Interview with Piermarco Terminiello

The ‘lost’ second book of Nicoletto Giganti is a departure for Fox Spirit as a publisher. It is however a fascinating one. I managed to persuade one of the co-authors to answer a few questions about this historically significant sword treatise for me. I’ll let Piermarco Terminiello explain things. I read through the answers a couple of times myself just because they were so interesting.

For people not in the know can you explain a little bit about HEMA and how it is different from the competition fencing that most of us consider the only western sword art?

The modern sport of fencing is derived from earlier systems. But this is a small part of the whole picture.

Europe produced a remarkable literature of combat, from many countries, over the course of several centuries. The earliest known fight-book dates from around 1300, depicting monks, as well as a woman, fencing with sword and buckler (a small round shield). Later treatises cover all manner of swords, polearms, unarmed combat, sickles, daggers and other weapons.

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is founded on the premise that although these systems fell out of use, or mutated into something different, it is possible to reassemble them.

This is approached through scrupulous attention to the texts, physical experimentation, and study of their cultural context; without dismissing insights from elsewhere, such as modern training methods, pedagogy, biomechanics, or other martial arts.

There is no dressing up, and HEMA is distinct from reenactment or LARP. There are competitions, but these are not the primary focus. The central aim is to understand the historical systems.

Likewise fighting with historical weapons by itself is not HEMA. By definition HEMA is practice based upon historical sources, hence the fundamental importance of the texts.

Can you explain your martial arts background and how that has put you in a position to be able to understand this treatise enough to translate it?

Unlike a great many people in HEMA, I didn’t have a background in sport fencing or other martial arts, I simply joined a local HEMA club, the School of the Sword, which focuses on Italian fencing from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From the beginning I sought out and familiarised myself as many Italian texts from this period as I could, which between detailed illustrated treatises, and much vaguer works, amounted to around fifty technical sources.

I’ve won and placed in a number of international HEMA competitions, which isn’t the be all and end all, but hopefully indicates a degree of physical understanding. Thanks to good tuition, training partners, and knowledge of the texts.

In the meantime I co-authored a translation of La Scherma by Francesco Ferdindando Alfieri in 1640, translated a several shorter pieces (including Carlo Giuseppe Colombani’s L’Arte maestra from 1711), and among other research transcribed an obscure manuscript from a library in Milan, and uncovered another previously unknown Italian manuscript from 1629.

Who was Nicoletto Giganti and why is this treatise so important?

 Nicoletto Giganti is one of the most celebrated names in Italian rapier fencing. He published a well known treatise in 1606, which was acclaimed by fellow fencing masters and later historiographers alike. In this work he promised a second book, but this was widely assumed to have lost to history or never to have been written.

As early as 1673 another master named Pallavicini berates Giganti in print for having promised a second book without delivering. So finding this ‘lost’ work, and in the process vindicating Giganti from his detractors, is quite special. But the importance of the book itself rests on the renown of its author.

If a ‘new’ book is found by a previously unknown master, as sometimes happens, it’s easy to file it away as peculiar to that particular writer.

Giganti however is one of the quintessential masters in the canon. His first book helped define assumptions regarding Italian swordplay. Therefore a previously unknown second work not only challenges and informs our previous perceptions of Giganti, but advances our understanding of Italian rapier fencing as a whole.

What was the Venetian school of fencing and how was it different from other European fencing schools?

 The fencing systems of early and mid sixteenth-century Italy were quite diverse, but by the seventeenth century the had converged to a greater extent. The principal weapon was what we call a rapier, a long, narrow sword optimised for thrusting, but still capable of wounding with cuts. Giganti teaches the sword alone as his foundational weapon, but assumes a companion arm such as a dagger, cloak or buckler will be used if to hand.

Therefore while Giganti describes himself as Venetian, his method is not wildly dissimilar to that of his contemporaries elsewhere in Italy. In fact it appears Giganti wrote his second book not in Venice but in Pisa, where he states he was Master of Arms to the Order of St. Stephen.

This was a military order, set up by the Medici and loosely based on the Knights of Malta, with the aim of checking Ottoman and Barbary sea-power in the Mediterranean. Essentially they were privateers, and I rather like the idea that Giganti was teaching fighting to knights, who were also pirates.

