The importance of books 28: Michela D’Orlando

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 Michela D’Orlando, who is a well-known competitor.

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

I enjoy reading the sources and I do it often but I find it very difficult to translate the written text in sword in hand actions. Everything that can help me speeding in up this slow (for me) process, is precious. The sources were written by and for people of distant centuries so it’s really useful for me to have the same information re-written and re-organized with a more modern approach for a contemporary audience. Research is an ongoing process and our understanding of the sources broadens and changes, so publications may become updated but it’s both the frustration and the exciting side of dealing with historical European martial arts. As long as new books keep being published, we can all keep up to date with the latest interpretation of the sources and the understanding of their context.

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

I took up HEMA as research for writing fiction so I can say that all the books inspired me! Seriously though, a publication that really helped me out’s been the German Longsword Study Guide that you wrote with Alex Bourdas and no, I’m not saying it because this is for your blog. I was still studying Fiore at the time the book was published but since I had just started doing a bit of German Longsword as part of a study group, I was invited to a German longsword week-end workshop aimed to students of the Liechtenauer tradition. Worried I wasn’t going to understand enough, I borrowed the book from a friend, binge read it before the week-end and then immediately ordered my own copy. It gave me the overview of the system that I was lacking and I headed off to my Liechtenauer week-end much more aware of what we were talking about. Since I later switched to German longsword as my main system, I’ve read the book again many times and I still keep going back to it. It’s what I recommend to all beginners interested in Liechtenauer. It really helps navigating the system and understanding why sometimes there are different interpretations to specific techniques, contains an English translation of the Zettel, a glossary. It’s a really good resource.

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?

Apart from the German Longsword Study Guide, I would mention Medieval Wrestling by Jessica Finley, the Medieval Longsword books on Fiore by Guy Windsor and the latest (I believe) edition of The Art Of Combat, translated by Jeffrey L. Forgeng.

Finley’s book about Ott’s wrestling was my first book on the subject and it really made me dig historical wrestling more. While I train in traditional Japanese Jujitsu, I have no ringen class available to attend where I live so I have to pick up historical techniques directly from the sources or at workshops. Finley’s book’s well written and presented and while I find it easier to focus on the similarities between Jujitsu and ringen, it’s very important for me to know where the differences are as well, what makes historical wrestling historical. Such a clear, well organized book does the job for me.

The Fiore Longsword book by Guy Windsor reminds me that, while my favourite style remains Liechtenauer, longsword is not just German longsword. I started fencing learning Italian longsword and I’m still interested in it, as I am in all the longsword sources, really. I’m not a purist when it comes to fencing masters, I’m a fan of whatever works, whoever put it black on white. Guy Windsor’s books are good containers of Fiore techniques presented in a more modern way.

Counting the presentation of the original sources in a modern publication among these books, The Art Of Combat translated by Forgeng is my favourite one at the moment. I first wanted it and liked it because of the dussack section, but the more I dig it, the more I’m liking the longsword section as well, in fact it keeps giving me a Meyer itch to scratch that I can’t ignore. It’s a beautiful and complete edition of the original book.

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

Yes there are. I would really appreciate a modern presentation of Meyer’s system and a book all about I.33. For longsword, in particular, I would like to see books about specific fencing techniques and actions as found in different sources and with the addition of drills to get to grips with these techniques. I think there are now instructors out there with the knowledge and the experience to write this kind of modern publications. I’d read them.

On a less academical and less serious note, I read a lot of autobiographies and I would love to read the first HEMA one. Maybe I’ll write it myself one day, name names, you know? I always joke about how HEMA drama will make me rich one day when I’ll publish “HEMA The Dirt”. 🙂