Category: Editorials and Blog

What are you doing for Lent?

As the season of Lent draws near, we will inevitably get asked the question, “So what are you doing for Lent this year?” Before we answer that question, we should take a moment to review what Lent is. Lent is a season of penance that last approximately 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday (February 14th in 2018) and ends on Holy Thursday (March 29th in 2018) and includes all days except Sundays. Taking a cue from Jesus, who spent 40 days fasting in the desert, this period is set aside by the church to deepen our spiritual lives through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

This time is also a call to join the spiritual battle that surrounds each person, every day. Huh? People who try to grow closer to Jesus are often tempted – either by their own nature or by the fallen angels. The heart of spiritual combat is to overcome these temptations to sin because giving up on trying to grow your relationship with the Lord is not a viable option if heaven is your goal.

As the founder of the Order of Lepanto, not only do I look for inspiration from the saints but also from the great sword masters of the Medieval and Renaissance periods in my efforts to win this spiritual battle. One of my favorite quotes is from the teachings of Master Johannes Liechtenauer — “this is the basic tenet of swordsmanship: that a man is always in motion and never at rest.” This is strikingly applicable in both martial arts and the faith life – we must always be in motion, growing ever closer to God.

How to approach Lent?

Like any good general in a battle, you need to approach Lent with a plan. The better the plan is, the more likely you are to be successful.

While Lent is a penitential season, and as such we need to practice penance, we can (and should) take time to introduce new things that will have a positive impact on our overall faith life. My approach is to start with identifying my biggest current spiritual challenge, which changes from year to year, and to discern which elements of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving would work the best to address it. Then, as a step two, I identify ways for a particular element to feed and enhance the others. For example, one might choose to fast from television for a couple of nights per week and to skip the expensive coffees by brewing some at home instead. With that fast as a start, you can create a short prayer to say every time you are tempted to watch TV or to buy a Mocha Latte. You might then take the time freed up by not watching TV to spend time with your spouse, to engage in spiritual reading, or to say a rosary. Finally, you can use the money saved from skipping the $5 coffees to support your favorite ministry, pro-life group, or apostolate like the Order of Lepanto. In that way, you can extend a practice in one area to bear fruit across all of them.

However, like any battle, once you are engaged your opponent does unexpected things. (If you doubt this, come see a sparring match sometime!) In that case, you need to regroup. It’s okay to take a step back once you realize that you fell short in a particular instance. Ask God to help you figure out what went wrong, then use your intellect to review what happened and strategize ways to avoid that pitfall in the future. The most important step at this point is to not to lose heart and give up. A lesson from the sword fighting aspect of the apostolate: I have seen many people get flustered or dejected when they lose the first point (or 2) to their opponent. They begin to believe that they cannot win and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The really good sword fighters can shake off losing that point and come back strong.


With all of that in mind, we are now ready to address our original question, “What are you doing for Lent?” If you are a member of the Order of Lepanto or thinking about becoming one, I recommend reading The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli this Lent, if you have not already done so. I also recommend spending time practicing basic swordsmanship — master guards, master cuts, stance transitions, and flourishing. For general fitness and prayer time, you might consider a pushup rosary – 1-5 pushups after each Hail Mary and 5-10 sit-ups per Our Father.

Here are some other suggestions for everyone:

Additional Prayer time by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family Spiritual reading by yourself, with your spouse, or with your family Family rosary Individual or family catechetical study
Marriage study (even if you are single and only thinking about marriage) Dedicate more time to your favorite apostolate or ministry Attend a daily Mass Stations of the Cross every Friday
Fast from social media Go to confession Chaplet of Divine Mercy Fast from favorite food or drink
Fast from secular TV, radio, etc. Add Catholic media – radio, TV to your regular schedule Bible reading Fast from eating out
Make plans to attend a conference or retreat Pray the Angelus every day Make daily prayer a priority Fast on all Fridays in Lent
Forgive someone who hurt you in the past Reunite with extended family Be intentional about the time you spend with your immediate family Increase exercise (or practice those sword skills!)

Remember, though, to find an area of spiritual weakness and then find a spiritual practice to address it. A good battle plan will lead to better results!

Deo Gratias!

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for the Catholic Swordsman

So, you have a Catholic swordsman that you are looking to get a gift for and you are in need of ideas. You’ve come to the right spot! Sword-based western martial arts is a fairly unique thing and as such it is hard to get reliable information on equipment and training needs. This quick guide can help you to outfit your loved one this Christmas so he is ready to learn the art with the other members of the Order of Lepanto!

1. Sword Maintenance Gear. The thing about using weapons that are designed similar to their Medieval and Renaissance counterparts is that they require much more maintenance than you think. Consistent maintenance is necessary to protect your investment and to ensure your tools are performing to the best of their ability.


A person who has a wooden sword will need to have boiled linseed oil to regularly treat the sword.





For those who have a blunted steel sword, there are a few more items needed


Oil to prevent rust – you can use a gun oil or a sword oil for this






A flat metal file with a medium grit to dress nicks in the edge






And a way to store the sword when not in use that will protect it from rust. I recommend using a gun sock made for rifles, they are inexpensive and the length is just right.





