The first conference of its kind
This conference was very special for many reasons. First, this is only the second international conference dedicated solely on Fight Books. The first one being held in Krems (Austria) in 2009 – and the long awaited conference proceedings are just published (recension in the making). The Solingen conference actually did not only provide a renewed state of research on European Fight Books, but it blew the boarders by opening space and period limitations. During the last 5 years, the Fight Books and Historical European Martial Arts were addressed in an increasing number conferences and congresses (I am attending most of them, see my short reports here, and here). That is really making me happy, since it is a good sign of the shaping of our field of research and it represents major steps for its visibility, towards a better academic recognition. But this conference achieved more, it brought together circles of researchers working separately on similar topics, or at least, with similar kinds of primary sources. And it achieved to connect our usual suspects within larger academic networks.
Behind the curtains. From the idea to the conference.
The conference project started with a dedicated small group of researchers well connected to larger networks. The actual architect was Dr. Sixt Wetzler, martial artist, scholar, and museum curator. He plays an active role in various broad networks, such as the Martial Arts Studies Research Network (P. Bowman, University of Cardiff), the German Commission for martial sports and martial arts (DVS Kommission für Kampfsport und Kampfkünste), and the Society for Historical European Martial Arts Studies. In July 2016, Dr. Sixt Wetzler gave a paper in my session at the International Medieval Congress (University of Leeds), proposing a framework for the comparison of Fight Books from Europe and Asia. This relevant contribution was published in the proceedings in November 2016, entitled "Your Kung Fu is very good, Master Fiore!". Only one year later, the project was turned into a very successful international conference, which gathered scholars from South and North America, Europe and Asia.
European, Asian and American Fight Books
The phenomenon of attempting to document fighting techniques on written media is not Eurocentric. This can be traced in many other societies and definitively need to get more scholarly attention. 15 speakers, including 4 keynotes, and 3 poster presentations proved the need and interest to investigate further. We were walking in unknown territory and this conference unveiled very promising pathways, especially in comparative perspective.
The different paper given fit in the following categories: (1) presentation of corpus of Fight Book (sorted by provenance, language or period) with case studies as example; (2) Theoritical – epistemological – methodological observations about fighting practices or martial knowledge; (3) Exploration of other type of sources to analyse fighting practice or martial knowledge communication. Click on the program for more details.
Among other things, we learned about the very large fight book production from Japan (Julian Braun, Bunbu-Research Circle), the Korean documentation and appropriation of Chinese martial tradition (Bok Kyu Choi, Korean Institute of Martial Arts), the living martial tradition in South America transferred on paper (T.J. Desch-Obi, City University of New-York), the 19th c. Western vision of Chinese fight books (Ben Judkins, University of Cornell), or many new or renewed insights on European fight books (a long list, have a look on the program!).
At the end of these mind-blowing two days, I've attempted to wrap-up the main points of interest shared between the different presentations, and came up with this slide (part of my concluding remarks).
… something more for dessert?
As said by T.J. Desch-Obi (City University of New York), "this conference feels like enjoying a bag full of sweets". On top of the intellectual gluttony, the German Blade Museum in Solingen was a wonderful host. This is not the first international conference held in its premises. In 2015, the museum hosted the conference "The Sword - Form and Thought" in cooperation with AG Schwertsymposium (Freiburg). This venture opened a new conference series placed under the patronage of St Martin. We are already looking forward to the next one. Not only conference attendees could visit the exhibition, but specialised book seller were attending and the library of the museum prepared a hands on session on the 24 Fight Books of the museum. All papers were filmed and taped. If you do not wish to wait until the conference proceedings (planned in issue 7/2 of the Journal Acta Periodica Duellatorum in 2019), you will be happy to know that they will be released as video clips by the museum. Check out their website for updates.