Review by Jim Bonner
Would you believe me if I told you that during my use of Knightly Weaponry Play that my ten-month-old baby headbutted me and bruised my face? I am well aware that Antelope Hill is not liable for this injury, but I also can’t help but feel that this book channeled some metaphysical warrior energy into my home. To me, this is not merely hyperbole because the physicality of Knightly Weaponry Play invites this interpretation in its presence, and in that way, it is unlike anything else available in our sphere at the moment. It is a sturdy, hardback book which is well-bound for use ‘in the field’, so to speak. The horizontal configuration is ideal for people gathering around it while practicing. The pages are large and full of glossy, active illustrations of sword-fighting techniques. The text that accompanies the illustrations is simple and easy to understand as a translation from the original German. Overall, it is in almost every way a success as an ‘updated reprint.’
Since the book is an ‘updated reprint’ of a manual used by Interwar boys’ organizations similar to the Scouts, it struck me that to write a fair review would require actively performing the techniques, not just reading the text. To this end, my wife found herself volunteered and about to be handed a make-shift sword (walking stick). However, before any participation on her part could occur, she fortuitously found herself pregnant. The quality of the review had been put into jeopardy. However, in short order, (and entirely by providence it seemed) one of my neighbors left a punching bag in their yard with a sign that read: ‘free – please take.’ After duct-taping a broom to the punching bag, I felt confident that I would be able to justly review this book to the best of my ability. So I opened the text.
After the history and intent of the text is laid out by the translator and editor, Jeffrey Hull, the reader takes a step back in time to the 1935 introduction where the author, Wilhelm Fabricius, begins laying down the theory behind the actions. This is something sorely neglected by so many things that affect our youth today – in a world of superheroes, magical powers like ‘the force’, and countless narratives involving ‘chosen ones’, the tedious and often frustrating process of practicing a skill is ignored. Even more ignored is the reality that practicing something effectively requires correct theory and often reassuring mentorship, which is why this book would be an excellent bonding opportunity between father and child. It requires moments of calm contemplation and understanding before careful and repeated execution; martial arts in European style – theory giving way to praxis.
Furthermore, knowing how to fight is steadily becoming more critical than almost any other skill or knowledge for our People, especially for youth who are thrust into school penitentiaries. Knightly Weaponry Play does an excellent job at making this harsh truth ‘fun’ by contextualizing it as a European-style martial art. This is less ‘history fetish’ or propaganda than it is an aid to real, culture-building bonds between families and friends. When I stated earlier that this book is ‘unlike anything else available in our sphere at the moment’, I meant this: for something to be so practical in so many ways and not wallow in depressing statistics or ‘calls to arms’ is to be commended and encouraged. The book does not rely on nuance or subtlety of argument, nor does it attempt to openly bombast our values – no – its strength lies in the fact that this accessibly encourages activity that promotes healthy development of physique and psyche. This is something beyond ideology – beyond politics or beliefs.
But the manual is not isolated to illustrated techniques of swordplay – there are also smaller sections on fencing, bow, and crossbow handling. Some aspects of these sections feel antiquated when compared to what I’ve said above regarding ‘swordplay’, but overall I think their inclusion is important and the illustrations very stimulating for a young mind. I did find the fencing section to be perhaps too ‘refined’ for the modern culture, which lacks any sort of values from a traditional military aristocracy. I can see some of the principles finding use, (such as an adult using the referee rules featured in this section) but the tone of taking ‘sophisticated’ stances and such feels particularly antiquated.
Likewise, the crossbow section seems reliant on the ability to readily procure a crossbow (simply “mail 25 Marks [...] to Youth Domain 2/112, Gerlachsheim in Baden”) or the parts necessary to construct one yourself (ask a mechanic for some band-saw steel and get a leaf-spring from a car). This aspect feels as dated as it is illuminating on the freedom youth once possessed in their communities. Another interesting tidbit in the introduction to the crossbow section was a comparison between a crossbow and an air-rifle and further between a horse and a sportscar. The former are tools that the user is intricately aware of what is occurring during ‘use.’ The latter are machines that are simply being used toward some end. Similar to how the tedious process of competency with swordsmanship is antithetical to the superpowers youth are familiar with, so too have they become less and less acquainted with skillfully using something rather than merely observing or piloting something.
Thankfully for the bow-and-arrow section, the book describes how to make a bow and arrows and what considerations should be taken in gathering the requisite materials (what kind of tree branch is best, what feathers to use for fletching arrows, the best looping for the bowstring). That said, I do wish there were ‘packages’ available for order with the book that included some of the necessary implements (sword, fencing stick, bow-and-arrows, crossbow). I understand this would be logistically unfeasible and that most homes with children have ‘swords’ in abundance, and that furthermore, a trip to the park can produce any number of ‘swords’ from tree branches, but particularly with the crossbow, these training weapons are not as readily available in the modern world as they would have been to members of a youth organization almost one hundred years ago.
Likewise, I do not think someone will read this book and be considered to have any degree of ‘mastery’ – it is not comprehensive and it does not claim to be. But what it lacks in that regard, it makes up for in its ability to instill patience and adequate competency while also sparking the imagination through its doubly-historical character (a reprint of a book from the past about a subject from that contemporary past). I can see a homeschooling group, a family with a bunch of boys, or any group of friends using this in the backyard or at a park to have some fun. I can also see it being the impetus for an interest in HEMA or other fighting sports. As I said before, this book is not ideological, it works towards the formation of values and skills. That’s why I believe this book would be an excellent gift to any of our youth, especially as Summer approaches.
On the back cover of Knightly Weaponry Play, the stated goal of the book is: “juvenile martial prowess which is the organic outcome of suprarational self-worth and historical curiosity leading to autodidactic achievement”. Put simply: ‘to develop the youth of our People to be the best that they can be. I believe this book makes great strides towards that end, which is far more vital than almost anything else. Even if it expresses itself as an infant headbutt.
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