2. Sparring Gloves. While the original manuals do not show people wearing gloves, except during the winter, there is a need in our modern society to take some basic hand protection into account. While, it would seem that thick gloves would be the order of the day, it is actually better for your dexterity to use thinner gloves with just a bit of padding to reduce the force of an impact.

A set of T-Rex gloves by Magid. These gloves offer good protection to all 5 fingers, knuckles, and the back of the hand.





A set of Original M-Pact gloves from Mechanix. Good protection for 4 fingers and knuckles, okay protection on the thumb and back of hand.





or basic leather one’s will do nicely.






3. “The Spiritual Combat” or “Manual for Spiritual Warfare”. The thing about being a Catholic swordsman is that you are studying Western Martial Arts, not for its own sake, but as the metaphor and training ground for spiritual combat. In that vein, you need a good manual of spiritual warfare.

The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli is the book that Saint Ignatius carried with him and that he read every day.





A more modern book, the Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen is a wonderful companion too.





4. Training Dagger. Training weapons made of hickory or blunted steel are a critical component of this art. A wooden dagger is a nice additional piece to add to your martial artist’s tools and it has a lower cost than a full sword.

The Rondel was favored during this period





but a bladed Gauche would also have been seen.





5. “The Knightly Art of the Longsword” or “Codex Wallerstein”. We are studying a sword-based martial art, so having multiple manuals from the Medieval and/or Renaissance is important for a student. These are the best for beginners in the art

Sigmund Ringneck’s translation is a little dated, but the manual is easy to understand and gives an excellent foundational understanding of the longsword, which is the basis of all western martial arts.





Codex Wallerstein gives another perspective on the longsword as well as adding in wrestling, dagger, and other weapons.





6. Membership to The Order of Lepanto. Just what every Catholic Western martial Artist needs – a 1 year membership to the Order of Lepanto! We are dedicated to faithfully re-creating the martial arts that the knights used during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, along with building the faith of the men involved.


7. Fencing Mask. A key component to learning any martial art is sparring – testing your skills against a real opponent in a friendly setting where both can learn. With sword sparring, a mask is required for safety.

Luckily there are a couple of affordable options from Absolute Fencing and Blue Gauntlet Fencing.





8. Wooden Waster. The wooden water is a time honored tradition that hearkens back to the Renaissance. Since swords were expensive and one did not want to damage them during training, men would use wooden training weapons that simulated the look and feel of the real thing. We only recommend using impact grade hickory swords. Some of our recommended ones are:


Hollow Earth Swordworks

Purple Heart Armory

or New Stirling Arms




9. Bob Torso Training Bag. This training tool was developed for unarmed martial arts, but it works quite nicely with a waster or a blunt steel sword.

You can use the BOB to ensure your edge alignment is good and for practicing combinations. If you are handy, you could also build a pell out of a 4×4 post and some other materials – a nice set of instructions can be found here.





10. Steel Sword. The ultimate gift for the budding swordsman in your life! While this is a more pricey piece of equipment, there is nothing like practicing with steel sword. There are a lot of low-quality swords out there that are not designed or built to withstand the rigors of sparring. The one’s listed here are built to withstand the pressures of the fight.


The Maestro Line from Albion is currently the ultimate in sparring swords. The Meyer and Liechtenauer are the models to looking at.





Another good choice is a Feder from Regenyei Armoury. These are good mid-tier swords.





Finally, there is the Tinker-Pearce Longsword from Hanwei. It is a beginners sword with a price to match. This one won’t last as long, but it is a way to spar with a real steel sword.





Merry Christmas to all!

       (updated on 28 Nov 17 to reflect some new options)

Beauty and the Martial Arts

“At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable.” – Dietrich von Hildebrand

I recently had occasion to read some excerpts from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Aesthetics. In this book, he speaks about the role of beauty in the formation of a person. At one point he quotes Ernest Hello in saying, “The mediocre person has only one passion, namely hatred of the beautiful,”1 which, of course, got me to thinking about martial arts in general, and specifically about MARE (Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe).


The forms and movements of martial arts certainly cannot be directly compared with the higher order of beauty that comes from God’s unique creative power. However, they can be roughly compared with the lower order of beauty as created by human beings. The motions and movements found in the forms of different martial arts contain a certain kind of beauty similar to dance, though with a purpose as different as night and day: fine arts versus self-defense. But like dance, the precise control of the body and its motions while moving from one position to the next in a fluid manner has a beauty of its own. When outside of the area of combat, transitioning from defense to offense and back again in motions that are at once both sweeping and efficient can be said to be similar to a dance form.


Mr. von Hildebrand states, “At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable.”2 When one martial artist observes another performing a well-executed flouryshe3, the underlying beauty of unscripted set of strikes, blocks, steps, and transitions does that exact thing. We are caught up in the fluidity of motion, the control, and an awareness both of self, surroundings, as well as others. When we then turn this contemplation of the art into a deeper contemplation on the mysteries of God and His creation, we have gone past the practical goal and entered a deeper layer of our journey in the martial art. Building the skill of contemplation is part of the journey in the Order of Lepanto because we do not study MARE simply as a tool of defense, but rather, as a tool to improve our spiritual lives.


