A review of Manuel Lozano’s translation of Ettenard’s Compendio

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.

Example 1

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 [2] de que usaron las más cultas Repúblicas de Grecia [3] 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)…


My notes

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.

Example 2

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.


My notes

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.


Example 3

Fourth Treatise, first paragraph [page 42 in translation | PDF page 174]


Tratado Quarto

 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.



Fourth Treatise

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…



Fourth Treatise

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.


My notes

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.

Example 4

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.

My notes

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.

Destreza: Sword and buckler, in Oplosophia

Hello, everyone! It’s been yonks, hasn’t it, but here we are. Today I’m offering a translation of the section in Oplosophia* that discusses the use of the sword and buckler. This is now an old translation that I’ve left largely unedited, so there are potential inaccuracies, and there will certainly be refinements I’ll want to add in future (since I’m currently revisiting Oplosophia). But I wanted to get this out into the world anyway, as raw as it is — keeping these caveats visibly in place. Finally, anything in square brackets [] is my own note (or in a couple of cases below, a footnote).

Modern Spanish translation:

Capítulo Noveno, Libro Tercero (AGEA Edition pg. 204-206)

Cómo usará el Diestro el Broquel cuando hace compañía a la espada, y de los primeros que lo inventaron

Hoy día es tan conocido el uso de la espada y broquel, asi por su liviandad como por la comodidad de que se puede traer más fácilmente, que veo casi olvidado el ejercicio de la espada y rodela, tan propio entre la nación portuguesa; más cómo los costumbres se usaron asi como se apreciaron, y el Broquel se solicita su estimación con los atributos ya referidos, no hay mucho que no se practican tanto las excelencias de la rodela, que siempre fue muy poderoso el costumbre para mudar ante la misma naturaleza: (Supuesto que ya los antiguos practicaban este modo de armas, porque a primera orden dos falanges macedónicos se armaban con escudos Argólicos, que se ven a ser como broqueles, y Eliano [Claudio Eliano] dice que la usanza macedónica trajo a los Romanos los escudos redondos, y las astas o Sarissas se comparan a manera del broquel y estoque, pues aquella se empuñaba con la mano, y a este fue[1] semejante a los botes [como botar, ataque repentino] de las astas mencionadas.) por lo que me parece notar, asi lo en que se distingue el broquel de la rodela cuando se [[tras]?], como la diferencia que hay en las aplicaciones de una y otra arma, para que el Diestro batallando no le cambia los oficios. Las espadas largas, o los estoques, en algún modo son mas propias armas para hacerze compañía al Broquel, por razón de que como anda separado[2] de los pechos, y por esta causa queda el cuerpo casi en cuadro, es conveniente que la espada tenga largueza que supera, o no va a poder con perfección perfilarse el cuerpo para el lado derecho, y poder asi mejor ofender de fuera de los medios ordinarios:

[[Porem] sin embargo?], como la verdad de mis preceptos no se suponen excesos, ni ventajas para lograr los efectos de la Verdadera Destreza, la espada será la común, y el Broquel que acompaña de bastante grandeza, como tener dos palmos de diámetro, porque no lo considero bien que sea demasiadamente grande como para quitar la vista, y de impedir en algunos termos los movimientos de la espada, y se debe ser compuesto de acero, or de madera [[ennervada]?], o de corcho con sus vergas de hierro en las circunferencias; se debe traer con el brazo izquierdo tendido naturalmente, bien empuñado en la mano, con mucha advertencia en el sentido de tacto, y para mayor fortaleza con el dedo pulgar apoyándolo, y tener el Broquel un poco ladeado para que no interrumpe la vista, y para que las estocadas que repare se resbalan a la parte de afuera. Y queriendo impedir algunos golpes contrarios, no serán nunca los movimientos tan grandes que descubren el centro del brazo izquierdo, porque puede el contrario con rapidez convertir las heridas a los partes que vio descubiertos, y todos los golpes se recibirán n la verga de circunferencia del semidiámetro superior, porque este lugar más los resiste, y más devia las espada.

