I was recently given a copy of the new publication The Art of Fencing: The Forgotten Discourse of Camillo Palladini to read and review. Although rapier is not my main area of expertise, I have read (and edited and published!) several rapier treatises, and I find the history of the discipline quite fascinating.
This is a particularly nice-looking and nice-feeling book, and is well worth adding to your bookshelf.
This review: motivation and transparency
The publishers asked if I would read the book and review it if they sent me a copy, and so this is my review of the work. In situations like this, if my review highlights a number of problems or issues, I tend not to post it online and instead send it directly to the publishers or manufacturers so that we can use it to start a discussion about improving the item; typically, I will only post the review online if I think the item is good enough to merit a public review.
I am posting this review online because I genuinely think that this is a lovely book and I would like to see more people read it and work with it in their training.
The first thing you notice about this book is the book itself: it is large, colourful, and a hardback. It is definitely a “luxury” publication to enjoy rather than a cheap and cheerful training manual to keep in your gear bag. The RRP is £55 on the publisher’s website, and this seems quite reasonable for a luxury hardback in colour.
In terms of falling into this category, the book stands neatly beside the Book of Lessons by Rob Runacres and The Proper-Description of Thrust Fencing with the Single Rapier by Reinier van Noort and Jan Schäfer, both of which are also luxury, colourful hardbacks (published through Fallen Rook Publishing). Having these three volumes on your bookshelf would certainly be the start of a lovely collection of stunning reproductions of interesting and pretty original treatises!
The Art of Fencing was published by the Royal Armouries and was translated by Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon. The production value is high, and the quality of the translation is perfectly accessible to someone like myself who does not speak Italian. It is clear that this translation team has had some prior experience of doing this sort of thing! One of my personal bug-bears is the standard of editing in books, and I am delighted to report that this book read smoothly and without the annoying errors that appear when there has been insufficient editing; the publishers have done a good job to ensure that the text reads well.
The illustrations have been reproduced clearly and in colour. Entire pages are devoted to reproducing the illustrations, making the details of each image clear and visible. One of the interesting things about the original treatise that is reproduced in this book is that the illustrations were drawn in reddish chalk, making it visually quite striking and unusual.
Each illustration also shows the original text that was present beside the drawing. A transcription of this text appears in a modern font beside the modern translation, making it easy to see the steps taken by the translators to reach their results. There is not a huge amount of text beside each image, which does make it easier to present both the transcription and the translation together! Not all reproductions have this luxury due to the choices made by the original authors and book producers in centuries past, but it is nice when a modern work is able to show each part of the process like this.
The choice of font and presentation of the modern written text makes it easy to read while also looking attractive and not too generic. Again, this justifies the choice of making this book as a luxury publication, and helps to make the price tag seem worthwhile.
My ability to comment on the validity and intelligence of the fencing instructions themselves is not what it could be, because rapier is not my area of expertise. However, I do know enough to have a good idea of the theories of rapier fencing (being the editor in chief for Fallen Rook Publishing means that I have read and edited several rapier publications so far!) and so I was able to consider the instructions to at least some extent. The lessons seem fairly sensible and the fencing advice makes sense. I might struggle to make a rapier curriculum out of it myself, but I imagine it would be a great addition to the curricula of more experienced rapier instructors.
For me, one of the areas in which the book shone was in the provision of contextual information about the norms and behaviours around the fencing itself. For example, the original author advised the reader to make sure that the rapier is in good condition and that it can be drawn easily from the scabbard before leaving the house, because it would be terrible to become embroiled in a fight and then to struggle to draw the sword! For the people who studied this material originally, the fencing advice was only part of the matter, just like today escapes and punches are only part of the matter of self-defence in the streets. There are plenty of other skills and preparations that are important so that you may avoid a confrontation at all, or so that if a confrontation must happen, the odds are less against you than they might be otherwise.
I am delighted to have a copy of this book on my shelf, and I am perfectly happy to recommend it to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of rapier fencing in the late 16th century.
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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 teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.