Fior di Battaglia of Fiore dei Liberi, c. 1409-1420,

J. Paul Getty Museum.

CURRICULUM

The SSG's structured curriculum is anchored in the SSG's interpretation of Fiore's l'arte d'armizare--literally, the "Art of the Use of Arms". Students usually begin with our 15-week structured course in unarmoured combat, which gives kinesthetic foundations, the sword and its dynamics, poste (guards), and six exemplary zhoghi or "plays". Students then test, proceeding then to the next block of instruction. There are eight levels, each denoted by a color, usually (but not always) marked with a belt. This structure allows different SSG groups to speak the same language, with students learning skills at similar pacing, though according to their own abilities and experience.  Such recognition is neither a rank nor a recognition of fighting effectiveness, but rather of demonstrated knowledge. All SSG members are lifetime students. 

Unlike many HEMA-type schools, the SSG is focused on military culture, not the city-oriented culture in which many of the treatises were likely produced for. Therefore, we emphasize full body power generation, and encourage our students to wear armour, both as a courtesy to others (that they might "finish" their blows), and also to help frame the chivalric--as opposed to modern sporting--atmosphere. 

We feel that the fighting treatises represent only one expression of medieval martial arts, and one that diverged quickly from its military roots. Hence, students study also medieval literature, artwork and chronicles in order to gain a better understanding of the art and its context. 

Finally, we test our interpretations with considerable sparring--focused, open and competitive. The height of competition is of course the tournament. The SSG runs our own medieval-style feats of arms, informed by nearly three decades' experience with the pas d'arms challenge format. SSG members often test their skills with a variety of "fellow traveler" communities--HEMA tournaments, the SCA, or within the Armoured Combat League. 

Material supporting our 15-week foundational part of the curriculum, known as the "ellefante" course because it builds the foundation upon which all else is built. Testing results in recognition as a compagno--companion--denoted by a yellow belt. This course introduces:

  • Fiore dei Liberi and his technical, military and social context

  • Fiore's segno

  • Arms, armour and weapons of the day

  • Stance, footwork, power generation

  • Six SSG core "elephant" plays

This course expands on the foundational material, examining a subset of Fiore's zogho largo plays, along with the concepts of the tre tempi "three times" and the tre volte, "three turns" of the sword. Students refine their understanding of the foundational material, adding now "when" and "why" to the "how" developed in the first segment. Students synthesize and exercise this knowledge through six more zoghi or plays, all drawn from the zogho largo as presented in the Getty version of Fiore's Fior di Battaglia. If successful, a student is known within the SSG as a scolaro minore--a junior scholar--denoted by a blue belt. 

Our third level is for integrating the foundational and tactical skills learned in the first two. Now, under the stress of more intensive focused and open sparring, the student is expected to refine their kinesthetic and intellectual understanding of executing the principles learned under the stress of an engagement. In addition, they must demonstrate their synthesis through a transfer test, showing how the ellefante and zogho largo plays work with another weapon, such as the spear, poleaxe, sword in one hand, or sword and buckler. This is a blended instructional-coached level, and the student demonstrates their abilities, traditionally, by hosting a small pas d'armes (challenge tournament) and holding the field. If successful the student is then known as a scolaro maggiore--a senior scholar--and will now progressing on to study Fiore's abrazzare, or grappling arts. 

The student now returns to the analysis phase, where they study Fiore's many zogho stretto or close-play/grappling material. Unlike many schools, we do this later in the curriculum because it is more dangerous to train, and students must have a greater awareness of safety--concordia and armore--as well as being able to fall in and out of armour. This module begins with falling exercises, and includes an analytical grouping of Fiore's techniques into a smaller subset of principles with variants. This eases student retention and recall of the many possibilities, resulting in better tactical decision-making. Some students take up the daga or dagger at this point in the curricula to gain a better understanding of close work.  A knowledge test completes the course, where the student also displays each of the zogho stretto plays with the sword in two hands. A student who completes the course is known as a scolaro maggiore--senior scholar--and is denoted with a purple belt. 

Primo Scolaro (integration of the zogho stretto)

Primarily a coaching, synthesis and integration stage, the student attempts to integrate both close and wide play, under control, for maximum effect as appropriate to the situation. Students spend a great deal of time in focused, open, and competitive sparring, with the sword in two hands and with a variety of other weapons, including the sword in one hand, spear, sword and buckler, dagger, and poleaxe, if they choose. They must demonstrate skill in controlled throws, locks, and disarms, executed in sparring. Students completing this level are known as a "free scholar," primo scolaro, denoted with a red belt. 

 

Alternatively (a proposed change), they might opt to shift their primary focus to one of the other weapon forms, or to armoured combat, if they choose. In this case, instead of integration they study two other sections of the treatise and demonstrate integration of those in a tournament (feat of arms/HEMA tournament) context. 

Scolaro Libero (individualized "graduate" directed study)

Students having completed the intermediate work then must decide how they will further develop their abilities in terms of fighting, research and teaching/coaching. At this point the student chooses a mentor and in concert they develop the "way ahead", a plan of study. When this plan is approved by the senior instructors and magistri of the SSG, they earn recognition as a Scolaro Libero, or "first scholar," a phase marked by the wearing of a brown belt. 

Magistro

The Schola firmly believes that learning is never complete. But the pinnacle of recognition within the SSG is the title of magistro, not to be confused with "master at arms," a title reserved for fencing masters. 

The SSG recognizes three areas of development necessary for recognition as a magistro, roughly equivalent to a black belt or SCA knighthood. Every candidate must possess skills in all three; but they will emphasize one, be good in another, and at least capable in the third. To be recognized, they must build renown within and beyond the SSG. The three areas are:

  • Prowess: The combatant establishes a superior field presence, bearing suitable clothing and armour. They are renowned as a skilled, but controlled master of their favored weapons forms. They must be at least competent in all chivalric foot-fighting forms. They are the persons expected to do very well in tournaments and feats of arms, and the ones we'd point the television cameras towards to show what our interpretation of the l'arte d'armizare could be. In any event, a magistro may be known with a white or black belt, if they so choose. 

  • Research: Renown here is earned for the production of scholarly research and writing in a blended academic/public context. The candidate will be known as a "subject matter expert" in their chosen related topics, which might include the fighting treatises themselves, chivalric philosophy, military or social history. Their masterwork is at least a thesis-level original contribution to the field and for the community. 
     

  • Training/Coaching: Renowned as a teacher and/or a coach, these magistri contribute through the development of new curricula, refined, accepted and available for use by the whole of the SSG, or through coaching resources similarly useful in training intermediate and advanced students in developing their performance. Study can integrate modern kinesiological principles with established curricula, helping to improve our curricula over time. 

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