Barefooted and naked of breast,Kuòān Shīyuǎn (11th century)
I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.
I, James Hester, having dedicated my life to the study and practice of the sword, and out of a desire to test and improve my knowledge of the art, do hereby declare my undertaking of a passage of arms at Château de Castelnaud, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, France, from the 15th through the 16th of September in the year 2018.
I therefore invite challengers to face me in an exchange of blows in light armour with the longsword.
For those of you who might be interested in learning a bit more about some of the things I’ve been picking at in my PhD for the last two years, I shall be giving a talk at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford later this month.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Prior to my career studying early arms and fencing, I had spent years writing and performing stage fights for plays and several Renaissance festivals throughout New England. Gradually, I met more and more people who were involved with the more historical side of things, and found my way into that world. But teaching and performing stage combat remains a passion for me.
Generally speaking, a stage fight will never be the same as a real fight (by which I mean one where you’re actually trying to hit the other person, rather than just pretending to). They tend to involve, and need, very different things. A stage fight must be entertaining and engaging for the audience, reasonably easy to follow, be safe for all participants, and somehow contribute to furthering the story that’s being told. A real fight is under no obligation to be any of these, and frequently is none of them.
Over the years, however, I have had some luck combining the two in productions with good effect. I shall tell you now of my favourite case. Continue reading “Stage Combat versus Historical Combat: The Tale of a Marriage of Equals”
Last weekend I had the privilege to be assisting fellow fencing scholar-practitioner Guy Windsor in beginning a massive undertaking to digitise the extensive collection of early fencing treatises held at the National Fencing Museum in Worcestershire. The collection of manuscripts and printed books includes some of the most iconic works dating back to the sixteenth century. We got a fair bit done in three days, but there is much more work to do, so stay tuned for updates on this ongoing project.
Imagine my surprise to discover that the video my recent talk at the 2016 International Medieval Conference in Leeds has appeared on the renowned Medievalists.net, a site that gathers news and articles related to the study of the Middle Ages. What an honour!
Acta Periodica Duellatorum organised a session at the 2016 International Medieval Congress at Leeds this year, entitled ‘Historical European Martial Arts Studies II: The Art of Fighting in Context’, at which I had been invited to present by organiser and fellow scholar-practitioner Daniel Jaquet.
Entitled ‘Depictions of Combat in Medieval Art: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, my talk explored some of the initial findings of my PhD research concerning the way in which combatants are portrayed in medieval artwork of various media. I examined the ways in which the weapons were being held, both in attack and preparation for an attack, and the patterns that have begun to emerge as the data set of visual sources are examined as a whole. I then looked at how the depictions in these works of art compare to the way that combatants are depicted in the fencing treatises. Although a very stats-heavy presentation, it was generally well received.
Today I delivered a lecture at the 51st International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The session was organised by the Societas Johannis Higginsis, and was entitled ‘”Can These Bones Come to Life?”: Insights from Re-construction, Re-ennactment, and Re-creation’.
My paper, ‘Extant Damage on Late Medieval Edged Weapons and Armours: Initial Findings and Interpretations’, showcased some of my initial discoveries from the object examinations I am conducting as part of my PhD research. I identified some of the types of damage discovered on pieces of arms and armour, and also some of the trends that are beginning to become apparent when they are compared.
Earlier this summer, I was honoured and delighted to have been awarded the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust Studentship to pursue a PhD in History, focusing on late medieval edged weapons, at the University of Southampton in the UK.
While this means that, unfortunately, I will be suspending teaching classes as The School of Mars for now, I look forward to possibly offering workshops and lectures in the UK and the US in the coming years.