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Old 12th March 2005, 12:48 PM   #1
Chris Evans
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Default Manual del Baratero - A Review

A Critical Review of the

`Manual del Baratero'


1. Loriega's translation of the MdB is very well done. I have read it in the original Spanish and this work gets it across in a most readable manner. The numerous annotations by the translator make the many obscure colloquialisms of the era understandable and the work as a whole gains an additional depth. But..... The book itself, despite the exalted status that many in the English speaking world awarded it, is a classic example of the naked emperor. The MdB is such a flawed work that to fully analyze its contents, would require writing another book. Here I will confine myself to just giving the collector who attempts to understand this weapon through this old work, an overview of the problems inherent in it.

2. The MdB is considered by most Spanish speaking academics a literary hoax. It purports to have been written by a master of arms but in fact its author was Mariano de Rementeria y Fica, a well known Basque academic and professor who lectured at the "Escuela Normal de Instruccion Primaria de Madrid" and not known as a fighting man. He may well have had a secret life wielding knives, but this is unlikely on account of his privileged social status and is borne out by the numerous absurdities and inconsistencies in the book, that no one with real expertise would have written. Many of these Loriega picked up and critically commented on, but there are many more that he glossed over, such as the author recommending a navaja with a blade at most (CE:why at most?) a hand in length and three or four fingers wide (pg2): This is the description of a bizarre 6"x3" hatchet blade and not that of a navaja! Most navajas of the period were considerably longer and had slim fish-shaped, pointed blades...And then this same blade is supposedly able to pierce through a 2" thick plank (CE:styrofoam?). Ha!

But wait, there is more: According to Loriega (pg41), the whole section on defending oneself unarmed was taken, word for word from a small sword fencing book, but with the sides reversed! And then there are a series of extremely dubious tricks and rouses such as throwing a navaja which is attached to the `diestro' with a string; Of a `Passata Sotto' with a knife, or tripping ones opponent with an item of clothing whilst leaving oneself wide open for a counterstrike - Was this guy for real?

On the fixed bladed cuchillo he had very little of substance to say and when it came to the scissors, even less, so the book has to be assessed on the strength of its applicability to the navaja.

3. The MdB is the only historical Spanish manual known of fighting with navajas. No surprises here: Right up to 1900, around 80% of the Spanish population was illiterate and this means nearly all of the working class, those who used navajas - There just wasn't anybody to write for!

But Mariano had other ideas. He obviously targeted the wealthy young `wannabes' of his day with the promise of an invincible knife system (nothing new here), and along the way make extra income, or did it for simple amusement. That this was his intention is revealed in the line in which he claims that any pampered youth, by following his instructions, will be able to defend himself against the violent `barateros' (pg11). I cannot say how well the book sold, but is is interesting that the publishing house sought to increase the book's appeal by hiding the author's true identity behind the initials of `MdR', although at least one edition bore his full name. Presumably he was sufficiently well known as a man of letters that the book would not sell with his name. Far better to suggest a mysterious fencing master as the author!

He also wrote a host of other manuals, ranging from cookery to parlor games, all bearing the title "Manual del...." He must have been a very gifted man if he was an expert on all those subjects as well. But then, he was a renowned translator of foreign works, so it would not have been too difficult for him to access numerous foreign sources, all inaccessible to his Spanish readers.

4. In summary, whatever literary value the MdB may have, when it comes to knife fighting, the book has a serious credibility problem!

In any event, the techniques advocated for the navaja, namely the passes from hand to hand and the gyrating footwork, by Mariano's own admission, were not typical in his day (he tried to improve on them!) and were probably imported from other countries, most probably France or Corsica. The preferred fight with navajas and cuchillos, in old Spain, was with cape or hat in the left hand and knife in the right, in the manner of renaissance sword play - We know this from numerous paintings and other reliable accounts of the period.

So, if one wants a good and readable translation, then this is the best so far. But as for knowledge of traditional Spanish knife fighting goes, we are no better off than we were until now - Egerton Castle in a couple of paragraphs said as much on the subject that is useful as Mariano did in the whole book!

