The St. Lawrence Swordfighters Guild is primarily a body of martial artists that study the "lost" combat techniques of the medieval European military tradition. We seek to revive the combat systems of the age by looking to the historical record and doing our best to reverse-engineer any martial aspects that, though not evident, must have been part of the knowledge-base of most fighters of the time.
There is much speculation, supposition, and flights of fancy that populate our modern perceptions of how battle was waged up-close and personal during the Middle Ages. Most of that information is delivered to us through television, movies, and books that are geared towards entertainment and not, necessarily, a reflection of authentic martial concepts.
There are a handful of surviving texts that were written by respected and well-reputed masters of the fighting arts of the medieval period. A good portion of them generally cluster around a 200-year period between 1300 and 1500 AD. Though it does study as much of the existing material as it can, the Guild focuses its training around the manuscripts written by the Medieval Italian Swordsmaster Fiore Furlano de Civida d'Austria delli Liberi da Premariacco (ca. 1350s - 1410s), more commonly known as Fiore dei Liberi.
His masterwork "The Flower of Battle" is, as far as we can tell, a complete combat system that provides a systematic, self-referencing, and simple approach to becoming adept at lethal combat with a wide range of weapons. The manuscript shows techniques using bare-hands, the dagger, the sword, the spear, the poleaxe, and the spear and sword on horseback. Training exclusively using dei Liberi's texts produces a well-rounded and capable warrior - which was likely the purpose of his commissions to create the book.
Becoming skilled in the arts found in the manuscripts is a long and arduous process. It takes many years of diligent study and careful practice to attain the technical, physical, and emotional states required to be an effective, safe, and productive practitioner of these ancient lethal methods.
During that time, there are bumps, bruises, and injuries. Pain is a constant reminder of the danger surrounding this practice. It is not for the faint of heart.
People interested in learning the lost arts of medieval armed combat and joining the Guild should Contact Us to arrange a time when they could come by the Salle (training space) and watch a class. There they can speak to instructors and learn more about the training and the specifics of class times and the availability of space in those classes during sessions. If they are interested in joining, they can enroll as a Novice (see box-out to the right for details on the Member Structure).
Like most martial arts, there is a regular cost for being a training Member of the Guild. The training fees are collected monthly - during the first class of that month - and are currently at $50.00 per month.
This fee includes all requisite reading material, a Guild binder for it, and one uniform T-Shirt - more shirts are available for an additional cost if you want more than one.
At the Novice level, all training equipment is provided (see box-out at right). This allows the Novice to learn the fundamentals of the art without having to make a large financial commitment to start.
Once the Novice has acquired the fundamentals, he or she may test for the rank of Apprentice. If successful, the Novice graduates to the level of Apprentice and may now start to spar in controlled circumstances. The new Apprentice must pay a one-time fee of $50.00 upon their next class in addition to the regular monthly fee.
Upon payment of this additional cost, the Apprentice receives a Guild patch for his or her future gambeson, a large instalment of more advanced reading material, and a wooden rondel training dagger as a symbol of the Apprentice's entry into the Guild as a fighter. The Apprentice also gains a user account on the Guild website and access to the Member areas.
It is at the Apprentice stage that the requirement for equipment takes effect. As a Novice, the basic equipment was provided at no cost but, now that the Apprentice is going to be sparring, safety equipment exclusively for his or her use must be acquired.
The Apprentice can expect to spend roughly $500.00 to $1,000.00 on training equipment over the course of the next year as he or she builds up the necessary equipment to advance further and further into less heavily structured and more dynamic training. There is an ever increasing risk of harm to the participants as the speed and power of techniques grow in order to execute them properly. A lack of protective gear and the proper training equipment can not be allowed.
See the box-out to the right for more information on the required equipment.
A question most often asked of us from potential students (apart from costs) is "How long will it take me to start fighting?" The question is most easily answered with "Longer than you would like."
Though that's not something most people want to hear, learning to swing a steel sword at someone's head while they are swinging one at you with no one getting injured takes a great deal of skill and restraint. These things do not come quickly or easily.
A pupil can expect to move from Novice to Apprentice in roughly three to four months. In order for an Apprentice to gain the necessary skills and control required to successfully test for the rank of Scholar, the time a Member could study while an Apprentice might take upwards of a year. This step, especially, should not be rushed.
Once a Scholar, the student will be much more actively sparring, participating in events and tournaments, and studying the manuscripts in depth. This will likely take several years before he or she can be considered a Journeyman.
After that, the study of these arts becomes much more self-directed and the arc of the Journeyman's career is indeterminate.