De suerte que[3] asi tendido el Broquel, y siempre en su lugar, guarda más el cuerpo, anda con mayor gracia, y los golpes tienen mas espacioso camino para ofender el contrario; y todavía las heridas que ejecuta la espada en compañía del Broquel son en menos cantidad, se dan con mayor gentileza se nacen de los movimientos remisos de las estocadas naturales, nunca por encima del Broquel, ni obligando que mude el centro con grandes [[desmanchos]strikes? Blows? Undoings?], ni ladeándose con quebrar la muñeca solamente para donde conviene, las estocadas de [[fio] hilo? Cadena?] proceden con facilidad a las estocadas de puño, y son muy provechosas con el Broquel dándose sucesivamente. Lo que domina la espada son los reparos o desvíos por dignidad[4], y todos los demás oficios por acontecimiento. Y generalmente sus aplicaciones serán siempre donde se desagrega a la espada, o del lugar donde se mueve.

Modern English translation:

Chapter Nine, Book Three

How the Diestro shall use the buckler when it accompanies the sword, and on those who first invented it

Today the use of the buckler is very familiar for many reasons, including its lightness and ease of carrying. So much so that I see that the exercise of the rotella is almost forgotten, once well known in Portugal, though there is little in the excellencies of the rotella that is not carried into the use of the buckler, which it seems right for me to note, both in terms of the similarities and differences between the buckler and the rotella, as well as the similarities and differences in their applications, so the Diestro while fighting will not change or mistake techniques. (Given that the ancients already practiced this style of fighting, firstly because two Macedonian phalanxes equipped themselves with Argolic shields, which can be seen to resemble bucklers, and (Claudio) Eliano says that the Macedonian use brought these round shields to the Romans, and the pikes or sarissas can be compared to the bucker and estoc, because the estoc could be held in one hand and offer thrusts like the pikes.) Longer swords, or estocs, are often better company for bucklers, because the buckler must remain distant from the chest, which then causes the body to be almost squared to the opponent. Therefore a longer sword offsets the shortening of reach, because the body while holding a buckler cannot perfectly profile itself against an opponent, and lets the Diestro better offer threat outside of regular measures.

Nevertheless, since my perceptions and thoughts cannot imply excesses or advantages to achieve the effects of LVD, the sword shall be the common one, and its accompanying buckler of fairly large size, at least two palms in diameter[1], but no more; because it is not good for it to be so big that it impedes sight, or certain movements of the sword around it. The buckler should be made of steel, or wood, or of cork edged with steel along its circumference. It should be held with the left harm extended naturally, well gripped in the hand with the thumb supporting it, for greater strength, though not so tightly that the buckler cannot be read by feel. It should be held a little off to the side so as not to impede sight, and so that the thrusts it parries slide off to the outside. And when attempting to parry the opponent’s attacks, the buckler arm should not move so broadly as to leave the center of the left arm uncovered, because the opponent can quickly shift his attacks to those places left unprotected. All blows should be taken along the circumference edge of the upper half of the shield, because this place best resists and deviates the opponent’s sword.

By holding the buckler in this way, and always in its proper place, it will better guard the body, move with greater grace, and the Diestro’s blows will have a more spacious path to threaten the opponent, and though the number of attacks the sword subjects against the opponent are fewer with the buckler, they are given with greater precision and care and arise from the remiss motions of natural thrusts, never given over the buckler, nor obligating it to move from its center by giving great blows, nor leaving it to the side, opening only the wrist to arrive at where the opponent’s sword comes in. The estocadas de hilo[2] proceed easily from the estocadas de puño, and are very advantageous with the buckler when attacking consecutively. What will dominate the sword are the parries or desvios by dignity, and the remaining actions should be responded to on a case by case basis. And generally, the buckler should be applied always where the opponent’s sword breaks contact, or applied to the point from where it moved.

[1] One Portuguese palmo is 22 cm; one Spanish palmo was a little less than 21 cm. That is a big buckler.
[2] Literally, “string thrust” or “chain thrust”. I honestly don’t know what to think here. Does this mean thrusts strung together? How does this proceed from a “punch thrust”, as Tim Rivera has called the estocadas de puño? Requires futher investigation.
* De Figuereido, Diogo Gomes. Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas. 2013 critical edition by Manuel Valle Ortiz and Francisco Castro Nieto, 210-212. Compostela, Spain: AGEA Editora.

Swords, and intermittency

Yeah, it’s been like, forever. But I’m still alive, and around, and still writing and editing and swording and translating.

