If you just want to get into the evaluation of the translation, scroll on down to the EVALUATION section below. If you want the summary conclusion of my review, you can scroll on down to CONCLUSION. You can always scroll back up here to read the rest later.
This post is a partial review of Manuel Lozano’s translation of Compendio de los fundamentos de la verdadera destreza y filosofía de las armas – or Compendium of the Fundamentals of the True Skill and Philosophy of Arms by Francisco Antonio de Ettenhard y Abarca. It is a partial review because I did not read the translation in its entirety. The reasons for this will be detailed in the EVALUATION section of this post.
Any non-Spanish-speaking practitioner of la verdadera destreza is keenly aware of the lack of translated materials, and has very good reason to get excited when translations are announced. Ettenhard is a concentrated source of destreza fundamentals, and while parts of the Compendio are freely available as translated by Dr Mary Curtis, the more translations we have, the better off we are: each translator approaches a work with their own personal experiences and contexts, and the choices each translator makes can inform the reader and illuminate details and nuances in the original that might otherwise remain unnoticed.
This, however, is entirely contingent upon the quality of the translation. While I have no desire to make less of Mr Lozano’s efforts, this translation has significant flaws and cannot be relied upon by a non-Spanish speaker to transmit the Compendio unharmed.
I grew up bilingual in Mexican Spanish, which is roughly as close to Castilian as American English to British. I am a writer and editor in English and Spanish and have over twenty years of editorial experience across a broad range of industries. I have around five years of HEMA experience, four of those with destreza. I am currently an instructor with the Brisbane School of Iberian Swordsmanship.
I present below four examples illustrating why the whole of the translation cannot be relied upon for study. The first three examples come from my first day with the book. In these three cases, I started reading a passage, found issues with the English, and consulted a reproduction of the original Compendio to determine whether the issue stemmed from irregularities in the Spanish, or if they arose from something else. For the fourth example, I intentionally sought out a section included in Dr Mary Curtis’ openly available partial translation of the Compendio to cross-check my own translation work. While I only present four examples here, I want to make it clear that I did a number of other spot-checks through the translation and came across similar problems the vast majority of the time — so much so that I cannot recommend this translation for study, even if approached with significant caution.
- Each example starts with a reference to the section in question.
- The original Spanish (transcribed from the openly available PDF scan of Compendio) then appears in red.
- Mr Lozano’s translation appears in blue, transcribed from a hard copy of his book.
- My translation appears in green. I note here that anything appearing in square brackets is material that I add for clarification. In some cases, I explicitly note the understood subject of a phrase; in others, I add information that would be the sort of thing you’d put in a footnote.
- Dr Curtis’ translation appears in orange, copy-pasted from her work available online.
- After each excerpt, I add my notes regarding the problems with Lozano’s translation.
Preface, second paragraph and (1) – (3) [unnumbered page in translation | PDF page 33-4, non-italic section on left of 33 and right of 34]
Las Glorias de la espada (a quien como a más propia imagen de Marte dieron Culto, y adoración los Scytas) (1) la Estimación, y antigüedad de la Destreza (a que atendieron los Persas  de que usaron las más cultas Repúblicas de Grecia  y fue particular estudio de los Romanos)
The Glories of the Sword (to whom since to more proper image of Mars gave cult and adoration by the (Scytas);
(1) the Estimation and Antiquity of the Skill to who heeded the Persians,
(2) that used the most cultured Republics of Greece,
(3) and was a particular study of the Romans).
The glories of the sword (to which the Scythians gave worship and adoration, as the most appropriate representation of Mars), (1) the esteem and antiquity of the skill [at arms] (to which the Persians paid close attention to (2), that the most cultured republics of Greece used, (3) and was the subject of acute study by the Romans)…
Before we address the translation itself, the English here is ungrammatical and incorrect. “…[T]o whom since to more proper image of Mars gave cult and adoration…”, while not necessarily containing any information about performing destreza, is meaningless, and this kind of error appears throughout the translation.
Additionally, there are some serious faults of Spanish grammar comprehension here, generally in the realm of subject/object identity, relation, and agreement. If the Spanish is not properly understood, there is little hope of translating its meaning correctly into English. The structure of the original Spanish is quite tortured (and we only get to the proper subject of the sentence at (4)), but it is decipherable. This kind of fundamental grammatical fault is deeply problematic. It’s the LVD equivalent of the difference between “dog bites man” and “man bites dog”. This kind of ambiguity renders the text highly unreliable as a source for learning or teaching.
