After Action Review: Mike Janich and Martial Blade Concepts at Forteza

The Forteza-MBC Family

The Forteza-MBC Instructor Crew

On April 6th and 7th, renowned self-defense instructor Mike Janich presented a two day workshop on empty hand combatives, and empty hand vs. knife tactics.  Mike is the founder and head instructor of Martial Blade Concepts, which is described on the MBC website as:

Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) is an edged-weapon system specifically designed to meet the needs of today’s concerned citizen and armed professional. Based on Michael Janich’s extensive analysis of the Filipino martial arts and many other systems, MBC takes combat-proven tactics and adapts them to modern tools, threats, and legal concerns. The result is a practical, easy-to-learn system that is ideally suited to modern self-defense.

Mike Janich’s Martial Blade Concepts, as well as the adjutant systems of Counter Blade Concepts and Damithurt Silat (Practical Unarmed Combatves), is the base system four own Combatives program taught at Forteza.  Students were very excited to train with the founder of the system they train in, most of whom had never met or trained with Mike before.  Forteza instructor Keith Jennings also ran a prep seminar two months prior, so by the time Mike arrived in Chicago, all of the students in attendance had a solid base level of skill, which allowed us to skip right past the basics, and jump right into the good stuff.

Mike Janich takes Thayne for a big ride!

Mike Janich takes Thayne for a big ride!

Day One was dedicated to empty hand skills.  Mike focused on taking the instinctual startle response, and educating it to make for a functional tool that can be used under stress.  Students were brought through variations of the cycling drill, Hubud, and shoulder stops.   Saturday ended with a look at Junkyard Aikido, his expression of joint-locking techniques.  Focus was on how to apply joint locks in an actual combative situation, and to use them to either viciously stop the fight, or use the lock to transition to either a weapon or escape.  Special shout out to visiting MBC alum Thayne Alexander for taking so many hard falls on the hard wood floor!  It was an impromptu school of hard knocks style clinic on how to fall properly.

Day two was Counter Blade Concepts, and how to transition from empty hand into knife deployment.  Mike started with his signature video presentation which shows footage of actual knife attacks, and the aftermath of such an assault.  The message was clear: knife attacks happen suddenly and violently, and seen over and over again in the footage were pre-fight indicators, off hand probing, and aggressive gross motor forehand thrusts and slashes predominately coming from right handed attackers.  This reality check helped to bring a very serious tone to the day’s training, and with the problem clearly defined, Mike brought people through his counter-blade system.  Rather than flashy disarms done against static attacks, focus was on shutting down the attack using a split X-defense, compression locking the attacking limb, mobility kills using low line knees and kick.

The MBC patented "Yojimbo" and its Chicago-legal little brother. Porkmen beware!

The MBC patented “Yojimbo” and its Chicago-legal little brother. Porkmen beware!

After lunch, Mike set-up his famous “Porkman” demo: a pork roast attached to a PVC pipe and rigged with twine and Ceram wrap to provide a model of bone, muscle, tendons and skin. Forteza instructor Keith Jennings did the honors with his newly acquired “Chicagojimbo”, a modified Yojimbo 2 with the blade ground down to the legal Chicago length of 2.5 inches.  Even with the shortened blade, and with very little effort, the knife had no problem cutting straight to the bone.  This impressive demonstration showed not only how capable even a small carry knife can be, but also how dangerous it really is to face off against a knife attacker.  With the demonstration fresh in the students’ minds, everyone trained with newfound enthusiasm and respect for what even a small blade is capable of.

There were over forty people training on the floor, with room to spare.  The positive feedback from the seminar was overwhelming, with everyone asking when we’ll have Mike back out for a follow-up seminar.  The answer: as soon as we can! Thanks to Mike for making the trip out to Chicago, all of the MBC alumni from all over the Midwest who came out in support, and for all of the students in attendance who trained hard.

Full house!

Full house!

2012: The Year in Martial Arts

From the clash of swords to a unique program for personal protection and self-defense, Forteza’s martial arts programs are not quite like anything else you’ll find in Chicago. Some of our programs have a long history in the city that precedes the studio’s opening by over a decade, while we are pleased to have given others their start.

HISTORICAL SWORDSMANSHIP: THE CHICAGO SWORDPLAY GUILD

IMG_6620

Martial arts training at Forteza began with the Chicago Swordplay Guild, the city’s only dedicated school for the study of medieval and Renaissance martial arts. In 2012 our new digs allowed us to greatly expand our class offerings in both Armizare (medieval martial arts) and Renaissance Swordsmanship.