I hope all of you are well and feeling reasonably successful in your endeavors. I’m still plugging away, feeling like it’s three steps forward and two steps back, but at least I’m making some small headway.

While I’m here — I have yet to receive my copy due to logistical kerfuffles, but I’m eagerly awaiting Tim Rivera’s translation of Godinho’s Art of Fencing! Not only has he translated the text, but he’s also included a lot of additional material, extracting and collecting key points in easily findable ways.

In other news, I presented a taster course workshop on Godinho at Swordplay 2017 which was well-received, and learned a ton from other presenters (including Skye Hilton and Steaphen Fick), and had a lot of (never enough) bouts with fantastic friends old and new.

Somehow, I ended up taking fourth place in mixed medium saber, which was a blast!

At any rate, I’m hoping to finally post up the remaining translations I’ve done of the off-hand weapons in Oplosophia (except dagger) before poking around a bit in other texts, mainly to collect and compare approaches to foundational techniques (atajo, right angle guard and defense, measure of proportion and proportional measure, that sort of thing) and maybe track how things evolve over time. I’ll post excerpts of my translations where appropriate.

Finally, I’m considering setting up a Patreon where folks can pay me per translation. It’ll be a single-fee structure, because I don’t have the time or the organization to supply appropriate bonuses and goodies, and it’ll be per translation and not per month (at least not yet).

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of my new custom Castille Armory hilt.


It’s gorgeous, robust, and changed the balance on my blade for the better. <3


It’s been a while

People reinvent themselves all the time, sometimes willingly, and sometimes not. I try to improve, you know, refine myself as best I can. Some of it’s for selfish reasons — I want more attention, adulation, admiration, but other reasons are more sensible. I want to lessen cognitive load. I want to be more efficient about the things I do and how I do them.

I’m coming to the end of my fortieth year on this earth, and it hasn’t been so much of a reckoning as it’s been a deliberate slowing down. It’s not perfect by any means. I still commit when maybe I shouldn’t, but I’m no longer drowning. I still get angry with myself, but I find more spaces for kindness and forgiveness than I once did, however hard that may be.

I want to come to see this blog as a thing I look forward to. Right now I feel weighed by obligation, and anxious in the face of obligations I feel I can’t possibly comply with, now, or maybe ever. What is usual? What is the norm? Am I imagining a bar to meet that’s entirely fabricated?

And even if it’s real, what’s the need to meet it?

I spent this past weekend at a wonderful game convention, one of the most accepting, friendly, warm, and laid back places I’ve had the privilege to be. How can I bring that forward? How do I let that inform how I treat others, and more importantly, how I treat myself?

That’s the hard part. The hows. The whats feel hard, but it’s easy to get lost in the theoretical and never press on to the practical, made all the more dangerous by feeling like you really are accomplishing something. Synthesis and analysis have their place, but you have to come down from the mountain sometime.

And that’s what I’ve been doing this year, I think. I was astonished and humbled at how many people remembered me, or recognised me, and greeted me warmly, like an old friend. I get so caught up in my own tangled thinking, in constantly worrying whether I’m being kind, compassionate, fair, that I don’t actually see how I manifest in the world. If the actions of these people I admire and trust are to be believed, then I’m doing okay.

The generosity and kindness I experienced today, from people who understand some of the things that I go through, and from people who don’t, but have troubles of their own and know what a gift it is to have patience and show support, is both a gift and a goal. May I remember, when the little voices in my head lie to me, how appreciated I really am, and may I remember to show the same courtesies to those I meet.

Good night.

Organization! Or, how I learn to cobble myself a system.

I have alway been terrible at organizing. I used to think it was a deep character flaw, some horrible persistent weakness of will and manifestation of laziness until my ADHD diagnosis. Now I know it’s neurological.

That does not stop me from wanting to be organized, though. So here’s the thing: what strategies and tools are out there for folks like me who go into brain static lock at the idea of putting things all in a row?

Truth be told, there’s not much, at least not that I’ve found. A lot of suggestions involve post-its or catastrophic decluttering or getting an org-buddy or fancy containers. If you’re like me, though, none of this works — it’s just inert stuff or unrealistic divestiture of goods or more clutter. But there are some things that have drawn my attention; their concepts are appealing, or there’s a subsonic hum of logic that I feel like I can grasp and turn into something more concrete.

