The importance of books 07: Jake Priddy

Jake Priddy. Image from the Iron Gate Exhibition website.

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 Jake Priddy, who is an instructor at Body and Blade Swordsmanship in the USA.

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

I think that modern publications (as secondary sources) are invaluable to the HEMA community – especially those produced by well-versed and knowledgeable researchers and practitioners. Historical research can be difficult; it is a highly developed specialized skill. Too many times, the mantra of “going back to the original sources” is lauded to the exclusion of all else. In reality, historiography is often dependent on secondary sources and interpretation to provide context, and amateurs attempting to go back to the originals exclusively leaves a danger of regurgitating bad interpretations, or re-hashing well-plowed ground. Don’t get me wrong – studying the original sources is an important part of HEMA; however, continuous study advances the conversation and keeps modern practitioners apprised of the methods and arguments of others in the field.

Let’s face it, the glosses of Liechtenauer’s Epitome (for example) were themselves technically “secondary sources” at the time they were written. We need both.

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

As much as I hate to admit it – and I realize I’m dating myself here – but the book that got me initially interested in HEMA was John Clements’ 1988 work Medieval Swordsmanship. Consequently, it also happens to be the book that (unintentionally, perhaps) inspired me to question what was then modern HEMA scholarship and to begin a long process of trial and error in figuring things out on my own. In 2001, Christian Tobler wrote Secrets of German Swordsmanship and that got me permanently and irrevocably hooked.

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?

Only three to five? I literally have an entire bookcase dedicated to works on or about HEMA. I’ll really have to narrow it down. Being a KDF practitioner, I’d list these:

1- The Wiktenauer compilation of the Liechtenauer KDF glosses, put together by Michael Chidester. The format is really conducive to study of the primary sources – which IS really important. The translations provided are by excellent researchers and martial artists, like Michael, Cory Winslow, and Christian Trosclair. It is especially nice having the glosses of PPVD, Ringeck and MS 3227a compiled side-by-side for easy reference and comparison.

2- Fighting with the German Longsword, by Christian Tobler. This is actually an updated reprint of his original (mentioned above) is still one of my favorite “go-to” modern interpretations. Tobler’s writing and format is clean, and his illustration examples of techniques are well presented and thoughtful.

3- In St. George’s Name, by Tobler. Taken together with Tobler’s former work, these two form the backbone of my own interpretations of the techniques as laid out by Sigmund Ringeck and Pseudo Peter Von Danzig.

4- The AHA German Longsword Study Guide, by Keith Farrell & Alex Bourdas. This is an invaluable supplement to anyone studying KDF Longsword, cleanly and concisely gathering a lot of information that is important for students to have all in one place. Seemingly simple concepts like grip, footwork, distance and range can be notoriously difficult to coalesce from the sources, and this study guide provides quick and easy access to the “down and dirty” fundamentals of historical swordsmanship.

5- The Medieval Longsword, by Guy Windsor. While Windsor teaches from the standpoint of Il Fior de Battaglia, much of his work is applicable to any style of HEMA swordsmanship, and historical research in general. In particular, everyone should read and re-read his essays on the Why/What/How of Historical Martial Arts as a study, the general principles of swordsmanship, and structure. He also has a very clean, defensible writing style, with good arguments and attention to his evidence that should be modeled by anyone wanting to outline interpretations of the original sources.

I’d list more – A LOT more – but those are the five that if someone who wanted to start learning HEMA tomorrow asked what they needed to read, I would throw these at them and say “Read. And then read again.”

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

I’d be hard pressed to think of any publications that we don’t need, actually. There is always room for more research, deeper understanding, more clarity. There are still plenty of holes in our understanding of a variety of weapons, development, and styles (someone please compile some 17th and 18th c. cutlass/naval sabre for me? Thanks.) I think in the modern age of instantly transferable e-data, there is both a wealth of opportunity to expand our HEMA libraries, and limitless modalities from which to do it. From blogs to E-zines to YouTube video collections, I don’t think it’s so much a matter of the kinds of publications that need to be made available as it is that there is so much out there to plumb in a number of formats. Training, tips, catalogs, reviews of publications and equipment; all these things are out there, but we could use more.

If there is one area in particular that I would say HEMA is somewhat lacking, but ripe for, it’s in pedagogy. We have, as a community, come together so fast and in such a big way that the days of small groups of friends “figuring it out as they go” are numbered. As we progress, it is important that those in the community with the most experience and skill be able to take the next step in really digging into transferring that skill to upcoming fighters. Some have, but mostly it is another stepping stone of trial and error. We need good fencers to learn to be good fencing coaches and teachers, to continue to produce good fencers.



Keith Farrell is one of the senior instructors for the Academy of Historical Arts. He teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events, and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. He has authored "Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick" and the "AHA German Longsword Study Guide", and is one of the regular contributors to the Encased in Steel online blog. He has been a member of HEMAC since 2011, and was awarded a HEMA Scholar Award for Best Instructor for research published in 2013.