My name is Jonathan Roche. I am a martial artist born in 1972 and currently live on the north coast of NSW, Australia. I have had a lifelong interest in medieval weapons and fighting styles, however, rural Australia is not a recognised centre of learning for that kind of thing.
Growing up on a farm, I had plenty of time and space to devote to archery and horse riding as a teenager. I spent a couple of admittedly not very productive years learning boxing before training in Goju Kai karate for most of my twenties. Multiple moves over the next decade or so caused my training to go in different directions. I spent a number of years practicing Aikido, mastering locks, throws and staff. I spent some time working in a stables, improving my horsemanship skills. I also studied Iaido giving me a healthy understanding of handling very sharp blades at high speed. Finally settling down, I returned to karate where I hold a third dan.
I came upon Fiore dei Liberi’s book, Fior di Battaglia, via the work of Guy Windsor. I was instantly struck by not only the beauty of the illustrations, but even moreso, the systematic layout and its absolute pragmatism. I found it the most compelling martial arts manual I have ever seen.
Because it covers so many different weapons systems, armizare is very much based on the application of fairly basic principles to a wide variety of situations. With a solid understanding of mechanics, distancing, angles and timing, learning drill sets was simple for me, but what I wanted was a better understanding of how they all tied into the system as a whole.
While I could find translations, and I could find explanations for a lot of the plays, what I wanted was both of those things in the same place. Also, I found that different translations, while obviously broadly the same, were also different enough to pique my interest as to what the actual intention of the passage was.
This project was born out of the desire to understand the source document and know its pragmatics and functionality.
What surprised me most about this style is how much grappling armizare contains. Out of the 229 individual plays in this system, 155 of them involve grabbing, pulling, pushing, kicking, binding, throwing or otherwise physically manipulating the opponent themselves. It constitutes fully two thirds of armizare, something which I don’t feel is fully expressed in modern applications for various reasons.
A further delightful benefit of the translation process was getting a sense of the voice of Fiore as a person. Ultimately he reminds me of a number of older, harder martial artists I have met. Six hundred years after his death, he strikes me as a man who was respectful, had a fairly blunt sense of humour, valued function over style, loved a good fight just for the thrill of it, and was not to be taken lightly. We might not have been the best of friends, but we could have had a few good laughs.