From here on, I’ll be tagging certain posts with the term organization, and placing them in the ADHD category. These posts will cover my trial and error approaches to finding things that work for me, and I’ll describe and unpack my reasoning behind these approaches and their underlying decisions.

I admit that I will never be perfect at organizing, and that despite my best efforts, things will fall through the cracks. But that’s okay, because that happens to the best organizers, to the most put-together people. So if you’re hopeless at keeping things together, follow along because I hope there’s something I end up wrestling with that will be helpful to you, too.

High contrast weekend

I participated in my first HEMA event (held at History Alive at Fort Lytton) as a competitor on Saturday, which was loads of fun, despite the cold that was sinking into my sinuses just the night before. I only competed in rapier, and lost far, far more than I won. It was easy to ignore the mild sting of defeat, though, because all the people I fought were smart and friendly and lovely and it was all a very good time.

And it was easy to ignore the mild sting of defeat because I learned A LOT. Like, way a lot, like the kind of a lot that makes me regret not having a notebook to hand at the event because I’m worried I might have forgotten some insights between then and now.

As for that cold: I paid for it today. I feel like I’ve taken a sledgehammer to the temples and the detritus has settled into my lungs. And there’s a sinus misery that I’m just hoping won’t evolve into a full-blown infection.

This was definitely not just allergies.

Anyway, I’m not up to much writing or critical thinking at this very moment, so I’ll leave you with some photos of the event taken by a colleague of mine and posted on Instagram.

Sword & buckler at @historyalive #hahema #hema #sword #buckler #historicalfencing

A photo posted by Swordplay Australia (@swordplayoz) on

Destreza: A little more on the sword and cape in Oplosophia

Today I’m writing with one fewer teeth in my mouth. I mean, I can’t complain; I had something that in technical terms is called a congenitally missing tooth. In other words, I had a baby tooth that never had a grown-up tooth to take its place. So this poor tooth that should have retired when I was like 11 or something totally stepped up to the plate and did its job for another thirty years.

I’m thinking of giving it a Viking funeral.

Anyway, now that the numbness has subsided and the re-emerging pain is back under control, I wanted to bring you just a wee bit more on the sword and cape. When I completed the translations, I had a few important points that stood out in my mind, and perhaps as a form of study I wrote them down in a fairly modern and faintly impertinent variety of modern English. And then I remembered that in the latter parts of Oplosophia*, there’s a section on aphorisms – basically, principles boiled down to single simple sentences. My stuff wasn’t as boiled down as the aphorisms De Figueireido wrote, but I was pretty pleased to see that I’d come reasonably close to what he chose to highlight. Those things that I mentioned that he didn’t are, to me, the sorts of things that would have been obvious in his contemporary context (namely, qualities of a Spanish capa that to us are less than obvious without having a bit of a think).

First I present the Spanish and English translations of the aphorisms (pages 310-11). Then I offer you my take on things. Let me know if you find them useful! Or if you find problems or points of contention! Nothing ever improved without challenge.

Aphorisms – Capa

La capa y espada son las armas con que más de ordinario se encuentra un hombre.
The sword and cape are the arms a man will most frequently encounter.

La capa toma por si los desvíos y deja la espada con los reparos y heridas.
The cape can take desvíos but parries and attacks should be left to the sword.

La capa se hace dando solo en el brazo una vuelta.
The cape is set by giving it just one turn around the arm.

La capa se debe preparar fuera de los medios.
The cape should be readied out of measure.

La mano de la capa ha de quedar descubierta para poder agarrar.
The cape-hand should be left uncovered in order to be able to take hold of the opponent.

Los golpes que se dan con la capa han de ser por encima de ella.
Sword blows should be given over the cape.

Con la capa es muy arriesgado el reparar.
It is very risky to parry with the cape.

Solamente después de sujetar la espada contraria se puede aplicar la capa.
Only once the opponent’s sword is subjected or controlled can one apply the cape directly.

And now, my Oplosophia sword and cape quick-start guide.

