A Chronological History of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports 1350-1699 (rev 01/05)

About 1350:

The National Library of Canada provides an authorized mirror of this e-publication. The base document, however, is the one at Most recent update: December 2004. Copyright © 2000-2004 Joseph R. Svinth All rights reserved.




Kronos; A Chronology of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports, represents my idiosyncratic interpretation of the history of the martial arts, combative sports, and associated philosophical topics. If you have suggestions for improvement, please let me know. If you think you can do better, please do so.

The periods covered are:

0000 to 0499:

0500 to 1349:

1350 to 1699:

1700 to 1859:

1860 to 1899:

1900 to 1939:

1940 to present:

The bibliographies are at:




Online references, a summary of recent changes, and general housekeeping information are found at:

If you prefer reading traditional print format, then please see the abbreviated chronology in Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2001). Meanwhile, if you prefer reading articles arranged topically rather than chronologically, then please see the essays in Green's encyclopedia and the chapters in Thomas A. Green and Joseph R. Svinth, editors, Martial Arts in the Modern World (Greenwood, 2003).

Finally, if you want to see how Kronos has evolved over time, then please see the first edition, which appears online at




About 1350:

Temple art shows Southeast Asian and Indonesian aristocrats carrying the serpentine daggers called krisses. For Vaishaivites, these blades appealed to a serpent god, while for Muslims, they symbolized a believer’s willingness to accept pain. Indeed, South Asian self-flagellation exercises are one possible source of inspiration for the pentjak ("evasions") associated with the use of these weapons, pentjak’s choreography shows people waging a war against their carnal selves. (The movements reflect the belief that people are little more than puppets on God’s stage. Because using force to overcome force is not a common theme in Indonesian culture, pentjak sword dances are more elusive than their European analogues. Hence the name.) Metaphysics were important, too. In Indonesia, for example, the best blades were made using meteoric iron, as it clearly had divine origin. Meanwhile, a nineteenth century Thai novel called The Story of Khun Chang Khun Phun described the proper manufacture of a royal kris as requiring "iron from the spire of a relic shrine, coffin nails of those who had died violent deaths, metal of a black bronze lance, a copper keris and a broken sword, nails from city gates… [The smith] melted these in a crucible, this excellent iron, together with black bronze, red gold and silver, and formed from them an ingot. While redhot he beat this out flat, and then he steeped it in magic chemicals for three days, according to prescription. Having repeated this seven times, at the auspicious hour he… brought together the ritual utensils" and so on until it was time to fix the blade to the hilt using a combination of resin and the hair of some fierce person who had suffered a violent death. They truly don’t make swords like that any more.

Oversized halberds and swords become popular in Japan. This was probably so that admirers could watch aristocratic duelists from a distance, as the Japanese pirates (waka) then raiding the Korean coast preferred lighter, handier weapons. The waka raids also paralyzed coastal trade throughout the South China Sea, caused the Koreans to adopt gunpowder artillery, and encouraged the development of swordsmanship academies in Japan. (The oldest known Japanese swordsmanship style is the Nen-ryu, which some people say Yasuhisa Kamisaka and Yoshimoto Somashiro established about 1350. Others date the creation of the Nen-ryu to the 1540s, and credit it to a Buddhist monk. Either way, Donn Draeger found 1700 registered sword ryu in the 1960s, plus 725 grappling ryu, 460 spear ryu, 425 halberd ryu, 412 sword-drawing ryu, and 412 archery ryu -- and those numbers ignored schools teaching ninjutsu, stick-fighting , ball-and-chain-fighting, karate, and sumo! All in all, far too many to describe, especially as the differences are frequently political rather than practical.)

Following a migration from the ocean of the sunset, the Zuni establish pueblos at the center of the world. In less metaphysical terms, this probably means their ancestors finished a migration that started in coastal California and ended in central New Mexico. Anthropologist Nancy Yaw Davis has suggested that some of the early Zuni were ethnically Japanese, perhaps the fifty to one hundred Pure Land Buddhists who fled Japan by ship in search of a place that was free of earthquakes and war.


Budweiser’s player of the week has an ancient history, if stories about England’s King Edward III awarding a French knight a pearl necklace for being the best combatant of the day are any indication.

By disguising sixty soldiers as woodcutters, then sneaking them into an English castle at Fougeray, the Breton man-at-arms Bertrand du Guesclin starts earning his reputation as a great captain. Such exploits, which were common during the Hundred Years War, were one source for subsequent tales about an English social bandit named Robin Hood. Another was the crime wave that followed the return of Edward’s professional soldiers to their homes in Britain.


The bell-makers of Venice cast huge bronze cannon for the Ottoman Turks. While their motivations probably included easier access to the enormous copper deposits of Kazakhstan (government bronze consisted of 88% copper, 10% tin, and 2% zinc), such dealings with Muslims explains why the Catholic Church would subsequently accuse Venetian bell-casters of being in league with the Devil.

About 1352:

A French chevalier named Geoffroy de Charny writes that while success in jousting was good, success in mass mêlées was better, and success in war was best. Success, in all cases, meant winning horses and reputation. Still, this was theory, and in practice, said a contemporary priest named Honoré Bonet, "The man who does not know how to set places on fire, to rob churches and usurp their rights, and to imprison their priests, is not fit to carry on war."

About 1353:

Naa Nyaglsi, the paramount chief of the northern Ghanaian kingdom of Dagbon, uses luntalli, or drummed music, to record his family’s reign histories. In African drum languages, drummers beat large and small drums to create a polyrhythm known as a "conversation." The larger drum, known as the mother, tells stories with beats that mimic spoken speech. The smaller drums maintain a separate rhythm for the accompanying dancers. Nicolo Vicentino described a similar use of music in Italy in 1555. Said Vincentino, "The inflections and intervals that all nations of the world use in their native speech do not proceed only in whole and half tones, but also in quarter tones and even smaller intervals, so that with the division of our harpsichord we can accommodate all the nations of the world."


The Byzantines invite the Ottoman Turks to cross the Dardanelles Straits, and help them conquer the Serbs. By the 1420s, the Turks controlled most of Europe east of the Danube. The only problem was that the Muslim Turks didn’t feel like sharing power with the Orthodox Byzantines.


The Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta reports seeing female warriors throughout Southeast Asia. While many of these women were probably sword-dancers, others were royal bodyguards. (Southeast Asian princes often preferred female bodyguards to eunuchs.)


In the fourteenth century, disease was viewed as an indication of God’s will. If He supported a kingdom, there were no plagues or wars. And if He did not, there were plagues and wars. The spread of the Black Death told many people that God had withdrawn His support from all existing governments. As a result, millenarian uprisings rocked Eurasia. In East Asia, the Korean aristocracy took advantage of the popular unrest to drive the Mongols from Korea. As a warning against over-confidence, the Buddhist prelate T’aego reminded King Kongmin of Koryo that "tigers do not eat animals with stripes, for fear of injuring their own kind."


The Breton knight Bertrand du Guesclin – he had been knighted after kidnapping an English officer in 1354 -- engages in a duel with an English knight named Thomas of Canterbury. The two men started the duel on horseback with swords. When Canterbury lost his sword, du Guesclin jumped down and threw the weapon into the crowd and his own after it. Canterbury then tried to ride du Guesclin down with his horse. Du Guesclin ducked underneath the horse – despite modern legends, a strong man could do gymnastics in well-made armor -- and stabbed the Englishman’s horse to death, pinning the Englishman to the ground in the process. At this, the seconds intervened, du Guesclin calmed down, the fight ended, and the combatants and their seconds went to dinner with their ladies.

About 1360:

German helmet manufacturers introduce articulated visors. The new visors replaced the crudely hinged visors that had been in use since the 1290s. The purpose of such visors was to reduce the likelihood of heat stroke.

Chinese authors begin writing down the oral traditions known as Shui Hu Chuan ("The Story of the River Bank"). These stories were originally set near the end of the Northern Sung period, meaning the early 1100s, and featured a social bandit named Sung Chiang. The writers associated with this transcription are Shi Nai-an (a possible eighteenth century forgery) and Lo Kuan-chung, the pseudonym of a fourteenth-century romance novelist. A version running to 120 individual episodes appeared in 1614, but in 1641 literary critic Chin Sheng-t’an edited this to a more manageable 71 and simultaneously reset the plot to the late Ming Dynasty. In the process the 108 bandits of the stories were made loyal to the old emperor and ascribed other conventional values. This latter text is the version of the story most commonly translated into English. (For example, All Men are Brothers in 1933 and The Water Margin in 1937.) From a historical standpoint, all stories in the canon must be considered fictional. For example, the bandits’ inaccessible mountain lair at Liang-shan is just 400 feet high. As for their remote mountain home, well, Shantung Province is about as flat as Kansas and as densely populated as France. But from a cultural standpoint the facts of the matter are entirely irrelevant, for these stories helped shape Chinese popular culture the same way that Shakespeare shaped English culture and Luther shaped German culture. Explains Chinese American journalist Frank Chin, "All of Chinese literature and language, high and low culture, schooled and unschooled immigrants, the founders of the tongs and associations, the founders of the Chong Wah, the hatchet men, the Chinamen on the railroad, the gamblers, dopers, fighters, and writers in Chinatown -- all swim in the scenes and strategy of heroes of The Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin."


The French mathematician Nicole Oresme invents line graphs. The idea was to show how far something would move in a given length of time given uniform acceleration. The idea is revolutionary, as it causes European merchants to realize that relationships are not constant, but change over time.


British lawyers begin speaking English instead of French. The change was due to the Black Death having created a shortage of French-speaking Englishmen. The accused still did not have the right to defense counsel, however.


The Breton knight Bertrand du Guesclin marries. This is in itself unremarkable, except that while du Guesclin, whose father was a minor knight, was illiterate, his wife Tiphaine, whose father was an aristocrat, was not. Instead, she was a noted astrologer and mathematician. So du Guesclin’s marriage is mentioned as a reminder that medieval literacy was more a function of social class at birth than gender.


King Edward III approves the construction of toll roads. Their original purpose was to pay for filling notoriously marshy sections of the roads around London with gravel.


Tamerlane’s armies ravage Central and Southwest Asia. While Tamerlane was a devout Muslim, and non-Muslims took the brunt of the Timurids’ legendary cruelty, his use of female archers in defense of baggage trains appalled orthodox Muslim opponents. Born in 1336 to a Tatar family living near Samarkand, Tamerlane became the leader of the Jagatai horde in 1364. In 1369 he overthrew the ruling khan, and for the next ten years, he fought for control of Eastern Turkestan. Once this was accomplished in 1380, he turned his attentions toward Iran, Iraq, and Armenia. After burning, raping, and pillaging his way through these countries, he turned north toward Russia and the Golden Horde. After destroying the Golden Horde in 1395, he swung south and sacked Baghdad, Georgia, Lahore, and Delhi. In 1400, he invaded Syria, and sacked Aleppo and Damascus. During his return to Central Asia via Anatolia he captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid in 1402. Tamerlane embarked on an expedition to China in 1405, but died before the attack could begin. Clearly the finest tactician of the fourteenth century, Tamerlane’s campaigns were never strategically motivated. Religion never played much part, either, as he destroyed Muslim armies as happily as Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu armies. Instead, Tamerlane’s wars were waged mostly for gold and glory.

About 1365:

The Minangkabau Kingdom rises in Central Sumatra. This kingdom was originally Tantric Buddhist, but was gradually converted to Islam during the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, Minangkabau women retained a stronger voice in government than was typical in Islamic countries.

About 1368:

In India, Rajput princes hire Ottoman artisans to cast bronze cannon for them. Cannons are also reported in Kashmir and Gujarat about 1422 and in Bengal around 1450.


After seizing Peking from the Mongols, a Chinese warlord named Chu Yüan-chang establishes himself as the Hung-wu ("Extensive and Martial") emperor, thereby establishing the Ming Dynasty. The word Ming means "Brilliant," and alludes to the Indo-Iranian god Mazda, King of Light; the reason was to convince religious sectarians that the millennium had arrived. Because Chu was an orphan raised at the Shaolin monastery, Chinese panegyrists subsequently attributed all Shaolin monks with nearly supernatural fighting prowess. Thus during the nineteenth century many Chinese secret societies claimed the Hung-wu emperor as their First Ancestor, and to this day some use the character "hung" in the names of indoctrinated members.


To encourage men to spend their free time practicing archery, England’s King Edward III issues a proclamation "forbidding all and singular" to throw dice, play ball games, or participate in cock-fighting. Meanwhile, his French opponents busied themselves buying bronze cannon from the Italians.

About 1370:

Japanese gentlemen start carrying their swords edge upwards instead of edge downwards. This was due to a change in suspension systems that made the weapons easier to wear with civilian clothes.


The Muscovite government takes advantage of Tamerlane’s attacks on his Mongol neighbors to quit paying tribute and homage to the Horde. The loss of income outrages the Turks, and several major battles follow. The Horde’s crushing defeat of the Muscovites and their Lithuanian allies in 1382 has been downplayed in most Russian history books, and instead the readers’ attention has been directed to relatively insignificant Muscovite victories of 1378 and 1380. Both Muscovite and Turkic armies of the era relied on aristocratic mounted archers who constantly bickered over honor and precedence. There was little peacetime training except hunting. Tactics consisted of firing a volley of arrows, then charging headlong against the enemy, sabers flashing. The usual victims of these cavalry attacks were not other cavalrymen, but the mobs of militiamen and camp followers that followed the mounted men wherever they went.


A Christian prince named Marko Mrnyaycevic becomes the Ottoman satrap ruling Prilep, Macedonia. During the early eighteenth century, Serbo-Croat poets create several important epics about Marko, who was said to be capable of mowing down a thousand Turks with a single blow from his 50-pound sword. Bosnian Muslims, meanwhile, told stories about Marko’s equally redoubtable Islamic rival, Djerzelez Aliya of Sarajevo. While written using the same language, the Christians won the battles in the Serbian stories, while the Muslims won in the Bosnian stories. And in both, daring heroes rather than teenaged rape gangs won the battles.


Japanese pirates sack Hanyang, Korea (modern Seoul). Over the next 25 years, other Japanese pirates raid the Korean coast nearly four hundred more times. The result is the introduction of vast quantities of museum-quality Korean temple art into Japanese collections. The Japanese government refused to admit the Korean origin of this magnificent artwork until 1978.

About 1374:

The Malayan national hero Hang Tuah moves from Minangkabau, Sumatra to Malaka, Malaya. As Hang Tuah was a shopkeeper’s son and Malaka was a major spice-trading port, the motivation was probably mercantile rather than military. Hang Tuah is famous for introducing both krisses and silat ("quick action," with an implication of "a method for overcoming any problem posed by an adversary") into southern Malaya. As his teachers included a Buddhist monk named Adi Putra, stylistic input may be southern Indian. But as most practitioners were Muslim, Sufism seems a more likely root. Be that as it may, there are at least sixty separate silat styles in the Indonesian archipelago. (Essentially, at least one per island.) Meanings depend on the teacher: some stress the practical (merchants needing defense from robbers) while others stress the esoteric (Sufis teaching youngsters to overcome their carnal selves). Graceful, almost choreographed movement characterizes traditional silat with a partner. Hand motions are often named after animal movements. For example, the cat sneaks up, the bear comes over the top, and the monkey seizes. Blocking is not forceful, but fluid and graceful. This is probably because the Indonesians believe that meeting force with force is inelegant. (These beliefs have changed somewhat in the twentieth century, probably because of the association of silat with Indonesian nationalism during the 1930s and sporting contests during the 1960s.) Skill is judged on esthetics rather than knockouts, first blood, or scored points. The projection of inner power is part of the esthetic, and learning the art is said to require an intimate personal relationship between teacher (guru) and student (murid). Musical accompaniment is typical.


Geoffrey Chaucer writes, "Ne veyn delit... or torney Marcial," in his play Troylus. This is the earliest recorded use of the English word "martial." In the "Miller’s Tale," Chaucer also wrote that "at wrastlynge [the miller] wolde have alwey the ram," meaning that the powerful miller would always win the prize of a ram. The knight Sir Topas also wrestled, as Chaucer said of him, "Of wrastlynge was there noon his peer,/There any ram shal stande."


After learning how to manufacture gunpowder from a Yüan Chinese engineer, a Korean official named Ch’oe Mu-son persuades the Koryo court to establish a "Superintendency for Gunpowder Weapons." While the Koryo court didn’t survive much longer, the gunpowder weapons do, and in 1419 a Chinese embassy to Seoul was allowed to watch an exhibition of nocturnal cannon blasts. Nevertheless, the most Korean gunpowder weapons from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries were not cannon but man-portable rockets. Rockets called chuhwa were carried by cavalrymen and could be fired while on the move while rockets called sinkijon were essentially multiple-warhead fire arrows fired from cartwheels.