Dietrich von Hildebrand also goes on to say that “[b]eauty is the archenemy of mediocrity,”4 which is also true of the martial arts. The mediocre practitioner strikes with too much or too little power. His timing is off. There is little to no fluidity of his motions with the sword and his body. Now obviously, we all begin at this point for as a physical endeavor martial arts takes practice. However, our goal should always be towards an unattainable (in this life) perfection. As we work closer and closer to that goal, beauty is revealed. To the man that is satisfied with mediocrity, there is neither beauty nor success in his art. Without that fluidity, that beauty, the ability to execute self-defense movements are limited.


We are all being called to grow closer to God and His beauty through whatever gifts and talents He has given us. Be sure to look for beauty and eschew mediocrity in all its forms.



  1. Ernest Hello, L’Homme (Paris: Perrin, 1936), in the chapter entitled “L’homme mediocre,” 59–60
  2. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Aesthetics Volume 1 (Steubenville: Hildebrand Project, 2016). Page 5
  3. In MARE a flouryshe is an unscripted combination of strikes, cuts, blocks, steps and transitions.
  4. Dietrich von Hildebrand, Aesthetics Volume 1 (Steubenville: Hildebrand Project, 2016). Page 6

Preparing for Lent

As you are most likely aware, Lent is a liturgical season in the Catholic Church that comes before Easter. Officially, it begins on Ash Wednesday (which is March 1st this year) and ends on Holy Thursday (April 13th), lasting slightly longer than 40 days. Since the date of Easter moves based on the cycles of the moon, the dates of Lent will be different every year. The meaning of the word “Lent” is from the old English meaning length and this is, of course, an allusion to the lengthening of days during this period. As the days get longer, there is more light and less dark. Similarly we are called to grow in faith and grow the light of Christ in our lives, while reducing the darkness of sin.

The season of Lent is a penitential season, meaning that the faithful are asked to participate by performing some kind of penance. Traditionally this has involved giving something up, which could be a special treat or a bad habit that gets in the way of spiritual growth. Growing in self-discipline and learning to offer up the “suffering” of these minor sacrifices is the goal of this spiritual exercise.

In our culture many attach a great meaning to the New Year, making resolutions involving healthy habits of eating and exercise are quite popular. However, if a person were to go to gym on try to do 90 minutes of intense exercise as a beginner, they would either injure themselves or become so sore and exhausted as to be unable (or unwilling) to come back. Think of Lenten practices as spiritual exercise. You are trying to get your mind and soul in shape. Therefore, a similar set of rules should guide you –

  1. Start slow and build up
  2. Vary your exercise for maximum benefit
  3. Don’t obsess over the numbers

In starting your spiritual exercise routine, start with a few things that you can easily integrate your daily routine. Adding morning and/or evening prayers, short biblical readings and other things are simple and effective if you’re not already doing them. While giving things up does have a great benefit, we need to also vary are spiritual exercise program by adding acts of service, prayers, or spiritual reading because growing in your faith involves adding good practices as much as it requires eliminating the less desirable.

If you are searching for something new this Lent, here’s a list of possible ideas:

  • Fast from “noise.” We live in a society of over-stimulation, so turn off the television and radio (or turn them to EWTN) for 30 minutes a day (or more).
  • Take a break from social media, either totally or impose time limits.
  • Exercise and prayer. If you do physical exercise, begin and end that time with prayer.
  • Read a book or watch a movie on the life of a saint.
  • Try turning out the lights and television 30 minutes early, lighting a candle and spend time in prayer with your spouse.
  • Men’s groups. Classes at a gym are popular because the group helps motivate you, this is the same in your spiritual exercise program. The Order of Lepanto, Knights of Columbus and other solidly Catholic groups will help you with that spiritual motivation.
  • Pray for Catechumens. There are catechumens who are preparing to enter the church at Easter, pray for them and their sponsors.
  • Visit someone in a nursing home or in a hospital.
  • You can find a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or crisis pregnancy center to donate your time to.
  • Daily Mass. You can go to daily Mass once a week or more often as your schedule allows.
  • Eating out. Try fasting from eating out and then donating the money saved to a ministry or apostolate.
  • The Rosary is a powerful prayer and you could add it once or twice a week. You can pray it alone, with your spouse, or even better you can pray it as a family.
  • Stations of the Cross. This practice is available at most Catholic churches during Lent, so take advantage of it.

In thinking of this like an exercise routine, engage the Holy Spirit as the “personal trainer” in your journey. When you go to the gym, or advance through martial arts, a coach or mentor helps you to learn, perfect, and then grow to the next level while addressing short-comings along the way. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work similarly in your faith life – ask Him to show you what He wants you to work on. God has a plan for your life and He can help you grow towards it, ask and be open. Also, like any good exercise routine, don’t stop when you reach your initial goal. Make your new faith practices part of your regular life when we get to Easter so that you can enjoy a deeper, richer Christian life.