Our Introductory, or “Taster”, classes were offered in two separate tracks, a 12-week session on Saturday mornings and a 6-week, twice-weekly session on Monday and Wednesday evenings; both tracks attracted a steady number of new swordplay students. Once the basics were learned, CSG members had a choice of two Novice/Foundation classes per week, firming up basic theory and technique.

Armizare saw a significant spike in new students from a wide variety of backgrounds, age groups, and interests that drew them to the sword.  The influx of new students meant that our Foundations classes have routinely been full and quite lively, as students take the basic lessons of stance, movement, body mechanics and simple attacks and defenses and learn to refine their skills and expand their application. Our expanded schedule also allowed us to introduce a dedicated Abrazare  (close quarter combat) class where students learned basic grappling safety skills, body mechanics, guards, fundamental throws and joint locks, and the nine “Masters” of dagger combat: nine core concepts related to line of attack and type of cover (one or two-handed) upon which the entire, extensive curriculum of nearly 80 formal techniques, and countless variations, can be organized.

Focus classes were organized in bi-or-tri monthly themes, and included “Using Provocations to Break Distance”, “Advanced Use of the Twelve Poste”, “Using Complex Attacks”, “Mechanics of Breaking and Exchanging Thrusts”, and “Extrapolation and Improvisation”. In the dedicated Scholar’s class, students were introduced to two new weapons, the arming (one-handed) sword, and the spear. A number of students successfully completed their basic proficiency exams in the arming sword, and several more will be testing in the spear this February, two necessary steps on the path to the Free Scholar rank.

In the Renaissance Swordsmanship track, our weekly “Focus’” class on specific topics, open to all levels, proved to be most popular; topics covered this year included “Building an Aggressive Defense Using the Guards”, “Cuts and Their Counters”, and “Pressing the Attack”.

With a dedicated 90-minute class of their own on Saturday afternoon, advanced students spent the year focusing on advanced tactics in single rapier, including feints and invitations, and exploring Salvatore Fabris’ variations on his basic guards.

On Monday nights we instituted a Bolognese Swordsmanship Study Group. Open to Scholars of either curriculum, Bolognese fencing is the bridge between the late medieval style and the elegant rapier of the 17th century. A vast curriculum containing virtually every weapon of the 16th c arsenal, although Greg has been researching the material for years, this program is in its early stages of being taught as a formal curriculum. Training focused on fencing with the sword alone; looking at not only the basic actions of attack, defense and movement, but the unique pedagogical training tool of the assalti – long solo forms that can then be applied as two-person exercises.

Finally, the highlight of the year for both sub-programs was the spring Prize Playing, featuring an impressive performance by Armizare Novice Erin Fitzgerald, and a commanding display of arms by rapier Novice Robert Rutherfoord and his graduation to Scholar level. Rob is now a rapier instructor-in-training.

THE BARTITSU CLUB OF CHICAGO

IMG_6691

The Bartitsu Club of Chicago is Chicago’s first and only martial arts club to focus on the Victorian-era cross-training system of Bartitsu.  The Club began in January 2012 with a successful  one-day introductory seminar that marked the first “public” use of the Forteza studio.  The seminar was followed by a twelve-lesson basic course over six weeks, culminating with an Antagonisticathlon; an event in which participants represent Victorian-era adventurers running a gauntlet of obstacles and surprise attacks by “ruffians“.

Graduates of the initial course voted to keep training and so Bartitsu joined the roster of regular weekly classes at Forteza, combining the “canonical” unarmed and cane fighting techniques recorded by E.W. Barton-Wright circa 1900 with “neo-Bartitsu” exercises, combat improvisation drills and progressive sparring.  Over the coming months we were prominently featured in several news media items including articles in New City Magazine and an article and video for the Chicago Tribune.  We held the second Antagonisticathlon during July and the second annual Bartitsu School of Arms event in September (see Special Workshops and Events below).

FORTEZA COMBATIVES METHOD

IMG_6625This past year also saw the launch of the Forteza Combatives program.  Forteza instructor and co-owner Keith Jennings is the only fully certified Martial Blade Concepts instructor in IL and the neighboring states.  For years Keith has conducted seminars in Chicago and around the Midwest,  but there has never been an official home for MBC training in Chicago.  The opening of Forteza has changed all that. In the first half of the year, Keith introduced a weekly MBC class, building a small, dedicated cadre of students. But by summer it became clear that students wanted a chance to train more, and to explore other ranges and components of personal protection. Thus was born Forteza Combatives!

The Forteza Combatives Method focusing on the empty hand and counter-knife tactics from MBC, as well as combining elements of bare knuckle boxing, Catch Wrestling/ground survival, and improvised weapons training, making it one of the most well rounded self defense classes in Chicago! The program has been an unqualified success, quickly growing into one of our best-attended martial arts classes – so much so that we’ll be adding training days and special events – including a workshop with MBC creator Mike Janich – in 2013.