A Welsh mercenary named Owain Glyndwr is murdered in France. The son and grandson of wealthy Welsh landowners, Owain had lost a court case over land, and afterward harbored a serious grudge against the English. His military exploits and hatred of the English endeared him to the Welsh people, and when the Welsh rebelled against the English in 1402, Owain Red Hand became the subject of many legends and stories. These stories in turn inspired Shakespeare’s character Glendower.


In the Mediterranean, the Venetians mount cannon on round ships. Two years later, the Teutonic Knights followed suit in the Baltic.

About 1380:

Bornean Muslims settle the Sulu Islands. The most famous of these traders was Abu Baker, who established himself as the Sultan of the Sulu Archipelago in 1450. During the holidays and coronation ceremonies of such sultans, Muslim soldiers often did sword dances known as dabus. These had Indonesian and Sufi roots, and provide one root for the modern Filipino stick-fighting art known as arnis de mano, or "harness of the hand". Christian moro-moro plays produced for performance during Carnival provide another major root. Around 1609, Spanish priests discovered that these vernacular plays, with their emphasis on broad humor, self-flagellation, and stylized battles using arnis were popular. "The most famous play was supposedly written in 1637 – celebrating a victory of the local Christians over the Muslim leader Kudarat (Corralat)," said Kathy Foley in Cambridge Guide to World Theatre. "The event was probably first played out in Cavite province by boys and the one playing the Muslim leader was actually wounded." Musical accompaniment included brass bands playing music in three different tempos.

As the fear of malignant sorcery spreads through Europe, legal codes start requiring duelists to swear oaths that they do not carry any stones of power, magical herbs, or lucky charms in or on their bodies, weapons, or clothes while participating in duels. Of course, this did not stop wrestlers, prizefighters, and duelists from carrying such charms, or hiring priests to say Black Masses for still-living enemies. Neither did it keep kings from hiring wizards such as Zyto of Bohemia, probably because they trusted their executioners to do the right thing if the magicians somehow became too powerful.


The Venetians and Genoans develop war-rockets.

Woodcarvings done for the choir seats at England’s Chester Cathedral show wrestlers in action.


The burghers of Augsburg use man-portable cannon to scare their enemies’ war-horses. These German firearms were mounted on poles, and slung over men’s shoulders instead of pulled along by animal-drawn sledges or carts. This was not because the German soldiers liked carrying the extra weight. Instead, it was because their supply wagons had no suspensions while their roads had great ruts, and anything transported in those wagons along those roads had to be packed with great care if it was not to be ruined. (The wagon-makers of Kocs, Hungary -- hence the English word "coach" -- did not invent lightweight, leather-suspended carriages until the fifteenth century.)


Grand Duke Dmitri Donskoi equips Moscow’s forts with gunpowder artillery. Still, the Muscovites did not use field artillery until the Ugra River campaign of 1480, or equip their infantry with muskets until 1512. Meanwhile, in an effort to achieve similar sound and fury through magic, the Count of Kyburg (a village northeast of Zurich, Switzerland) hires a witch to stand on his battlements and raise a thunderstorm. During the winter of 1589-1590, Dr. John Fian raised the most famous storm attributed to witches -- it ostensibly caused the death of the Scottish King James VI.


German butchers establish the Bürgershaft von St Marcus von Lowenberg ("The Citizens’ Association of Saint Marcus of Lowenberg") at Frankfurt-am-Rhein. This was a sword-dancing club where members learned a mimed dance using carving knives instead of swords. To reduce injuries, the sword techniques taught used slashing movements rather than thrusting blows. Dances were done publicly during Carnival and Christmas. While the dances themselves were festive in nature, rival guilds often fought over which should have precedence during parades and speeches. Therefore, members also practiced wrestling, tripping, and clubbing. Butchers also danced the sword dance in Zwickau in Bohemia, while in Breslau (now Wroctaw, in Poland), it was the skinners.


Upon the marriage of the Hungarian/Polish Princess Hedvig (Jadwiga) to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila Algirdaitis (Jagiello), Lithuania officially converts to Roman Catholicism. This conversion probably owed more to politics than faith, and according to some accounts, Jagiello did not convert until he was on his deathbed. Definitely the national conversion was nominal, as in 1413, a French visitor was horrified to learn that Lithuanians cremated their dead rather than burying them. In 1579, another Western European was equally horrified to discover that the old gods Perkunas, Laukosargas, and Zemepatis remained popular in rural areas. "Forests, like mountains," says historian Peter Burke, "are effective barriers to the spread of new customs and beliefs."


Gaston, Count de Foix, writes a book about mounted hunting called Livre de la Chasse ("Book of the Chase"). Between 1406 and 1413 it was translated into English for Edward, Duke of York, and renamed The Master of Game. No mention is made of riding, as it was assumed any nobleman knew how to do that. As for control, says Vladimir Littauer, "The number, variety, and extravagance of the means devised at the time to make a horse simply move forward make one wonder if the animal was indeed as stubborn and cold-blooded as the authors make him out to be, or if he was not so uncomfortably bitted that he moved in any direction with reluctance."


A general named Yi Song-gye seizes control of the Koryu Dynasty, then orders the Korean capital moved from Kaesong to Hanyang (modern Seoul) for geomantic reasons. Four years later, Yi crowns himself king, a decision that marks the birth of Korea’s long-lived Choson Dynasty.


Sixty aristocratic women lead 60 knights and 60 squires from the Tower of London to the lists at Smithfield. The thought of females actually fighting during a tournament was, in the words of a near-contemporary German author, "as impossible as a king, prince, or knight plowing the ground or shoveling manure." (Contemporary tales of female jousters appear most often in erotic fantasies and satires.) However, women did sometimes compete in ball games and foot races. Many wealthy women also enjoyed hunting with crossbows and falcons.

A German priest named Hanko Doebringer publishes some commentaries on swordsmanship. Although the principle weapon described was a long sword measuring around 4 feet in length, the use of short sword, sword-and-buckler, and staff were also described. The methods were said to be several hundred years old at the time, and Doebringer attributed his knowledge to a teacher named Johannes Liechtenauer. The text was highly theoretical and couched in obscure terms, perhaps to keep his methods from being readily taught to the uninitiated. Nevertheless, its insights fueled discussion in Germany for the next three centuries.

About 1390:

The Byzantines buy some Genoan and Venetian cannons. The big Italian guns were not very useful to the Byzantines, as their recoil damaged Constantinople’s ancient and ill-repaired walls. Therefore, unlike the Ottomans and Italians, who liked big cannons, the Byzantine generals continued to prefer man-portable fire-lances.

About 1391:

According to a seventeenth century hagiographer named Wang Hsi-ling, Chang San-feng, a Taoist alchemist turned minor deity, creates t’ai chi ch’uan ("Grand Ultimate Boxing"). Unfortunately, the first known association of Chang with boxing didn’t appear in written records until the sixteenth century, when the boxer Chang Sung-ch’i mentioned that he had learned his methods from Chang in a dream. Still, through stories such as these, Chang gradually became the patron saint of Taoist internal boxers. During the mid-nineteenth century, someone using Chang’s name wrote a series of epigrams known as the T’ai Chi Ch’uan Ching ("Classic of Grand Ultimate Boxing"). A sample of these epigrams follows. The translation is by Benjamin Lo and his students, Martin Inn, Robert Amacker, and Susan Foe.

The feet, legs and waist

must act together simultaneously,

so that while stepping forward or back

the timing and position are correct.

If the timing and position are not correct,

the body becomes disordered,

and the defect must be sought

in the legs and the waist.


During a series of battles in Siberia, Tamerlane roundly defeats the Golden Horde. This, combined with the ravages of the Black Death, effectively destroys the Mongol control over Central Asia. This, in turn, explains why the Chinese, Koreans, Russians, and Iranians were able to recover their autonomy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


The Spanish army starts issuing man-portable firearms having curved rather than knobbed buttstocks. This was because the Spanish liked firing their hand cannons from the shoulder instead of placing them "just before the right pap," in the French fashion. The reason probably had to do with sensitivity to recoil; said Sir Roger Williams in 1590, "For recoiling, there is no hurt if [muskets] be straight stocked after the Spanish manner… True it is, were they crooked stocked, after the French manner, to be discharged on the breast, few or none could abide their recoiling." Either way, the weapons were usually placed in firing rests, as their 5-foot long barrels were entirely too unwieldy to shoot offhand. Soldiers used musket rests to support their barrels, while aristocratic hunters used their servants’ shoulders.


According to Okinawan tradition, emigrants from Fukien Province introduce ch’uan fa to the Ryukyus. Unfortunately for the premise, these Chinese emigrants were navigators and shipwrights rather than boxers. Consequently, in the words of the US historian George Kerr, "There is no evidence that they were more than very ordinary folk at home on the China coast." Therefore, the Okinawan tradition is probably spurious.

About 1395:

The Ottoman Turks start admitting Christian apostates into their armies. Some of these were young men drafted into the Ottoman army; others were heterodox Christians suffering from Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic religious persecution. Such apostate units were known as "new troops," or Janissaries. Originally, the Janissaries were archers and crossbowmen. But when Hungarian and German shooters killed thousands of Turkish archers during the second battle of Kossovo in 1448, the Turks replaced the Janissaries’ bows with hand-cannons. Vigorous dancing was part of the Janissaries’ military training. The reason was that battalion chaplains were frequently members of the Bektashi Dervish order.

About 1398:

French and English knights grown tired of choreographed state tournaments organize their own private tournaments using real weapons and standard armor. Called à outrance ("to the limits"), these tournaments are sometimes claimed as ancestors for modern European dueling societies.


The Koreans establish the Songgyun’gwan ("National Confucian Academy") near Taejon. This makes it the oldest surviving Neo-Confucian school in what has since become the world’s most Confucianist society. Neo-Confucianism taught that civilized people conformed to existing social norms and avoided trying to change them. It also emphasized patrilinealism and primogeniture, rejected Buddhism as amoral and shamanism as obscene, and degraded the status of women. Therefore it held great appeal for the male leaders of Korea’s militaristic Choson Dynasty.


Tamerlane invades India. Within six months, his army has sacked Delhi and Lahore, massacred at least 100,000 people, and returned to Samarkand with tens of thousands of the skilled masons the conqueror needed to make his capital the finest in Central Asia. Unlike his predecessors, Tamerlane had a plan for dealing with the Indian elephants, which had always before panicked Tatar and Mongol horses, thus making accurate archery impossible. The plan involved terrifying the Indian elephants before they had a chance to panic the Central Asian ponies. First, cavalry were issued caltrops to throw on the ground in front of advancing elephants. These would tear the elephants’ feet and madden them. Second, engineers and infantry lashed bundles of dried grass to buffaloes and camels, which were then soaked in oil and ignited as the elephants approached. The burning animals were then released to run toward the approaching elephants.

Fifteenth century:

According to Don Baltazar Gonzales of Manila, writing in 1800, Malay chieftains introduce Sufistic stick fighting entertainments into the Philippines.


The examinations for Korean soldiers expand to include tests on Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The idea was to exclude low-born people from high posts within the Choson military.


During a truce in the Hundred Years War, English and French soldiers compete in jousting, battle-ax fighting, and wrestling events. Commoners competed for prizes, while the knights competed, in the words of the Duke of Orleans, "for the love of the ladies and the fun of the thing." There were weight divisions in the wrestling events, and aristocrats competed straight up against commoners. Because gentlewomen were present, the contestants always wrestled fully clothed. Three undisputed falls were required for victory, and because of disputes, sometimes championship contests lasted for hours. (Indeed, the record, set at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, is 11 hours, 40 minutes.) The judges at these events were known as "stycklers", a word that as "stickler" became a synonym for anyone who insisted on precise and exacting compliance with rules.

The Corporation of London starts holding an important fair every September. Known officially as Our Lady Fair (the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin is on September 8) and unofficially as the Southwark Fair (after its venue), it was one of England’s most popular fairs until prostitution, drunkenness, and hooliganism caused its closure in 1763. According to an engraving done by William Hogarth in 1733, entertainment offered at the Southwark Fair included stage plays, freak shows, acrobatic acts, and prizefighting.

A Franco-Castilian expedition lands on Lanzarote Island, in the Eastern Canaries. The subsequent enslavement of Lanzarote’s aboriginal population represents the beginnings of modern European overseas imperialism.


The Koreans build their first typesetting foundries. The idea was to make neo-Confucian documents more accessible to scholars.


A Chinese fleet visits Malaya. Its purpose was to impress the world with the glory and power of the newly organized Ming Dynasty. Its commander was a Muslim eunuch with a five-foot girth and a voice like a bell. Some say that the mostly Muslim sailors of this fleet introduced the leaping, darting, Islamic martial art called cha ch’uan to Southeast Asia. If so, then cha ch’uan is perhaps a Chinese root of the modern Malay martial art called berisilat, or "self-defense." However, the attribution is probably wrong. For one thing, Chinese Muslims did not routinely undergo martial art training until the arrival of Yemeni and Turkish Sufism in the seventeenth century. For another, Chinese immigrants were not common in Malaya until the 1840s. Therefore the Chinese roots of berisilat probably date to stories created during the Communist Emergency following World War II.


The training of the Christian knights of Seville is described as including torreo de rejoneo, or mounted bullfighting. The game required the riders to provoke wild bulls into charging, then killing the animals using a combination of elegant horsemanship and skilled sword and lance work. Although the roots of the game were Islamic, the games themselves were mostly played during Carnival.

East Asian governments often blamed peripatetic Buddhist monks for inciting local unrest. (The Buddhists promised a different, better, future, and argued, usually with good evidence, that human governments were corrupt.) To resolve the issue, the staunchly Confucian government of Korea orders the repression of most Buddhist processions and rituals. This repression was so thorough that by the sixteenth century Buddhism was publicly popular only with women. Accordingly, the modern stories about the Korean martial arts having been created by Buddhist monks probably represent dreaming rather than fact.


Christine de Pisan, the Italian-born daughter of a French court astrologer, publishes a book called Livre des Faits d’Armes ("Stories of Feats of Arms"). Hers was a vernacular study of military strategy and international law. It included original work alongside translations of Vegetius and Frontinius. It is also a reminder that medieval females could be as knowledgeable about military and political matters as was anyone else within their social or economic classes.

About 1410:

The Korean army holds subak, or hand-slapping, demonstrations during its annual military parades.

The Chinese build arrow-shooting firearms. The barrels of these weapons were made from tropical hardwoods. The idea has been attributed to Vietnamese soldiers serving in the Chinese army.

A swordsman of the Bolognese school named Fiore dei Liberi publishes Flos Duellatorum in Amris ("Flower of Battle"). Dedicated to Niccolo III d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, the manuscript combined illustrations with short rhyming captions. Armed methods shown included the use of two-handed swords, spears, and poleaxes; unarmed methods shown included disarming techniques and various trips and throws. In the prologue, dei Liberi said he studied both Italian and German schools, but gave the greatest credit to a Schwabian master named Johannes; presumably this was Johannes Liechtenauer.

About 1411:

The Spanish introduce serpentine musket fuses. These S-shaped devices held a lit slow-match above a powder-filled pan, and used a trigger mechanism to drop the match into the pan. The firearms themselves weighed about 16 pounds, and required gunners to fire them from tripods or gun-stakes. The rate of fire was 8-10 shots per hour. Effective range was about 50 yards.


According to tradition, two Thai princes resolve a dynastic dispute by agreeing to be bound by the results of a fight between picked champions. While this wager is often claimed as the first manifestation of muay Thai, or Thai boxing, that claim remains unsubstantiated, as the actual battle was with swords (dap).

About 1413:

Because the Taoists believed that ch’i (internal energy) developed fastest at places that were 2,000 to 4,000 feet higher than the surrounding territory, during the thirteenth century some of them started building hermitages in Hopei Province’s Wu Tang Mountains. These were generally dedicated to Hsüan-wu, the God of the North, a deity symbolized by the essence Yin, the element water, and the zodiac signs of the tortoise and snake. Under the Sung, Hsüan-wu was also the god of war, and as such the deity assumed even greater importance under the Ming, and in 1412 the Imperial government ordered major construction on temples in the region. During the seventeenth century, stories and stage plays made these monasteries the home of some famous martial art instructors, to include Chang San-feng. During the eighteenth century, stories began to claim that the Manchus were hiring Wu Tang Taoists to sack Buddhist temples in Hunan and Fukien provinces. There is considerable reason to doubt the latter story. First, monks normally do not personally attack one another; instead, they hire soldiers or thugs to do that type of work for them. Second, no one can show which temples were destroyed. Most importantly, no one can explain why Manchu generals would have needed help sacking lightly defended monasteries.