Unfortunately, according to most authorities, fighting with navajas came to an end in Spain over a century ago and nobody bothered to record the techniques in detail, if there were any worth recording. The foremost living Spanish authority Forton considers that only those navajas that were made before 1900 were true to the name and so he defines the breed.

Loriega claims to be the heir of a hitherto unknown living Spanish navaja tradition; This is useful, but, regardless of this tradition's practical merits (it may well be excellent), it nevertheless cannot be accepted as authentic because there are no reliable period records available to validate its techniques against. It is simply not possible to say whether it has remained truly Spanish or else has absorbed foreign styles over the last hundred plus something years. This certainly is the case with Filipino Arnis, just to name one combative art, which since WWII re-configured itself along Japanese karate principles.

Chris Evans
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Old 13th March 2005, 06:40 PM   #2
LabanTayo
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if i remember correctly, blades were present in the philippines before the spanish raped the philippines.
(sorry everyone on the forum from spain, this is not directed towards you or spain in the present. i dont hold you accountable for what happened 400 hundred years ago. but, at least the spanish introduced Paella!!!! mmm mmm good ).
so, did the spanish steal filipino techniques, or vice versa? the malay / indo / philippine archipelego was a blade oriented society before spanish/dutch/portugese/british arrival. the philippines may have adopted some spanish fighting techniques and terminology, but i have never seen a spanish fencer/fighter move like filipino arnisador/fighter.

but as for your WWII comment, not all philippine fighting arts adopted the japanese stances. the ones that did, did so, because the filipinos were entranced by foriegn martial arts and had to adopt the japanese postures to make it more "fascinating" to the filipinos. but if you do your research and actually study with these systems, you will find the "true" filipino martial arts hidden within the system.
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Old 14th March 2005, 01:50 AM   #3
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Hi Laban,

=====================================
"...not all philippine fighting arts adopted the japanese stances. the ones that did, did so, because the filipinos were entranced by foriegn martial arts and had to adopt the japanese postures to make it more "fascinating" to the filipinos. but if you do your research and actually study with these systems, you will find the "true" filipino martial arts hidden within the system."
=====================================
Good point. I am aware that you have old arnis, if I remeber correctly, and the new.

Some 20yrs ago, a highly ranked karateka friend of mine went to your country and studied Arnis. He became fairly good at it after a short time because all his karate movements fitted in. He did mention the old style, but according to his observations it was very much in the minority for a number of reasons, including training methodology. I don't know how it is these days.

I don't think that any combative art can remain immune to foreign influences for long, unless it is practiced in a sheltered environment. The very fact that one's life is at stake compels change if the original techniques are inadequate or too difficult to teach/learn. Even karate has picked up a fair bit of Thai and English boxing.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 18th March 2005, 10:57 AM   #4
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Chris,

I got interested in navajas after reading Sevillian stee. Really cool knives. Did you read it, what did you think of it and where can I buy a navaja. I live in Australia.

Best wishes
Frank
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Old 19th March 2005, 05:18 AM   #5
Chris Evans
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank
Chris,

I got interested in navajas after reading Sevillian stee. Really cool knives. Did you read it, what did you think of it and where can I buy a navaja. I live in Australia.

Best wishes
Frank


Hi Frank,

1. I have read that book and do not think that it is the kind of work that serious collectors or historians of knives would use as a reference.

If you want to become acquainted with navajas you should read the works of the Spanish authority, Rafael Martinez del Peral y Forton. Unfortunately most of his works have as yet not been translated into English, save one: "Navajas Antiguas - Las Mejores Piezas de Coleccion", a magnificent book of 237 colour photo plates, with captions in Sanish-English and illustrating navajas from the era in which they were used in earnest. The standard reference on the subject is "La Navaja Espanola Antigua" by the same author.