How did you find yourself in the position of translating such an important piece of work?

 Really thanks to my co-author, Joshua Pendragon. We met at a HEMA event hosted by the School of the Sword in 2011. Joshua gave a presentation, while scouting for groups to present HEMA demonstrations for the Noble Art of the Sword exhibition at the Wallace Collection, where he was Guest Exhibition Curator.

We then began corresponding by email about treatises and translations. In particular regarding a unique manuscript treatise in the Lord Howard de Walden collection, illustrated with beautiful red chalk drawings, by a master named Camillo Palladini.

When reviewing other items catalogued in the collection, a 1608 edition of Giganti stood out. Some fencing bibliographies (mistakenly) record a 1608 edition of Giganti as a simple reprint of his first work of 1606, which is probably why this entry hadn’t been previously pursued.

However in 1847 an Alberto Marchionni did describe a 1608 second book by Giganti, giving enough detail for his claim to seem plausible.

I had been quietly optimistic, but when we physically checked the book, and realised it perfectly matched Marchionni’s description, it was an incredible sensation. As if an inanimate, dusty old book were radiating waves of eminence.

Now you’ve finished this do you have any more books in the pipeline that you can talk about?

I’ve nearly completed a translation, together with Steve Reich (a researcher from the US), of the 1601 treatise of Marco Docciolini, from Florence.  I’d also love to see Palladini in print.

You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books. Which ones would you want with you and why?

 Giganti’s second book of course! And Palladini. So I could have the only copies!

In terms of fencing books I’d also bring the so-called Anonimo Bolognese, because it’s big, would take years to translate, and contains years worth of study.

For general reading I’d go for Boccaccio’s Decameron, as it’s long, varied, and I like Renaissance Italian.

And finally Aretino’s Sonetti lussuriosi, because I imagine a desert island would be lonely.

Piermarco suggests these two sites if you want to read about more interesting stuff and I’d like to thank Piermarco for his time and interesting responses.


The Edible Mushroom Book by Anna Del Conte and Thomas Laessoe

Like many people I think the idea of picking food growing naturally from my local surroundings is a great idea. I do worry though. What if I pick the wrong thing and poison my family? Especially fungi. I recently attended a free talk on foraging and found it really inspirational. It helped me realise that with some research and common sense I should be pretty safe. This book is my first step towards  picking and consuming some mushrooms found locally. Ten years ago I’d have laughed if you said I’d be doing this. The only mushrooms I’d ever had were tasteless button mushrooms that squeaked as I bit in to them. It wasn’t until my wife cooked me some chestnut mushrooms that my eyes were open to some of the amazingly interesting flavours available from mushrooms.

The most important part of this book is the first page and it can be distilled into a pearl of wisdom. Do not eat ANY foraged foods unless you are COMPLETELY sure what it is. It then goes on to mention the key indicators and show you pictures of the various shapes and textures of things such as the caps, stems, gills.

The most useful section of this this book is the pictorial index of all the mushrooms covered in the book. The ones to avoid is a very good touch that helped calm my nerves. The main pages of this index give you clear images of things that you could be looking at and the page number to obtain more information on your specimen. I was able to successfully identify a couple of mushrooms growing in my garden using this book and I intend to cut and dry them tonight.

This book also shows you how to dry mushrooms and has some tasty recipes that could incorporate your finds. They could just as easily be used with dried mushrooms or a selection from your local supermarket.

There is a philosophy that runs through the writing of this book and that is to take only what you need and to leave things as you found them as much as possible. Be quiet, calm and respectful of your natural surroundings.

The Quorn Kitchen, by Quorn (the company not the food product)

This is an odd one for me. Firstly because I don’t normally review cookery books, but more importantly because I love eating meat. I really like eating meat and don’t normally like veggie options. That is why this book has become so important in my household. My wife is a vegetarian and so to avoid too many meals being cooked I do eat meals without meat. It does not mean that I will accept food that I don’t enjoy the taste of.