SPECIAL WORKSHOPS AND EVENTS

Tired but happy students of the Bastone Fiorata. A school of incredible fluidity, elegance and power - we all fell in love with the Sicilian stick!

In August, Armizare students were given a look at the extensive collection of disarms, pommel strikes and throws that comprise  zogho stretto, or close play, with the sword. Zogho stretto is where the lessons of the sword merge with those of abrazare and dagger, and the entire system is pulled together.

In September, the Bartitsu Club hosted the second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture , a three-day conference and training event.  Highlights included a field trip to the historic Hegeler Carus Mansion in La Salle, IL (with a special guided tour of the mansion’s unique Victorian-era gymnasium) and a trip to see the play  Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, which featured Bartitsu-inspired fight scenes.  Then followed two full days of training (including our third Antagonisticathlon) and socializing in the Victorian-themed side room of O’Shaughnessy’s Public House.  The event was a resounding success and now we look forward to a Bartitsu New Year.

A little later that month, the Chicago Swordplay Guild hosted Armizare Academy: A Celebration of the Knightly Arts. Originally held in 2010 to celebrate the six hundredth anniversary of the composition of the massive martial arts text The Flower of Battle (il Fior di Battaglia) by the art’s founder, Fiore dei Liberi, this event, affectionately called “The 600: Prepare for Fiore!”, was such a success with attendees, that we decided to make it a recurring workshop! Since “The 602″ seemed to be missing some flair, the event was been renamed Armizare Academy. This three day retreat featured six instructors from around North America and included both a tournament and a fully-armoured deed of arms!

Finally, in November the studio the privilege of hosting Roberto Laura for an immersion in the world of Italian stick and knife fighting arts. During Roberto’s five day visit, we studied three distinct tradtions. The first was La Scuola Cavalieri d`Umiltà or the Knights of Humility. This school derives from Manfredonia, Apulia (by tradition, from the 15th century). It is a highly elegant fighting system with the knife, shepherd’s staff and the razor. The second tradition was La Scuola Fiorata– The Flowery School, from Calatabiano, Sicily. The weapons taught within this traditional dueling art are the shepherd stick and the knife.  Fiorata is technically a modern school, yet in many ways it is a return to older sensibilities. The school comes from a very old – and still living – tradition called the Scuola Rutatu (Circling School), but after WWII some masters of the system were concerned with the loss of close-fighting techniques and a transition to fast, but smaller, less powerful actions and developed a new school that would counter Rutatu, producing a system which combines the elements of open and closed guards, dynamic assaults. Finally, Roberto introduced us to la Scuola Cielo e Meraviglia (the School of Heaven and Its Marvels) which also comes from Apulia, and is about two-hundred years old. This is a close-quarter fighting system which uses grips, joint locks, throws. As very old traditions these schools use a wide variety of daggers and folding knives, including cloak and dagger techniques and improvised weapons. Roberto made it clear that he is only a student of this tradition, and that he was introducing us to his current understanding of the system a passed to him by his teacher, Maestro Domenico Mancino.  It was an amazing workshop and Forteza will be introducing a stick and knife study group in the new year to continue to study and train in these priceless pieces of Italian culture!

2012: The Year in Physical Fitness

Forteza, Year One: 2012 in Review

Happy New Year! Not only is it the start of a new year, but we are closing in on the end of our first year together! The concept for Forteza was born from three streams: Chicago Swordplay Guild founder and head instructor Gregory Mele was looking for a way to expand the Guild’s curriculum and training opportunities, and one of the Guild’s senior armizare students, Keith Jennings was looking to open his own personal training and combatives gym. When Tony Wolf offered to let the studio host his growing collection of 19th century exercise apparatus, a brilliant, if madcap idea was born….

To say that it has been a whirlwind of a year would be a gross-understatement. Since opening our doors, we’ve held seven rounds of introductory classes, an Open House, participated in the Ravenswood Art Walk, challenged our students with a Temple Burning work out, ran the Spartan Race, began work on our Clubhouse and introduced three new programs to the Chicagoland area: Bolognese fencing, Bartitsu and our unique Forteza Combatives Method.

As the “new kids on the block”, we also garnered a fair bit of media coverage. In Crossing Swords: A Revival of Traditional European Martial ArtsNew City journalist Kristen Micek checked out the Chicago Swordplay Guild and then moved a few centuries forward to the 19th century when she covered us in Martial Arts, Victorian Style: Bartitsu at Forteza Fitness Brings Back the Lost Fighting Art of Sherlock HolmesThe Bartitsu Club garnered more attention in: Blast into the Pastand the Chicago Tribune article, Defensive actions: Reviving old-school fighting techniques to win a full-body workout. (You can also catch the accompanying video: Old-school-fitness-becomes-new-trend.)

