The importance of books 29: Anton Kohutovič

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 Anton Kohutovič, who is a well-known international competitor 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?

I honestly do not know. Of course, the research and the publications of the results are necessary, but sometimes I find new HEMA practitioners to be too lazy to dig into primary sources instead of modern compilations. Sometimes they buy dozens of new HEMA books and they put them immediately to the bookshelf. They lack the hunger which I had when I received microfiches from a library.

Another problem is there are many books about HEMA that I would not recommend to my students. They are just trash. Some books are written by authors who don’t understand fencing at all. A library full of manuscripts or long period of time doing HEMA does not mean your ideas are worth publishing or printing to paper.

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

My first fencing book was Hergsell’s edition of Talhoffer 1467 but it was more harmful than helpful. The real breakthrough for me was Hans-Peter Hils’ and Martin Wierschin’s dissertations. They both helped me enormously. Both aforementioned books are valuable works even today. Without Hils’ list of manuscripts, it would have taken me much more time to track relevant sources for our studies.

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 already mentioned 2 of them in the previous answer but:

Hs. 3227a – glosses are the least important part of the Hausbuch. The most important stuff is everything around them. Unlike other glossators of Lichtenawer, this author was a bit verbose and he left us very important piece to KdF puzzle.

I really appreciate Karl Wassmansdorf’s publications for early HEMA. He wrote a nice critical paper about Hersell’s romantic and amateur view on Talhoffer’s 1467 book and it taught me not to trust anybody. There was another very beneficial book  written by him: Sechs fechtschullen. As a HEMA pioneer, he busted some myths about medieval fencing already in 19th century, but many fencers in late 20th century helped to spread those myths without even knowing about his works.

László Szabó: Fencing and The Master. I know that there are fencers or scholars who think that fencing manuals are the only source of the truth and that they are almost sacred, but I think that every HEMA fencer should know the theory of modern sport fencing. Some fencing principles can be learned after years of mistakes as we did. But why take the harder way when there are teachers who can teach you some important parts of the art of fencing in a very short time?

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

I would extend the last part of the previous answer. I’d like to see more syncretism between modern sport, science (biomechanics) and old sources. We cannot revive real medieval fencing, but we can find the most effective way of fencing based on the original sources. I’d like to read a book where someone tries to unite modern with ancient. If you want to shoot a bow you don’t have to know about rifle shooting but it’s definitely useful to understand the ballistics.

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.