  1. Leave the cape on the shoulders. (It’s possible that the cape may come off the right shoulder, and that this is okay.)
  2. Wrap/loop/sweep the cape over the left arm ONLY ONCE.
    1. Make sure you don’t get your elbow tangled up in the cape
    2. Make sure you hold the cape firmly with your thumb
    3. Make sure you don’t let the cape cover the whole of your hand, or you’ll get tangled up in it
  3. Seriously, only turn the cape ONCE. That leaves a longer “tail” which then has a better chance of interfering with the opponent’s sword, and forces the opponent to make larger circles (both with the sword and with footwork).
  4. Prepare the cape OUT OF MEASURE.
  5. Seriously, prepare the cape out of measure. Do not do things with anger or vehemence, ‘cause that stuff gets you KILLED.
  6. Any attack should be made over the cape (the left arm), and during attacks, the cape should stay gathered near the chest. Do it any other way and you risk getting tangled up in your own cape. At best, this causes embarrassment; at worst, DEATH.
  7. DO NOT PARRY with the cape. At best, you can parry an opponent’s sword after it has reached full extension, or possibly execute a deflection.
  8. Seriously, DO NOT PARRY with the cape, because you can get badly hurt if you do. Listen. All those folds in the cape will not stop a dedicated thrust, tajo, or revés. Your arm, all caught up in a cape, is also no match for the speed of an unburdened hand wielding a sword (especially if it’s a skilled hand).

NOTE that numbers 7 & 8 do NOT refer to last-ditch efforts. We all know that sometimes we get into circumstances that demand a dangerous or risky response, one where potential damage to the arm is far better than the alternative with no defensive maneuver at all. Just remember that the cape, in la Verdadera Destreza, cannot parry against significant attacks, since it’s nothing more than an impediment to the sight lines of the opponent, and to the motions of his sword, a deflection against actions that are done with light intent, and a way to implement an atajo for AFTER the subjection of the opponent’s sword by other means.

* De Figuereido, Diogo Gomes. Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas. 2013 critical edition by Manuel Valle Ortiz and Francisco Castro Nieto, 210-212. Compostela, Spain: AGEA Editora.

Destreza: Sword and Cape, in Oplosophia

Hello, everyone! It’s translation time again! Today’s offer is a longer one, a translation of the section in Oplosophia* that discusses the use of the sword and cape.

For those unfamiliar with historical uses of garments as off-hand implements in armed defense, this is totally a thing. Honest. Read on!

Being sick



I mean, sure, it happens to all of us. For me, though, I feel like it happens in flurries. Long stretches of nothing really worrying and then a series of days where things just sort of keep going wrong. Am I having a whinge? Yeah, sure. But humor me.

When I was a kid, sick days were about not doing anything, mainly because I didn’t want to do something. Or anything. When I became a grown-up, that sort of still held true for jobs that made me utterly miserable (and we have all had them at one time or another). On those days that I really was unwell, I was kind of happy to take on feverish, barfy hours of unpleasantness to have the privilege of not being in the office.

Except now I work in a place where I like what I do and I like the people who share the work with me. So now being sick is genuinely inconvenient, and really kind of irritating.

These past few days have been a one-two punch of BLEARGH and I’m really over it now. Honestly and truly.

You know how bad I’m feeling? I skipped out on swording. Gah.

Anyway, that’s why there’s not any nifty new stuff from the world of Oplosophia. Maybe I’ll feel up to tackling a few more paragraphs tomorrow.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves, and may none of you end up with your feelings elegantly represented by a bit of doorjamb graffiti.


Destreza: On the meaning of Oplosophia

So in my vast stretches of spare time (ha), one of the things I do when I’m not actually trying to stab willing practice partners with rapiers is read primary sources. Under various advisements, I’ve chosen to take a look at Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas by Diogo Gomes de Figueireido. You may have noticed that it’s in Portuguese, and that I have not mentioned speaking or reading Portuguese (I am, however, fluent in Spanish and have worked as an editor in that language). Yeah. Apparently I like a challenge. Anyway, one of the first things I wanted to sort out was what the heck oplosophia meant. So I went poking around the interwebs, and all that came up for me was either references to the book itself, or mentions of the term being a hapax legomenona word that only appears once in any given context within a language. So I went hunting for classical language roots. Sophia was clear from other words, like philosophy, but for the life of me I couldn’t find any rendition of oplo* anywhere. And then, after a rapier class where we were all poking around in the book to look at cool stuff, I just happened to flip to the page where Figueireido explains the word and why he invented it. For those of you who want the tl;dr version, the idea is this: sophia is what we’re familiar with — knowledge, wisdom. Oplon appears in words like hoplite and panoply. It means arms. Literally, oplosophia is the wisdom and knowledge of arms. It’s a bit of a shame the word never caught on, ’cause I think it’s actually really cool.

