Last night I had a chance to meet up with a friend–socially distanced, etc.–to catch up and so that he could present me with something he put together as a holiday gift. This friend, Mike Cherba, is juggling his daily work (his hours even in normal times are long), parenting, helping his children with online school, and running one of the best historical fencing schools in the state. It’s not been easy to see anyone, and though we are living parallels lives in many ways our schedules have not coordinated super well. At present most of my day is taken up with the data-end of the fight against Covid.
I wanted to share this gift here for a few reasons. First, as will be clear, Mike paid me a signal honor in his choice of decoration. Second, he made this by hand, and the time, labor, and returns-to-drawing-boards are not something one undertakes without love. To say I am deeply touched by his gift and a reminder of his friendship sounds trite and tired, but it’s true–a kindness like this is best shared, and if that embarrasses him a little I know he’s tough enough to handle it 😉
Though a handy chap, Mike has used quarantine to dive deep into woodworking, partly as a mental break from the rigors of life right now, and partly out of interest in creating historical furniture and equipment. His school, Northwest Armizare, has organized a living-history component entitled “The Hawkwood Troope” which highlights historical combat as depicted in works like those of Fiore dei Liberi (ca. 1410). The attention to detail that they put into their armor and research looks better in the field with period kit, so his dive into woodworking serves a double purpose.
A link to Northwest Armizare is in the “Links” section of this site.
Something I never explained, but perhaps should, is how I landed on this design. My friend Chase Dimick, who is one of the armored-fighters working with Mike, is not only an experienced harness fighter, but an amazing artist. Drawing, paint, you name it, he can do it. I consulted with him as I was working on a suitable symbol for SdTS. This is his design and like everything he produces it came out super well I think.
The giglio, the flower (or) emblazoned on the field (azure), is reminiscent of a fleur-de-lis, but is one symbol long associated with the city of Florence, Italy. Various stories provide an origin for this stylized iris, but whatever the truth it has been one of many symbols at least since the 13th century. To me, it recalls a period of intense literary genius in the city, one of the seats for the rise of humanism, and of deep interest in Italy’s classical past. In a similar way, historical fencers seek out works of the past to understand and inform current practice. There is, however, a bit of a Petrarca (d. 1374) in most of us, as we not only wish to understand the past, but raise it from the dead (Francesco wrote letters to dead Romans if that suggests anything). Scholars of Petrarch fear not, I’m not suggesting that he was a necromancer, though if Abe Lincoln can fight Vampires… I don’t know, that could be a fun project…
The choice of colors, blue and gold, have meaning for me on multiple levels. They honor my university and are a nod to my time at Northwest Armizare. These colors also have some connections to some family history. Also, they go well together.
The choice of arms behind the shield are a Radaellian sabre, a spada, and a baskethilt broadsword–the first two weapons, being Italian, highlight the focus of study at SdTS, and the third, while not really a subject we cover is meant to connect our approach to historical vs. competitive modern fencing (I could have used a longsword, but while I’ve dabbled in longsword, I do not cover it and being an earlier weapon than broadsword the latter seemed more appropriate).