One thing that this book did for me was show me that a bolognase can be just as tasty with Quorn mince as it can with meat. It really is amazing how this form of Quorn takes on flavour. The fact that it is a really healthy option doesn’t hurt either. The bolognase and our adaptations of the recipe in this book have become a staple part of our diet. Even my 5yr old boy likes it. The other recipe in this book I ask for on a regular basis is the Stroganoff. I love it and it tastes just as lovely with a jacket potato (yes I know I’m odd) as it does with rice.

These two recipes alone make this book worth buying. If you add to that the other recipes that we have tried and have on occasion it is a very useful book. If you have a reluctant vegetarian like me you will at least give them some options that do not make them think they are missing out on good food or having an obvious meat substitute. Some of the recipes are easy and obvious like toad in the hole with veggie sausages and yet we had not thought of. Sometimes the ideas are the important thing and this book is full of them.

Tank Spotters Guide Compiled by Marcus Cowper and Christopher Pannell

I showed this  book to a friend of mine and his first comment was pretty much the same as mine. They just don’t make them like they used to. Yes this book includes modern beasts like the M1 Abrams and the Challenger 2  but they are highly designed and functional items that somehow seem to lack the character and aesthetics of previous generations of tanks. Perhaps that is just me or perhaps in time people will say the same about future armour compared to our current offerings.

I fount it disappointing that there is no picture of Little Willie (or No. 1 Lincoln Machine as it was originally known) in this book. I love that tank and it is well worth a trip to Bovington just to see it. Looking and the Mark I and the Mark IV it is hard to imagine so many people cramped in to such a hot and cramped space. Tank crews really were a special breed.

The pictures inside are all in profile and good representations of the vehicles. The information alongside each tank is short and to the point, giving only the most important points of a given tank. This makes the Spotter’s Guide a great starting point for people wanting to find out about tanks. It covers all the tanks I would expect to see it easily fits in to a cargo pants leg pocket for easy access.

What this book really needs though is to be a phone app. Not just to present the tank details from the provided pictures but it would also benefit from being linked to a camera to turn a picture in to a profile that can be compared to database of silhouettes. That would be great. For income generation at the bottom of each page could be links to other titles that give more details about each tank. I think I may have thought about this a little too much.

If you want a pocket book with easy to compare pictures and simple facts about tanks then this is the book for you.

Catch That Tiger by Noel Botham and Bruce Montague

I’ve loved tanks since I was a little kid. I’ve never been a true tank geek, but I can recognize a lot of tanks and have my favourites. Like most kids (aged 4-90) I have always held the Tiger Tank in awe. So much so that I had to eventually make the pilgrimage to the Bovington Tank Museum with a good friend of mine. It was a five hour drive in each direction but the journey home seemed to take about an hour. That’s how much we were buzzing after a day looking at some of the most beautiful pieces of heavy metal ever made. T131 is the jewel in the crown of Bovington. Standing there and comparing it to the other WW2 tanks really lets you imagine how scary it must have been to face. Needless to say I was looking forward to reading this book about how it got there.

Like most audacious British plans in WW2 this one was the brainchild of Winston Churchill. Send a small group of engineers to Africa to steal a Tiger from the most elite tank crews in the world. I’m not going to spoil it for you but in you have ever read Commando War Stories in Pictures then this part of the book will really appeal to you.

This is not a work of fictional work, it is based on official documents and the journals of the soldiers involved. There are some really interesting references to both Bletchley Park and the Intelligence services during the war. Getting a sixty tonne tank back to London with every German u-boat and plane in the mediterranean north atlantic proved to be an adventure in it’s own right.

There were a couple of times when I got a tad bored of the back story elements of a personal nature but generally I found this a fascinating read. The parts where the British tank drivers compare how the Tiger runs to the Allied tanks they are used to were amazing to read. If you are a tank geek and have not read this then you must go out and buy it now.

My Journey as a Combat Medic by Patrick Thibeault

I do not like being negative in reviews and generally find the good parts in any book. This book has some positive points that I will get to, but first I’m afraid I have to mention the negatives.