The Physicality of Knighthood and the Theology of the Body

As part of my studies of the martial arts of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, I specifically looked at the history of knights, especially those of the Catholic Military Orders (e.g. The Knights of Saint John/Malta/Hospitaller, Teutonic Knights, etc.). In the course of that reading, I came across an article from Patrick Meehan, published at the website in 2014. The author writes about the history of knights and how the actions of these historical figures runs the gamut from violent and destructive to the courtesies of courtly life. The author goes on to discuss the happenings in the lives of 3 different knights – an anonymous knight in the Teutonic Knights, Ulrich von Lichtenstein, and Jӧrg von Ehingen. The lives of these three men were distinctly different and spanned 200 years of history, but there was a common thread that linked them together and linked them to us – and the key to understanding that linkage lies in the Theology of the Body.

On the surface it seems rather implausible that the Theology of the Body, written by Saint John Paul II over the course of several years, which deals with sexuality can create a link to men who lived 800 years earlier and who were known for their fighting skills. Love and war? Always interesting topics, regardless of the generation.

In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II delves into the interpersonal love of spouses and how the one flesh union is a visible sign of God’s love made present in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. God’s love has four components – it must be free, total, faithful, and fruitful. So to, should the love between spouses exhibit these four elements and marriages suffer when they are absent. First is freedom – we must be free to marry our spouse. Which means not only that we are not married to another, but also that we are not forcing our spouse to do something and we are able to forsake relations with all others. Next is total, the love must be total and one spouse should not say “I give you everything, except…” Totality also includes forever, which is why a prenuptial agreement is an impediment to a sacramental marriage as it presupposes failure and you have not committed to give your spouse your entire future. Faithfulness is third on the list and it should be clear, at least on the physical level, of the importance of faithfulness. This also refers to faithfulness in word and in thought – engaging in fantasies about others is unfaithful too. And finally fruitful, which describes how physical relations between spouses need to be open to life, though not necessarily timed to generate a life. This vision of spousal love is a total gift of self to the vocation of marriage – our work, our play, and our faith life are centered on our spouse and any children that arise from this union.

Before we begin looking at the knights, the reader should be aware that there were two different kinds of knighthood. The first was the secular – a man swore his oath of allegiance to a particular king, while the second kind of knighthood was by being a member of a religious Military Order (taking vows similar to a religious brother) – these would include Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar, etc. These two distinct ways of life in knighthood existed side-by-side during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Again we might ask – how does this relate to knights, martial arts and sword fighting? While there are obvious differences between marriage and living the life of a warrior (at least we hope so!), the underlying Catholic faith of the knights and the spouses is the same and so the principles which undergird both should be (and are) quite similar. In an analogous way to marriage, the knights had to be free, total, faithful, and fruitful to their vocation too. Knights not only had to freely agree to serve, but they had to be free of impediments that might divide their loyalty (such as a wife and family for the religious Knights). There was a totality of service, especially in the military orders of the Church, whereby knights gave their money to the Order and turned over any property to the Order. As an example of their faithfulness Knights were expected, and often did, sacrifice their bodies in service to the leader or kingdom they swore fealty to. The fruitfulness that a Knight was called to is certainly different than that of the spousal relationship, though also of great value during this period. Knights were expected to be fruitful in their works and in the defense of the subjects of a kingdom or members of the faith (for the religious Knights). Another way that knights fulfilled their call to be fruitful, was to take on boys as pages to be trained, promoted to squires, and finally to become knights in their own right. The process lasted about 14 years and during that time these boys and young men would live with their knight instead of their family.

We are often called to submit our bodies to our vocation – from the pregnant woman, to the spouse who works hours to provide for the family, or the knight who endures the pain of training and battle. Beyond the dedication of one’s sexuality to one’s spouse, there is also the dedication of our bodies to other aspects of our family.

In our current, sex-saturated culture, the ideas embodied in the Theology of the Body are considered both revolutionary and impossible. But to the faithful, the idea of pledging oneself to his or her vocation is nothing new. As Mr. Meehan points out in his article “knights of the Order submitted their bodies to violence,” and though that kind of dedication seems nearly impossible to modern thinking, the corollary thought of dedicating one’s sexuality to their vocation seems totally unthinkable. However, seen through the eyes of faith, this dedication to a mission from God bridges the gap of 1,000 years and ties together the medieval and modern members of the Church founded by Jesus.

Why Fellowship in Faith and Martial Arts?

We all live in community and the attitude of our fellows impact the depth of our faith as well as how we train in the martial arts. Good intentions are not enough – we must practice what we say we believe.

While any collection of people (whether virtual or physical) can be called a community, the strength of the bond between them is the result of the shared interest and each person’s commitment to it. Is it only martial arts and historic studies, or does it include the depth and breadth of the Catholic faith? It is the bonds of faith which are the most lasting, because they anchor our community in a transcendent truth as taught by Jesus and passed on by the Catholic Church throughout the last 2,000 years.

What brings a student of historical fighting arts together with others? If you were to travel back in time, you would see that this craft, sometime called a noble science, was never practiced as a simple leisure activity nor solely for the glory of the person. But rather, with a recognition that as a warrior the fighting man was part of a brotherhood of arms. Whether as some order of Catholic or feudal knight, or gentleman courtier, as scholar in a school of defense or fellow in a fighting guild, learning and practicing the art of arms demanded solidarity among practitioners. Beyond this mere brotherhood of arms, there was also the brotherhood of faith. Belonging to the same faith allowed the men of Catholic knightly orders to share a common point of reference, one that transcended language, kingdom, or even family. The role of faith in the broader context of relationship during this time period is often overlooked by modern practitioners.

