Once a student has cleared their school’s internal provost requirements, it falls to their instructor to arrange for an IAS Examiners Board. The board always comprises the testee’s instructor/sponsor, and then at least two other examiners. In this case, Mr. Mele was joined by Society co-founder Sean Hayes (Northwest Fencing Academy), and the board was rounded out by Marco Quarta (Nova Scrimia) and Devon Boorman (Academie Duello), both IAS Advisors. Since this was the Society’s first board, and thus the Board, as much as the Candidate, were under examination, we also asked Mr. Christian Cameron (Hoplologia), an IAS member and future candidate to join us. His experience both in modern fencing and sitting as an officer on US naval boards helped us streamline and refine the process as we went.
The first part of the oral exams began with an introduction of the student. While this may at first seem a bit superfluous, after all, the candidate in this case was a long-time student of one of the Society’s co-founders, it serves several purpose. First, and most obviously, if the IAS is successful in its mission, there will come a time when candidates are not well-known to all, or even most, of their examiners. Secondly, questions such as Who are you and why are you here? or What do you get from the journey of mastering armizare? Why do you want this rank? give a glimpse into the candidate’s mindset, personal aspirations and how they see both the role of armizare and their lives, and theirs in the armizare community. In the end, martial arts (as opposed to simple combatives) are more than pragmatic combat skills; all the more so when the art in question involves using antique weapons: it can and should be about challenging each of us to be better, do better and challenge others to do the same.
Part One: General Theory and Practice
Once we were through the introductions we turned to a discussion of theory. Different armizare schools conceptualize and articulate their pedagogy in different ways, but we all share a martial vocabulary given to us by Fiore dei Liberi (and expanded by Filippo Vadi) himself. This part of the oral exam had several purposes:
- To establish the candidate’s familiarity with the canonical technical terminology and theory left to us by the founder;
- To establish the candidate’s familiarity with how that terminology and theory is applied both within the IAS and their own school;
- To be able to discuss the pedagogical/structural elements of the various copies of Flower of Battle in general terms (example: What is the relationship of the animals in the segno to pedagogy? What is the role of the unnamed Masters at the start of the Dagger and Sword section?)
- When presented with a simple tactical scenario, to be able to use the terminology of the art to explain the combatants’ actions and responses.
The following video clips gives a feel for the theory questioning portion of the examination.
Ultimately, the Rettore/Provost rank differs from the Free Scholar in that it is about being able to teach as much as to do. As armizare belongs to no one person, and is an international art, an instructor must have a command of the language of armizare: its terminology, historical context and tactical framework. Additionally, a provost does not run their own school, but has to be able to transmit the curriculum of their parent academy, along with any attendant jargon or methodology that body employs.
Greg: Jesse’s performance here was inconsistent. While he could easily describe martial actions, the veracity of an attack or defense, or how they might be countered, he did not do so with a consistent, concise language, particularly when moving away from the topics of abrazare and dagger, which the areas he currently teaches within the Chicago Swordplay Guild.
Sean: Jesse did, during the course of the prize fights, describe several exchanges with fluency if not 100% accurate terminology. He spoke of how he played measure wide in one fight with Christian Cameron to nullify the fast and accurate thrusts Mr. Cameron can deliver, and how he used that measure to effect an advantageous crossing of blades. He is obviously familiar with the dynamics of fights, but needs additional coaching and practice on abstracting the experience into proper terminology, and then using that terminology to communicate to students.
Christian: In addition, I found the candidate relatively unprepared to discuss the ethical considerations of chivalry in the real-life world of modern martial arts and armizare; I was also disappointed by his subject knowledge on the context of Fiore’s life and work. While I would not have ‘failed’ him in these areas, I intend to provide follow-up support to a wider understanding
Although internal school skills exams demonstrated that Jesse has no problem using or understanding the Guild’s fundamental drills and training devices, the fact that personal life/work schedule issues have kept the candidate away from sword class and adaptations and refinements that have been made to the school’s teaching vocabulary. The Board noted that it was the responsibility of Jesse’s instructor, Gregory Mele, to have better prepared him in expectations for this part of the exam.
Part Two – Pedagogy & Teaching
Retorre d’Armizare, or Provost of the Art of Arms, is the first of two teaching ranks, and instructional ability is, at its heart, what makes it differ from Laureato (Free Scholar). While a Provost is certainly expected to be more skilled with his or her weapons than a newly minted Free Scholar, athleticism and pedagogical skills are not the same. As I write this, the 2018 Winter Olympics have just finished. Think of the number of world-class athletes who will never become coaches; or the number of coaches who do not have Olympic-caliber skills themselves, but can make an Olympic champion. What this means in practical terms is that, no matter how excellent a fighter a student may be, if they cannot teach in clear language, with a consistent and coherent pedagogy, they are not a provost.