Preface, line (6) [unnumbered page in translation | PDF page 34, non-italic section on right of page]
(6) fue tan necesaria la segunda, que sin ella, ni el Valor fuera Virtud, ni la Bizarría dexara de ser Temeridad
(6) the second one was so necessary, that without it neither the value would be a virtue, neither the Bizarria would cease to be reckless.
(6) the second being so necessary, that without it, neither valour would be a virtue, nor would gallantry cease being foolhardy.
Mr Lozano has mistranslated Valor as value, not valour/bravery. An easy initial mistake to make, but the context makes the correct word choice clear. This kind of error should not appear in a published final work.
He left Bizarria completely untranslated, as if it were a place name or similar. It’s not a common word, but it’s certainly not archaic or out of modern use. This is also problematic for a book that is a published final work, and not released for free.
Fourth Treatise, first paragraph [page 42 in translation | PDF page 174]
De la declaración de las disposiciones, por donde se logran con perfección los Medios Proporcionados.
Tres convenientes Disposiciones ay, por donde se logra el acierto en la elección del Medio Proporcionado, que son el Ángulo Recto, el Atajo, y el Movimiento de Conclusión, ayudándose el uno al otro, con admirable conformidad, y conveniencia: Y asi tratare de lo que cada uno toca, y haré todas las prevenciones, y advertencias que más al propio me parecieren, para la más fácil inteligencia de lo que tratare.
Of the Declaration of the Disposition from Where The Perfection of the Fighting Measure is Obtained
There are three convenient dispositions by which one can obtain success in the selection of the Medio de Proporción (Fighting Measure); and they are the Angulo Recto (Straight Angle), the Atajo (Engagement), and the Movimiento de Conclusión (Concluding Movement or Finishing Technique).
Assisting one another with admirable and conformity and convenience; I shall treat all preventions and warnings close to my purpose for the easy intelligence of what is treated and because it has already…
On the declaration of the dispositions through which the Proportionate Measures [this is Dr Curtis' English standardisation of Medios Proporcionados] can be achieved with perfection.
There are three expedient dispositions through which success is achieved in the selection of the Proportionate Measure (Medio Proporcionado), which are the Angulo Recto (the right angle), the Atajo (a specific form of subjection), and the Movimiento de Conclusión (Conclusion), each one assisting the other with admirable agreement and appropriateness. Thus I will discuss what each one involves, and I will offer all the warnings and caveats that seem most appropriate to me, for the easier understanding of what I will describe.
Medio de Proporción (called the Fighting Measure in the body of Mr Lozano’s translation) is the Defensive Measure (this term is the one Dr Curtis uses; the literal translation would be “Measure of Proportion”) — it is the closest one can get to one’s opponent without being in danger of being struck in a single action. It is usually described as the point at which the opponent’s sword point touches your guard, and no closer. Medio de Proporción is not mentioned anywhere in the original text of this section. Medio Proporcionado (which does appear in the original text of this section, both in the subheader and in the body text), translated literally, is Proportionate Measure or Proportional Measure (Dr Curtis uses Proportionate). It is the distance required for you to strike your opponent given whatever technique you’ve chosen to use (which is likely why Mr Lozano chose to translate the phrase as Fighting Measure). It means you are also in danger of being struck if you’re not in control of your opponent’s weapon. Mr Lozano makes the egregious error of using the wrong phrase (Medio de Proporción) in the first paragraph (though he uses the correct phrase in the section subheader). The original text contains the correct phrase. This is an introduced error. Without having some background in destreza, or the ability to read Spanish, the reader is given incorrect information that they will not necessarily be able to recognise as incorrect. This excerpt is destructive to correct interpretation or practice.
Translating atajo as engagement is problematic because an atajo is a specific kind of subjection. Pacheco notes that an atajo must have three key qualities, and Ettenhard generally agrees: it must be a subjection applied from above, made with greater or equal degrees of strength, and must remove the ability of the opponent to strike you in a single action. Inherent in this is the avoidance of using the blade with the quillons parallel to the ground (fingernails up and fingernails down in destreza terms), which is possible in blade engagement, but never a quality of an atajo. This is a little like translating “Formula 1 car” as “vehicle”; a Formula 1 car is a vehicle, but so is a truck, and a truck would never be allowed to participate in a Formula 1 race.