First off I think the writer has been let down a bit by the proofreader and editors. There are more mistakes than I would expect from an Osprey book. At one point the word “sight” was used instead of  “site”. I also found that some of the paragraphs seemed to go on far too long for my liking. Yes, I know these are niggling little issues, but they didn’t help the author out.

The content itself was a disappointment. In particular the first quarter seemed to meander along without actually saying anything. It picks up a little as it goes along. I also felt like I was being spoken to by a school teacher at times. I don’t need to be told what Ibuprofen is used for, even my children know that. I got increasingly frustrated as I read this book. It is quite clear that the author has had a really interesting career and has a great story to tell. I just felt that he was holding himself back all the time. There is a really interesting part of the book near the end about PTSD (read the book if you don’t know what it is because it is one of the best explanations of it I have seen). I was totally engrossed and the author was finally starting to bare his soul and show us who he really is. Then he talks about being asked if he had a suicide plan by medical professionals. You can’t say yes to that without explaining it to the readers. I could be alone in my morbid need to know this but I doubt it. This book could be so much better with a few more anecdotes and more personal stuff.

Don’t cross this book off your wish list just yet. It isn’t all bad, in fact there is some really good material in it. If you are thinking of joining the armed forces (of any nationality) as a medic then the final ten percent of this book is specifically for you. Tips and advice from a 20yr veteran is something that money can’t buy and could save lives. Interspersed throughout this book are US Army songs. These were a really clever addition as I was instantly feeling a marching tempo in my head whilst reading them. This feeling continued as I read more of the book. Although rather dry there is a lot of really interesting and informative stuff in this book about what it is actually like to be a medic. If it wasn’t for people like the author all the seriously injured soldiers we hear about would probably be dead. It is inspiring and humbling to read about some of the lives saved and losses eased that these people deal with on a much too frequent basis.

Overall I would say that if you are somebody that is fascinated by modern military biographies then this will be one of the less engaging, but at the same time more informative books you can pick. If however you are interested in military medicine and what it is like at the coal face then buy this book now. You will gain some truly invaluable insight.

SAS Ultimate Guide to Combat by Robert Stirling

The first thing I thought when I got this book was how blinking thick it is. OK, it is not exactly paperback cheap, but there is a lot of book for your money, always a good start in my book. Being as SAS book I presume that the author’s name is an alias that pays homage to David Stirling the founder of the SAS and maybe also the famous engineer Robert Stirling. Both I believe are from a similar place in Scotland. I could of course be over-thinking it and it is just a coincidence.

I’ve read a few SAS books in the past and they tend to be either very dry accounts of the strategic and tactical methods used or glamourized accounts of famous missions. This book is neither of those. To me it reads more like an infantryman’s primer that is aimed at young men thinking about joining the military. After telling you why you should pay attention to the author and not think he’s just some crackpot wannabe the first chapter is about your feet. You heard me, you’re feet. Soldiers spend nearly all of their time walking or standing, so looking after your feet and footwear is very important. The picture of toes black with frostbite still makes me cringe now, which is probably the point.

You will not learn any ninja mind-tricks or secret Vulcan death grips by reading this book. You will on the other hand gain a basic understanding of what it means to join the infantry. Other than that my take on reading this book is that the main difference between a normal foot-slogger and a special forces hard-case is mainly the training and the will to never stop. train hard both physically and mentally and never give up. By doing those things despite of any issues you are faced with and you might be SAS material.

This is not a book for the historical collector or a fledgling terrorist, but I believe there are a lot of young men who could benefit from reading this before signing up to serve in the armed forces. Overall I found this a really interesting read.

Is Working in IT a Professional Career?

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague at work today. He attests that working in IT is more like being a builder than being a professional.

I thought about this for quite a while, and then like any generation-X male I head to wikipedia to start some research.

After looking at a few sites I think I have boiled it down to a few questions and answers.

Q. Are there specialist educational requirements to do the job?

A. My relatively normal public sector wage slave IT job requires a minimum of a degree, plus specialist qualifications just to apply. There are arguments that say experience is more important, but it is a minimum these days for most full-time IT jobs beyond the hell-desk, er I mean helpdesk jobs.

