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A FORGOTTEN TRADITION IN WESTERN FIGHTING SCIENCE A short inquiry into 18th.century Manual-defence, the bareknuckle art

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Western European Martial Arts. Combat systems and arts-of-defence have been a Pan-European phenomenon from distant times with 'true fight' origins going back millennia. Of Ancient Greek and Roman: Greece is recognized as having been the only fully athletic society of antiquity with a proliferation of sport and combat arts alongside a similar proliferation of mathematics and Western European Martial Arts. Combat systems and arts-of-defence have been a Pan-European phenomenon from distant times with 'true fight' origins going back millennia. Of Ancient Greek and Roman: Greece is recognized as having been the only fully athletic society of antiquity with a proliferation of sport and combat arts alongside a similar proliferation of mathematics and allied subjects. Rome had its centuries of military experience, its empire, its history and games. Other, Northern and Western, European societies (Germanic and Gallic) were also martial, not as large and unified as Roman - they fought each other and amongst themselves constantly - but they were still able to halt Roman expansion under Augustus. Of training and practice in fighting arts, historical sources show that formal tests of combat competency were an established fact in the long-ago life of Northern and Western European peoples - the 'Germanii states' - beyond the Rhine-Danube Limit of the Roman Presence. In the year 98 the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of them: 'They transact no business.... without arms in their hands. Yet the custom is that no one takes arms until their state has endorsed his competence.Then the assembly itself, or one of the Chiefs, equip the young man with shield and spear. Before this he was regarded as a member of his household, but now as a member of their state.' Most, if not all, world societies had their combat arts. Martial subjects were a necessary part of the life of the various European peoples that had arrived on the British Island from the Continent around the time and after the Romans were leaving. In England a visible, public form of fighting-arts activity - known throughout the mediaeval ages as the 'Science of Defence - was the prize-stage organized by guilds of masters when testing and examining the abilities of trainees. A variety of weapons had to be mastered and a number of opponents (the answerers) had to be fought and defeated by the trainee (the prizor) in aspiring to pass each degree (the prize). This is the origin of the expressions 'prize-fight', 'prize-fighter' and 'prize-fighting'. Wrestling technique along with elements of punching and kicking (the 'ambidextrian' arts) were incorporated into different types of weapons usage. Degree levels were designated as 'scholar' (beginner), 'free-scholar' (intermediate), provost or usher (assistant to master), and then 'master'. The training time from scholar to free-scholar was flexible, from free-scholar to provost/usher was seven years and provost/usher to master was also seven years. The final position was that of 'Ancient Master' (Senior Instructor and Guild governing official) and was reached according to time in years teaching the arts, managing a school and judging the abilities of prizors in the examinations conducted on the fighting-stage. Demonstrations were always put on for public viewing down through the centuries and the competition forms of defence arts - as in the prize tests - were the norm. Having to publicly demonstrate 'playing the prize' was the law. All this included the contest form of 'manual-defence' in the shape of the standing pugilistic fight - which was a combination of boxing, in-fighting, purring or shinning (low-level kicking) and wrestling technique. This old subject became known in modern times (post Queensberry) as 'bare-knuckle' fighting and it was not merely a primitive forerunner of sport boxing. Centuries before the Queensberry gloved boxing game this 'all-round' self-defence art had been taught along formalized lines by weapons masters. So-called 'bare-knuckle fighting' of the 20th century was 'Queensberry' style sport boxing - without gloves. The original and real 'all-round', pickled fist, bareknuckle fighting subject was the competition form of manual-defence - an art and a science previous to, and of, the 18th century.


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Western European Martial Arts. Combat systems and arts-of-defence have been a Pan-European phenomenon from distant times with 'true fight' origins going back millennia. Of Ancient Greek and Roman: Greece is recognized as having been the only fully athletic society of antiquity with a proliferation of sport and combat arts alongside a similar proliferation of mathematics and Western European Martial Arts. Combat systems and arts-of-defence have been a Pan-European phenomenon from distant times with 'true fight' origins going back millennia. Of Ancient Greek and Roman: Greece is recognized as having been the only fully athletic society of antiquity with a proliferation of sport and combat arts alongside a similar proliferation of mathematics and allied subjects. Rome had its centuries of military experience, its empire, its history and games. Other, Northern and Western, European societies (Germanic and Gallic) were also martial, not as large and unified as Roman - they fought each other and amongst themselves constantly - but they were still able to halt Roman expansion under Augustus. Of training and practice in fighting arts, historical sources show that formal tests of combat competency were an established fact in the long-ago life of Northern and Western European peoples - the 'Germanii states' - beyond the Rhine-Danube Limit of the Roman Presence. In the year 98 the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of them: 'They transact no business.... without arms in their hands. Yet the custom is that no one takes arms until their state has endorsed his competence.Then the assembly itself, or one of the Chiefs, equip the young man with shield and spear. Before this he was regarded as a member of his household, but now as a member of their state.' Most, if not all, world societies had their combat arts. Martial subjects were a necessary part of the life of the various European peoples that had arrived on the British Island from the Continent around the time and after the Romans were leaving. In England a visible, public form of fighting-arts activity - known throughout the mediaeval ages as the 'Science of Defence - was the prize-stage organized by guilds of masters when testing and examining the abilities of trainees. A variety of weapons had to be mastered and a number of opponents (the answerers) had to be fought and defeated by the trainee (the prizor) in aspiring to pass each degree (the prize). This is the origin of the expressions 'prize-fight', 'prize-fighter' and 'prize-fighting'. Wrestling technique along with elements of punching and kicking (the 'ambidextrian' arts) were incorporated into different types of weapons usage. Degree levels were designated as 'scholar' (beginner), 'free-scholar' (intermediate), provost or usher (assistant to master), and then 'master'. The training time from scholar to free-scholar was flexible, from free-scholar to provost/usher was seven years and provost/usher to master was also seven years. The final position was that of 'Ancient Master' (Senior Instructor and Guild governing official) and was reached according to time in years teaching the arts, managing a school and judging the abilities of prizors in the examinations conducted on the fighting-stage. Demonstrations were always put on for public viewing down through the centuries and the competition forms of defence arts - as in the prize tests - were the norm. Having to publicly demonstrate 'playing the prize' was the law. All this included the contest form of 'manual-defence' in the shape of the standing pugilistic fight - which was a combination of boxing, in-fighting, purring or shinning (low-level kicking) and wrestling technique. This old subject became known in modern times (post Queensberry) as 'bare-knuckle' fighting and it was not merely a primitive forerunner of sport boxing. Centuries before the Queensberry gloved boxing game this 'all-round' self-defence art had been taught along formalized lines by weapons masters. So-called 'bare-knuckle fighting' of the 20th century was 'Queensberry' style sport boxing - without gloves. The original and real 'all-round', pickled fist, bareknuckle fighting subject was the competition form of manual-defence - an art and a science previous to, and of, the 18th century.

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