One of the offshoots of the concept of the “rugged individual” which is found throughout the culture of the United States, is the idea that we can “go it alone” in everything. Similar to the idea of “me and Jesus”, many modern enthusiasts like to imagine they can train alone in their own “solo art.” It is not true for martial arts practice nor is it true for the faith. We are designed by God to live in community – as it says in Proverbs, “iron sharpens iron,” leading to the logical conclusion that you need the iron of others in your life. In the same way, fighting skills are not practiced in a psychological vacuum but with the need for mental and emotional control. A martial discipline cannot be practiced in social isolation, independent from the need to exercise with and against others. Indeed, many religious found the martial arts a help to understanding the greater spiritual combat that we are called to in our Christian life. Outside of faith, even humanist educators of the Renaissance stressed the martial arts as part of their curricula because of its value to help make a better citizen.

There is no doubt that, ultimately, self-defense is a highly individual matter that consists largely of self-effort — whether engaged on the battlefield in combat, or in the spiritual temptations we are called to fight. However, the knightly art of arms was never really something to be practiced remotely in seclusion or for some singular occasion, but with one’s fellows—and not just any fellows, but those whose honor was demonstrated and whose respect had been earned. Just as the faith was meant, not to be practiced alone, but with those fellows who were earnestly trying to achieve heaven, and whose council could be trusted in matters of faith. There was no selfish “lone warrior” myth nor much truth to the knight errant, any more than you go to Mass alone to receive the Eucharist. The Art as expressed in the Renaissance source teachings, was taught with the recognition it was intended only for those who were deemed worthy, those trustworthy to receive it. Lest you think faith is much different, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:13, “Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” Our work in pursuit of the faith will be judged and found either worthy or not – we are called to works through our love and faith to prove ourselves just as the Renaissance martial artists judged each other as worthy in a human context. Exactly how much these practices were followed in historical reality, we can never really know. But in striving for best in our faith journey and our martial skills, we teach and demonstrate to others a desire to learn and to strive for mastery of the craft and the faith.

People today often complain about how modern society view the pursuits of life and faith. Modern society tends to over-commercialize many things and trivialize those who seek to live with sincerity, commitment, and deep faith. What drives some to long for the past is seeing how people were able to live an integrated life, where faith and action were equaled teamed to not only teach right and wrong, but created a call to DO right and AVOID wrong. Here we have in this craft a legacy that at once celebrates individual achievement and awards personal effort while it simultaneously acknowledges our shared connection to a Catholic heritage. It has an ability to draw us closer to the men who once defended the faith in a unique way, while also increasing our own understanding of God’s call in our lives. The men in our group strive to live by the traditional dedication to principle and honor.

Although unselfishness is not a feature that immediately springs to mind in regard to either historical research or the practice of a martial discipline, it is a key feature of the Christian life that believers are called to. In pursuit of a restoration of reverence, renewal of a uniquely Catholic sub-culture, and preservation of our heritage the practice of unselfishness is key. So it is worth asking yourself – what is your interest in the martial arts of Renaissance Europe? Are you trying to use them for your own needs? Or do see this as a way to share with others? Or do you see it as even broader – a desire to build the faith, to see more men in relationship with Jesus, to see more people trying to live out His will, and to share your faith and martial skills with others? We work to reconstruct and revive these lost fighting systems, for far more than the history itself. We do it to rebuild and re-energize our Church in a modern age which has thrown off reverence, belief, respect, principle, and honor. Why even seek out others who share our passion if it is not because of something more than just a commonality of collective curiosity? We are much more than a loose affiliation with strangers – we are a community of believers who are committed to a mission.

This craft is about self-improvement and mutual education as a means to rebuild our individual faith as well as he Church as a whole. It is not a group that exists in some virtual social networking media, nor is it defined by shrill online banter, or the pretentious role-play of some imagined nobility, but it is an organized assemblage with real principles and sincere values. As a self-defense art, this discipline can be somewhat centered on the individual, and certainly it is self-preserving and self-realizing. But by pursuing it with the love of neighbor and love of enemy that Jesus called us to, we can engage in our quest in an unselfish manner – neither deceiving nor exploiting one’s fellows. By identifying with the saints and with real historical masters, along with the Church and fighting guilds, we can improve the craft, ourselves, and our larger community. All of this is why petty politicking and commercialism is shunned within our guild.


Today, just as in the Renaissance era, those who seek others to train with or a teacher to learn from must do so with a sense of camaraderie, loyalty, morality, and trust. Anything less disrespects our heritage and works against the very ideals the Masters upheld. …Faith, History, Heritage, Self-defense, and Camaraderie. Who could argue with that?






Sparring Systems of The Order of Lepanto

For many who are involved in Western Martial Arts (WMA), the only goal of practicing historical swordsmanship is to come as close as possible to developing real martial skill in the use of period weapons. Members of The Order of Lepanto also share this goal, but not as a means unto itself: it is a path to enhancing your faith life, preparing for spiritual warfare, and guides you in living out your vocation.