We asked Jesse to prepare three short lessons that could be taught to a single student in about 30 minutes. Each lesson required him to:
- Introduce the lesson
- Who is it for?
- What do they know?
- Teach the lesson
We also asked Jesse to make the lessons cover a variety of topics and skill levels, from a complete beginner to a more advanced practitioner looking to apply their training in a free-form environment, and to make sure that at least one used abrazare/daga, and one used the sword or other long weapon. He decided to set-up a series of lessons that would address a technical problem (“how” to do a technique), a tactical one (“when” to do it) and a practical one (“how” again, but this time how to adapt to a changing combat environment).
FIRST LESSON – DAGGER 101
Objective: To teach a sample student with a basic understanding of armizare, via sword and abrazare, the fundamentals of dagger defense, beginning with the Primo Remedio of the dagger.
Skills Tested: Armizare Theory in Dagger, Pedagogy of teaching Dagger and addressing spontaneous, student questions, as well as examiner questions about the chosen lesson and its structure.
This section began much stronger than the first, with a concise and articulate lesson of how to use the First Master of Dagger, the necessary body mechanics and timing for executing the entry and basic “triangle disarm”, and a discussion of how to determine follow-on actions.
Sean: Jesse built the lesson from the ground up, assuming his student had no prior background in Fiore’s dagger. His delivery of the necessary concepts focused first on the broader aspect of execution, and then added progressively more detail as his student progressed through the lesson. This is an appropriate and effective way to build a student’s understanding.
Marco: Jesse introduced properly the historical and technical context of the dagger, differentiating between medieval and modern use, tactics and techniques. The pedagogy method was progressive, integrating dissected actions in all principles with body mechanics and psychological approach. To improve, the teaching could be more integrated into the specific context of the sources and historical documents, possibly with comparative analysis between authors and Fiore’s work.
Section Result: Passed
SECOND LESSON – FIRST MASTER OF GIOCO LARGO
Objective: Set-plays demonstrate a combination of technique and tactics, but are difficult to employ in free-play without bridging exercises. This lesson was how to apply a single set-play under a variety of “stressors” (of timing, blow force, distance, etc).
Skills Tested: Armizare Theory in Sword, Pedagogy of teaching swordsmanship and addressing spontaneous, student questions, as well as examiner questions about the chosen lesson and its structure.
The Examiners loved the concept of the stressors, but the lesson got off to a rough start when the sample student misunderstood the initial purpose and parameters of the drill, and Jesse was thrown off lesson-plan. The lesson was rebooted and started again, but remained rough, in part because the instructor decided to change which play would be used to the colpo di villano, feeling it would be easier for the student to work with, but did not convey the change, or reason, to the student. Sadly, a good concept and reasonable lesson plan that got off on the wrong footing and never recovered.
Devon: The main challenge here was that Jesse failed to understand where his student was at and meet them there. An instructor must have a plan based on learning objectives, and an understanding of how those objectives fit into the overall hierarchy of the system. They must then adapt their plan and learning objectives to best meet their student AND ensure that their students are well enlisted in any changes.
THIRD LESSON – STEALING A THROW
Objective: A great deal of martial arts training works on the premise of “bad guy attacks, good guy defends, seizes initiative and wins”. In unarmed combat things are often not so simple, and once basic skills have been learned, combatants should learn both how to seize and hold the initiative, and how to get back into the fight, should they take a hit. This lesson looks at the latter lesson – the combatant attacks, the defender moves into an aggressive cover and strike, and as they seek to build off of that, the combatant, rolls with the strike, and adapts to not only prevent being thrown, but to steal it for themselves.
Skills Tested: Armizare Theory in Wrestling, Pedagogy of teaching Abrazare and addressing spontaneous, student questions, as well as examiner questions about the chosen lesson and its structure.
After taking a short break, the third lesson resumed, and was far more concise and articulate. Details on how each party should move and why was clear and concise, although the Board thought that the defender’s initial strike: a palm-strike to the face, was a powerful blow to assume the combatant could absorb, even if adapting their entry. The follow-on lesson to the counter-grapple was both martially powerful and clearly taught.
Sean: Jesse should watch how he sets student expectations, as the board initially thought the defender would “win” the drill, but in the end it was the attacker who had the final counter.
