What is a master in the context of Western Martial Arts?

Before I offer my opinion, I would like to start with an objective definition of what comes before.

When someone starts their education in a guild system they are known as an apprentice or scholar. At this stage they are learning solely from others and not doing much on their own.

Once someone has obtained enough knowledge to learn on their own they are graduated to the rank of journeyman or free scholar. In the context of our discipline, that means reading the texts, devising their own experiments, and presenting to others what they find via forums, blogs, and teaching.

Next is the master, but again before I talk about that we should talk about what it means to become a master in other guilds. Generally this involves presenting a masterpiece, a work of art or craftsmanship that demonstrates their skill. Completing a masterpiece doesn’t mean one is done learning, far from it. What it means is one has mastered all of the basic skills of their craft to the point where they can teach others every aspect.

Returning to the context of HEMA, a Master in dall’Agocchie would be someone who can teach any aspect of dall’Agocchie’s sword work using his terminology and philosophy. A prerequisite of this is actual knowledge of all of dall’Agocchie’s work.

So my definitions are as thus:

  • Scholar of dall’Agocchie: Someone who is taking classes in the topic.
  • Free Scholar of dall’Agocchie: Someone who is interpreting the text on their own and has begun to teach others.
  • Master of dall’Agocchie: Someone who has successfully used every variant of every play or device as described by dall’Agocchie.

I stress the term “successfully used”. Merely attempting it isn’t enough; you have to be able to make it work in drills and preferably in free sparing. Perfection isn’t required, but being able to instruct others on its use is.

So in conclusion, if I can point to any device or play in dall’Agocchie and you can honestly say, “Yes I’ve done it. The way you should do it is…” then you are a master in my eyes.

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