1) You co-wrote a book with Ilias Stypas and we published it in 2017, the Theoretical and Applied Introduction to Swordsmanship originally by Philipp Müller. Can you tell us a little about this book?
Philipp Müller’s treatise is one of the few written in the Greek language. This was the main reason that urged us to make an English translation.
It all started a few years back when I saw an original copy in a friend’s library. I had the chance to read it and realised that it was something worthy of making it available at a wider public.
It was written in 1847 during the reign of the Bavarian king Otto, by a Bavarian military officer and ex-fencing teacher in the royal military officers’ school. In fact, king Otto is a patron of the treatise.
The book is entirely dedicated to sabre. It is very informative on the various aspects of fencing with it, from how to choose a good blade, to code of conduct in the sala, and many more. It is organised into lessons and I would like to say that it is a complete treatise on the weapon on its entirety, but I am afraid I cannot, due to the absence of thrusting.
Nevertheless is one of the few treatises on a single weapon of the time, with so much information and pretty clear pedagogy. Obviously it is based on German sabre fencing of the era, and as stated by the author himself, he is very much influenced by the writings of Friedrich Christian Christmann.
2) There are lots of different sabre systems available for people to study. What makes this book and system interesting and unique?
I think that it is a book that not only presents a complete system (well, except the thrusting) but it also presents a pedagogy: a way to teach it.
Furthermore it has a lot of useful information and advice, for example mounting and choosing a good blade, how to fence against left-handers (advice for the left-handers too), against the unskilled, how to perform in the assault, advice on teaching, etc. It is a treatise that you can rely on almost completely. Just add a bit of smallsword for the thrusting!
3) What sort of sabres would people have been using when training this system?
Müller definitely suggests curved sabres. In his images and in his text, he is totally in favour of the curved weapon because of its cutting ability.
He does not give any instruction on specifications, although he writes that the length of the blade depends on the physique of the fencer and his type of service (infantry or cavalry) . His “marketing” crowd is clearly the military. He also advises against the blades made of lead, as they bend and break too easily.
4) Quite recently, you wrote an article about this system of sabre-fencing, and the article was published in the latest volume of the Acta Periodica Duellatorum journal. Can you tell us a little about that article, and where people might be able to find it to read?
It is an article I had the honour to contribute to the first thematic issue of APD: Sabre and duelling (Vol. 6-Issue 2, 2018). The published version will soon be available at the APD website and the online version will follow.
The whole article, besides some basic information about the curved blades in the Greek territory since antiquity, is a brief overview which focus on Philipp Müller’s (1847) and Nikolaos Pyrgos’s (1872) treatises. Pyrgos’s treatise is not focused only on sabre – actually the sabre section is a lot smaller – but is a treatise about foil (smallsword?) and sabre together. It’s main difference, besides that, compared to Müller’s treatise is that Pyrgos is oriented more towards the “sporty” side of fencing instead of the duelling or military use of Müller.
5) Has your understanding or interpretation of this system changed at all since you co-wrote the book and published it with us? If there have been any changes, can you say what they were and how they came about?
Translating a treatise is a big step towards the deeper understanding of it. Although I am not a sabre aficionado, I prefer to stab people than cut them -of course in a friendly way! – working at this level with a sabre treatise gave me an understanding of the weapon and its use during this time which I could have never obtained by just reading the source.
Theoretical and Applied Introduction to Swordsmanship is now available with a 10% discount for the rest of this week:
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.