The importance of books 05: Piermarco Terminiello

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This is a series of interviews with well-known HEMA practitioners from around the world. The subject is the importance of books in the HEMA community. Personally, I think books are immensely important to the community (and in general!), but I am interested to find out more about how other people see the issue.

This week’s interview is with Piermarco Terminiello, who is an instructor at the School of the Sword in England, and who is a regular and well-decorated tournament competitor as well as a published author.

1) Do you feel that modern publications are valuable for the HEMA community? Whether yes or no, can you explain your answer briefly?

Yes, absolutely.

The defining characteristic of HEMA, we could argue, is practice derived from a written source. However learning a martial art from an ancient book is inherently difficult.

Modern publications are an indispensable means of transferring knowledge from those texts and into people. I can’t envisage today’s HEMA without modern translations, interpretations and glosses, as well as interpretations in other media such as video. Certainly it wouldn’t have been able to grow and develop as it has.

Obviously there is a risk, that by passing via a modern medium, the old knowledge is distorted rather than clarified. But the beauty of HEMA is that it is open-source. Learning to fight from a centuries-old book may be hard, yet paradoxically this foundation in period sources is also a great strength.

Anyone has the potential to go back and check the sources for themselves, to interpret and reevaluate, and quite organically we have developed a rigorous culture of peer-review.

2) Was there a book that inspired you to become involved in HEMA, or that inspired you to study HEMA more seriously than before?

There are several I could mention, I began learning HEMA with sword and buckler from Marozzo and Manciolino, before beginning rapier from Alfieri and Fabris, but I’m going to say Docciolini.

Although mine and Steve Reich’s translation was published only this year, it was actually one of the first treatises I began reading in depth and translating in part.

Docciolini is notable in teaching two swords as the first discipline after the sword alone. This is a deliberate didactic choice, to clearly illustrate principles which then translate to sword and dagger and other companion weapons, and it really helped me to get to grips with rapier and dagger early on.

3) Can you list between three and five books that you feel are invaluable to your study of HEMA, and say something briefly about why each book is so important to you?

Again I could pick out several, but to limit myself to just a few:

Tom Leoni’s translation of Fabris was first published way back in 2005, and really set the benchmarch in terms of HEMA translations. There is masses of great information in Fabris, and it greatly informs my rapier and dagger fencing especially,

Fabris’ length and complexity can be bewildering to new starters however. Therefore I tend to refer students first to The School of the Sword’s translation of Alfieri, and to Tom’s translation of Giganti’s first book of 1606, which are both more approachable than Fabris.

At The School of the Sword we teach bolognese sword and buckler; but out of Marozzo, the Anonimo Bolognese and Manciolino, only the latter is fully translated into English, therefore Tom’s translation is an immensely useful reference.

Another great resource I often recommend to students is the “Introduction to Rapier” pdf, put out absolutely free by David and Dori Coblentz, a really useful primer.

Finally I would add Giganti’s “lost” second book of 1608. On a personal level of course I was really happy to get the published and solve one of the open questions in fencing historiography, and on a more general level it’s a very important text to place Giganti’s art within it’s social and historical context.

4) Are there any kinds of publications you would like to see become available to the community?

I actually think we are doing quite well in term of translations. More works have been translated into English over the last ten years than in the preceding centuries.

There is a great thirst for interpretations I believe. But speaking personally I’d love to see more discussion and serious consideration of fencing theory, tactics, psychology and pedagogy as specifically applied to HEMA. Until then we can read Zbigniew Czajkowski.