The importance of books 17: Christopher Scott Thompson

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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 Christopher Scott Thompson, who is the founder and an instructor for the Cateran Society in the USA. He is a well-published scholar and 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. I personally find in-depth discussion of the historical and cultural context of a martial art to be far more interesting and informative than straightforward instructional material. This is especially true when I am not planning to study that particular art but I still want to understand something about it. For instance, I probably would never have read any Polish sabre manual if Richard Marsden hadn’t written such an interesting book about that tradition.

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

Indirectly, Sinclair’s Anti-Pugilism. I was in a public library in 1989 or 1990 when I picked up James Logan’s Scottish Gael from 1833. This is a peculiar and not always reliable book, but Logan mentioned some details about Highland broadsword training and I was fascinated. I spent several years trying to track down any info that might still survive on the topic, which led me to Patri Pugliese’s facsimile of Mathewson’s New Method in 1998. That led me to Angelo’s Highland broadsword posters and eventually to all the other Highland broadsword manuals. When I finally read Anti-Pugilism, I immediately recognized it as the source of Logan’s comments. So I eventually found exactly what I was looking for!

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?

I would have to say that HEMA as such doesn’t really mean anything to me. I love swordsmanship from all over the world and I love the culture of Gaelic Scotland (especially the song tradition). I practice Highland broadsword because it combines both of these interests in one, but whether a sword art is HEMA or not has never been of interest to me. Books that have meant a lot to me in my practice of martial arts include:

Sword of No-Sword by John Stevens – this is a biography of the swordsman and artist Yamaoka Tesshu, a personal hero of mine. Tesshu risked his life on several occasions without ever taking the life of an opponent. This mentality can also be found in Highland broadsword, in the concept of “anything but taking the life” as mentioned by MacGregor and Page.

Secrets of the Sword by Baron Cesar de Bazancourt – for the beautiful French prose, the relaxed lifestyle and the mentality of the duel.

Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi – because Musashi understood conflict and how to prevail over an opponent through the intelligent use of strategy.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – because the Stoic philosophy was important to so many warriors in history and because much of it is still helpful in life today.

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

More history, more culture. I’d be much more interested in reading a deep study of the Marxbruder than another longsword manual.