Good English archery and poor French leadership cause a repeat performance of Crécy at Agincourt.


Buddhist monks establish the Drepung monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. The name means "Rice Heap," and alludes to a Tantric Buddhist temple in India. This monastery housed over 7,000 monks in 1901, and was one of the largest Buddhist universities in the world until the Communist Chinese destroyed it in 1959.

A Crossbow Guild (Bogenschützen Gesellschaft) appears in Dresden. (While its organization flag shows an establishment date of 1286, its written records only date to 1416.) This was originally a municipal militia, and it was still holding contests in the twentieth century. Other long-standing urban crossbow guilds include the Brotherhood of Saint Sebastian in Bruges and the Guild of Crossbowmen in Zurich. Archers shot at popinjays (birds on poles) or targets set up 100 paces (85 meters) from the mark. Special target crossbows have been manufactured since the 1880s. The most accurate feature spirit levels and optical sights, and are capable of pinpoint accuracy to 30 meters. Meanwhile, modern hunting crossbows date to the 1950s, when they were developed for shooting tranquilizer darts into animals in Kenyan game parks.

About 1417:

Ottoman advances in Iran and the Balkans send the Gypsies scurrying into Eastern Europe and Egypt. Ethnically Kurdish, the Gypsies, who call themselves Romany, traced roots to northwestern India. Their religion was matristic, and influenced by Tantrism. Unlike most medieval people, Romany moved about freely, and maintained distinctive language and customs. The men often worked as tinkers, horse-traders, or musicians while women often worked as dancers or fortune-tellers. Social and religious differences caused both Muslims and Christians to persecute them, and this persecution continues into the present. The Hungarians, for instance, kept Romany slaves and during World War II the Dutch and French police happily sent Gypsies to German concentration camps, where the Nazis used them to test nerve agents. Consequently, medieval Romany bands usually displayed considerable defensive capability, and combative sports still practiced by Romany people include cudgeling and wrestling. The modern Romany wrestling style is oil wrestling. It looks similar to Turkish styles seen in the Balkans, and its champions are called pehlivani, after a Turkish word meaning "hero."


In Bohemia, the Czechs rebel against their German leaders. During their rebellion, the Czechs were united more by religious fervor than nationalism. In those days, there were several sitting Popes, more pretenders, and all were corrupt. Thus the Czechs were ready for a cleric (John Hus) who preached honesty and sobriety, and even better, encouraged laymen to take wine with their communion (a boon previously enjoyed only by aristocrats) and sing vernacular hymns in church. Militarily, the Czechs were organized under the leadership of the one-eyed Count Jan Zizka. Zizka was an experienced soldier who had led a Bohemian unit during the destruction of the Teutonic Brethren at Grunwald in 1410. Because he led a peasant army threatened by heavy cavalry, he decided that his best defense was to fortify his supply wagons, a notion apparently borrowed from the Russians. Each Czech wagon carried axes, spades, pick-axes, and hoes, and supported two hand gunners, six crossbowmen, two flail-carriers, four pikemen, two shield carriers, and two drivers. In the defense, the wagons were chained together and used as portable barricades, while in the offense, the wagons were rolled down hills into packed infantry formations, thus shattering them for the Hussite cavalry. Although Zizka died in 1424, the method of wagon-warfare he pioneered quickly became the Eastern European standard.

Tibetan monks establish the Se-ra, or "Merciful Hail," monastery at Lhasa. Because Tibetan political power rested in the hands of abbots and prelates, a corps of warrior-monks, or dob-dob, was also established at this monastery. By the late nineteenth century, the dob-dob were monastic police rather than soldiers. These men often worked as laborers or collectors of yak dung. Their training consisted of running in the hills, throwing stones at targets, practicing high and long jumping, and fighting with clubs and swords. (Firearms were viewed as noisemakers rather than killing machines.) Duelists fought using swords in the presence of an umpire. If both duelists fought honorably, then the duel ended at first blood, whereas if one or the other proved cowardly, then the coward might be killed. There were about 5,000 dob-dob at Se-ra in 1921.

About 1420:

South Indian merchants introduce Indo-Iranian equestrian games into Indonesia. Variations of these games are still played during planting festivals held on Sumba, Flores, and Java. In the game played on Sumba in the 1990s, for instance, the players carried long spears and galloped about circular runways trying to knock one another off their mounts. Women and children watched the matches, and they cheered and clapped loudly for their favorites. As for how the game was played in pre-modern times, a Dutch merchant named Veth watched a tournament at Mataram, on the island of Lombok, in 1666. The game started with the riders galloping around the field to the accompaniment of gamelan music. After that, the players charged one another. All players were careful to make sure that the prince was never unhorsed, and young players never seriously challenged older players. The reason was not solely fear nor undue respect. Instead, the Indonesians lacked a tradition of games that pitted force against force in which there could be only one winner.

Europeans begin corning their gunpowder. The process involved wetting the powder with human urine (preferably from a wine-drinking bishop, straight from the tap), then letting the powder dry. Once dry, the powder was sifted, resulting in a powder that burned hotter and misfired less. While hunters stored their powder in two separate horns – one for priming powder and one for the main charge – soldiers poured carefully measured loads into paper cartridges, and then hung them across their chests. While this looked bold and facilitated faster firing, it also made shooters vulnerable to exploding if struck by a spark.


The desire to find the legendary Presbyter John causes Prince Henry of Portugal to start sending ships west toward the Azores and south toward Cape Verde. The trick, finally learned around 1434, was to sail out of sight of the comforting African coast, as the prevailing winds and currents effectively prevented coast-hugging sailing ships from returning the way they came.


The Burgundians put notch-and-post sights on their arbalests and arquebuses. Military firearms still carry such sights because they give shooters faster target acquisition at normal ranges than aperture sights. They are also cheaper to manufacture and less prone to damage than optical sights, and less likely to be obscured by mud, rain, or battery failure than laser sights.


The Bohemians develop long-barreled handguns that looked like whistles. Hence their name, pistala, a word meaning "pipes." (The contemporary Turkish name for similar weapons was tüfek, or "blowpipe.")


The Castilian King Juan II comes to a Whitsunday tournament dressed as God. The King’s retainers were equally immodest, and came dressed as the Twelve Apostles. (Saint Paul replaced Judas Iscariot for the occasion.) This seemingly sacrilegious behavior is a reminder that soldiers and kings are rarely as pious as monks and churchmen would like.

About 1430:

Serbian Orthodox Christians acquire Italian hand cannons from the Ottomans. They then used these weapons against the Roman Catholics living in the Balkans.


The English burn a 19-year old Frenchwoman named Jeanne la Pucelle as a witch. Her actual crime was rallying peasants to the French flag. (She and some Scottish mercenaries had won some important battles, thus giving the peasants hope.) Burning deaths often took half an hour or more, especially when the wind was wrong. They were also enormously popular with the spectators, who cheered as the victim’s fat dripped from her fingertips, her lips shrank to her gums, and her bowels fell steaming into the flames. Jeanne la Pucelle was renamed Jeanne d’Arc (Joan the Archer) during the sixteenth century. The modern cult of Saint Joan dates to the 1890s, when French politicians decided to use the woman’s martyrdom to create a unifying national holiday. (Bastille Day, which the Catholics viewed as godless, and the Royalists viewed as an insult, was too controversial for this purpose.)


The Mamluks introduce arquebuses into Egypt. (Arquebus means "hook gun," and refers to the hook-like handles put on the underside of their barrels for the purpose of absorbing recoil.) As they scared horses and burned men’s hands and clothes, the new weapons were not popular with the Mamluk cavalry. Sudanese infantry, on the other hand, liked them. When the Mamluk Sultan Sa’adat Muhammad tried to increase the status of his Sudanese arquebusiers in 1497, Muhammad’s white cavalrymen killed the black officer in charge of Sudanese gunners, then told the Sultan, "If you wish to persist in these tastes, you had better ride by night and go away with your black slaves to far-off places."

About 1434:

The Portuguese King Duarte publishes Bem Cavalagar ("The Art of Good Horsemanship"). This short book, which was likely written throughout the 1420s, provides the most detailed and practical descriptions of late medieval European jousting techniques available.

About 1438:

By gradually conquering his neighbors, the Ninth Inca, known as Pachakuti ("The Transformer"), makes the Cuzqueño culture the dominant culture of south-central Peru. (The word inka is a Quechua word meaning "sovereign" or "aristocrat." Inca is its Spanish spelling.) Pachakuti’s army was a national levy based on age-sets. Its conscripts found themselves working on public works more often than they found themselves fighting. Whether working or fighting, the conscripts were lead by a cadre of professional soldiers, and organized into groups of tens, hundreds, and thousands. Military training included participation in royal hunts and free-for-all fights. There were also martial dances. Different social classes had different martial dances. During the aristocratic dances, for instance, the men passed a gold chain from hand-to-hand, while during the common dances, the men hopped and jumped. Inca hand-held weapons included copper-headed spears, stone-headed maces, and wooden clubs lined with flint or cold-hammered tin bronze. Ranged weapons included bows, slings, spear-throwers, and bolas. The latter were made of three stone balls joined by a cord. There were one and two ball variants of these weapons, with two balls used for bringing down small game, and one ball used during duels. Engineers used avalanches to disrupt or destroy armies on the move, and built stout masonry walls. Other physical defenses included llama-hide tunics stuffed with cotton batting, leather helmets, and wickerwork shields. Magical defenses, meanwhile, included witchcraft, prayer, and blood sacrifices. While llamas were the usual sacrificial victims, people were sometimes sacrificed on special occasions. Although the Incas had no writing, their communications were excellent. Messages were sent using knotted cords or tapestries. Post-runners carried these messages at an average rate of over six miles an hour, no mean feat in a land where the altitudes range from 11,000 to 14,000 feet.


Cosimo de’ Medici, Florence’s wealthiest merchant, hires Byzantine scholars to translate Plato’s works from Greek into Latin. Medici also hired agents to buy manuscripts wherever they could. The result was the resurgence in learning known as the Italian Renaissance.

English monastic laws prohibit nuns from "dancing and reveling" except at Christmas.

About 1440:

A Central Mexican priest named Tlacaelel popularizes the belief that the sun god would die unless he received a regular ration of human blood. This provides the ideology behind the Mexica-Tenochitlan, or Aztec, state. The Aztecs organized their armies in units of twenty. (Mexican mathematicians used base-twenty.) Twenty soldiers made a squad; twenty squads made a tiachcauh, or battalion; and twenty battalions made a xiquipile, or division. Their commanders and elite units were known as Eagle or Jaguar Knights, after their clan totems. All warriors normally painted their faces black, or a mottled red-and-white pattern, before battle. Aztec weapons included wooden swords edged with obsidian flakes that were sharper than Spanish steel, plus spear-throwers, bows and arrows, and slings. Their defenses included wooden helmets, hide-covered shields painted with clan totems, and knee-length tunics made of quilted cotton hardened by soaking in brine. (Many conquistadors also chose to wear this quilted armor after finding it was more comfortable than iron armor during hot weather.) Still, the Aztecs’ most potent weapon was the fear that their bloodthirsty rituals caused. The failure of these rituals to scare the Spanish out of their wits was one reason for the Aztec government’s fatalistic response to Hernán Cortés and his sixteenth century conquistadors.

Sigmund Ringeck, fencing master of Albrecht, Count Palatine of Rhine and Duke of Bavaria, produces an illustrated manuscript called "The Knightly Art of the Long Sword." The idea was to translate the esoteric terms used in Liechtenauer’s sword manual into colloquial German.


Portuguese mariners under the command of Antão Goncalves take ten Sanhaja captives in the Western Sahara. To stop this, a Moroccan ambassador told the Portuguese that black Africans made better slaves than Sanhaja and offered to sell them all the black slaves they could ever use. Ignoring the Moroccans’ self-serving logic, the Portuguese sent their own corsairing expedition to Senegambia in 1444. The outraged Senegambians responded with fleets of canoe-borne archers. Because the slow-firing Portuguese shipboard cannon were unable to hit fast-moving canoes, the Portuguese began negotiating regular trade treaties in 1448. Here, the Portuguese exchanged wire, beads, and manufactured goods for ivory, gold, and African slaves, a pattern that remained standard for the next three-and-a-half centuries.

About 1443:

Hans Talhoffer produces an illustrated manuscript called Fechtbuch ("Fighting Book"). Dedicated to some Schwabian nobles, the author’s personal copy dated 1459 is currently in Copenhagen. (The version reprinted in Prague in 1887 was based on an edition of 1467.) The description of armed techniques showed people fighting using dagger, long sword, staff, spear, and poleaxe, in armor and out, and on foot and on horseback. Wrestling was also shown. The armed methods were based in part on Liechtenauer’s teachings while the wrestling was "Master Ott’s wrestling art". The latter was Austrian wrestling, and Ott was a Jew.

About 1444:

The Byelorussians and Russians restrict the free movement of peasants to winter months. Obviously, not everyone paid attention to such laws. Those who did not often stole horses or rowing boats from their masters as they left. Such runaways called themselves Cossacks, after a Kirghiz Turkish word meaning "free men."


International spice merchants carry typhus throughout the Mediterranean world. The disease was indigenous to India, and is carried by lice.


Medieval soldiers were laid off during the winter, which was not campaigning season, and between wars. Disbanded soldiers then wandered about looting, raping, and pillaging just as if they were on campaign. To suppress such activities – which in peacetime were considered robbery and murder rather than war -- King Charles VII of France starts keeping some of the more reliable mercenary bands on retainer, and charging their leaders with suppressing the rest. While not exactly the establishment of a permanent standing army (that dates to the 1650s), this certainly represents a step toward the establishment of standing regiments.


King Sejong of Korea approves the introduction of the 28 characters of the modern Korean script. Although vastly superior to Chinese ideograms for writing the Korean language, Sejong’s script, known at the time as hunminjongum and today as han’gul, was used mainly by women, farmers, and common soldiers until the Japanese evacuation of Korea in 1945. The reason was that the Chinese-educated Korean aristocrats wanted to maintain their stranglehold on education.


King Henry VI makes Greenwich Palace an important royal residence. Amusements held on its 200-acre park included jousting, shooting at butts, wrestling, and mock military battles, and it was here that Sir Walter Raleigh reportedly put his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I would not soil her shoes. (While Hampton Court Palace was also popular, it had just a 50-acre park, and was better suited for banquets and tennis than mock military battles.)


Internal politics cause the Russian Orthodox Church to split from the Greek Orthodox Church. Because Greek Orthodox Christians resisted Muscovite evangelism, Russia did not have a native patriarch for another 150 years.

A book called Ch’ong-t’ong tungnok ("Records on Gunpowder Weaponry") appears in Korea. Printed in han’gul using moveable type, it describes the use of artillery in the field as well as during sieges.


The burghers of Nuremberg conduct Western Europe’s first comprehensive census. As the motivation was a threatened siege, the census doubtless had to do with tax collection. (Inhabitants of medieval German cities paid an occupation tax, and Nuremberg probably had more employed citizens than taxpayers.) The results were also highly confidential. The reason was that German princes were not above reopening tax rolls that had been closed for centuries in order to collect additional revenue. Frederick the Great, for instance, reportedly ordered German tax rolls examined as far back as 1221 to ensure that no one had ever underpaid the Prussian government.

The Milanese government begins replacing its arbalests with handguns.

About 1450:

Merchants spread Islam throughout the Hausa kingdoms of northern Nigeria.

A retired samurai named Choisai Ienao establishes the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu. This is Japan’s oldest documented martial art school. It is also the first school known to have taught techniques using kata, or pre-arranged patterns, rather than through free-fighting with wooden swords. The first part of the style’s name means "Divine Transmission Katori Shrine," and refers to the Katori Shrine in Honshu’s Chiba Prefecture. Meanwhile, the last part of the name, the word ryu, means as "flow," as in rivers. In East Asian cosmology, dragons symbolize rivers. Asian dragons have the virtues of saints (which may explain why the Byzantine Saint George was always fighting dragons), and in turn symbolizes some schools’ stated goal of making superior human beings out of their students. Nevertheless, Choisai was a noted spearman, and his techniques emphasized spear and naginata (halberd) work rather than swordsmanship.

A suit of armor is made for a German knight named Ulrich von Matsch, who stood nearly 6’7" tall. This is mentioned as a reminder that many medieval aristocrats stood more than 5’6" tall, and weighed more than 135 pounds. Why? Because people who eat regular well-balanced diets throughout childhood invariably grow five to six inches taller than do people who do not.


The Korean King Munjong views a military exercise at his palace. Seven hundred soldiers take part, and weapons demonstrated included hwacha, a rocket-launcher on a cartwheel.


