The Schola approaches the study of medieval and Renaissance fighting systems as a martial art. Students progress along defined curricula, focusing first on fundamental skills, then tactics, then more holistic integration. Most of our students work with a branch--an SSG group that has an instructor--or a study group--an SSG branch that does not yet have an instructor. We also have an independent scholar program for those not near a group and an affiliated dojo program for established schools looking for a Western martial arts curriculum--particularly one that carries with it a solid philosophy.
In terms of teaching, we have interpreted and expressed Fiore's work as a modern system based on principles rather than techniques. This provides abundant flexibility and extensibility so that the system holds together no matter what kind of hand weapon is used. On a higher level, it works as an approach to life as well.
Currently we have a single core curriculum based on Fiore dei Liberi's use of the sword in two hands. Students work through the core curriculum to build fundamental skills and tactics, along integration achieved through sparring. This curriculum is covered in detail in the full-color text Sword in Two Hands, the first in our series of training books and videos.
Beginning students work for between ten and twenty weeks on the fundamentals. At the end of the module they may do a progression test, which if passed earns them recognition within the Schola as a Compagno, recognized by a yellow belt and an Ellefante pin. Beginning students often do some sparring with the longsword and lanza or spear in order to begin the development of tacitcal thought.
Second level students focus on Fiore's zogho largo--"long play"--which encompasses Fiore's tactics. This material will comprise the first half of the next book in the series, Masters of the Crossed Swords, due out during 2008. Students at this level learn when to use the fundamentals covered in the first level. Candidates may do a progression test to seek recognition as a Scolaro Minore, denoted by the blue belt.
Both of the first two levels are what I call knowledge levels. That is, evaluation is based more on their knowledge of what to do than in their execution, simply because students at these levels are still novices.
The third level is the start of intermediate work, and it focuses on integration of the principles learned in the first two levels. It is sparring intensive, focusing on gaining an entry sufficient to enable the use of Fiore's First or Second Masters of Battle, the material previously learned. By narrowly focusing on the entry, the student is seeking to build a confidence zone in which they can exercise their skills.
Progress through this level is different for students with different experience bases. For those experienced in another martial or weapon art, the chief hurdle is avoiding slipping back into "old habits" and staying for the most part within Fiore's elegant and efficient system. For those with no experience, the chief hurdle is learning to fight, getting used to striking and being struck, moving without tentativness, and decisiveness. Not easy, but extremely rewarding and beneficial in other aspects of the student's life.Completion of this level is culminated with a broader test including defense in a pas d'armes tournament, after which the candidate is recognized as a Scolaro, denoted by a green belt.
The Fourth level of training focuses on the development of fundamental grappling skills through Fiore's Abrazare and daga work. Students learn to fall, to work on Fiore's three locks (the tre ligadure), and his sophisticated zogho stretto plays, which integrate the wrestling into the sword in two hands. This is for the most part a knowledge level, although some progress with integration is also expected. Having completed Fiore's zogho stretto the candidate may test for progression to Scolaro Maggiore, denoted by a purple belt.
Our fifth level of training focuses on the integration of the zogho stretto skills into the fight, and to fights with another weapon (such as the daga) that employ it. The fifth level is the last intermediate level, and students at this level may test for progression to Primo Scolaro, recognized with a red belt. Completion of this level signals the end of the intermediate work and the start of individually-directed advanced work towards the ultimate goal of recognition as a magistro of the Art.
Advanced students are encouraged to seek experience in any related art that captures their attention, developing that weapons-form into a branch of Schola training. Indeed, our objective is to make all of our students capable of interpreting the historical material on their own.
Other Curricula in Development
Branches may bring their students along using other methods. While the present curriculum emphasizes the sword in two hands--both armoured and unarmoured--our advanced students and instructors are in the process of developing other curricula that focus on sword and buckler, abrazare (grappling), daga, spear, poleaxe, and rapier.
The first phase of this development has resulted in early modules we use for breadth training. Alongside the longsword, students can study these other modules and earn Accomplishment recognition as they cast about looking for the area of expertise they want to develop. We are very open to our student's ideas and passions; our philosophy is to focus on the principles of the system, rather than the techniques, then we strongly encourage our students to apply those principles in new ways to create their own style.
To get anything out of the art, the student must practice / train regularly. Training sessions are structured differently at each study group or branch, although the groups share drills and general teaching methodology.
The majority of our students begin with a study group, a local chapter of the SSG that does not yet have an instructor. The group works through the curriculum together, testing either remotely (via video) or at an SSG event. Many study groups host seminars with SSG instructors during which a module is presented over the course of a weekend and those who are ready generally test for recognition.
Large groups with an instructor are known as branches. As of the date of this writing, there are only two branches, one with our original San Francisco Bay Area chapter in California and one in Dallas Forth-Worth, Texas. Study groups can become branches with enough members and with an instructor, which generally takes several years.
We have several affiliated dojos or schools, established academies seeking course content. These programs feature accellerated training for instructors and advancement for students, as well as affiliate memberships for the student base at a reduced price, connecting the students into the SSG community.
Those not near a group use our books, videos and the website FORUM to forge a connection with the other Schola members and instructors which helps them to advance without a group. Many of our independent scholars found a study group of their own, and thus the Schola grows.
Several times per year our branches hold symposia, and every few years we hold an International Symposia. These are large events featuring many of the leading lights within the WMA community.
The Schola is a community of like-minded students all working on the endless but extremely satisfying task of continually interpreting and re-interpreting the historical arts and applying them in competitive environments. Many of our students also fight in other martial arts groups, or combat societies, or even LARPS. Some fence Olympic style, while others have experience in Kali, Escrima or other stick arts. Many of no experience at all, but these students have no preset habits to overcome--almost all are welcome in our company if they share our ideals and commit to follow the established curricula.