I am standing in front of a full-length wall of mirrors, six pounds of dull steel in both hands, and I am repeatedly swinging the metal down and to my right. I lead with the blade and follow with my left foot, changing the stance and allowing me to then swing the blade back up to my shoulder, which in turn places me in my starting position. Swinging down from my left shoulder is awkward. It’s called a false cut because my right hand, which grips the top of the hilt, leads in a backwards manner. This is difficult to describe, but it’s not the intuitive way to swing a sword.
Nevertheless, I repeat the move twenty times until my arm is sore and my wrist aching. I transition to a series of thrusts, lancing the metal out in front with each step as I walk towards my mirror image across the room. Turn, blade ready, repeat. All of these motions have some Italian name that does not sink in yet, but I am fully aware that it sounds righteous when the instructor calls it out.
This is L’Arte D’Armizare de Fiore Dei Liberi, and though I have only been to two classes, I am hooked and in love. I’m 35 years old, and swinging a practice sword around for two hours twice a month is about the most fun I’ve had since I was a kid swinging a tree branch around every day in my backyard. The first time someone wrenched my arm backwards and threw me to the ground, my face hurt more than anything from the smile chiseled on to it.
Armizare (I’ll refer to the long name as that from here on), is based on the work of a 14th century Italian swordmaster and wrestler named Fiore Dei Liberi. At some point, he was commissioned to write down all that he knew, and the resulting work was a manuscript that modern martial arts masters found and translated into something that could be put into motion. This isn’t LARPing. This isn’t Renaissance Faire jousting. This is a representation of a real-world combat style that men were using in the middle ages to kill one another in duels. Fiore was allegedly the best of his age, and while his teachings are now used as a hobby for bored middle-aged men, there is no doubt that what he has passed down is lethal. I only needed to see a few moves and feel the helplessness that resulted from being on the bad end of one of those moves, to realize how potent this stuff was. Would it stand up to a “bad guy with a gun?” Of course not. The world is different now.
But it would stand up to a guy with a knife in a bar. And there’s value in that.
I found Armizare at a place called Southside Dojo in Portage, Michigan. How I found it, I can’t say because it was almost two years ago, and it’s taken me to push myself into it. Often, enticing oneself to try something new is more difficult than the task itself. This is especially true for me, even if 90% of the time forcing myself to look for new avenues of life experience is incredibly rewarding. That knowledge of self is key. Since coming to this understanding of my brain, I have started looking for new adventures and simple pleasures at every turn, and it is life-giving.
During my junior year of high school, my French class went to…France. I should never have been allowed to participate in the trip. We didn’t have the money for multi-thousand dollar vacations. We barely had the money for multi-hundred dollar getaways. Somehow I was able to go, and while there managed to: break a bed, fall in love, and, strangest of all, purchase a sword in a gift shop near the Cathedral of Chartres. I flew home with that sword – this was pre-9/11 – snug in a cheap cardboard box and unsheathed it with pride a thousand times over the next decade. I swung it around with difficulty because, unbeknownst to me at the time, the sword was horribly balanced and made of cheap steel. It bent nearly every time I swung it, so much so that it became difficult to pull out of the scabbard. Half of the pommel also fell off, and the grip was painted with something that would stain my hands on every swing. It turns out that swords aren’t so easy to make, and that unscrupulous merchants in Europe will snatch a poor kid’s last two-hundred dollars for cheap goods without batting an eyelash.
Despite my poor history actual swords, I have always loved their elegance and strength. I don’t know why. I’ve tried analyzing it, finding where in my life this weapon of death became so enchanting for me, but it seems like it’s just always been there, somewhere deep down in my soul. This obsession is one of the few things in life that has made me consider reincarnation. How else could I have fallen for something without ever having touched it? How else could something so violent, so antithetical to my core beliefs, affect me so greatly? I look deep and see an eon of lives; a samurai here, a viking there, potentially an Italian swordmaster way over there. These mysteries make sense.
I am standing in front of the mirror, watching my practice blade thrust forwards, seeing my feet rotate, and watching the blade thrust again. I hardly recognize the day-to-day David as I move through the motions, motions that may not feel natural yet, but feel right. This David looks fierce, like a warrior, and while I don’t condone his willingness to do harm to another human being for the sake of superiority or competition, I am in awe of his confidence. I wish I, the other David who types away on keys every night despite a readership of about four, who struggles with debt and relationships, who has yet to find his place in the world, had the confidence I see in that David’s eyes. There’s no telling what we could do.