The Portuguese build a water-powered sugar mill in the Azores. This represents the first important example of industrial production of a highly addictive substance. To keep up with the demand for field hands, the Portuguese started buying their slaves in West Africa around 1466. (Before that, most Portuguese slaves had come from Morocco, the Canary Islands, and southern Europe.)

Peter von Danzig produces a fencing manual (fechtbuch) that comments on the theories of Liechtenauer and other German masters regarding the use of sword-and-buckler, dagger, long sword, and wrestling. The book was mostly text, but did include a few illustrations.


The Ottoman Turks introduce mortars to the final siege of Constantinople. The weapons, known as bombards, were distinguished from cannons because they fired large projectiles using low firing pressures. These particular weapons threw half-ton stone balls at a rate of one round every two hours. Given enough time, they could batter their way through the thickest walls. The eventual Ottoman victory marks the end of the old Roman Empire. Modern European historians often claim that the fall of Constantinople fueled the Italian Renaissance. Perhaps this was so. After all, some Byzantine philosophers from Mystra (near Sparta on the Peloponnesian Peninsula) did flee to Italy in 1460. But it is not likely, as most Byzantine intellectuals moved to Crete rather than Florence or Rome. Accordingly, Cosimo de’ Medici’s passion for Plato in translation is probably more important to the Italian Renaissance than the fall of Constantinople.

Riots blamed on fixed matches and poor officiating follow some wrestling matches held at Clerkenwell, a London suburb noted for its brothels and taverns. The style of wrestling is not known, but London wrestling championships were often held on Good Friday.

About 1455:

Mechanical printing presses featuring movable metal type appear in Germany and Austria. These make books much less expensive and broadsheets (the ancestors of newspapers) possible. Best-sellers included The Frightening and Truly Extraordinary Story of a Wicked Blood-Drinking Tyrant Called Prince Dracula, published in Austria in 1463. (Although Bibles sold well, less than one literate person in twenty owned a complete Bible. Devout Catholics preferred love poetry, and even three centuries later, most Protestants preferred Psalms and catechisms to complete Bibles. Dracula, however, was loved by everyone except the pious, so outsold both Bibles and catechisms.)


The Burgundian nobility flocks to see a judicial duel between two burghers of Valenciennes named Plouvier and Mahuot. The burghers appear before the Duke of Burgundy with their heads shaved, feet bare, and bodies coated in grease and sewn into leather garments. The duelists salute the duke and kiss the Bible, then rub their hands in ashes and eat some sugar. Then they take up bucklers (small round shields) with the images of saints on them, and medlor wood staves. Mahuot starts the brawl by throwing sand into Jacotin’s face. Outraged, Jacotin drops his weapons and starts wrestling. His technique is to gouge Mahuot’s eyes with his thumbs. Mahuot stops this by biting Jacotin’s fingers. Undeterred, Jacotin then twists Mahuot’s arms until he screams for mercy. The Duke of Burgundy has no mercy this day, and Mahuot is dragged from the lists by the guards and hanged. As for the knights, they express embarrassment about the result, and leave to watch a proper joust.


In a series of armed brawls Sir Walter Scott later graces with the name "the Wars of the Roses," the house of York loses control of the English Parliament to the Lancasters and Tudors. Wealthy Englishmen often paid both sides rather than choose one side. These mugwumps called themselves "gentlemen," and demanded the right of signing "Esquire" after their names instead of "Sir" before them.


The Scottish Parliament bans golf. The reason was the game diverted gentlemen from their archery practice. The aristocrats played on.

Crusaders returning from wars in Hungary introduce the Ottoman Turkish practice of maneuvering cavalry using trumpets and horse-mounted kettledrums into France and Germany.

About 1460:

The wooden swords known as bokuto become popular in Japanese swordsmanship academies. These weapons were similar to the baleen ("whalebone") swords contemporary Europeans used during their own tournaments and jousts, and served the same purpose, namely reducing the severity of accidental injuries.

Paulus Kal (or Kall), a swordsmanship instructor for a Bavarian duke, produces an illustrated manual called The Fencing and Wrestling Pictures of Paulus Kal.


King James II of Scotland is killed when one of his siege guns bursts outside Roxburgh. Bursting guns were not the only way that chemically-powered weapons killed their users. For example, powder horns could also catch fire, killing or injuring their wearers. Fratricide was a problem, too. For instance, during the English Civil War battle of Basing House in 1643, the rear ranks of the poorly trained Parliamentary troops fired into their own front ranks, and as recently as 1993, the United States Army admitted that 5% of its battle casualties came from "friendly" fire. And these numbers didn’t even include intentional killings. After all, there was no ballistics on buckshot in a world before microscopes or forensic pathologists.


Burgundian mercenaries introduce arquebuses into Britain. Still, the British nobility preferred longbows and as a result English royal bodyguards did not begin re-equipping with firearms until the 1480s. There were several reasons for this antipathy toward firearms. Arrows, said British authors, were more frightening to men and more painful to horses. Furthermore, archers were not blinded by smoke, and shot much faster, more accurately, and at longer ranges. On the other hand, replied the pro-gunners, archers had to stand up to shoot, unlike gunners, who could lie on the ground. More importantly, it took years to train an archer and just a few weeks to train a shooter.


Prince Vlad of Wallachia introduces the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II to total war. Vlad’s methods included poisoning wells, sending plague victims and lepers to spread disease inside Turkish camps, and impaling prisoners of war. (A stickler for protocol, Vlad always ensured that generals received higher stakes than did their men.) Vlad learned his war craft from the Hungarian soldier John Hunyadi during the late 1440s, who in turn had learned his craft fighting the Hussites. Thus, he fought using a combination of wagons, firearms, cavalry, and archery. (Saxon artisans living in the Transylvanian towns of Brasov and Sibiu made Vlad’s firearms and powder.) By Slavic standards, Vlad was a rational despot. After all, he waged war against the infidel, protected honest merchants and hard-working peasants, and atoned for his sins by founding churches and monasteries. Consequently, the Russian Grand Duke Ivan III used Feodor Kuritsyn’s The Story of Prince Dracula as a primer on statecraft. Unfortunately, most of Vlad’s posthumous reputation is owed to less flattering stories written by Muslims and Western Europeans. For example, due to his unpleasant way of dispatching prisoners, the Germans and Ottomans called him Vlad the Impaler. The Greek Orthodox, meanwhile, were aghast at his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and declared that he became a vampire after death. And, to top things off, in 1890 Bram Stoker decided to write a novel of steamy Victorian sensuality, and decided that he liked the sound of the words "Dracula" and "Transylvania."


A West African prince named Sunni Ali begins a series of almost annual wars of expansion. These ultimately turn his small Saharan kingdom into the Empire of Songhai. Subsequent hagiography notwithstanding, Sunni Ali was probably an animist rather than a Muslim, as his persecutions of the imams of Timbuktu are legendary.


In England, a Yorkist earl named Sir John Tiptoft publishes the Ordinances, Statutes, and Rules of jousting. Tiptoft’s rules awarded points for unhorsing riders, breaking spears by crashing them together tip-to-tip, and so on. They disqualified players for low blows and unauthorized weapons. Winners received prizes from the queen or other ladies present. Sir John was later hanged for impaling Lancasterian prisoners.


Japanese aristocrats hire appraisers to assign monetary values to their presentation-grade swords. The most famous of these appraisers was Amidabutsu Myohon, who worked for the Tokugawa family. To judge quality, appraisers looked at the blade and its markings. Then they took the sword to a butcher to see and hear it cut. (A good cut sounded like a wet towel being snapped, while a poor one merely thunked.) While legends tell of sword-testers severing bodies at the hips and firearms across their barrels, both World War II prisoner killings and the suicide of novelist Mishima Yukio in 1970 suggest that Japanese swordsmen often required several blows to sever a head from the neck, and a cutting torch to sever a gun barrel. The similar stories about samurai testing swords on passers-by date to the seventeenth century, and describe the actions of some Japanese gangsters known as the kabuki-mono, or "crazy ones." Of course, battle-crazed infantry unhampered by theoretical instruction may have been equally redoubtable, as there are reliable reports of MacDonald Highlanders splitting English soldiers almost in half at Killiecrankie in 1689. Generally, though, such cutting is a show of ego. After all, a slash across the throat is just as lethal as splitting a man in two -- and tactically wiser, because it is less likely to damage the weapon used.


While imprisoned on charges of rape, robbery of churches, and theft of deer and cattle, an English knight named Sir Thomas Malory writes a romantic novel called Le morte d’Arthur ("The Death of Arthur"). Upon publication by William Caxton in 1485, this book provided the definitive version of the Arthurian legend. It also helped codify literary English, as Caxton always edited his books to appear as if written in the London vernacular.

About 1470:

Portuguese navigators start suspecting that Africa is a circumnavigable island instead of an impassable barrier.

The French introduce trunnions. These allowed lightweight cannon to be suspended from wheeled carriages, and rapidly transported about the battlefield.

The Japanese raise large armies of conscript light infantry known as ashigaru, or "light feet." The training the ashigaru received was inferior to that of provincial samurai. The vast numbers of inexpensive weapons and helmets needed to equip the ashigaru are important for inspiring the Japanese to develop mass-production techniques.


The armies of Ivan III conquer Novgorod. This puts Moscow in charge of Great White Russia. Ivan’s excuse was an alliance between the Orthodox burghers of Novgorod and the "satanic" Roman Catholics of Lithuania and Poland.


The Kurds acquire artillery from the Ottoman Turks.

King Edward IV requires merchants to import four yew bowstaves for every ton of other goods they carried into England. Most of this yew came from Portugal. And that explains the historic ties between the British and Portuguese governments.


European mercenaries were usually hired as independent organizations called "companies." Charles the Rash, Duke of Burgundy, was the first to organize his mercenaries into separate companies of archers, pike-and-musket men, and cavalry. (Artillerists were still independent civilian contractors.) In this way, Charles created the vertical structuring of the modern European army.

Pope Sixtus IV starts construction on a private fortress he called the Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo’s magnificent frescoes are not ordered for eight years, or completed for forty.

The Muscovite Grand Duke Ivan III marries the Byzantine princess Zoë Palaeologus. As Zoë was the only niece of the last Byzantine emperor, this marriage allowed future Muscovite leaders to call their empire the successor of Byzantium, their capital the third Rome, and themselves the new Caesars. Ivan III is also remembered for his refusal to kiss the stirrup of the ambassadors of the Golden Horde in 1474, and for effecting the practical liberation of Muscovy from the Horde in 1480. Russian historiography notwithstanding, this Muscovite autonomy owes more to dissension within the Turkish ranks than any actions undertaken by the Russians.


The Swiss establish the Société de l’Harquebuse at Geneva, making it the country’s first gun club. As in modern shooting sports, the shooters fired at black bull’s-eyes surrounded by concentric rings. As the targets stood 200 yards from the firing line, weapons probably included rifles as well as arquebuses.

About 1475:

A German fencing master named Hans Lecküchner writes a manuscript on the use of the German short sword. In 1558, the book is attributed to Hans Lebkommer, given upgraded engravings by Hans Brosamer, and published as Der alten Fechter gründliche Kunst ("Complete Art of the Olden Fencers").


Gonorrhea forces an English army to evacuate France. Explained the chronicler, the soldiers "fell to the lust of women, and their penises rotted away and fell off and they died."


Germans produce brass cannon in Prussia. The weapons were then used during Crusades against the Poles and Lithuanians.

About 1478:

King Louis XI becomes the first king since Charlemagne to collect taxes from every duchy in France. The reason was that King Louis had more cannons and mercenaries than his rivals, which in turn meant that if they refused to pay, he could huff and puff and blow their castles down.

About 1480:

Cranequins, or windlass-cranked crossbows, appear in Europe. Although slow to reload, this was not a particular problem as they were effectively crew-served weapons – one man loaded a series of the devices while another took aim and shot. Further, they were smaller, thus easier to operate inside fortifications than previous crossbows. Finally, they had greatly improved stocks and triggers. Unfortunately, they were very expensive to manufacture and maintain, and consequently they were available only to wealthy hunters and royal bodyguards. A Spaniard writing in 1644 described shooting one as follows: "As [the shooter] holds the stock and the trigger in [his right hand], he should raise his thumb close to his eye. When the head of the arrow can be seen above the top of the thumb, he takes aim as he chooses and in this way he will strike his game." The writer, Alonzo Martinez del Espinar, added that the weapons were accurate to about 25 yards. Beyond that, the shooter had to compensate for the strength of the bow and the fall of the shot. Still, pinpoint accuracy was not necessary, as hunting arrows were always dipped in powerful vegetable poisons.


During a battle with the Golden Horde along the Urga River, the Russian cavalry carried Turkish bows while the Russian infantry carried arquebuses and pikes. This is the first known use of firearms in the field by the Russians.


Christopher Columbus broaches his idea of reaching Japan by sailing west. The idea occurred to him after a careful reading of Marco Polo and some Greek and Arab apocrypha. The Portuguese rejected the idea because Columbus’ mathematics and knowledge of the Western Sea were weak, while the Spanish rejected it because it described a world different from the one described by Saint Augustine.

Portuguese merchants build their first fortified trading post on Ghana’s Akan coast. The stone storerooms of São Jorge de Mina (modern Elmina) were the first permanent European structures in sub-Saharan Africa. Their purpose was to hold gold dust and ivory until there was enough to warrant shipping. When the Dutch captured São Jorge in 1637, they converted the fort’s storerooms into slave-pens.


Pedro de Vera builds the first sugar mill in the Canary Islands. As the Canary Islanders fought slavery, workers included European indentured servants and West African slaves.

About 1485:

Leonardo da Vinci sketches some wheel-lock firing mechanisms, and by 1510, the Venetians were making combination wheel-lock/crossbows. Wheel-locks worked on the same principle as a modern cigarette lighter. That is, they created sparks by striking pyrites with serrated steel wheels. This had obvious value for people wanting to carry concealed weapons or shoot firearms from horseback. But the weapons were far from perfect. Drawbacks included expense, forty moving parts, and an easily lost winding key. Therefore wheel-locks were carried mainly by merchants, cavalrymen, and kings.

The Aztecs introduce a form of gladiatorial combat they called the War of the Flowers. The Aztecs who participated in these battles were usually the sons of wealthy merchants. Their opponents were usually war captives offered the opportunity to die bravely in battle or to die miserably in slavery. Unsurprisingly, the Aztecs invariably won these "contests."


Portuguese merchants arrive at Benin City, in southern Nigeria. The Portuguese described the Bini soldiers as carrying iron swords, wooden shields, and iron-tipped spears. Their arrows were poisoned. Pictures of the Bini secret society known as the Leopard Hunters Guild show warriors wearing helmets and armor made from anteater skin. The armor was magical as well as practical. (The scaly anteater is one of the few West African animals capable of resisting leopards.) Most West African weapons and defenses were attributed with magical powers, and one purpose of the Leopard Hunters Guild was to control and administer those powers.

The Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard is established in London. Its original purpose was to provide security during the coronation of England’s King Henry VII. The oldest extant royal bodyguard, the Beefeaters’ white crossbelts originally supported the weight of an arquebus. So, while its uniform is archaic today, it was state-of-the-art in the fifteenth century.


Sword dances are outlawed in Vitoria, Spain. The reason was "the scandalous behaviour and shedding of blood occasioned by them." Iberian dances of the era often feigned combat between Moors and Christians. Hence, the English term "Morris dancing." Besides patriotism, their purposes included impressing women.

About 1487:

In Padua, Italy, a fencing master named Fillipe Vadi produces a manuscript called De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi ("About the Gladiatorial Art of Fighting"). Vadi was from Pisa but taught fencing at Urbino. He believed that fencing was as much about ethics as technique, and that the knights and nobles who learned it should use their art to protect rather than oppress. Although the pictures suggest that his methods were similar to those of dei Liberi half a century earlier, the names for the techniques are different, which in turn suggests that masters modified both names and positions to suit their needs.


The city of Worms hosts Germany’s last major chivalric tournament.

Der Hexenhammer, or "The Hammer of Witches," lists the ways that people could invoke Satanic aid during shooting practice. These included stealing consecrated wafers during Mass, casting bullets at crossroads on Christmas Eve, and attending shooting schools taught by Old Nick himself.

The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III authorizes guild masters to wear feathers in their caps and swords at their sides. In other words, he granted them the same privileges as the lower aristocracy.


A German book on commercial arithmetic introduces - and + into European mathematics. Their original purpose was to show shortages and surpluses during warehouse inventories, and they only took on their modern mathematical meanings in 1514.

About 1490:

German mercenary companies contractually define military good order and discipline. These contracts are the forerunners of modern European codes of military justice.