Mr. Lozano ignores the punctuation of the original. His paragraph break is contrary to the punctuation and general meaning of the text. Where he starts his new paragraph with “Assisting,” that phrase clearly relates back to the three dispositions, as reflected in my translation. This worries me because it reminds me of a bad habit I had early in my translating career. When I would get overwhelmed by the text, or couldn’t disentangle the grammar or structure, I would break things up if I felt I could sort of get things to match up with my preconceived notions. It is clear how destructive this habit is to the actual meaning of the original text.
Chapter IV Second Treatise
De la definición del Compás, y sus Especies
Compás es un movimiento que hace el cuerpo, cuando deja un lugar para ocupar otro: y para mayor claridad, es cierto, que dar un Compás es lo mismo que dar un paso: es género, y tiene cinco especies simples, cuyos nombres son Recto, Curvo, Transversal de Trepidación, y Extraño: Otros dos hay Mixtos, que son el de Trepidación y Extraño, y el de Transversal y Curvo; pero para su declaración, y conocimiento, se necesita de la Demostración del Círculo que se imagina entre los dos Combatientes…
Of the Definition of the Compas and its Kinds
Compas (footwork) is a movement of the body makes to leave one space and occupy another and for major clarity; it is true that to execute footwork is the same as stepping. There are five simple types of Compases (footwork), they are Recto (straight), Curvo (curved), Transversal (transversal), Trepidacion (sideways), and Extrano (there are two types of extrano, moving the forward foot back past the rear foot and vice versa). There are two mixed (Mixtos) types of footwork, which are Trepidacion with Extrano and Transversal with Curvo. But for its declaration and knowledge it is necessary to demonstrate the imaginary Circle between both combatants…
On the definition of footwork [steps], and their kinds
A [footwork] step is a movement made by the body when it leaves one place to occupy another. To be clear, it is true that to perform footwork is the same as taking a step. It is a class with five simple members, which are Advancing, Curved, Lateral Transverse, and Retreating. There are two other kinds, which are mixed. These are the Lateral Retreating and the Curved Transverse, but to explain them, and for better understanding, the illustration of the Circle imagined between the two Combatants is needed…
Concerning the Definition of the Steps and Their Types.
A Step is a Movement that the body makes when it leaves one place to occupy another, and for greater clarity, it is true that taking a Compás is the same as stepping. This is a category with five simple types, which are the Forward, Curved, Transversal, Lateral, and Backward. There are two other Mixed Steps, the Lateral-Backward Step and the Transversal-Curved Step, but to better explain this footwork, we need the Illustration of the Circle that is imagined between the two Combatants.
Again, there is a misattributed clause in Mr Lozano’s first sentence, separated from the statement it’s meant to modify. And his parenthetical about the extraño/retreating step — this is not in the original text. It’s okay for translators to add their own extrapolations, but they must be clear about what is translation, and what is their own extension; this can be noted in the parenthetical itself, or in a footnote, or in an end note. It just needs to be clear.
I note here again that I found the first three examples by randomly selecting a page in Mr Lozano’s translation. The problems I saw on my initial read were obvious enough that I cross-checked them against a reproduction of the original Compendio. I selected my fourth example not by picking a random page in Mr Lozano’s translation, but by picking an easily findable section of Dr Curtis’ translation: the beginning of a chapter in the second treatise. I had not read that section of Mr Lozano’s translation before selecting that excerpt.
I did attempt to read the book from start to finish and was unable to. The kinds of errors in the examples above exist throughout the work (I’ve done more spot-checks to verify), and the English itself in many places is not correct in the first place. While this would not be a problem for a work made available to the public for free, the high price of this translation of Compendio is not justified by its pervasive flaws.
The translation is frequently inaccurate, and in places entirely incorrect. The English is often unclear and at times incomprehensible. A work like this does more harm than good by forcing the reader to engage in guesswork and creative interpretation instead of being able to follow the relatively clear directions in the original text.
In sum: I cannot recommend Mr Lozano’s translation of Compendio as a text from which to learn destreza, even if approached with significant caution.