Forteza’s unique Fighting Fit program was also a big hit with the media, being showcased in the Chicago RedEye: Survival of the Fittest – train like a “Hunger Games” tribute with these offbeat exercises. That cover story caught the attention of WGN’s Jonathon Brandmeier. Jesse Kulla explained FightingFit to Johnny B on this PodCast (starting at 6:50), and was later invited to demonstrate on his TV show.

But probably the best media look at what Forteza was all about came from this light-hearted feature on ABC 7′s 190 North!  

Of course, the media only presents an outside view at a particular moment in time. So as we continue to shake our heads in wonder that a year has passed, here is a 2012 year in review from those who were there…

2012: The Year in Martial Arts

2012: The Year in Physical Fitness

Creating the Forteza Clubhouse!

Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts is a revival of the grand tradition of 19th century gymnasia, which were often centers of cultural, as well as physical, development.  It’s also a labor of love that we’re building into a solid business with an enthusiastic community of clients.  We’ve hosted open house days, martial arts seminars and action choreography sessions for video game and theater projects as well as our daily and weekly classes.

The past nine months have seen the completion of the main training floor, personal training area, reception area, changing rooms, a pro-shop and our unique “gymuseum” of antique exercise equipment.

The Forteza building also includes a large upstairs store-room, which hasn’t changed much over the past hundred years; it’s dusty and grimy, with an uneven concrete floor, rickety bannisters, etc. Our next remodeling project is to turn that room into a neo-Victorian style clubhouse (with a secret passage entrance … shhh!) and that’s where this fundraising project comes in:

Click on this link – Creating the Forteza Clubhouse – to go to our fundraising webpage, including a unique video, background information, contributor rewards, etc.!

The Forteza clubhouse will feature:

  • a boutique library of both antique and contemporary books on Western martial arts, fencing, fitness and related topics
  • an art gallery showcasing our collection of rare, original edition 19th century newspaper prints of combat sport athletes, historical fencers and gymnasts
  • a multi-media learning center featuring WiFi, training DVDs and a discussion lounge and research area
  • we cannot stress this enough, a secret passage entrance

Transforming this ancient store-room into a steampunk library/gallery/clubhouse will be a big project, but luckily we already have some of what we’re going to need.  Funds raised through this campaign will pay for the installation of a new wooden floor, cleaning, painting etc.  Funding over and above the target level will allow us to build an even better clubhouse, faster!

Please help us by contributing (check out our great perks!) and by using the share tools below and on the Indiegogo page to help us spread the word; social media buzz is the best way to make this happen.

The Forteza clubhouse will be the heart of our studio and community, and a home-away-from-home for people who share our passions. We look forward to the challenge!

All best wishes –

The Forteza Team

Traditional Italian Knife and Staff Arts Workshop – November 17 & 18

Forteza is proud to be hosting Maestro Roberto Laura  on November 17 – 18 for a seminar on Italian knife and stick fighting. Mestro Laura has been spending years trying to document and preserve living traditions of Italian combatives, some of which are quite old. This will be his first visit to teach these arts in the United States.

The first day of the workshop will include training in the knife system of two schools: i Cavalieri d’onore e d’umilita (Knights of Honor and Humility), an extremely old school of combat that  derives from Manfredonia, Apulia in southern Italy (15th century). It is a highly specialised and elegant fighting system with the knife. Besides solo and partnered forms there are plenty of dueling positions which all have their respective tactical purposes. This school is NOT for self-defense! The intension is rather to survive or win dueling, to kill the opponent. The Cavalieri school also contains the fighting art with the shepherd stick and the straight-razor. The second is la Scuola Cielo e Meraviglia (the School of Heaven and Its Marvels) which also comes from Apulia, and is about two-hundred years old. This is a close-quarter fighting system which uses grips, joint locks, throws. As very old traditions these schools use  a wide variety of daggers and folding knives, including cloak and dagger techniques and improvised weapons.

The second day of the workshop will focus on using the Italian bastone – an approximately 4′ long walking staff/shepherd’s staff, as taught by in the Onore e d’Umilita school and in the modern Sicilian tradition.

This is a very unique chance to study actual, living martial traditions of Italy, and we are hoping to do our part to see that these traditions not only survive in the 21st century, but get off of life-support. Once Roberto is gone, we’ll be developing a small study group to continue working with this material.

Cost: $150 for the weekend, $100 for a single day. Please RSVP and register with info@fortezafitness.com ASAP, as spaces are limited. You can read more about Roberto and his work here: http://www.robertolaura.com/wp/english-site