How Rules Influence the Art You Practice
Duello was founded on two tenets: Proper Arms and Proper Respect. The goal of these principles was to provide a guiding light and a governor for the way we pursue and practice our art to help us do so more authentically. Our goal was to get as close to the martial art of the Renaissance and Middle Ages as possible—without actually killing anyone.
Working from historical fighting manuals does not, in itself, create authentic practice. It’s very easy to recreate plays on a page and recite theory without ever grasping the vibrant and fluid events they come from.
Images and actions presented by historical masters are exemplars. They show a view of the art in a particular setting and context, not the art itself. If you want to truly touch an art you have to be practicing it on a more internalized level. You need to live within the context of the original art as much as possible.
The more you can connect with the true tools of the art and its true purpose, the closer your practice will come. Then you will find that examples coming from your own practice may more closely match those of historical masters. The manuals can then serve as a confirmation that you are on the right track, and a litmus test for the flaws. This is where the tenets come in.
Always use the most accurate simulators of the weapons and armour for the martial art you are practicing. The weapon is your first teacher. Only through understanding how a sword truly moves and responds will you be able to conceive of the art that wields it. The techniques of the modern Olympic épée are not best for the rapier; the techniques practiced with the Kendo bamboo shinai are quite different from those practiced with the sharpened steel katana, even though they come from the same origin.
Respect the deadliness of the weapons and the deadliness of an opponent who uses proper technique. Though we practice and compete with blunted blades and do body-to-body work with control and care, it is important to always maintain awareness that the real weapon is sharp and contact with your opponent may be potentially deadly. Unfortunately, when you begin to see your weapon as a point-scoring stick, you will stop practicing a martial art and simply be playing a game.
Ancient books and drawings are fantastic sources for knowledge, inspiration, and a reflection of how people truly lived and died by the sword. Yet we must work both in and away from these sources to breath new life into our art. If we only recreate the page, and allow ourselves to be overly constricted in our exploration, it will remain dead. As revivalists we make choices about the art that we bring to life. Personally, I want to keep the martial authenticity of the art alive, so these tenets are essential to my practice.
Art that is Practiced is Truly Alive
Many set different rules and governors around their practice with different goals and aims. These rules change the art that is practiced. The further they are from the rules of the past, the further the art will be. This does not mean the art that they create is any more or less valid. it’s simply different. Though it may not reflect the art of the past, it is alive nonetheless. I think that in itself is extremely valuable.
So in your martial practice consider the goals of your practice and exploration of art. Then consider the context where you truly apply that art and the rules that govern it. These may be more impactful than any teacher or source you are working with.