Look at that. Hoplite and panoply.

Look at that. Hoplite and panoply. From etymonline.com


Sure enough, there it is. Oplon, opla. This assumes you can read Greek letters. I can, but only barely. From the Woodhouse Classical Greek reference (click on image for link).

Now, because my main non-English language is Spanish, I took the Middle Portuguese of the original text and shifted it into relatively modern Spanish. After that, I shifted it into relatively modern English. It’s important to note that this is a rough translation; if I were to consider publishing this as part of an actual book, there would be at least two more passes on the text, one of them only after I’d finished reading the entire work. But I figured folks might have fun seeing what I’d teased out of it so far. If you want to read the original, I direct you to the link to the title at the top of the post. It’s available from AGEA Editora, you can buy directly from them, and it is a very thoroughly and excellently edited edition. Well worth the purchase.

Modern Spanish translation:

Capítulo Cuatro [Libro Primero]

De la origen del nombre Oplosofía, y del fruto que se ofrece para aprender la Verdadera Destreza. Porque siempre el instrumento principal de las cosas que se enseñe y se trata es el nombre que le ponen y anima mucho a quienes han de aprender alguna ciencia saber las utilidades que de su doctrina se consiguen y consideran, que sería inadvertencia grande no decir (antes de definir esta ciencia) asi la razón porque la intitulo Oplosofía, como callar los ingresos curiosos de ejercer; por la que considerando la impropiedad de nombres que se les pone, y lo mucho que merece ser conocida por alguno que no reniegue su grandeza, me pareció llamarle Oplosofía, valiéndome para mejor autorizar la composición de esta palabra, la unión y fuerza de estas dos nombres Griegos: Oplon, que quiere decir armas, y Sophos, que significa sabio, o sapiente, que juntos forman el Oplosofía y valen lo mismo que la sapiencia o sabiduría de las armas, imitando de esta tipo o modo de los nombres que los Filósofos antiguos acomodaron con tan propia energía a los mejores y más selectas ciencias: Y porque también no se ignoran los provechos que con esta se granjeó, en primer lugar se sabrá que sirven sus ejemplos, reglas, y preceptos de dar perfección a la naturaleza de excluir los movimientos que no son de ningún fruto; y de liquidar con arte los más necesarios para conseguir su verdad; porque con la Verdadera Destreza (en cuya ciencia concordaran a los más nobles y excelentes) se perfecciona las disposiciones, se afinan los perfiles del cuerpo, y se alcanza como se ha de hacer todas las ofensas sin recibirlas, porque hay una luz que muestra los más seguros caminos para dar consecuencia a los efectos[.]

Modern English translation:

Chapter Four [First Book]

On the origin of the name Oplosophy, and what it offers in the learning of the True Skill. Because the principal instrument of those things that teach and treat a given subject is always the name given them, and greatly encourages those who would learn a particular science to know the uses that its doctrine considers and obtains, that it would be greatly inadvisable to not explain (before defining this science) the reason for selecting the name Oplosophy, and obviate those questions that may arise; considering the impropriety of the names applied to this science, and how very much it deserves to be known by a name that does not deny its greatness, it seemed proper to me to call it Oplosophy, availing myself of the union and strength of two Greek words to better compose this name: Oplon, which means arms, and Sophos, which means sage, or wisdom, which together form Oplosophy and mean the same as the wisdom or knowledge or understanding of arms, imitating this style or method of naming that the ancient Philosophers accommodated with proper vigor the best and most select sciences; And because the advantages gained by this name shall not be ignored, firstly it will demonstrate how its examples, rules, and precepts perfect the nature of excluding those movements that bear no fruit; and avail artfully those that are the most necessary to arrive at its truth; because in the True Skill (which science the most noble and excellent seek to attain) the arrangements are perfected, the profiles of the body refined, and the methods for achieving all the offenses without receiving them in kind are reached, because there is a light that shows the safest paths to grant consequence to these effects[.]