1.1 You can buy Forton's books here (they sell all the others that are not listed at the site):

http://www.navajasantiguas.com/index1.html


2. Depends what you mean by a navaja; In Spanish that word applies to any folding knife. If you mean specifically those legendary clasp knifes that were used as both tools and weapons, then they went out of use over a 100 years ago and unless you have one made to order or go to an antique shop, you'll have trouble buying one. What's being sold these day as navajas are low quality thematic interpretations that only vaguely resemble the knives of the past and are aimed solely at the souvenier market - A bit like the wall-hanger stainless steel junk swords from Toledo. Only traditionalists and collectors in Spain bother with real navajas, their design and size having rendered them obsolete. I am not aware of anybody importing navajas into Australia, but there could be someone.

2.1 One notable exception to the above is the range offered by the Spanish cutler Exposito. Whilst his knives only loosely resemble those used up to 1900, being utilitarian in design, they are the last readily available examples of traditional Spanish folders, the kind that largely disappeared by 1970. Stay away from their `Serie Albacete' (the ones in the wooden display cases) since these are intended as souvenirs.The prices of Exposito knives are reasonable and the quality is fairly good.

You can buy one here:

http://www.cuchilleria-exposito.com...o/principal.htm

2.2 If you want to buy a good replica try here:

http://www.knivesart.com/web/index.html

Or for a real antique try here:
http://www.knivescollection.com/cat...t_antichi_e.asp

Cheers
Chris
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Old 20th March 2005, 03:35 AM   #6
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Chris

Thanks for all that info. I have to start taking Spanish lesons (lol)

You say that "fighting with navajas came to an end in Spain over a hundred years ago". What proof have you of this.

Frank
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Old 22nd October 2005, 06:37 AM   #7
Renegade Conquistador
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Everyone,

I'm not trying to jack this thread, but I felt compelled to respond to some of LabanTayo's comments below:

Quote:
Originally Posted by LabanTayo
so, did the spanish steal filipino techniques, or vice versa?


The influence was possibly mutual, as is so often the case.

Quote:
the malay / indo / philippine archipelego was a blade oriented society before spanish/dutch/portugese/british arrival. the philippines may have adopted some spanish fighting techniques and terminology, but i have never seen a spanish fencer/fighter move like filipino arnisador/fighter.


Given that there are no surviving schools of Spanish fencing (either civilian or military), I would be most curious to know how many actual "Spanish fencer/fighters" you have "seen".

There are, of course, modern classical fencers who are working on reconstructions of the civilian Spanish school of rapier fencing (the destreza of Carranza, that is), but that is not a method which was likely to have seen much (if any) use in the Philippines. No, the Spanish soldiers serving there would have made use of a more practical form of cut-and-thrust swordplay, with corresponding weapons like the bilbo (a type of broadsword with a rapier-like shell hilt). It's also worth noting that British officers observed Pampangan troops in Spanish service equipped with such swords.

As for a possible relationship between the Spanish military esgrima (fencing) and native Filipino blade methods, the similarities are certainly there. FMA's redonda resembles the moulinet (or molinello) of Western saber work. FMA's "wing block" looks like saber fencing's #1 parry (prime), while the "dropstick" appears equivalent to parry #2 (seconde). In FMA, attacks to the leg are met with what European broadsword and military saber men call "slipping" or "shifting the leg". In both FMA and European cut-and-thrust fencing, cuts are categorized by angles--vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. Are these things the result of cross-cultural influence, or parallel evolution?

As for "terminology", it's interesting to note that about 65 percent of the technical terms used in all eskrima styles are Spanish-derived, which seems somewhat odd when one considers that most Filipinos do not speak Spanish.

Then again, perhaps it's not so odd after all--Romy Macapagal, the current archivist for Kalis Ilustrisimo, has declared that Kalis Ilustrisimo is a full 40% Spanish-derived.

And other FMAists, like Dr. Ned Nepangue and Celestino Macachor, are postulating new theories concerning the origins of eskrima and arnis--the crux of their argument is that they are a result of a synthesis of Spanish military fencing, and native blade arts. The main goal for creating this hybrid form was to help defend the Spanish-occupied areas against Moro piratical incursions.

FWIW.

Best,

R C
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