Obsesseo is a DVD by David Rawlings and the London Longsword Academy, recorded in 2011. The subject is the MS I.33 treatise, an early medieval manuscript from the late 13th or early 14th century that depicts combat using sword and buckler.
This review: motivation and transparency
I bought this DVD for my own use in 2011 or 2012. I have referred to it a few times since then. I want to share my thoughts about a DVD that has helped shape some of my thinking about the practice of sword and buckler.
After I bought this DVD for my own use, and after writing my review, I was approached about distributing the DVD through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop, an opportunity which I took. However, I had prepared and posted my review before beginning to stock the item, and it was the review which led to the offer of a trade agreement.
(Edit: this “motivation” section was added on the 9th of March 2019, as part of an effort to improve the transparency of the various reviews on this website.)
The DVD is not an introductory piece; no time is given to discussing how to hold the sword, how best to relate the sword and the buckler, the context of the source, how to generate force in the strike, how to stand and step and move. Instead, the discussion begins immediately with what is shown in I.33 and how Dave interprets the different wards, techniques and concepts in a logical common-sense system. A beginner will still find this DVD useful, but it is clearly aimed at people who already understand the basics of sword and buckler and who want to look at the I.33 system in more detail.
The running time is short, just 30-40 minutes. When I bought the DVD originally, I had been expecting a slightly longer running time, but the length is perfect for the material it contains. Dave covers all the important points and all the plays of I.33 in this short space of time, nothing is missing. Sometimes in the treatise, the same actions are repeated again and again, shown through illustrations and text. Dave has chosen to omit many of these repetitions, merely reminding the viewer that “from this position you can do all the techniques discussed already in this DVD” in order to keep the DVD short and concise and to the point. This is another reason why the DVD is more useful for more experienced practitioners, as beginners may benefit from the repetition.
Presentation of information
In Obsesseo, Dave speaks very clearly and audibly, and his explanations of what is happening are very clear and straight forward. Personally, I had no difficulties at all with hearing and understanding what was being said.
During demonstrations, the fencers perform the motions comfortably, capably and fluently, without making them difficult to see for the viewer. It is almost always easy to see what is going on in the various plays. Occasionally a sequence involves moving in such a fashion that a fencer ends up with his back to the camera, but each action or sequence is shown from several angles, at full speed and in slow motion, so it is never a problem to see what is happening.
The production is of a very high quality throughout. The audio is handled very well, with a clear voice-over and also a pleasant musical score that does not detract at all from the presentation. The music fades away into the background when Dave speaks, and when it does play, the volume is kept at a reasonable level, never detracting from what is happening on the screen. The audio in this DVD serves to support the visual aspects without ever disrupting the action or otherwise irritating the viewer. The visual aspects of the production are also very well done, and the location is stunning.
The interface of the DVD is nice and simple. You can play the whole way through, or you can select a particular technique/sequence from the list. The terms used to describe the different techniques and sequences are simple and straightforward, and presented in English.
With regard to the contents of the presentation, I think Dave has done a spectacular job. He is well-recognised in the community as an excellent instructor for fencing with the sword and buckler, and this DVD is a good way to follow his thought process. Every action is logical and makes sense given the circumstances. There was not a single technique where I (as a non-specialist in the system in question) questioned Dave’s interpretation; it all made sense and was demonstrated in a clear and effective manner. While of course other groups and other instructors might have a different method for how to interpret I.33, Dave’s method is certainly effective and one could not go too far wrong in learning from this DVD.
Obsesseo is certainly a valuable resource and I am very happy to have made the purchase. I would urge anyone with an interest in sword and buckler to invest in a copy, I think it will have a lot of interesting material for everyone.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.