Q. Is there a higher standard of ethics attached to IT jobs?

A. I personally believe that every job deserves to be done with the highest levels of morality and ethics. Working in a lot of IT jobs does allow for access to a plethora of commercially sensitive or personal data. There have been cases of IT staff changing admin passwords and locking everybody else out of systems for weeks. With great power comes great responsibility, and so yes I think IT staff do need to maintain high ethical standards.

Q. A Professional is a master in their field. Does that apply to an IT Professional?

A. Well, this is a difficult one. Most of the time it is a case of the blind leading the blind. Which would make the one-eyed man king! Not sure about having the one eye yet, but I think a lot of my peers have a sonar based replacement for sight. We all use Google, it is our best friend. Any IT professional that tells you they know all about something or that they never have to look anything up on Google is either lying or about to apply an axe to your person at high velocity. I have a friend who is a lawyer and he says it is no different there. It is better to say that an IT professional always knows somewhere or some-one that can provide them with the answer.

Q. Do IT professionals have superior manual, practical, or litery skills?

A. There are only so many times you can accidents such as pulling out the fibre that connects the company to the internet, deleting the entire web-site including back-ups, or programming in a major bug that an employer will take. We all make mistakes,  but normally we improve everything we deal with (well most).

Q. Is there a chartered body for IT?

A. Yes the BCS in the UK. That means any member counts as a professional for the purposes of signing a passport. Does being a member mean much these days? I don’t believe so, but it is another tick in a ridiculously competitive job market.

Q. Overall do I consider IT staff to be Professionals?

A. I would like to think so, if only for my own self-respect. IT jobs can be high stress, with long hours, home working, and call-outs. All of which I have done in the last week. IT has become so important to the delivery of information, as well as automating many tasks. Businesses can fail if they do not have robust IT systems, and for that to happen IT Professionals are required. I am lucky enough to work with some very capable and clever people. Without them the performance of our company would be negatively affected.

Q. Can’t anyone do your job with a couple of weeks training?

A. Good luck with that. After fifteen years working in IT I feel like I know less than I did when I started. I have so many courses I need to go on, so many books and manuals to read, so much learning through experience that I don’t believe I will ever be an expert.

I should add that I enjoy my job, even on crap days (of which there are many). Mainly because I work with some superb people, but also because it is always a challenge. I hope that what I do genuinely helps our customers (or students as we used to call them) to have the best experience possible.

Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey by Chuck Wendig

I’m not wearing pants for this review (American definition of pants that is).

This book is about how to be a writer, specifically a novelist. If you haven’t read anything by this author you may be surprised by both the amount, and the creativity of the profanities used. Personally I find lots of them bloody hilarious, and others have me rapidly searching the Urban Dictionary.

The basis of this book can be found at the blog. However additional reflective passages after each essay provide added value.

I found this to be easy to read, informative, and inspiring. The most useful lesson I garnered from these essays were the reality checks. There is something really inspiring about a person that is able to give you their story warts and all. Learning from the actions of others can save so much time and bolster a flagging spirit in times of doubt.

I chuckled quite a lot reading this book. Of course when I read the funny parts out to my wife I just got “that stare”.

The main reason I read this book now is that I want to be Mr Wendig’s wombat warmer. That’s not right. I am writing a 25k word Masters dissertation soon and need to improve the planning aspect of my writing. That’s better I think.

I now have a few techniques and ideas that I am sure are transferrable to my technical writing. I’ve also been inspired by the Flash Fiction challenges on and have posted a couple which I think I can now go back and improve some more.

There is a lot of emphasis on how important editing is to the writing process, and again I believe this is something that can be taken into any walk of life. From technical reports, to emailing your boss, clarity is king (or queen). There are a few typos that spoil the flow on occasion, but generally this is a well laid out and easy to read book. I can certainly see myself using the excellent contents page to look up particular essays in the future.

I enjoyed this book, as I did Irregular Creatures (buy that too). I have gained knowledge that will hopefully help improve myself and that alone makes this book worth the money for me. If you read the Acknowledgements page without laughing your soul is dead. Try it, read it now.

Oh, and I read this out loud before posting it (you’ll have to read the book to find out why).