historical martial arts. There’s a huge amount of things that work very well in historical fencing. I think the tournament scene is really healthy. The classic debate is, is it all sports fencing now with different weapons?
GW: Who cares? Tournaments are useful.
MP: Yeah. Tournaments are one hundred percent useful. I think HEMA is a very rich field. And I’m thinking that it’s the more kind of cross collaboration, cross-fertilisation, from different groups with different ideas and different countries with different trainers and movement of people and teaching and training, the more we will grow our whole community and experience and the skill level within it. So I would probably propose something like a bursary to support events, taking trainers from other areas and having them tour events or to swap. In the academic world we have programmes like Leonardo or there’s a couple of others, but where basically students or teachers can go and teach in another academic institution, like go from Ireland to Belgium or Germany to Spain or whatever. And I also think it should probably be where the local group has to front about 50 percent of the money to make sure they’re behind it and it’s a real thing. I think some sort of HEMA cultural exchange programme where it’s up to groups who they want to come and teach. So I think it’s up to them to decide who the teachers are, but have a programme where you basically have an exchange of teachers between groups and spread knowledge and spread learning around. That’s the best I can come up with right now.
GW: That’s not a bad idea. I think a million dollars might not be enough. It’s imaginary dollars anyway.
MP: Sure. Budgets for HEMA are really low.
GW: True. Yeah, that’s true. And a lot of these people aren’t getting paid, which makes everything cheaper.
MP: And even if you’re paying expenses and travel, and remember, the budget is $2 million because you’re fronting 1 million dollars, but it’s going to be matched by local groups.
GW: So if I need $2000 to run an event, I can get a thousand dollars of it from your fund.
MP: Right, right. If it matches the programme.
GW: That’s not a bad idea. I think if I had the money, I might give it to you.
GW: Ask nicely, Mike, we’ll see.
MP: Thank you for that potential promise of virtual money.
GW: Yeah, well, it’s been lovely catching up with you again, Mike. Thanks for joining us today.
MP: It’s been fun. It’s nice to have the conversation and I’m going to go back and do a dive into some of your previous conversations because I know there’s a lot I still have to catch up on myself. So thanks for the chat, and I will be back to you with that video. We’ll be in touch.