A Bavarian silk merchant named Hanns Wurm publishes an illustrated wrestling manual (Ringersbuch).


The Venetian army replaces its arbalests with firearms. In 1506 the Venetians built firing ranges throughout their city, and in 1508 they even issued muskets to militia units.

The Japanese sword hero (kengo) Tsukahara Bokuden is born in Hitachi Prefecture. While Tsukahara fought over 100 duels and participated in 37 battles during his 81-year lifetime, his only wounds came from archers.


Portuguese merchants introduce Venetian glass and Roman Catholicism into Zaire. While the Kongolese monarch was among the first converts to Christianity, not everyone was happy with the Portuguese, including the noble Mpanzu a Nzinga, who feared the Portuguese and their priests. The Kongolese military had about 20,000 soldiers. The army was organized as infantry, musicians, and priests. Uniforms consisted of palm leaves, animal skins, and feathered headdresses. Defensive weapons included buffalo hide shields and drums. Magical weapons included wooden bells, rattles, and fetishes. Offensive weapons included bows with iron-tipped arrows, wooden clubs, bone or metal tipped lances, and poisoned stakes. The soldiers worked themselves into martial fury using leaping war dances. (After three days of dancing and chanting, the army was judged ready for war.) A single battle usually decided a war, with the defeated side fleeing for home and the victorious side pursuing.


The German cosmographer Martin Behaim makes the Erdapfel ("Earth Apple"). This is the oldest terrestrial globe still in existence. While Behaim’s globe did not show the Americas, Australia, or Antarctica, it did show the Azores and other Atlantic islands. Accordingly, Columbus’ "discovery" of the Americas better describes the Iberian aristocracy’s discovery of the riches to be made via the Atlantic trade than any actual geographical findings.

Muslim Granada falls to Castilian cannons and internal treachery.

The Spanish Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI. The evil deeds attributed to this Pope by his enemies included having children by his daughter Lucrezia, poisoning his rivals, and introducing asphyxiating gases to siege warfare. While none of the latter calumnies are true, they do make delightful gossip.


Christopher Columbus and his men introduce syphilis into Italy. At least, so goes a mid-sixteenth century theory concerning the source of the deadly syphilis epidemic that ravaged Europe during the winter of 1493-1494. The modern theory is that this was simply a coincidental development of an exceptionally deadly permutation of an ancient disease.

The Songhai emperor Muhammad ibn abu Bakr Ture justifies his wars of expansion in the southern Sahara as jihads meant to spread orthodox Islam throughout the region.


The Scottish monk John Cor double-distills a malt beverage he calls aqua vitae. The Gaelic translation of this Latin term for the "water of life" was uisge beatha, which in turn passed into English as "whisky". "Proof" of whisky’s strength involved mixing the spirits with gunpowder and then igniting it; if the powder flashed, then the alcohol content was "proved." However, the process of double-distilling alcohol in copper pots was expensive; Cor, for example, required 48 bushels of malted barley. So, until the advent of commercial distilleries in the 1690s, whisky was drunk mostly at weddings, funerals, and similar family or clan occasions. During these gatherings, Highland men and boys competed in rough games such as archery, singlestick, sword-and-buckler fencing, and wrestling. At night, they also did sword dances and told stories in rhyme.

By running his finger along a line on a map, Pope Alexander VI divides the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal. (Spain got everything west of the line, while Portugal got everything east.) Unsurprisingly, the English, French, Germans, and Dutch (to say nothing of the Africans, Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders) ignored this decision.

Double-entry bookkeeping develops in Italy; a Croat, Benko Kotruljic, wrote the earliest known book on the subject.

About 1495:

William Renwick makes a 24-bore hunting rifle for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. As its rifling was intended to act as a reservoir for powder ash between cleanings, all corresponding improvements in accuracy were entirely serendipitous. Still, rifling made the weapons much more accurate. For instance, during some tests held in Mainz in 1547, a rifle firing lead bullets hit a target 20 times out of 20 at a range of 200 yards. The usual fifteenth century target was a round wooden target about three feet in diameter. Butt markers ran out between shots to mark shots with wooden plugs. Anywhere on the target constituted a hit.


A traveler named Romano Pane introduces the Arawak practice of inhaling tobacco through a straw into Spain. Dipping snuff does not become popular in Europe until about 1560, nor smoking pipes or cigars until around 1580. (One English tradition describes a servant throwing ale on Sir Walter Raleigh because he thought Raleigh was on fire, but that story is probably apocryphal.)


Vasco da Gama rounds the Cape of Good Hope, and reaches India soon after. This was probably with the help of a Gujarati navigator picked up in Mombassa.

About 1499:

The Sikh religion, which borrowed tenets of faith from both Hinduism and Islam, appears in the Punjab. Although people from all social classes embraced it, the new religion was especially popular with farmers and townsmen excluded from power by both Brahmans and Muslims. Like Rajputs, Sikhs could not eat beef or pork, but could eat lamb and fowl, and attributed steel with almost sacred powers. One unusual Sikh weapon was a sharpened steel washer measuring about seven inches in diameter. Known as a chakra, or "circle," aristocratic Sikhs often carried two or three stuffed inside their turbans, and amused themselves by twirling them around their forefingers and then flicking them toward targets; Xena, Warrior Princess is of course the most famous chakra user in recent memory. More important personal weapons for Sikh soldiers, though, included swords, bucklers, lances, and daggers. The stick art that Sikhs used to train in swordsmanship is known as gatka.


A Spanish expedition under the command of Alonso de Ojeda explores Colombia’s Caribbean coast. After hearing Arawak stories about the Muisca Indians, who showered their lake-dwelling gods with gold dust, Ojeda creates the myth of El Dorado, the Indian City of Gold.

About 1500:

Italian alchemists describe magic as being black or white. Black magic was magic done against God’s will, while white magic was magic done with God’s blessing. The medical arts, which included alchemy and astrology, were the most important kind of white magic.

The Iranian Shah Isma’il I makes Shi’ism the paramount Islamic faith in Azerbaijan and Iran. Isma’il was also an avid physical culturalist, and the modern Zour Khaneh (Iranian academies of physical training) owe much to his patronage. The traditional Iranian gymnasium had high domed ceilings and stamped earth floors, and was designed to resemble a mosque or religious shrine. The Iranian training featured whirling dances accompanied by bells, drums, and chants. This probably reflects Dervish practice, as Dervishes were often military chaplains. Lifting weights and juggling heavy clubs was a regular part of the training regimen. Accessories included kabadeh, iron bows weighing between 25 and 50 pounds, mil, mace-like wooden clubs weighing between 10 and 100 pounds, and seng, horseshoe-shaped wooden shields weighing 100 pounds or more. The Iranian athletes also wrestled. Why? Because, in the words of a modern wrestling chant, "In wrestling according to the rules, one prepares himself for war." Indian influence was obvious, as the wrestlers trained using hundreds of dipping pushups, and massaged and bathed using dust and oil following training. Turkish influence was apparent, too, as the wrestlers wore leather pantaloons and wrestled from standing positions. (Modern Iranian wrestling, with its swimming motions, probably dates to the seventeenth century.)

The straight-bladed rapier known as the Toledo appears in Spain. The design is important because it evolved into the modern epee.


Pisan engineers find that reverse-sloped walls of loosely packed dirt successfully resist penetration by cannon balls. This discovery quickly leads to the construction of angular, powder-resistant bastions known as "star-forts." European monarchs’ ability to hold and maintain these star-forts created the modern European frontiers.


Although plate armor was vulnerable to both gunfire and crossbow bolts on the battlefield, it remained useful on the jousting field. So some of the finest suits of armor ever made date to the early sixteenth century. Indeed, the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who dearly loved to joust, is why modern museum curators call sixteenth-century armors "Maximilian."


After Arawak slaves prove unable to survive the combination of overwork and unfamiliar Eurasian diseases, the Spanish start shipping disease-resistant West African slaves to the West Indies. By 1511, European merchants operating out of Sao Tomé and Mbanza have turned slave trading into big business. The way it worked was that African monarchs waged war on their neighbors, and then traded prisoners of war for glass, metal, cloth, liquor, and other manufactured goods. As for how this affected the unfortunate captives, read about the way the Japanese treatment of Allied prisoners during World War II and you have an insiders’ view on the subject.

The Italians enliven a Roman comedy staged at Ferrara with intermissions featuring satyrs chasing wild beasts and soldiers doing sword dances. Said a contemporary critic, "Neither the verses nor the voices struck me as very good, but the Moorish dances between the acts were very well danced." Those "Moorish" dances were probably morisca, a kind of Spanish sword dance that was popular with both soldiers and common folk.

About 1503:

The Siamese King Rama T’ibodi II orders the compilation of a "Treatise on Victorious Warfare" that outlined the causes of war, military strategy, and military tactics. In this versified Thai text, much emphasis was placed on ensuring that the army followed proper astrological and geomantic procedures, a little emphasis was placed on sending cavalry out ahead of the infantry and the carts, and no emphasis was placed on hand-to-hand combat. (The 21 Rules of combat tacked on at the end, the ones that encourage soldiers to "strike in the night… and burn the enemy’s camp," date to a later Thai general, who for what it is worth proved a whole lot more successful in combat.) Thai and Burmese battlefield weapons of the era included bows, crossbows, lances, javelins, and swords. In the field, armor consisted of leather shields and bamboo helmets, but during sieges leather coats and sandals were also worn.


Handguns begin to figure in Irish violence. However, the principal killing weapon at the first battle known to have used handguns (Knockdoe, near Galway) continued to be axes, and the Irish gunmen were apparently as likely to use their firearms as clubs as for shooting.


The aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands are reported starting their duels by hurling round stones at one another. The duelists could dodge the incoming missiles with their bodies, but could not move their feet. If the stones missed (which they frequently did, usually because their targets dodged them rather than because the throwers’ aim was off), then the men would run toward each other and belabor one another with sticks until one or the other became too tired or bloody to continue. Little else is known about the ancient combative sports of these people, known as the Guanche, as Portuguese slave traders, soldiers, and diseases had by this time almost exterminated them. (While the modern Guanche have a distinct culture, it includes many West African and Portuguese practices. Their sports, including their wrestling and quarterstaff games, probably share equally diverse roots.)


The Sultan of Calicut in India hires Italian technicians to build cannon for the defense of his city.


The German cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller publishes 1,000 copies of a map showing the name "Terra America" about where Brazil should be. The name honored the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed along the Brazilian coast in 1502.


The English government prohibits commoners from hunting with crossbows.


A monument is built at Shuri, Okinawa, to honor the accomplishments of the Ryukyuan King Sho Shin. In 1926, the Okinawan scholar Iha Fuyu interprets that part of the monument reading "Swords and bows and arrows exclusively are accumulated as weapons in the protection of the country" to mean that the king had ordered the collection of all the iron weapons in the country. In 1987, Professor Mitsugu Sakihara of the University of Hawaii showed that this was a misinterpretation of the text, and that King Sho Shin was actually stockpiling arms rather than suppressing them.

Pietro Monte, a Spaniard living in Italy, publishes Exercitiorum atque atris militaris collectanea, Europe’s oldest known published wrestling manual. A master of the Bolognese school, Monte also wrote books on fencing, physical fitness, and dueling.

About 1510:

Viewing words as responses to specific situations rather than universal recipes, the Neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yang-ming admonishes his students against taking anything anyone’s words, including his own, too seriously. Nevertheless, Wang’s students often took Wang’s words very seriously, and his argument that all human existence was decided by the balancing of i ("patterns") with ch’i ("energy") became very popular during the seventeenth century.

Matchlock arquebuses enter service throughout Europe. Shooters normally carried powder in pre-loaded paper cartridges that were carried underneath the coat to keep them dry. When action was imminent, shooters lit cloth fuses ("matches"). Shooters held the burning matches in their left hands except when firing. Inexperienced shooters sometimes blew themselves up by forgetting to remove the match from their fingers when reaching for a new cartridge. A single shooter used perhaps a third of a pound of match per day. This made resupply a problem during sieges. Bullets were hand-made, and mass-produced bullets often had to be cut or bit into the correct size. This was the main reason why ammunition-grade matchlocks could be slow to reload.


According to an advertising brochure published by a seventeenth century descendant, a Japanese artisan named Miochin Nobuiye becomes the first Japanese armorer to sign his work. The veracity of this statement is dubious, as the same descendant also provided fictitious statements of authenticity to his customers.


A Portuguese fleet commanded by Affonso de Albuquerque captures the Malayan Peninsula seaport of Malaka. The conquest was fairly easy, partly because the Malakans were Javanese in a world of Malays (thus they lacked reliable local allies) and mostly because they had believed themselves under the protection of the Thais. Still, upon discovering their error, the Malakans counterattacked with considerable vigor. Indeed, the Malay word for warrior, amok, has since become synonymous with martial rage. While the Europeans tended (and tend) to attribute such berserk fury to drug abuse, it was more likely due to Sufi-influenced trance dancing. Islamic jihadists still live in the region, and as recently as March 1967, the Indonesian army needed special commandos to shoot down Mbah Ruro, an Islamic mystic who believed that sufficient faith rendered people bulletproof.


The school of Albrecht Dürer produces a series of 120 wrestling and 48 fencing paintings, perhaps as an anatomy study intended to catch the eye of the Emperor Maximilian. The pictures were not drawn from life, but were instead based on pictures contained in older manuscripts such as the Wallerstein Codex (ca. 1470). The complete set was not published until 1910 (Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, Band XXVII, Heft 6: Albrecht Dürers Fechtbuch by Friedrich Dörnhöffer).


European politicians begin preferring cannons to trebuchets, probably because they liked the firearms’ noise and phallicism. As Pope Julius exclaimed to his aide while en route to the siege at Mirandola, "Now we’ll see whose balls are bigger, mine or Louis’s!" The Chinese also attributed sexual significance to artillery pieces. During the Wang Lun uprising of 1774, for instance, besieged Ch’ing forces countered White Lotus incantations using counter-spells made from the blood and urine of menstruating prostitutes. Likewise, during the siege of Chekiang in 1861-1862, T’ai-p’ing rebels had prostitutes take off their trousers and moon the attacking government forces in the belief that this would cause the government cannon to misfire or burst.

Inspired by tales about El Dorado, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crosses the Isthmus of Panama to become the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean. Black Africans -- possibly Mandinké traders from West Africa -- preceded him to the Pacific, as the explorer reported finding a community of shipwrecked Africans living there when he arrived.


The Ottomans invade Iran. Their excuse was that the Iranians were Shiites, therefore infidel. In August 1515, 50,000 Iranian cavalry deploy against the Turks. The Ottoman Janissaries wait in their trenches, supported by artillery chained wheel-to-wheel. During the battle, Shah Ismail is wounded, and the Iranian army retreats. The Turks then captured Ismail’s capital at Tabriz, but were unable to hold it because the Janissaries demanded to return home. The near catastrophe revealed the importance of firearms to Shah Ismail, who subsequently imported Turkish gunners and cannon for his own forces.


Swahili traders carry Turkish matchlocks into the East African interior. The innovation was unimportant, however, perhaps because of the scarcity of the weapons and their expensive powder.

At Battle of Marignano, the French and Venetians take control of Milan away from the Swiss. Marignano was the first battle of the gunpowder era to last more than one day.


To force Jewish landowners to sell their estates to Christians for less than fair market value, the Venetians create ghettos.

The Charrúas Indians of Uruguay kill the would-be conquistador Juan de Solís and most of his party. This delays the European colonization of the northern shore of the Plate River for 170 years. The Charrúas Indians are probably the ancestors of the Argentine gauchos. While most Indians learned their equestrian and herding skills by working (willingly or otherwise) for the Spanish, the Charrúas probably learned from runaway Indian and African slaves.


A Spanish expedition commanded by Hernán Cortés introduces crossbows, cannons, iron armor, horses, and war dogs into Yucatan and Mexico. While superior technology, the conquest of Mexico owed less to technology than to the hatred that the coastal Indians had for the Mexica-Tenochitlans who raped coastal Indian women and boys, then cut out their hearts and ate their arms and legs.

London wrestlers meet the men of Westminster in a field near the leper hospital at St. Giles-in-the-Fields. The prize, which the Londoners won, was a ram. Their style was belt wrestling. Touching the shoulder, back, or heels to the ground constituted a fall. The area around St. Giles was among the most disreputable in London, and during the 1840s it was cleared to make room for New Oxford Street.

The Bolognese fencing-master Achille Marozzo writes a manuscript he called Opera Nova chiamata duello, or "New Work." First published in 1536 and continuously re-edited until 1568, this was probably the most important Italian fencing manual of the Renaissance. Structurally, it stressed thrust rather than cut, and emphasized guarding with a dagger or a cloak. Hence "cloak and dagger." He devoted an entire chapter to honor, and named the four standard guards (prime, seconde, tierce, and carte) of most subsequent European fencing.


