The Wallace Collection recently held an exhibition on The Noble Art of the Sword, where visitors could see range of beautiful fencing manuals written during the Renaissance.
So could a Technical Author learn anything from the way historical fighting manuals were written? I have practiced aikido, a Japanese martial art, since 1992, so the thoughts below relate to the instruction manuals developed for aikido. In particular, the first aikido manual, Budu Renshu.
- The writers. The instructions were not primarily written by the founder. Instead they were written by a student (or students), with the copy reviewed and approved by the Head of aikido. Perhaps the task of drawing the diagrams and writing the text was given to someone who had skills in drawing and writing instructions. The Head focused more on writing the chapters that explain the values and philosophy behind the art.
- The purpose of the manuals. The purpose of the manuals was as a memory aid, not as a self-study guide. In the same way that you cannot learn how to ride a bike by reading a book, they were not designed as a replacement for practice time on the mat.
- The audience. The instruction manuals were not written for beginners or for the general public. They were written for intermediate and advanced students.
- The information design. The pages contained step-by-step images, with explanatory text below. Simple line drawings are used, to make the information more understandable. Some expertise is needed to understand the techniques, as 2D images were used to explain three dimensional movements. Sometimes, the diagrams change to a different perspective, which makes comprehension harder for the reader. Later aikido manuals added lines and arrows to indicate the direction of movement. One of these books, containing diagrams by professional illustrator Oscar Ratti, is still very popular today.
- The accuracy of the documents.The text-based instructions below the images in Budu Renshu have been useful in spotting errors in the diagrams. The manual was copied by students using tracing paper, and sometimes a mirror image was drawn by mistake.
It would be great to find out from someone involved in reviving the Renaissance sword fighting techniques if there are similar features in the manuals of Alferi, Rapisardi and others. Please let us know.