Review of “Art of the Borderland”

Art of the Borderland: Saber Fencing of Hungary. Image from the Regenyei Armory website.

Art of the Borderland: Saber Fencing of Hungary is a hardback book that was self-published in November 2015, with assistance by Regenyei Armory. The authorial team includes Schunder László, Papp Norbert, and Ferenczi Attila.

On a first glance, the book has a high production value, and is aesthetically pleasing. The artwork is excellent and the inside pages are printed in colour.

The photos of fencers performing the movements as sequences are good. They show the steps in the sequence clearly, and I quite enjoyed the final illustration in sequences where the photos were replaced by line art showing the techniques making contact with the target!

The photos of stances and footwork were a little less useful, as there were no points of reference, so the visual difference between a closed or open stance (or a step with this leg or that leg) was sometimes hard to see.

The book is presented in two languages, Hungarian and English. These are usually in two columns, side by side, although sometimes the Hungarian is presented on one page and the English on the next. The quality of the English is unfortunately not great, and can be quite hard to read in places. The consistency of the spelling is also sometimes a bit off, with both “sabre” and “saber” in use, sometimes even on the same page. The book would have benefitted immensely from a round of proofreading from a native or fluent speaker of English.

This was really quite a problem, unfortunately, and some pages were very difficult to understand due to the written English. I realise it is all too easy to criticise the quality of another person’s translation, and it’s also somewhat hypocritical to do so if I lack the skill to produce a meaningful amount of text in another person’s language. However, I do offer my services as an editor or proofreader for exactly this reason, to help people clean up the written English in their publications, and I’m often happy to do this for just a copy of the book or article at the end of the process. So my criticism is accompanied by the offer of a potential solution with which I am willing to help.

In terms of the level at which the book is pitched, I suggest it is probably best for beginners, or people with a general interest in Hungarian history at the time. It does not go into enough depth on any one point to be entirely satisfying to a more experienced practitioner or researcher, but it is not a bad starting place for someone who does not have such experience and knowledge already.

In conclusion, it is worth purchasing if you are interested in the history of the wars of Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the fighting systems used at that time. It is probably better suited for less experienced fencers and researchers, for whom it may provide some useful information presented in a reasonably intuitive way, but the material may be a little too basic for a more advanced practitioner or researcher. The aesthetics of the book are quite appealing, but the quality of the written English makes it unfortunately difficult to read in places.

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 have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.