There's no doubt that studying the Bolognese tradition of fencing has been one of the most defining projects and adventures in my life. For the past 7 years or so I don't think there's been a single day that has passed without considering one aspect or another of the topic.
During this time, the greatest challenges have been seeing the underlying system, and learning enough of the specifics of each master to understand not only what they have in common, but where they differed and why. The amount of data on the system is vast: among the four main source texts I use there are roughly twenty guard positions, an extensive listing of footwork, cuts and thrusts and literally hundreds of example plays on applying these techniques in fencing. And this is basically just for the sidesword, without including other weapons and accompanying sidearms.
Realizing all of this, I set out to pursue an understanding of the style that would eventually be as complete as possible. The process would follow roughly the following steps:
- Acquire a general understanding of the entire style
- Extract what are the key components of the style, from each source
- Unify this basic knowledge to something as coherent and logical as possible. Without contradicting the sources but so that it becomes something that can be applied and taught without having to repeat oneself or have many exceptions (such as multiple names for a certain guard position)
- Extract the most common attacks and defenses, to reduce the amount of learning required. The key idea is to concentrate on the least amount of techniques required in order to be able to both fence efficiently and to be able to perform the more complex sequences within the sources.
- Extract as many rules, named techniques, concepts and theory from the sources as possible.
- Pressure test results in teaching and free fencing
This of course is an iterative process. One of the greatest dangers in researching and interpreting historical fencing is falling love with your own ideas and not being ready to change your opinions and material as new evidence emerges and better understanding is reached. It is not good to change your thoughts back and forth all the time (one of the things I often am guilty of doing) but just because you are used to doing something in a certain way does not mean it is necessarily correct.
This makes it ever more important to try to focus on a basic set of actions that borrows itself to the widest range of situations.