It is evident that WMA (Western Martial Arts) are gaining momentum in general public’s view both as a valid combat system and a martial tradition with deep historical roots going back to the beginning of 10-th-11-th centuries (first written evidence on the display in UK is dated 1290, manuscript I.33). These arts teach the use of historical European arsenal: Longsword, Two handed sword, spear, halberd, dussac, saber, rapier, quarterstaff, dagger, rondel…They also teach the ancient yet extremely practical arts of wrestling , dirty and to the point as it was done on the battle field or in the street, with clothing, in armor or without it, armed or unarmed. There are many sports today that stem from these arts and while the objective is a sportive achievement, no one would ever doubt the skill and martial prowess of the athletes. Boxing, fencing, wrestling…There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that these athletes have formidable set of skills and physical attributes.
A lot of today’s sports have to do with former combat arts, claimed by some as lost. European Swordsmanship is claimed as obsolete or worse even, as nonexistent. Fortunately, there a lot of practitioners of these arts in the world guided by extremely well preserved abundance of printed manuals teaching the techniques of old, but also by their own martial experience from respective martial or sportive fields. All of these combined with rigorous testing of everything learned ,made for an effective and historically sound combat system which can and is applied successfully against multitude of opponents from different realms.
There are practitioners of these arts that have been training for 25 years never falling short of their Oriental counterparts. Not in the level of martial skill nor seriousness of attitude. Neither in the mindset nor in their scholarship. One of these specialists is John Clements the founder and director of ARMA , one of the biggest and oldest Renaissance Martial Arts schools in the world. While remaining one of the foremost specialists in the field of analyzing, translating and studying the European swordsmanship and other arts of the medieval Europe, John happens to be one of the top notch fighters with many of the weapons included in the arsenal of that period (13-17 century). Smallsword, saber, dussac, hand and a half sword, spear, sword and buckler, dagger, rapier and dagger and many more weapons that have been studied and battle tested by him in his quest for knowledge lost. The main goal has always been to learn how to wield these weapons in combat in the most realistic way and to recreate a lost martial art not just for the sake of preserving tradition but to be able to prove that the masters of old had indeed practical and battle tested knowledge which can be used today with no less success than their Oriental counterparts.
In our opinion John has done exactly that. As one of the world’s top specialists in the field of WMA he was invited to Israel to give a seminar which was attended by ACT school and Filipino Martial Arts school (ICS – Israeli Combat Systems). The two day seminar was packed with action and has given us all an understanding of the true measure of martial knowledge evident in the manuscripts of Italian, German and English sword masters of old. Easily comprehended material was absorbed by the attendees and what made it all so valuable is that EVERYTHING John said was backed up by visual materials of test cutting and experience taken directly from bouts fought by John, his students and other WMA practitioners throughout the world.
John is a well of knowledge, a supremely gifted fighter and teacher loaded with positive energy and willing to teach on and on and on…His passion for weapon combat and for WMA is nothing short of contagious and we were all happy to “expose” ourselves to his teaching. We have been practicing Longsword along with other weapons in ACT for years before this encounter but it must be said that John’s take on things was extremely refreshing and eye opening on a lot of unclear issues when it comes to fighting with the Longsword.
On top of all, being tired as he was, John offered to engage in friendly sparring with ACT chief instructor and founder Alex Zhelezniak. That in itself is uncommon all the more so, in front of all the students which was greatly appreciated by all in attendance.
Alex Zhelezniak’s note:
It was a great honor and a fantastic learning experience to cross swords with John. Aside from the fact that here stood a sword fighter (the emphasis on the fighter is not accidental!) who has tested his skill against hundreds of opponents from every possible weapon oriented style, there was a simple truth of facing a man who has practiced EVERY aspect of sword fighting for 20 years! Working on precision and speed and power, test cutting with every weapon in his arsenal, fighting multiple opponents, loads of pell work (equivalent of focus mitts and heavy bag , only for weapons), training as extensively on his form as well as the substance but so much more than all of this , the guy who has fought with steel (blunt) weapons and knows everything there is to know about swordsmanship from his own personal experience as well as from the well documented sources of martial knowledge…
All I can say is I was intimidated and hoped that as the bout takes place I would somehow maintain the honor of the school while managing to glean those precious nuggets of practical knowledge which can ONLY be obtained from a direct contact with an expert in real time and with full intent i.e. practice combat.
It was a clear clash of styles from the first moment we crossed swords. I am not going to say what landed and who managed to strike whom and how. Sufficient to say, that it was a good, solid fight, which both parties enjoyed. BUT!!
I will say this. John is one of the most unpredictable fighters I have ever met. His ability to change his attacks in midair while still delivering the intent and then switch directions and, using feints and baits oh so effectively , all this multiplied by precise technique supported by power which only years of practice can bring, makes one tough fighter to deal with and extremely skilled as well. But even more so what amazed me still is John’s ability to adapt to our “unorthodox” style and while doing so to remain true to his own system of fighting. I could see that whatever technique he was throwing was backed up by sound tactical understanding of combat, but also, astoundingly so stemming from his studies of medieval manuscripts which he was able to implement in actual real time full intent sparring. That was a rare treat and most educational for everybody involved.
In the post sparring “afterglow” (nothing sexual, people, just referring to the bruises, get your mind out of the gutter! :)) John’s analyses on what had transpired in those 20 minutes of action packed exchanges was spot on and enlightening as it was modest. It was a pure joy to have fought this great swordsman and a true honor.
In a sense this fight and this event were one of the defining moments for the entire school. It certainly was for me. Through John’s praise and his willingness to accept who we were and where our path was leading, through his willingness to fight me and see us as equals, a sense of self acknowledgement came. It can only come through the acceptance of those who one respects and through their elevation of you as their peer. It was such a rare moment. In the realm of long weaponry (sword, spear, staff) that was an acknowledgment in a way and a landmark for ACT, just as the years since then have brought us such landmarks and the realms of short weapons (bolo, knife) and Japanese katana.
It is crossing the blades with the modern experts who still have a link to the knowledge of the past that gives us – newcomers- the legitimacy and acceptance, not just by words but by that highest form of praise which passes without words during combat, the feeling shared not only by those engaged in it by also by the spectators who can’t help but being involved on a primal level. That was my experience and I will never forget the room exploding in applause when the hand shake was given after the final blow. It was plain to see that everybody was entranced by the action and that the techniques displayed and the hits that landed left no one indifferent.
My thanks to John Clements for this experience. My gratitude for the seminar and the eye opening display of what WMA were all about. My respect and admiration for the courage and fighting spirit displayed during combat and the knowledge shared beyond the required during such an event.
Thank you John for making us better fighters and for sharing your passion for WMA.
ACT and I will never forget this event and this encounter.