The importance of books 25: Reinier van Noort

Image by Thomas Kelley, from unsplash.com

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 Reinier van Noort, who is a well-known translator, author, fencer and instructor.

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. It is through the publication of translations of historical treatises that HEMA grows beyond the rather restricted group of people who can read period sources in their original language. As such, modern books are a gateway into HEMA for far more people than the original treatises.

For me personally, translations are more interesting than modern books giving interpretations. When I was getting into HEMA, around 2005, there were quite a few interpretations being published, and I bought a number of them. But these books all became rather dated quite rapidly. On the other hand, the translations that were published then, such as Greer’s Thibault and Leoni’s Fabris, are still valuable, sought-after books. Furthermore, not only did interpretations become dated, but also, as I developed my own understanding of fencing, I became much more interested in going directly to the source, i.e. the actual treatises or translations of them, rather than some modern interpretation of these these works.

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

Johannes Georgius Bruchius’s Scherm- ofte Wapen-Konste was the single most important treatise for how I developed as a practitioner of HEMA. Before 2009, I studied longsword. During that time, somebody posted a link to Bruchius on a forum. It being a Dutch source, I took a look and it was rather disappointing. I remember seeing amateurish plates, rapier fencing, etc. But then, in October 2009, I decided to make an English translation of Bruchius’s treatise so that somebody else somewhere would hopefully work with it and bring it back to life. As I was making this (rather rough) translation, I became enamoured with the work and the style of fencing it described. Even the plates no longer looked amateurish to me. That same year, I read as many rapier translations as I could find (in particular Fabris and Thibault), and in January 2010 I started studying rapier fencing with a friend.

Through Bruchius, I started focusing on fencing with the single rapier, and I started making translations of texts I wanted to read.

Paulus Hector Mair’s 16 lessons on sickle fencing was in many ways a stepping stone towards this, and his work deserves to be mentioned here.

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?

1) Bruchius’s Scherm- ofte Wapen-Konste – I think the reasons why are nicely outlined above. In addition, the structure of Bruchius’s work helped a lot in getting started, as the work provides 212 lessons to start and experiment with, making class preparation relatively easy.

2) Fabris’s Lo Schermo – it is one of the clearest, most expansive treatises on rapier fencing there is, and described a beautiful style of fencing. Nearly every time I read a part of Fabris’s work, I learn something new or gain a new insight. In addition, Mscr. Dresd. C13 is very interesting to me, as it describes Fabris’s style, but was written down in 1671, giving a slightly changed view as the style evolved.

3) Various other, mainly German, works of the 17th century have also had an impact on my understanding of fencing. For example, L’Ange describes the parries quite well (Bruchius does not), and he has a bunch of fun grapples; and I am currently working with Henning a lot and really enjoying that. And of course there is Thibault. One day I will come back to that…

4) The Book of Martial Power by Steven Pearlman – I need to re-read this, really, as I cannot really remember what is in it. I do remember that it connected well with the view on fighting and mechanics that I got through training Kadochnikov Systema, which in turn helped me learn to analyse and better understand fencing situations.

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

I would like to see more high-quality translations, and modern editions (with good copies of the plates etc), making more sources better available to be enjoyed and learned from. We have this amazing diversity of sources, spanning so many views over so many centuries and places, which is really unique. I love seeing this represented in the modern practice of HEMA as well.

Books giving modern interpretations are less interesting to me, but such books could help grow HEMA further – I think there is a need for them.

Finally, personally I am interested in seeing more works on the history around HEMA: Who exactly were the masters? How did they live? How much did they interact? How did they practice; how did they fight? Etc.