The importance of books 08: Richard Marsden

Image by Thomas Kelley, from

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 Richard Marsden, who is an instructor at the Phoenix Society of Swordsmanship in the USA, 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 they are valuable. The manuscripts are our primary sources, but interpretation is vital on a great deal of them. Furthermore, to answer a question one often has to look at history, multiple sources, and so forth to get an answer. Modern publications often do this legwork for the reader.

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

Yes. Guy Windsor’s original book on the Italian Longsword and Christian Tobler’s book on German Longsword. These books were both meant to interpret and explain the sources and after reading them I became more interested in HEMA and now write my own books that carry on their tradition of taking sources and trying to interpret them.

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?

This is difficult because I own a great many books about HEMA, and I find uses for all of them. However, a list of what I use the most would be…

Tom Leoni – Venetian Rapier (Giganti). Leoni does a fantastic job of explaining the core principles of 17th century Italian rapier and then offers a concise and easy to understand translation of Giganti, who I find the easiest of the masters to digest and model. His book is also inexpensive making it a great starter into HEMA rapier.

Tom Leoni – The Art of Dueling (Fabris). This is another book by Leoni that is invaluable to the HEMA community. While Giganti is simple and easy to understand, Leoni’s translation of Fabris is incredibly thorough. Fabris is not hard to understand, but he has much to say!

Bob Charrette – Arimzare (Fiore). Charrette does a fantastic job of interpreting all of Fiore and fitting it into one book complete with photographs, his own charts and his own interpretations on the sword in one hand. His chart depicting the plays and counters and how they relate is incredibly useful.

Alfred Hutton – Sword and the Centuries (Various). While from the late 19th century, and by no means perfect, Hutton is a forerunner of what we are doing today in HEMA. In writing my own book about HEMA and its context, I was very much following in the footsteps of Hutton’s view of swordsmanship through the ages. His use of anecdotes and his covering of many types of swordsmanship gives readers a colorful, if bias, view of swordsmanship from the middle ages to the modern day.

Myself – Polish Saber (Polish Saber). My own book is useful to me. When I fly about the country or am at home presenting on the Polish Saber, I need my own book to show off pictures, quotes, point out the sources I use and so forth. So, while it may be arrogant to cite my own work, without it I’d have a hard time teaching one of my favorite subjects!

Others – I can go on and on. Keith Farrell’s German Longsword Study Guide companion is the book my guys studying German longsword suggest. Renier van Noort has provided multiple translations about 17th century rapier, all of them worthy additions to a library, Forgeng’s Meyer is a must, and I can go on and on. We live in exciting times when it comes to HEMA and print-media is hardly dead when it comes to rediscovering the lost arts.

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

Yes. Someone needs to translate and release Marozzo’s book and make it readily available.

My own publishing company, Tyrant Industries, will also be tackling old and new material in HEMA as I think we have something to offer the community.