Unlike sixteenth century swordsmen, today’s student of the sword will, most likely, never have the opportunity to put his skill to the ultimate physical test. Even so, we want to develop true martial skill in the art. By then translating the lessons to our spiritual life, we will be more prepared for the real-life tests our faith will have to endure. So the approach we have developed at the Order is true to martial skills, martial heritage, and orthodox Catholic teaching. It is certainly one of the most complex, and it offers something more than what is generally available in Western swordsmanship. Let’s look at what the Order of Lepanto’s method of teaching historical swordsmanship and spiritual growth is all about.

What’s the point?

If you’re serious about learning swordsmanship, then the measure of any system of study is the quality of the education that results. In other words, you expect a working knowledge of how to fight effectively with swords. You also want to acquire the basics within a reasonable amount of time – without the “wax on, wax off” routines that tend to keep beginners from quickly advancing. Ultimately, the system should produce a mature, competent swordsman – a swordsman capable of using real weapons in actual combat.

The farther a system gets from the reality of combat, the less useful it becomes to the student who wants true martial skill. Realistically, all systems involve a certain amount of “distance from combat reality. Simulations are used as an alternative to real fights. Safe sparring systems must be created to meet the demands of modern studies. A reasonable gage of an effective system is to see how closely its sparring system resembles the dynamics of real weapons use. This is an area where The Order of Lepanto and one other group stand out. Our sparring systems are merely a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We do not try to achieve skill at “sparring.” Rather, a number of sparring techniques are used to develop skill at fighting. You can judge the value of a sparring system by measuring how well true fighting principles work in the sparring environment. Ideally, the system should allow you to do what works without letting you get away with what wouldn’t. Target areas and sparring weapon construction are two factors which will figure in this appraisal.

If you’re serious about growing in your faith, then we would measure that system by a different standard: are you becoming more patient, are you learning to love people who are hard to love, are you increasing your knowledge of the faith. Many people today have been left with a teenage understanding of the faith because that is where the traditional religious education program stopped. The Order of Lepanto aims to build an adult understanding of your catholic faith and help you to grow in that faith.

Learning a fighting skill, like WMA, is not an invitation to random violence, as some might suggest. Rather, it is learning to discipline your body and mind to achieve a difficult goal. The building of courage, strength, decisiveness, and confidence are the fruits of the martial arts portion of The Order of Lepanto, while finding out how God wants those skills directed and used are the fruits of the spiritual component of our program. Pursuing both the physical and spiritual with equal gusto are necessary to

Determining the Focal Point

Before proceeding, let’s narrow the focus a bit. The only way to evaluate any training system properly is to first grasp its intended role in the overall goal of a program. Developing martial skill and building a healthy, Catholic faith life is the goal of our system. There are no contests or competitions. Sparring itself provides a workshop in which members can safely practice the martial skills that they’ve learned. Our faith studies then go on to provide a framework to relate that martial skill to the realities of spiritual life for the Church Militant. Comparing what The Order of Lepanto does to what a number of non-martial groups are doing with swords will help bring this point into focus.

First, we will look at sport fencing. In spite of its ancestry, modern fencing is not meant to transmit the art of historical swordsmanship. The foil, epee and saber are no longer stand-ins for weapons but ‘weapons’ themselves. In sport fencing, the value of a technique is not its lethality but its ability to score, and the attitude of the modern fencer is competitive rather than martial (a trend that can be seen in some Eastern martial arts, too). It must be said that modern fencing lays no claims to teach an historical system of swordsmanship – it’s an evolving sport where new innovation takes fencers towards the sport aspect and further from its roots.

However, things you learn from sport fencing instruction can be useful in studying historical swordsmanship. Familiarity with fencing terminology is a plus and practicing fencing is a better preparation for a real sword fight than no practice at all. But the purpose of fencing is not the study of historical swordsmanship, so the merit of the sport has little impact on our present evaluation.

A sub-culture has emerged in the fencing community which is focused on the teaching of eighteenth and nineteenth century swordsmanship. Classical fencing asks the question, “What if our swords were sharp?” Techniques and thinking of the modern fencer are removed, and the classical fencer returns to a more martial use of the dueling epee and the smallsword.

A second practice we will review is the fighting done in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which they classify as “heavy” and “light”. While these forms are practiced as a kind of competitive sport by many, and as a semi-martial practice by some, their intent is not to produce swordsmen skilled in the use of real weapons. As with sport fencing, there may be many benefits afforded by SCA, but these are secondary to the main purpose of the pursuit.

The question of “purpose” or intent is critical, as you can’t fault a system that doesn’t claim to teach real swordsmanship for using a sparring system that doesn’t prepare a student for the realities of combat, much as you cannot fault a secular school for failing to teach the Catholic moral standards. While many people criticize systems like that of the SCA for these reasons, we must understand that SCA combat was never intended to be a martial pursuit.