The St. Lawrence Swordfighters Guild is based out of Kemptville, Ontario, Canada. It is an ideal location to serve most of Eastern Ontario with southern Ottawa, Kanata, Barrhaven, Manotick, Smiths Falls, Osgoode, Merrickville, Winchester, and Brockville all within about a half-hour's drive. The Guild currently trains at the North Grenville Municipal Centre, located at 285 County Road 44, Kemptville, Ontario. See the map below for directions.
Novice and Apprentice classes run on Thursday nights from 7:00pm to 9:00pm with an optional hour of free time afterwards.
Contact us if you are interested in observing a class.
The entry level of Membership in the Guild. The Novice trains in the fundamentals of the art, focussing on footwork, movement, and basic attacks and covers with hands, dagger, and sword. A good foundation of academic learning takes place at this stage and the complete understanding of that material is essential for advancement. There is no sparring or hard-contact drills at this level, so no protective equipment is needed.
Almost all training equipment for the Novice is provided by the Guild:
All study materials
Wooden Rondel Training Daggers
Wooden "Waster" Training Swords
Safety mats for grappling and throws
There are the following exceptions to the equipment that the Novice must provide for:
Black athletic pants (no shorts)
Non-marking, preferably flat-soled shoes
The Apprentice is the first level of full Membership within the Guild. The Apprentice trains the fundamentals learned as a Novice with much more intensity and uses a concise "toolkit" of basic attacks and covers in sparring and dynamic drills. The Apprentice is tasked with becoming very proficient with these foundation techniques which embody 80% of all fight scenarios encountered in free-play and tournament-style battle.
In order to support the much more uncertain and hazardous sparring and free-play required to learn the techniques and the accompanying concepts of timing, distance, and space, the Apprentice must acquire the following mandatory safety equipment (all of this is not necessary at once, but failure to procure the necessary equipment will slow or stall the Apprentice's studies):
Heavy weight gambeson (padded coat) - approx. $200.00
Fencing mask (3-weapon or sabre) - approx. $100.00
Hard or heavily padded hand protection - approx. $100.00
Hard or heavily padded elbow protection - approx. $50.00
Hard groin protection - approx. $50.00
High-quality steel training sword - approx. $500.00 (not immediately, but soon)
It should be noted that Apprentices are not left on their own to procure this equipment. The Guild has developed relationships with high-quality and reliable suppliers and Apprentices will be able to use those avenues for their equipment.
The Scholar is the rank bestowed upon an Apprentice who challenges the Guild Council and Instructors for the acknowledgement that he or she has reached a level of fluency and sublime control over the "toolkit" of foundation techniques that form the base of all further study. The Scholar-to-be faces a gruelling trial that tests all aspects of his or her knowledge, technical ability, and complete control over his or her body and mind.
Once admitted, the Scholar begins the long journey of complete understanding and mastery of the manuscripts and the Guild's interpretation thereof. This pursuit is accompanied by an intense reflection on the foundations that brought him or her to this point as the Scholar is also an Instructor to the Apprentices and Novices that come after.
The equipment requirements for the Scholar are not as straightforward as those of the Apprentice. With the equipment acquired while an Apprentice, the Scholar is still well served initially. However, to truly master the art, the following items will have to be gained, eventually:
High-quality steel training dagger - approx. $150.00
Hard elbow, forearm, and knee protection - approx. $300.00
The Journeyman is the last official rank of study within the Guild. Once a Journeyman, the Member has a good working knowledge of the manuscripts and is adept at all weapons and techniques displayed in the "Flower of Battle". Though the learning never ends for anyone, the Journeyman now embarks on a pursuit of other interpretations and ideas regarding WMA.
The Journeyman is an independent ambassador of the Guild, trusted to represent it well to other groups as he or she shares ideas. The Journeyman also brings back fresh and new ideas and interpretations to the Guild, expanding and enriching its knowledge.
There are no specific equipment requirements for the Journeyman Members, however, most seek out the full heavy armour of the man-at-arms of the Transitional Period if they seek to gain the next and final stage of Membership.
The Sergeant-At-Arms is the highest order of regular Member within the Guild. This senior Member is a Journeyman that, in addition to mastering the techniques appearing in the manuscripts, has built/acquired the full harness of a 14th century knight and is experienced in its use.
The Guild considers someone who can apply all of the techniques dei Liberi describes both in and out of harness the pinnacle of the modern-day man-at-arms. This person is someone who has a lot to share with the world about what combat might have been like for the medieval fighting man.