Smallpox appears in the Caribbean. Soon after, it spreads to Mexico and Peru, where its most famous victim was the Grand Inca himself. Wherever it went, it killed up to half of its victims (and more if there were large numbers of children. Seventy percent of its victims were less than two years of age.) The disease recurred at least once a generation after that, and cleared a swath of despair and destruction through the American Indians as no army in history was ever able to do.

About 1519:

Babur, a Timurid prince from Samarkand (he was related to Tamerlane on his father’s side and Genghis Khan on his mother’s side) acquires some Ottoman matchlocks and a Turkish soldier, Ustad ‘Ali, trained in their use. Babur’s first recorded use of these weapons came during a battle against tribesmen near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1519. Babur described the tribesmen laughing at the noise of a weapon which shot no arrows and making obscene remarks about the courage of men who stood behind barricaded wagons like women rather than fighting in the open like men. Then, like the Rajput cavalry at Panipat seven years later, the North Indian tribesmen charged the guns and died. The urbane Babur would have been far happier conquering Samarkand, but he needed money to pay his troops, and, as he later confided to his diary, Hindustan was "a large country and has masses of gold and silver." Babur’s soldiers on campaign were male. At his court in Kabul, however, Babur’s soldiers included female archers who patrolled inside the palace compounds. While the royal women were segregated from men, they did not wear veils inside their compounds and were often well educated. Their games included archery, hawking, mounted hunting, and flying kites. Many Rajput women enjoyed similar entertainments.

About 1520:

Das Solothurner Fechtbuch ("The Solothurn Fighting Manual," so named because it was found in an attic in Solothurn, Switzerland, in 1884) is published, perhaps in Italy. The illustrations showed men dressed in armor fighting with two-handed swords and wrestling.


After a royal jousting meet near Calais, King Henry VIII of England wrestles with King Francis I of France. According to the chronicler, "the king of England took the king of France by the collar and said to him, ‘My brother, I want to wrestle with you,’ and gave him one or two good falls. And the king of France, who is strong and a good wrestler, gave him a ‘Breton turn’ and threw him to the ground… And the king of England wanted to go on wrestling, but it was broken off and they had to go to supper." The technique used by the English king was probably a flying mare, while the move used by the French king was a cliked, a move the British would call a hank, and the Americans would call a grapevine.

To counter the effectiveness of Spanish artillery and crossbows, Mexican spearmen quit charging en masse and start using short zigzagging rushes followed by headlong dives for cover. The Europeans attributed the innovation to a lack of discipline, and therefore ignored its potential for overcoming prepared defenses. Consequently, the tactic was not formally rediscovered until 1915, or widely used until World War II.


Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Art of War is published in Italy.

Instead of the Fountain of Youth, Juan Ponce de Léon finds death from an Indian arrow in Florida.

On Cebu, in the Philippines, a band of Filipinos enraged over Spanish sailors impregnating local women kills Ferdinand Magellan. The hour of hard fighting it took the 1,100 Filipinos to kill the capitán-general and chase his remaining 40 or so men back into their longboats suggests that the historic martial arts of the Philippines may not have been as deadly as modern Filipino nationalists sometimes claim. Still, just because the Filipinos used fire-hardened lances instead of iron-tipped weapons does not mean that they were technologically unsophisticated, as from a chemical standpoint, the fire-hardening ensured that the wood had no hidden cracks or fissures that would cause it to break under stress. (To fire-harden their lances, the Malays buried wet sticks in hot ashes, then steamed and smoked them until the bark came off. Afterwards, the sticks were scraped clean using shells and teeth, smoothed with abrasive leaves or ray skins, and finally polished using pumice or sand. There was probably magical ritual involved, too. For instance, Jamaican Maroons buried their pimento-wood sticks in graves for several weeks after fire-hardening them so that the weapons would incorporate the spirits, or "duppies," of the dead.) Furthermore, technologists should note that Magellan’s men preferred crossbows to arquebuses. Why? Because matchlock firearms were slow to reload, misfired frequently, and always revealed the gunner’s position.


On Hispaniola, thousands of African slaves rise against their Spanish masters. Because the rebellion failed to dislodge the Spanish from the island or change their views about slavery, it was, from a European perspective, a failure. However, from an African perspective, it was a qualified success, as the Spanish subsequently ignored slaves who escaped into the wilderness, reasoning that it was cheaper and easier to buy new slaves than to hunt down and recapture old ones.


The English government bans anyone with an annual income of less than £100 from owning firearms or crossbows.

Toward preventing the spread of Caribbean-style slave rebellions into Mexico, the Spanish pass laws requiring that black African slaves be segregated from Indian slaves.


Pedro de Alvarado conquers the Guatemalan highlands. While European sources usually emphasize Alvarado’s mounted lancers and arquebusiers, they also overlook his Aztec mercenaries and his alliance with the Cakchiquel Mayans.

Franciscan monks introduce the Indians of Central Mexico to evangelical Roman Catholicism.

Peasants organize tax revolts in Swabia and Franconia. The Spanish respond by sending their army into Germany. As the German peasants were Lutheran and the Spanish soldiers were Catholic, the Spanish justified the resultant genocide as holy war.


William Tyndale translates the New Testament into English. For this sacrilege against the Roman Catholic faith, Henry VIII, King of England, Defender of the Faith, and future apostate, has Tyndale publicly garroted in 1526, and his books burned in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1527.

Albert von Hohenzollern, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, converts to Lutheranism. His followers then receive the choice of leaving Prussia or converting. To keep their lands and wealth, many convert. Of course, not all converted or left. Consequently, during the 1550s and 1560s the Russians and Swedes killed those Catholic Knights who remained in Estonia. In 1595, the few hundred Knights who had fled to Austria joined the Austrian crusade against the Ottoman Turks. In appreciation, Archduke Maximilian gave the survivors control of a small duchy in Tyrol. While Napoleon confiscated these lands in 1809, the Austrian government restored them in 1834. Several knights were generals in the Austrian army during World War I, but, as devout Catholics, the Nazis ignored them. (The twelve Knights who participated in the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in 1944 were from a Lutheran offshoot known as the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem.) Nevertheless, Teutonic imagery was popular during both World Wars: the pilots of Richtofen’s Circus flew with Teutonic crosses on their wings, Nazi propaganda posters showed Adolf Hitler in plate armor, and the Hitler Youth called gyms that taught combative sports NS-Ordensburgen, or "Castles of the National Socialist Order."

In the wake of the Peasants’ War in Swabia and Franconia, German nobles suppress Carnival, trade fairs, and the pugilistic entertainments featured in them. The suppressed entertainments included sword-and-buckler fights fought to first blood, wrestling, stone lifting, caber tossing, finger twisting, and violent scuffling. To judge by the few surviving accounts, strength was more important than finesse in winning these matches. (Just as German aristocrats liked watching jousting, German farmers and merchants liked betting on which of two men was stronger.)

About 1526:

Franciscan monks introduce romanized grammars into Central Mexico. This in turn helped foster a Mesoamerican Indian culture where men acquired greater reputation through song-duels than through victory in battle.


While looking for El Dorado, Sebastian Cabot, an English sailor in Spanish employ, sails up the Paraná River into Paraguay.


Using a quarterstaff, an English laborer named John Strynger strikes another laborer named Henry Pereson "on the top of the head so that his brains flowed out and giving him a wound 1 inch deep, 2 inches wide and 3 inches long of which he immediately died." As the English quarterstaff was a metal-tipped oak staff 6 to 7 feet in length, this result is hardly surprising. Its name comes from the way that it was used as a weapon. One hand grasped the staff in the middle while the other hand rested about a quarter of the way down toward the end. Then, when attacking, the bottom hand shifted rapidly from one quarter to the other while the other hand stayed put.

While on campaign in India, Babur’s astrologer, Muhammad Sharif, announces that the Eight Stars (of the Big Dipper) were opposed to a fight with the well-regarded army of Rana Sanga of Chittor. Babur gathered his troops and told them they would fight anyway. In thirty years of warfare, said Babur, this was his first battle against non-Muslims. If we win, he said, "We are avengers of the cause of God. If we lose, we die martyrs. In either fate lies our salvation; each is an upward stage in greatness." He then declared that he would give up wine if granted victory, and concluded by urging his soldiers to swear their faith on the Qur’an. The following day, March 16, 1527, Babur’s musketeers shot down Rana Sanga’s Rajput cavalry, and Babur became Ghazi, Avenger of God and Conqueror of Hindustan.


The Swiss alchemist Phillippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim writes the first surgical manual to suggest treating gunshot wounds by keeping them clean rather than by cauterizing them with a mixture of boiling oil, wine, and cooked dog flesh. Hohenheim called himself Paracelsus, which due to his immodesty many took to mean "Above [the ancient physician] Celsus." However, he just as possibly Latinized his birth name, Hohenheim. Either way, Paracelsus became famous for his theories of cautious medical treatment and tiny doses of medicine, which to the surprise of many achieved better results than the massive purges and bloodletting preferred by most contemporary European physicians.

A German gun club called the Nuremberg Association publishes rules prohibiting target shooters from using greased patches, aperture sights, or multiple projectiles. Matches were held concurrently with trade fairs, and marksmen traveled from all over to compete. (In one match in Zurich in 1504, competitors came from as far away as Innsbruck and Frankfurt-am-Main.) Accompanying these shooting matches was horseracing, jousting, dancing, and fencing shows.

After being marooned on Florida, a Spanish soldier named Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca learns from the Indians that strength depends more on faith than technology. "Being Europeans," Cabeza later wrote, "we thought we had given away to doctors and priests our ability to heal. But here it was, still in our possession, even if we had only Indians to exercise it upon. It was ours after all, we were more than we thought we were."

The Timurid conqueror Babur holds a darbar, or public festival to celebrate the circumcision of his son Humayun. Rajputs and Sikhs held similar initiation ceremonies for their boys. Intoxicants flowed freely during these ceremonies, for both the child and the guests. Amusements featured at these ceremonies included animal fights, wrestling, dancing, and acrobatics.


The word "Protestant" begins to describe non-Lutheran opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Council of Mexico City orders ranchers to register branding irons and classify their animals for tax purposes. Twenty-four brands were registered, including one used by a Catholic school. Distinctly Mexican saddles appeared about the same time. The first named saddler was Alonso Martínez, who complained to the Council in 1630 that the Indians who did leather work for him had stolen his saddletrees in order to copy them.

About 1530:

While Hawaiian royal bodyguards practiced lua, working-class Hawaiian combative sports included singlestick fighting (kaka-la’au), catch-as-catch-can wrestling (hakoko), and boxing (ku’iku’i). As for Hawaiian aristocrats, their games included canoes and spearing sharks, running long distances, and then wrestling with one another. Many of these Hawaiian games were physically dangerous affairs, partly because the events were virtually no-holds barred (one prince was notorious for breaking his opponents’ arms), and partly because the wrestling matches and runs were conducted on lava beds. Accordingly, success without serious injury was believed to indicate divine support.

English tournament fighters are reported shaking one another’s unarmored hands after completing their matches. A century later Quakers adopt the courtesy as "more agreeable with Christian simplicity" than either bowing or cheek kissing. The practice of passing knives by the handle also dates to the mid-sixteenth century. This was a matter of courtly etiquette rather than common practice, and for the next three centuries, the European practice of eating from the blades of foot-long knives would horrify most Asians.

The Spanish introduce large-caliber smoothbore shoulder weapons that held lit slow matches in metal holders, and dropped them into the priming pan using trigger mechanisms. The weapons weighed about 20 pounds, and fired two-ounce lead balls to a range of about 200 yards. Their name, moschetto, the root of the English "muskets," was probably based on an Italian word used to describe crossbow bolts.


The Portuguese governor of the Moroccan town of Asilah signs a treaty with the local Islamic emir that agreed on the conduct of a just war. These rules said that raiders could carry off herds, but could not burn standing crops or orchards. Prisoners were to be exchanged, and Christians and Muslims were to mingle and joust peacefully during festivals. When the Portuguese broke those rules by landing 20,000 crusaders at Asilah in 1589, the Muslims utterly crushed the invading Christian army.

The English government passes the Whipping Act, which directed the public flagellation of vagrants, prostitutes, and debtors. In 1597, the law was amended so that the convicts (both male and female) were only stripped to the waist and tied to posts instead of being stripped naked and dragged through town behind carts. The law was further amended again in 1791 to prohibit the public whipping of females.


Humayun inherits control of Babur’s Mughul Empire. While Babur always considered himself a descendant of Tamerlane, his descendants preferred to be thought of as descendants of Genghis Khan, perhaps because of Tamerlane’s poor reputation in India. Accordingly, they became known as Mughuls, after a Persian word meaning "Mongol." An avid astrologer, Humayun soon reorganized the Mughul court into bureaucracies called Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Military activities were, logically enough, associated with Fire, while Water supervised canals and wine cellars. Tuesday, the day of Mars, was associated with crime and punishment. Criminals were executed by being crushed underfoot by elephants. When there were no executions, the elephants were made to fight one another. Wrestling matches were similarly staged between bodyguards, executioners, and assorted strong men attached to the court. Although equally interested in astrology, his successors changed their calendars to suit their own tastes. Akbar, for instance, held judgment on Thursday, while Jahangir held judgment on Wednesday. But all continued watching wrestling matches and elephant fights on judgment days.

Di Antonio Manciolino publishes a fencing manual called Opera Nova ("New Work"). This book told how to use the sword for thrusting as well as cutting, and is Italy’s oldest published sword text.

About 1532:

After learning five different ways of seizing an opponent from a traveling wizard, a Japanese man named Takenouchi Hisamori establishes a martial art school that taught students to defeat their opponents by tying them up. Although Takenouchi-ryu teachers sometimes claim that theirs is Japan’s oldest jujutsu (literally "[esoteric] method of gentleness," but better translated as "non-lethal combative") system, that has never been definitively proven.

After receiving guidance in a dream, an elderly Japanese noble named Aizu Hyuga no Kami Iko establishes the Kage-ryu ("Shadow Style") school of Japanese swordsmanship. Famous offshoots of the Kage-ryu include the Yagyu Shin Kage-ryu, established about 1565.


The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli’s cynical look at power politics, is posthumously published. Machiavelli was the first European author to divorce warfare from morality, and to write a political text approaching the subtlety and sophistication of Sun Tzu’s ancient Art of War.

The Portuguese introduce West African slaves into Brazil.


Hoping for a son, but getting instead a daughter named Elizabeth, England’s King Henry VIII divorces his wife and marries a younger woman named Anne Boleyn. Henry’s divorce is the proximate cause of the English Church’s break with Roman Catholicism.

Francisco Pizarro and a few hundred Spanish cavalrymen and arquebusiers, plus an equal number of Tlaxcalan archers and spearmen, conquer the Inca Empire, which stretched from southern Colombia to central Chile. The Spanish accomplished this by capturing the Inca leader, then garroting him after his people paid his ransom. While nineteenth century scholars said that the most important reasons for Pizarro’s success were his unshakable faith in God and glory, twentieth century historians give greater importance to a smallpox epidemic that preceded Pizarro in the Andes.

Pedro de Heredia establishes Cartegena de Indias on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The galleons that carried the loot that the Spanish took from Peru and Ecuador usually wintered at Cartegena. And that is why privateers attacked Cartegena five times during the sixteenth century alone.

About 1534:

In a painting called "Furious Gretel," Pieter Brueghel shows an armed and armored housewife striding past the gates of Hell with a sword in one hand and a shopping basket in the other. It alluded to a Dutch story about a wife so fierce that she could safely plunder the mouth of Hell.


Martin Luther publishes an important vernacular translation of the New Testament. In the process, he codifies the modern German language.


Franciscan monks establish the first university in the Americas. This was the Imperial College of Santa Cruz in Mexico City, and its purpose was to teach Latin and rhetoric to the sons of Aztec aristocrats.


The English reorganize the Guild of Saint George, a company of archers employed in the defense of the City of London, into "the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows, and Handguns." Until 1642, the Artillery Company’s training grounds were at Bishopsgate; after that, it was at City Road. The Company’s royal patent authorized members to shoot "at all manner of marks and butts and at the art of popinjay, and at all other game or games, as at fowl or fowls… in all other places whatsoever within the realm of England."

After agreeing to protect the local Guaraní Indians from the riverine raids of Payaguá Indian bands, Juan de Salazar and 350 other European adventurers establish a permanent Spanish settlement at Asuncion, Paraguay. Salazar hoped that this arrangement would provide him with a backdoor to Peru. However, the extreme violence of the Indian resistance and the lack of easily exploited resources in the Paraguayan interior scotched Salazar’s plan and Asuncion subsequently became a colonial backwater that was more Guaraní than Spanish.