Marco: Jesse had good proficiency in technical skills and conveying Fiore’s martial approach. However, in attempting to show how to stay in the fight even after being struck, the pedagogy was sometimes detached from a realistic context and could be misleading in the learning process. Counter actions presented often resulted in response to the initial attack, such as taking a blow and then reacting to that, as opposed to counter the initial action with a counter-action or attack. The intent was working from a disadvantage, but sometimes the strike received would likely have ended the fight entirely.
Devon: Jesse had a clear and deep fluency with this material from an application perspective. I enjoyed how concisely he was able to answer tactical questions and communicate in terms of both structure and tempo (conveying tempo is an important part of the idea of ‘stealing’). However, there were times that the subtlety of what was being conveyed was lost because the role of who was to win was unclear. The motivations of the attacker (who became the winner) were also very unclear–were they doing something foolish at the beginning as a provocation? Or was this actually a lesson on responding after you’ve made a mistake. Students need to have greater clarity in order to fit techniques into their overall tactical understanding of a system.
Section Result: Passed
OVERALL PART II RESULT: PASSED
Although the second lesson got off to a bad start and never recovered, the Board felt that across the full three lessons, Jesse clearly demonstrated sound pedagogical ability to structure a lesson plan and to address questions. During the break, he addressed, without prompting, what had gone wrong and identified why and came out much stronger in the third lesson, where he adapted to the student’s needs and questions.
Part III – Directed Play Building
Fiore dei Liberi teaches his art through a series of “plays”, analogous to Japanese paired “kata”, which combine tactical choices with technical answers. In addition, he goes to great length to define a system of interlinking plays that deal with remedies to simple attacks, counters, and counter-counters. This last part of the Board Exam tested the student’s ability to both create logical solutions to verbal instructions and to guide students through the creation of interlinked plays themselves.
PART A: PLAY DECONSTRUCTION
Objective: Following an instructor’s parameters to create a tactically logical and effective play.
Evaluated Skill: Ability to conceptualize fencing actions from verbal instruction and make sound, tactical choices.
In this section of the exam, the candidate was paired with one of the examiners, while a second examiner verbally walked them through a sequence, designed to follow the system of Posta – Attack – Remedy – Counter – Counter-to-the-Counter. Instructions became more general than specific as the process went on. For example: the candidate might be told to oppose Posta di Donna la Sinistra from Dente di Zenghiaro (specific), and to respond to the opening attack with a rebattemento by falso (less specific as only the defense is specified), and then to adapt to the opponent’s counter in a logical way that either maintained distance or closed to grips (general).
The candidate was given a series of these sequences, one from each examiner, for a total of four in all.
The candidate was well-prepared, and was able not only to execute the sequence provided, but to imagine further branches and adapt remedies; as well (in contrast to the day before) explaining the tactical ramifications of those remedies in the terms of Abrazare.
Sean: After an initial moment of confusion about what the board wanted, Jesse did very well with the building of actions and modifications based on the board changing parameters of the exercises. Use of correct terminology was still weak, but he clearly did understand and was able to discuss tempo and measure as they applied to the various situations created.
Devon: The stronger that Jesse can become both in the language and options of his system, the easier it will be for him to coach more diverse students that do not fit his specific build and characteristics.
Section Result: Passed
PART B: PLAY CONSTRUCTION
Objective: Designing a play for other practitioners.
Evaluated Skill: Use of language and application of theory.
In this section of the exam, the candidate was paired with two of the examiners, and had them construct a play of his devising. The examiners, playing the role of students, inserted mechanical and tactical errors which the candidate had to spot and correct to get the desired result.
The candidate was also well-prepared for this section of the examination, demonstrating a command and fluidity of both basic and advanced tactical concepts while always keeping an eye on the student.
Sean: Similar to my comments above, Jesse was able to build sequences and explain necessary details of technical and tactical execution easily. Again, though, terminology was loosely used.
Christian: A particularly striking moment included a genuine correction of an examiner’s posture and hip alignment that actually benefited the examiner’s learning. A fine performance.
Devon: Jesse had a clear tactical understanding of his system and applied solutions that made a lot of sense and showed an understanding of the breadth of potential actions. He does need to work on his use of terminology: 1. to better convey his system clearly and consistently, 2. to translate between other systems and diverse practitioners.
Section Result: Passed
OVERALL PART THREE RESULT: PASSED
After a total of over eight hours of oral examination (6.5 on day one, two the following day), it was decided that taken as a whole, Jesse had successfully passed the exam and could move on to the final component of his testing: Playing the Prize.