Stage combat falls into the same category. Many stage combatants use replica weapons, and they create a spectacle which looks convincing to the untrained eye. We must remember that stage combat is about creating an illusion, not a fight. In that pursuit, stage combatants often sacrifice “authenticity” for the purposes of safety or entertainment and we shouldn’t be surprised – or concerned. People study stage combat to learn how to pretend to fight, not how to do it for real.

In summary, the exclusion of these three categories is not intended to disparage their participants or discourage their pursuit. All require skilled participation and can produce impressive results. None of them claims to teach historical swordsmanship, like The Order of Lepanto and a couple of others. But unlike other martial programs, The Order of Lepanto exists not only to preserve and pass on a practical understanding of historical swordsmanship, but to also cultivate a faith life similar to the deep religious belief of the historical swordsman himself.

The obsolescence of the sword

One factor irrevocably separates anything we do today from the historical reality: the obsolescence of the sword. No matter how proficient your skill with the sword, you’ll most likely never use it in a life or death context. Even if the nearest thing at hand when your house is broken into is your trusty longsword, the odds of your intruder also being a swordsman are slim to none.

Because people no longer use swords for real anymore, there is no common knowledge to draw upon in the study of swordsmanship. Nowadays we use guns, and even people with no formal firearms training know enough to operate the weapon. The same was most likely true in the fifteenth century with swords. The process of learning swordsmanship without that common knowledge means not just starting from square one, but moving back to square zero. With historical accuracy as our goal, we must unlearn the things we have learned from TV, movies, fencing, SCA and Eastern martial arts.

To study historical swordsmanship, we have to focus on learning the real techniques preserved in the historical manuals, which reveal themselves through training. And since we’ll never have the chance to try them in combat, we need an effective method of practice and sparring that checks the effectiveness of our technique against a determined opponent.

The need for safety

That’s where safety rears its ugly head. The only way to be confident that a technique works is to use it effectively against a determined, skilled opponent in a life or death struggle. When you try to simulate this reality as closely as possible, you’re essentially weighing safety in one hand and realism in the other. You’ve got to strike a balance as far in the favor of realism as you can without sacrificing safety.

If you begin with real combat as your “ideal,” the first obvious safety measure is to use blunted weapons. The next measure is to use both headgear (fencing mask) and gloves – though there is precedent for “scholar’s privilege” which is an agreement not to thrust to the head, The Order of Lepanto requires both men to have achieved Knight Scholasticus ranking before it can be invoked. But a blunted weapon isn’t necessarily a safe one, which means that participants must also exercise proper control. Strikes must be carried out with enough speed to be effective in a real confrontation and yet contact must also be controlled enough to keep your partner safe.

Simulating the sword

In the medieval and Renaissance period, swords were not mass-produced to some pre-determined standard. Looking back, it is impossible to define the specifications of a longsword versus a cut-and-thrust sword beyond generalities. Therefore, we cannot say for certain that a specific sword accurately simulates the handling of all swords of a similar type.

One of the key issues is that virtually no modern maker has their hand-forged pieces tested for durability in warding off the full force blows of other sharp blades, nor do they go around hitting soft and hard armors full force. So much work and effort has gone into their pieces that they do not want to see them damaged. Further, customers who have spent a lot of money are not about to damage them doing the same either. Most every maker and every consumer does minimal work to evaluate a blade to the point of destruction. They then base their future impressions of other swords upon that small experience.

Another problem is that every sword can be unique. Even ones that match the same general geometry and form can vary considerably. When it comes to replicas, unfortunately, there are just so many different elements to miss and crucial factors to get wrong that the bad samples seem to outnumber the good ones by a good bit. Just getting the general shape and weight correct, then using quality steel that’s been properly tempered isn’t enough.

When you pick up most any sword, you can make an instant decision as to whether or not it “feels” good. However, without manipulating that sword with proper motion and energy, this is a very shallow assessment. There is a combination of factors that go into making a sword really stand out as a real weapon. While these are not evident through holding a piece in your hand or moving it through empty air, they become obvious it’s wielded with the requisite force and energy needed to strike effective blows against a test target combined with practice in warding off forceful strikes. This is where you see whether a weapon holds up and how well it maneuvers for whatever combat actions it was originally designed.

Nevertheless, we know from other examples that simulation can be a valid form of training – police live-fire combat ranges and pilot training programs make similar trade-offs without losing their effectiveness as tools. As long as there is an awareness of the nature of the simulation, and the aspects of combat that the model doesn’t accurately portray, the use of simulation in training is a plus.



Two Three-Legged Stools

Ironically enough, fighting it out with the real weapons is the most ineffective method of training of all, since only one participant gets the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. To learn historical swordsmanship more effectively, we need a system that uses a “triangulating” approach – combining different aspects into a cohesive system of the sword and faith. Much like the three-legged stool of the Church – Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium – without which the faith cannot stand, the studies of the Order of Lepanto are three-legged as well.

The first leg of our training is structured drills, undertaken with either a wooden “waster” or a blunted steel. These weapons have the weight and appearance of the real thing, and they have some of the same handling characteristics, such as a tapering blade and a discernible edge. They teach precision and finesse. We review drawings and descriptions of the actions in historical documents and then work to understand the motion and dynamics being described. This first takes places at slow speed, before building up to a medium pace, with the overall intent of creating muscle memory of the action so that it can be employed with little thought. Drills in this category include fuhlen (or feeling), where the practitioner learns to feel his opponent’s sword and read his intent, in addition to master stances, master cuts, and counters.