Toward reducing the numbers of "accidental encounters" in London’s parks, Parliament bans the public wearing of rapiers. The bans were not altogether successful, and sixty years later the playwright Ben Jonson is convicted of manslaughter after he pokes an actor named Gabriel Spencer through the eye with a rapier during an encounter. (Although branded on the left hand for this crime, Jonson escaped hanging by pleading benefit of clergy, which meant only that he could read the Bible in Latin without help.)

La noble science des joueurs d’espée ("The Noble Science of the Sport of the Sword"), the first fencing manual to be published in French, appears in Antwerp. However, this was a reprint of a German text first published around 1517, and so the first influential French manual was Henri de Sainct-Didier’s Traicté sur l’espée seule ("Treatise on the Single Sword"). Published in Paris in 1573 with the patronage of Charles IX, the book encouraged fencers to use one middle-sized rapier rather than a long rapier for offense and a short dagger for defense.


The Parisian dialect becomes the official language of France.

A woodblock print of a painting by Sebald Bechem called Die grosse Dorfkirchweih shows German villagers dancing, running, and wrestling as part of their "Big Village Church Dedication." The wrestling done was probably similar to that shown in the book by Fabian von Auerswald called Ringer-Kunst: funff und achtzig stücke ("Art of Wrestling: Fifty-Eight Tricks"). The illustrations in this book were by the school of Lucas Cranach, and the wrestling described was agonistic (geselliges Ringen) rather than antagonistic. Therefore, men were unarmored, and typical tricks included trips, leg pick-ups, and grapevines. The printer of this book, Hans Lufft of Wittenberg, was also the printer of Luther’s Bible.

Drovers under the command of Hernando de Soto introduce pigs into southeastern North America. The animals were abandoned in 1542 after Woodland Indian resistance proved more than the Spanish could take. Taunted one Woodland warrior as the Spanish fled to Cuba in their locally built brigs, "If we possessed such large canoes as yours... we would follow you to your land and conquer it, for we too are men like yourselves." The Europeans had the last laugh, as they left epidemic diseases in their wake. Historian Alfred Crosby suggests the scope of the disaster by noting that while de Soto and his men saw well-tended villages and corn fields marching toward the horizon, Europeans passing through the same area 200 years later saw only bison.

After hearing stories about the brick pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona, a Franciscan monk named Marcos de Niza creates the story of the fabulously wealthy Seven Cities of Cíbola. The stories were due to lies that the Indians told Father Marcos’ Moroccan translator (Estavanico) in hopes of getting the strangers to go bother someone else.

About 1540:

The Portuguese introduce South American capsicums, or hot peppers, into Arabia, India, and China, and Arab torturers and Malay pirates are reported using capsicum-based irritant powders soon after. Equivalent irritant sprays do not become common in North America or Europe until the 1980s.

East Asian patent medicine salesmen start breaking bricks and boards with their bare hands. The reason was that such displays convinced skeptical customers that the peddlers’ opium-laden alcoholic beverages were as powerful as claimed. While legitimate breakers used normal bricks and boards (a fist moving at 40 feet per second generates about 675 foot-pounds of energy, far more than is necessary to break a brick or board), illegitimate breakers often gave challengers hardened bricks while saving weakened ones for themselves. Doing the trick legitimately is an acquired skill that combines speed, power, accuracy, and a considerable disregard for one’s knuckles. First, the breaker needs a punch or kick that moved faster than 32 feet per second. (The punch of an untrained person moves about 20 feet per second.) Second, the breaker needs to know how to focus his mental energy just beyond the brick or board that he wants to break. (A strike achieves its maximum velocity an instant before its full extension.) Finally, the breaker has to hit the top brick or board dead center. Otherwise fracture energy is lost to lateral motion, and the bottom brick or board will not break as desired.

German or Dutch gunsmiths introduce snaphaunce locks. These were a snapping-lock mechanism for hand-held firearms that dropped the piece of flint unto a steel plate near the touchhole. Hence their name, which means "pecking hen" in Low Dutch. Snapping-lock muskets were mechanically simpler and much more reliable than wheel-locks, and Italian gunsmiths continued making them until the 1810s.

Runaway African slaves create their own cavalry forces on Hispaniola, and use them to steal women and food from the Spanish. Creole horsemen were lassoing and riding fighting bulls in Madrid in 1643, and staging Spanish-style horse races in the Haitian town of Desdunnes during the 1980s.

The Sikh guru Angad Dev establishes a wrestling pit, or akhara, at Khadur Sahib. According to subsequent reports, the guru’s goal was to instill character into street urchins. Reportedly, he attracted students by feeding them rice boiled in milk and curds, served with deep love and devotion by his wife Khivi. Wrestling was popular throughout northern India, and contemporaries accused some Rajput princes of the 1530s (Ratan Singh of Mewar and his successor Vikramaditya) of ignoring affairs of state for wrestling. Wrestlers worked for room, board, and prizes, and champions received prizes such as land or cattle for outstanding performances. Although more expensive to train and maintain than wrestlers, animal fights were also common. The animals were goaded to fight using firecrackers and thorns, and injuries to elephant riders and spectators were common. Both wrestlers and animals were bred specifically for combative purposes.


While searching for gold in New Mexico (but finding mostly dust, corn, and beans), Spanish soldiers serving under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado fight the first recorded military action in the American Southwest. The Spanish won these and most prior fights. This is hardly surprising, since the conquistadors had swords, crossbows, arquebuses, and horses, while the Zunis and Hopis only had stone-throwing slings, wooden clubs, and self-bows. Nevertheless, the climate and terrain of the American desert usually equaled the odds considerably, and the most successful Spanish military tactic involved inviting the Indians to parley, then shooting them down with crossbows.

According to some Italian historians, Caminello Vitelli of Pistoia manufactures Europe’s first pistols. This seems unlikely, though, as the Venetians built handgun ranges as early as 1506 and the Bohemians used the word "pistala," or "pipes," to describe one-handed guns as early as 1427. So it is probably better to say that small hand-held firearms became popular in southern Europe during this period. Sixteenth century Italian pistols were about two feet long, and could be used as clubs following discharge.

After surviving a terrible leg wound, a pious Basque soldier named Ignatius Loyola establishes an evangelistic Roman Catholic monastic order known as the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. Loyola envisioned the Jesuits as members of a kind of chivalric order. His spiritual exercises, which taught solitary meditation and fencing as forms of mental discipline, bear comparison to the Buddhist meditations used in China and Japan.

King Henry VIII incorporates the "Company of Maisters of Defence of London." Although its founders included a gunner from the Tower of London, most members were professional entertainers (e.g., prize-players) rather than duelists. The Company’s purpose was training people to safely participate in the fencing and cudgeling entertainments held at fairs, or in the courtyards of inns. Popular venues included the Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill, the Bull Inn on Bishopsgate Street, and the Greyfriars’ Monastery on Newgate Street. However, following the construction of indoor playhouses such as James Burbage’s Theatre at Finsbury Field at Shoreditch in 1576, the fencing and cudgeling moved indoors. For example, Burbage’s Theatre and its rival, the Curtain, held regular bouts between 1578 and 1585, as did the Swan Theatre and the Rose between 1594 and 1598. (Britain’s last known fencing prize was contested in 1598.) Bouts took place over the course of several days, and required members to fight using two-handed swords, pikes, bastard swords, daggers, backswords, swords-and-bucklers, quarterstaffs, and singlesticks. Payment was by contract from the stage owner, and spectator appeal required evenly matched competition. In theory, training to mastery took about twelve years, but in practice, it rarely took more than five. Promotion tests involved bouts with various weapons against several masters in succession. During these promotional bouts, scholars had the advantage of being exempted from deliberate attacks to the face, which was otherwise the favorite target. As the fencers did not wear masks or goggles, blindness was an occupational hazard.


The Ottoman Turks introduce cannon into Muslim Somalia. This in turn causes the Portuguese to send 400 arquebusiers into Christian Ethiopia. Ethiopian armorers quickly copied the lightweight Portuguese firearms. (Within a century, there are over 100,000 matchlocks in northeastern Ethiopia alone.) While the Ethiopian weapons were clumsy and slow to reload, they were cheap to manufacture and shoot, and easily fixed when broken. Although injuries from such weapons were nasty, in practice they were used mostly to scare horses and camels; the Somalis, for instance, did not begin training their animals not to panic under fire until the eighteenth century. Artillery, meanwhile, did not take root so easily in Africa, and cannon were not manufactured in Ethiopia until the mid-nineteenth century.

While going up a river in Brazil, the Dominican monk Gaspar de Carvajal reports being attacked by a band of armed females. The story causes the river along which Carvajal was traveling to be called "the Amazon."

Pedro de Valdivia leads a military expedition whose members included his mistress, Inés Suárez, overland from Peru into Central Chile. En route, the founder of Santiago discovered that the Chilean Indians fought on horseback. (Evidently, the Indians had brought the animals from Argentina.) The Indian tactics involved luring their enemies into forests or swamps, then dismounting them with ropes; fighting only during the heat of midday; and setting traps that relied on sharpened stakes.


John Calvin establishes a Protestant theocracy at Geneva. Calvin’s conservatism took time to catch on, and communal bathing was only banned in Bern in 1658 and Zurich in 1688.

The Jesuits introduce Roman Catholicism into Goa. Many, perhaps most, of their converts were Jews.

The English Parliament bans crossbows. The reason was that "malicious and evil-minded people carried them ready bent and charged with bolts, to the great annoyance and risk of passengers on the highways." They also banned "little short handguns," the reason being that too many yeomen were loading them with "hail shot" and then slaughtering the King’s game birds. While double and triple guns were made, they were not popular until Lefauchaux produced breechloading shotguns in 1851, probably because hard-drinking shooters often forgot that the other barrel was loaded, and at full cock. (As recently as the early nineteenth century, shooters suffering from fear of recoil were advised to drink "a glass of brandy; after which stand as still as possible for five minutes, and then proceed." The results of such a procedure can be imagined, and by 1861 books urged British sportsmen not to walk "or even to remain in the company with another who is in the least degree the worse for liquor, and yet has a loaded gun in his hands.")


The Portuguese introduce snaphaunces into Japan. Always looking for weapons to give ill-trained conscripts, Japanese warlords quickly ordered these weapons into mass production, and within fifty years, owned more high-quality firearms than all the princes of Europe combined.

Mikolaj Kopernic’s theories about the planets revolving around the sun instead of the earth are posthumously published. To make the Polish astrologer’s already profound vision seem greater, his students carefully removed all mention of his sources of inspiration, which included some Hellenistic theories about heliocentric solar systems dating to the second century BCE. While widely ignored in its own time, the Copernican theory was basically correct. Moreover, as the philosophy underlying its creation was rational, reductionist, and scientific, its publication makes a convenient place for separating the Renaissance from the modern era.

Private academies known as sowon appear in Korea. Although designed to help young men pass civil service exams, they also factionalized the Korean bureaucracy. This factionalization is largely to blame for the initial ease of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592.


English army officers complain about the lack of good beer in France. The issue was not trivial to the English military, whose soldiers drank about a gallon of beer a day, and viewed water as warily as W. C. Fields. Twenty-four years later, Alexander Nowell, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, solves this problem by inventing a process for bottling beer. The subsequent mechanization of brewing is in turn important for excluding women from the industrial work force, as in sixteenth century England, working with bottling machines was men’s work rather than women’s.


A French military surgeon named Ambrose Paré publishes a book arguing that it is better to tie off gunshot wounds with cat-gut string than it is to cauterize them with boiling oil. While Paré’s peers generally ignored these claims (he was a surgeon, not a physician, and he wrote in French rather than Latin), they are a cornerstone of modern surgical practice.

A Tudor tutor named Roger Ascham publishes Toxophilus, the first English-language archery manual. (As Ascham himself observed, "Men that used shooting most and knew it best were not learned. Men that were learned used little shooting.") Ascham viewed archery as a way of promoting fitness and building character rather than as a practical sixteenth-century military combative. Appearance was important, and a shooter was advised to "take such footing and standing as shall be both comely to the eye and profitable to his use." Nonetheless, Ascham was a practical shooter who advised students to draw to their ears (rather than "to the right pap and no further," as was common in olden times), and to pay careful attention to the weather. ("Weak bows and light shafts cannot stand in a round wind.")

Women begin playing female roles on the French stage. The practice spreads to Italy around 1608, and Britain around 1658. The reason was that dowryless females were willing to work for less money than the men and boys who had traditionally played female roles.

Babur’s son Humayun, who had recently spent several years living in exile in Iran, conquers Kabul. To celebrate this victory, Humayun decides to have his 3-year old son Akbar circumcised. Festivities associated with this circumcision included wrestling. (Obviously young Akbar was obviously in no condition to wrestle following the cut. However, according to tradition, just a few months previously the lad had girt up his loins, rolled up his sleeves, and successfully grappled with an older cousin during a fight over possession of a toy drum.) For his own part, Humayun was more interested in poetry, music, and art (the Mughul style dates to his return to India from Iran) than hand-to-hand combatives, and even his Imperial Archer was a regular contributor to literary discussions.


Bear-baiting becomes popular in London. While associated with brothels and taverns, its patrons included King Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth, and supervised by the actor Edward Alleyn. As bears were expensive, the baiters soon returned to using less expensive bulls. Puritans objected to such contests as offensive to public morality, and by the 1580s Sabbath contests were generally prohibited.

About 1547:

Safety devices start appearing on European firearms. These included the double sears put on Spanish miquelets and the hook-like "dog locks" put on Dutch snaphaunces.

German cavalrymen are reported carrying their wheel-lock pistols into scabbards slung from their saddles, and stuffing more of the weapons into their boots. This allowed light – that is, unarmored – cavalrymen to be as deadly as armored lancers, and thus contributed to the decline of plate armor. Once the armor was gone, then, ironically, lancers became more deadly. The reason was that pistols misfired and were only accurate at a range of maybe eight to ten feet. As a result, during the eighteenth century swords gradually replaced pistols. For, as Frederick the Great put it, German cavalrymen "were besotted with the idea of firing off their pistols. I finally had to make some straw dummies and I was able to show them that all their pistol shots missed, whereas they cut down every single figure with their swords." True words, but only if the enemy was unarmored, something that was not true during the 1540s.


Toward dispelling accusations about his having had sexual relations with his mother-in-law, a French aristocrat named Guy Chabot de Jarnac challenges his accuser, François de Vivonne de Chastaigneraïe, to a duel. Although both men were in their mid-to-late twenties, Vivonne was a renowned Breton wrestler of middle height, muscular and wiry. He was so confident of victory that before the fight he practiced little with the sword, and went into the lists despite having recently suffered an injury to his right arm. Chabot, on the other hand, spent the month leading up to the duel practicing sword-and-buckler work with an Italian named Caizo. Having the right to choose weapons, Chabot also chose armor that made throwing difficult. Once the fight started, Chabot faked a blow at Vivonne’s head and then cut him to the bone behind the knee. Vivonne then bleeds to death. After Vivonne’s friends (the most notable of whom was King Henri II) left the lists in shock, the commoners rushed in to devour the feast that Vivonne had ordered prepared in anticipation of his victory.

With the death of King Henry VIII, English Maisters of Defence lose their exclusive control over prices for fencing instruction within the City of London. This opens the way for rival schools operated by foreigners, the most famous of which was opened by the Italian Rocco Bonetti in 1576.

The Archbishop of Mainz conducts tests to discover why rifling makes muskets more accurate, and concludes that demons guided the spinning balls. The result is bans against the manufacture and possession of rifles in most Roman Catholic countries.

The Florentine fencer Alberto Marchionni declares that the flaming sword that the Cherubim held in Genesis 3:24 was the first weapon in human history. This claim is unlikely for various reasons, not the least of which is that while philosophy may be timeless, archaeological artifacts are not. Therefore, a more probable conjecture is that the Cherubim’s flaming sword was a copper weapon originally held by a statue built to honor the Babylonian god Merodach.


Claude d’Aguerre, Baron of Vienne le Chastel, and Jacques de Fontaine, Lord of Fendailles, have a formal duel at Sedan, France. The weapons selected for the fight were bastard swords and armor was worn. Following the opening ceremonies (and swearing that no diabolical aids were to be used), D’Aguerre forced Fontaine back into the ropes. Fontaine recovered by cutting D’Aguerre in the thigh. D’Aguerre dropped his sword and tackled Fontaine. Once on the ground, D’Aguerre then struck Fontaine in the face and stuffed dirt into his mouth until Fontaine begged for mercy. D’Aguerre is then adjudged both the victor and the better gentleman.