Taken alone, structured drills with blunt replicas is not an effective method for learning the martial aspect of historical swordsmanship. The second leg of our stool is sparring (referred to as “free play” by some). In sparring, we look to deliver solid, forceful blows without injuring an opponent, which allows a full-body target – an essential for realistic combat training. In sparring we put the actions that are practiced in drills to use in an adversarial (yet friendly) situation. The more realistically sparring is conducted, the more it sharpens reflexes, develops perception, teaches adversarial counter-timing, explores spontaneous tactics, conveys the skill of deceiving without being deceived, and lets the student try things that end up with them either getting whacked or not, but in the process not being maimed or killed.

Our third, and final, leg is the Catholic perspective. In this area of our studies, members are actively reading period writings by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola, and looking to understand how the martial arts of that period shaped their understanding of the faith. We look to leverage our knowledge of sparring technique and weapons drills towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of spiritual warfare. Sharpened reflexes, detailed perceptions, and being able to respond spontaneously are all skills that are sharpened with martial arts and critical to the spiritual battles everyone will face. We also explore this area though prayer – our groups are required to open and close each practice in group prayer. The act of practicing martial arts servers to bring our members closer together and when combined with the positive spiritual experience shared prayer, we grow towards a closer brotherhood.

Taken as a whole, this system “triangulates” true skill by approaching practice from several different angles. When you add to this our insistence on test cutting (and thrusting) with sharp weapons, you get a fairly complete understanding of both historical swordsmanship as distinct skills and how that skill shaped the faith of the historical swordsman.

Don’t miss the focus

This is not a question of condemning fencing, the SCA, or any other group. You don’t have to look hard to see that there is a difference between what they do and what The Order of Lepanto does. The mistake people make is to look at one or two aspects of what we do and missing the bigger picture. He saw a part of the picture, but not the whole.

The thing that separates what The Order of Lepanto does from sport fencing, groups such as the SCA – and most any other program you compare it to – is that the purpose of our method is to produce skilled combatants. But there is another dimension too – because while there are other groups whose sole focus is historical combat, only The Order of Lepanto looks to grow beyond pure combat and help to build faith-filled Catholic men, who can use their martial skill in the test of spiritual warfare. In that vein, we do not sponsor competitions or anoint kings or put on performances. Our focus is narrow and concerns itself with than the effective use of historical weapons as a martial art and building a strong Catholic faith. You must not look at any aspect of the Order of Lepanto training system as a stand-alone piece or an end unto itself. As our introduction pointed out, no one involved in our group is concerned about learning to fight well with wooden swords or learning to fight well with padded swords. What we are concerned about is learning to fight well with real, sharp swords and with a real prayer life. All of these simulators are tools to help accomplish our goal, and together, they combine to offer a very effective system.

Here are The Order of Lepanto’s guidelines employed as general rules of thumb for sparring:

  • Situational Awareness = Maintaining good edge alignment and targeting
  • Purpose = striking with a degree of force within range to achieve actual contact; must be done in a way that has proper motion to simulate the inertia of a real blow
  • Control = not hitting too hard or too fast to prevent injury, striking the selected target
  • Time-on-Target = connecting with a sufficient interval of time whereby the weapon makes contact in order to simulate the energy that would have impacted or penetrated

Bishop issues a call to arms!

As many of us are painfully aware, there has been a lack of evangelization directed towards men. Men are not hearing what they need from the pulpit and there have been few resources to help in our faith journey. The good news is that this has been changing in recent times, The Order of Lepanto is one of the resources aiding in the shift along with many other fine Catholic men’s blogs. But for many, the call to arms from the hierarchy of the Church was a missing piece of the puzzle.

Today, I am pleased to share that Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix has started putting that piece into place. This is an amazing letter which I implore all of you to read in its entirety. However, I would also like to present you with a few excerpts:

“Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real.”

“One of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men have not been willing to “step into the breach” – to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack”

This is call many men have been eagerly waiting for.

The Hard Part

The call of Bishop Olmstead is wonderful and timely. It fits what many us believe is the right course of action for re-invigorating Catholic men. But it requires action our part – if this call goes unheeded, it may be a long time until we hear it again. We need to organize local men’s groups, like the Order of Lepanto and others, to help men in this quest.

I find the title, Into the Breach, most interesting since it is of medieval origin and has a direct tie in to the Order of Lepanto. During a battle, siege weapons were used to try and knock holes (breaches) in the protective wall surrounding the castle. If a breach were to occur, the defenders would run to that area and attempt to build a human wall to replace the protection of the missing stones. We find ourselves in a similar situation today: Secular culture has laid siege to the Christian way of life and has managed to blow huge holes in it. We now need men to pour into those breaches to provide cover for our families and our faith. Instead of standing up to arrows and swords, we must now stand up to embarrassment and possible ridicule. Although the risk is great, the rewards are greater.

The priests and bishops need our help, it is time to rush to the wall and stand in the breach!