A Turkish soldier working for the Sultan of Ahmednagar casts a 55-ton cannon known as the "Monarch of the Plains." (The gun still exists; during the late seventeenth century, the Mughul Emperor Aurangzeb had it transported to Biajapur as a war souvenir.) The immense size of these Indian cannon is one reason why artillery played such a small role in Rajput warfare: they simply weren’t portable. A second reason is that bamboo-and-black powder rockets laid on the ground and sent skittering through infantry and cavalry formations were both cheaper to manufacture and easier to use. A third reason was that cannons simply were not heroic enough for Rajput aristocrats trained in archery and pig-sticking. The first general to use firearms in India in large numbers was the Timurid conqueror Babur. He introduced muskets into North India in 1519, and had his gunner Ustad ‘Ali manufactured several large mortars during the mid-1520s. Casting these giant mortars was a slow, difficult, process. Firing them was dangerous, too, as improperly cast or cooled weapons frequently burst, killing their crews and any bystanders. (Watching the firing was great sport, and senior officers often interrupted their days to watch firings.) When cast properly, such weapons shot large stones about 1,500 yards. Because their barrels had to cool completely between each shot, maximum firing rate was around one shot per hour.

Burmese soldiers besieging the Thai capital at Ayuthia stage a series of sword dances. These were used mostly to keep the troops amused while their superiors interpreted cloud omens and other astrological signs.

Jesuit priests introduce the Africans and Indians living in coastal Brazil to evangelical Christianity.

About 1550:

Japanese pirates (waka) use arquebuses during their raids into China and Korea. While the pirates’ successes owed more to disciplined small-unit infantry tactics than firearms, the new weapons still caused the Koreans to create new military bureaucracies. The Chinese, on the other hand, started hiring acrobats and boxers to teach their peasants how to fight. Stories of flying swordsmen, though, do not become a staple of Chinese fiction until the late nineteenth century.

The training of Ottoman Janissaries is described as including archery, musketry, javelin-throwing, and fencing. There was no pike training, though, since the Janissaries believed that pikes were useful only for men trained to fight like machines.

Spanish expeditions report seeing American Indians living in Sonora and Chihuahua riding horses. Unbranded and unbranded horses and cattle spread rapidly across the Mexican plains and, said Viceroy Martín Enríquez in 1580, "Their price was no higher than the fatigue of seizing and killing them."

A former beggar named Gilpin, or "the Cork lad of Kentmere," becomes a royal wrestler for King Edward VI of England. The wrestling field was near present-day Ambleside Sports field, and a wrestler’s diet consisted of "thick porridge and milk that a mouse might walk on dry shod, to my breakfast," and meat for his supper when he could get it. Other famous English wrestlers of the day included Robert Dodd of Westmorland, John Woodall of Gosforth, and Robert Atkinson of Kendal.


In Venice, Girolamo Muzio publishes a book of dueling rules called Il duello ("The Duel"). Essentially a discussion of middle-class Italian morality, its convoluted vocabulary and rules were ignored by everyone but lawyers. (As Alfred Hutton put it, real Italian duelists counseled crippling and maiming anyone that the duelist fought but decided not to kill, as doing otherwise risked assassination.) This was a transitional period in terms of weapon development. Therefore, some duelists fought in the old fashion with sword-and-buckler while others fought in the new Italian and Spanish fashion of rapier in one hand and cloak or dagger in the other. Regardless of weapons, duelists removed their coats to show that they were not wearing concealed armor or charms. Aristocratic honor being what it is, this of course led to duelists wearing leather armor under their shirts, so eventually duelists had to strip to the skin. The seconds (known as "godfathers" in Italy) attending these duels were sometimes active participants. Why? To quote Alfred Hutton, principals fought "because they had to, seconds because they chose to, the thirds because it was a horrible cold morning and they wanted to warm themselves, and the fourths because they both agreed that people might say disagreeable things about them if they did nothing but stand twiddling their thumbs when all their friends were fighting." Seconds sometimes, died, too. For instance, two seconds were killed and two more died of wounds as the result of a French duel of 1578.

In Naples, Federico Grisone publishes Gli Ordini di Cavalcare. This "ordering of equitation" described the form of trained riding later known as dressage, a word itself meaning "schooling." There was no training in jumping, but much training in the performance of intricate movements conducted at slow gaits during princely pageants.

The Muscovite government organizes a corps of 3,000 musketeers. The job of these mostly German infantrymen was to deliver massed musket fire from behind breastworks, not to maneuver independently on the battlefield.


In England, the Anglicans withdraw their support for any festivals held on saints’ days. In Scotland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, the Calvinists ban sword dances, plays, and dancing around the maypole. In Germany, both Catholics and Lutherans ban Passion plays. In Italy and Spain, Catholic reformers burn the images of Carnival. The Russians ban dancing, fiddlers, masks, and minstrels. In all cases, the clerics said that these shows put undue emphasis on sex and violence, which in turn corrupted morals and lead young people astray. As a result, wrestlers, fencers, bear-trainers, playwrights, and other entertainers started looking for secular employment; thus the rise of the traveling circus.


A South Asian prince named Bayinnaung begins the unification of what is today Burma. In the process, he destroyed the remnants of the Mongol Shan kingdom and conquered three Thai kingdoms. He was aided in the process by Portuguese musketeers. In both Burma and Thailand local governors conscripted troops whenever required. The government provided weapons included spears, swords, and cannon, and the locals were expected to provide boats, horses, oxen, buffalo, and elephants. Religious preparations included having both Hindu and Buddhist priests perform elaborate rituals. Animists weren’t neglected, either. Kings, for example, beseeched city guardian spirits while individual soldiers rushed out for protective amulets, the most powerful amulets were made of human fetuses. Horses and elephants were likewise protected by lesser charms made of jewels or heavy metals such as mercury. Defenses against firearms included carrying a Buddha figurine placed inside a hollow pyramid and ingesting various pharmaceuticals, including some made from human livers.


During their conquest of the Volga Valley, Russian miners explode hundreds of tons of black powder under the Tartar capital at Kazan. The result is the largest man-made explosion of the sixteenth century. (While more famous, the explosion of a 70-ton Dutch fireship on the River Scheldt in 1585 was by comparison a mere flash in the pan.)


A Milanese architect named Camillo Agrippa starts work on a fencing manual called Tratta di Scienza d’Arme ("Treatise on the Science of Arms"). Published in 1568, the manuscript reduced the number of guards from eleven to four, argued that the rapier was better used for thrusting than slashing, and stated that the swordsman should advance the front foot as far forward as possible while leaving the rear foot in place rather than passing through with the back foot. Agrippa also stated that the left arm should be held to the rear and up, a statement that some believe was inspired by a desire to be elegant rather than any practical combative considerations.

About 1556:

Mughul aristocrats start hunting tigers using matchlock muskets. Misfires were not a major worry because the hunters carried multiple weapons, and had loaders standing behind them. Weight was not a problem either, as the weapons were fired from a seated position, with their barrels supported by bipods. Beaters organized along military lines used bugles and drums to drive game into prepared kill zones. Once the animals were in the kill zone, the patron or his guest killed what he liked. After that, a bugle or flag signaled when the rest of the guests could fire. The resulting free-for-all could be dangerous, and accidental (and not-so-accidental) shootings sometimes occurred. To reduce the risk, prepared firing positions were built around lakes or in trees. The better organized the hunt, the better the reputation of its patron, and the more likely he was to impress his peers. Children of both sexes started hunting about the age of 11 or 12, with the females shooting or falconing from inside enclosed palanquins. Killing a tiger was considered a major step toward adulthood. While Rajput aristocrats also hunted, their religion strongly opposed killing animals simply for amusement. Therefore pious Rajputs often hunted nothing but plantation-ruining feral pigs and man-eating tigers. An often-overlooked purpose of these royal hunts was that they gave rulers a reason to spend several months a year traveling through the country with their sons. Along the way, they stopped in villages, where they could hear problems for themselves, and visited powerful vassals, thereby reminding them who was boss.

After his father died from falling down a flight of stairs, a 13-year old youth named Akbar inherits control of the Mughul Empire. A successful emperor (under his rule, the Mughul Empire spread east to the Bay of Bengal and south to the Deccan), he was above all else a warrior. (According to his panegyrist, he once knocked out a fleeing murderer using just a single well-aimed punch. Another time he killed a tigress with a sword. And a third time he crashed his personal elephant into a house holding armed bandits, receiving five arrows in his shield in the process.) When he wasn’t hunting or campaigning, Akbar enjoyed books. (The only illiterate in his family, he hired scribes to read to him.) He also liked pigeon racing, polo, and wrestling matches. Whenever possible, the wrestling matches were held each Tuesday at noon. The significance of this date was astrological. (Tuesday was Mars’ day.) Major contests were timed to coincide with Hindu festivals, partly to show the power of Akbar’s Muslim wrestlers, and partly to acknowledge the importance of Hindus in Akbar’s essentially Muslim state.


Portuguese merchants mention a Central African people known as the Yaka (or Jaga). While there is considerable academic speculation concerning the origins of the Yaka, many scholars suspect that they were a military society related to the East African Masaai. Still, this may be a calumny against the Masaai, as the Yakas’ chief agricultural interest was making palm wine and eating other people’s crops and cattle. The Yaka also practiced cannibalism, probably for diabolical purposes rather than nutrition. During the 1560s, Yaka armies were defeating Kongolese armies in the field. Fearing a change in the status quo, the Portuguese government sent 600 European musketeers to the Congo Basin in 1571. In return, the Kongolese sovereign gave the Portuguese the right to build a fort at Loanda. This represents the beginnings of Portuguese Angola.


The Chinese government allows Portuguese merchants to establish warehouses at Macao, an island south of Canton on the Pearl River estuary. To maintain status quo, the Chinese also established a naval base at Amoy, on the Fukien coast.


Of the 103 cases of homicide reported in the English county of Nottinghamshire between 1458 and 1558, the quarterstaff was the murder weapon in 53. So the Robin Hood stories, which showed dozens of the Sheriff’s men murdered by English archers, are probably based on mummeries done during May Day fairs rather than historical fact.

Siamese palace guards are described as including trained boxers. Originally, the unarmed fighters seem to have been stationed closer to the king than were armed guards. Lesser nobles also seem to have had coteries of boxers.


A splinter from a fractured tournament lance kills King Henry II of France. While this makes jousting considerably less popular among the French aristocracy (the immediate replacement was tilting after mechanical targets called quintains), it also makes the reputation of the French occultist Michel de Nostredame, who had predicted the king’s death four years earlier. But of course it was not the end of equestrian entertainment at the Place du Carrousel in Paris.

About 1560:

Japanese sword dancers start holding their scabbards with their left hands and quickly drawing their swords with their right, and within a few years, schools of swordsmanship have developed kata designed to teach batto-jutsu, or quick-draw techniques. Pioneers included Tamiya Heibei Narimasa, a sword instructor for the first three Tokugawa shoguns (and a student of Hayashizaki Jinsuke, the mid-sixteenth century samurai who reportedly developed these techniques after meditating for 100 days at a Shinto shrine in Yamagata). In 1932, the Japanese systematized some of these quick-draw techniques and then turned them into a new martial art called iaido. This name means "the Way of Harmonious Being," but implies "the awareness that one experiences when fully engulfed in dangerous training," and a leader in its popularization was Nakayama Hakudo of the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. Batto-do, or "Sword-drawing Way," is a less cryptic synonym used by some other styles.


The Spanish Bishop Díego de Landa describes Mayan hunters and fishers engaging in dances designed to apologize to the spirits of the dead animals. Fights often broke out following these dances, probably as a result of the vast quantities of mead served.

Construction begins on the massive Ta Er monastery in the Nan Shan Mountains of Western China. As an important and popular Yellow Hat Buddhist temple, an additional "Defender of Buddhism" hall was added in 1631. Bronze mirrors lined the walls of this latter hall, and near the doors stood rows of spears and swords. The monks used these weapons to exorcise demons and entertain crowds during quarterly temple fairs.


Facing military pressure from all sides, the Ming Dynasty sends soldiers to learn boxing and quarterstaff fighting from the legendary masters of the Shaolin temple in Honan Province. The most famous of these soldier-students was Ch’eng Ch’ung-tou, who studied archery, horse-riding, and boxing with a Shaolin monk named Hung Ch’uan during the 1580s. Hung was probably a retired soldier, as the special skill of most Shaolin monks was not in boxing or cudgel fighting, but in staying awake while meditating. (Said the Danish architect J. Prip-Møller about the Chinese Zen monastic exercises of the 1930s, "Bodily exercises usually consist of marching round the hall in two circles, the inner one formed of monks belonging to the ‘East’ party who have their seats at the end of the hall on the right side of the entrance, the outer one formed of the monks of the ‘West’ party. They walk at a steadily increasing pace, both clock-wise and anti-clock-wise, as directed by their leader," who hit the floor with their bamboo rods to show beat and tempo.) Ascetic hermits were often practitioners of martial arts, probably because many of them were retired soldiers or highwaymen. (To the Chinese, the only difference between soldiers and highwaymen is that one can resist robbers more safely than one can resist soldiers.) Meanwhile, other Chinese soldiers may have been learning the Japanese Shin Kage-ryu swordsmanship system, while yet others were supposed to be studying sword and spear fighting at O Mei Shan ("Moth Eyebrow Mountain") in Szechwan Province. While O Mei Shan ch’uan fa has been suggested as a possible root for Okinawan Shuri-te karate, this remains speculation rather than established fact.

Mochizuki Chiyome, the wife of the Japanese warlord Mochizuke Moritoki, establishes a training school for female orphans and foundlings. The skills the girls learned included shrine attendant, geisha, and spy. While Mochizuke-trained geisha are sometimes claimed as the first female ninja, it is more likely that the women were simply prostitutes trained to remember and repeat whatever they heard from their carefully selected patrons.

In The Book of the Courtier, Baldissare Castiglione describes wrestling as something a Venetian gentleman (Castiglione’s patrons were the Dukes of Urbino) should master. The reason was that it provided a good basis for physical fitness. For revenging insults, however, Castiglione believed in swords and pistols. Sword masters whose teachings he valued included Pietro Monte.


A Ming Dynasty general named Ch’i Chi-kuang (or at least his staff) begins work on military handbook called Chi’hsiao hsin-shu, or "New Text of Practical Tactics." Although most of Chi’s book was devoted to battlefield maneuver and armed techniques, this was also the first Ming Dynasty text to advocate the use of Shaolin ch’uan fa during military training. "It would seem," wrote Ch’i (using Brian Kennedy’s translation of a passage in Chapter 14) "that chuan fa does not have much use in war. But the practice of chuan fa makes ["activates"] your hands, feet, and body, making them more flexible. It [chuan fa] is the foundation of all martial arts. So that is why chuan fa remains around as a school [or perhaps better said, "as a discipline"]. When you learn chuan fa, you become fast, flexible and agile." General Ch’i’s system borrowed techniques from as many as 23 northern Shaolin schools, taking what the military trainers thought was best from each. The idea was that the training would promote agility, improve physical conditioning, and instill a combative spirit.

The English privateer John Hawkins captures five Portuguese ships bearing slaves bound to Brazil, then sells the slaves in Spanish Hispaniola in exchange for hides, ginger, sugar, and pearls. In the process, he becomes Britain’s first famous slaver.


After three successive changes of horse teams fail to dismember a convicted murderer named Jacques Poltrot, the French government outlaws execution by drawing and quartering.

Because so many duelists were dying from blood poisoning or infection, the Council of Trent threatens duelists, seconds, and the civil authorities that failed to suppress them with excommunication. Rarely enforced in practice, these bans were used mainly for preventing duels between aristocrats and commoners. After all, one gained no fame by killing a merchant, but acquired much shame by losing to him. This is mentioned because the soldier Pierre de Bourdeilles, Lord Brantôme, claimed that the chief reason that men dueled was that they wanted to be mentioned in the chronicles of the age.

About 1565:

The Flemands start putting handle bindings on longbows, thus giving them both a top and a bottom. (While bow makers routinely stamped bows at their centers to help archers line up their shots, bows without handles could be spanned either end up.)


During the thirteen days of musketry competition at the annual Prague Festival, commoners win all major prizes, despite the competitors including the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand. This egalitarianism was probably due to the Austrians’ fears of the Ottomans: moving targets included "Turkish" horsemen, while pop-up targets included human silhouettes called "Turks." Contemporary English archers also liked "shooting at the Turk."

At San Augustine, Florida, the Spanish build the first permanent European settlement in North America. However, the walls around the town were part of the Counter-Reformation rather than the conquest of the Americas, as they were supposed to deter Huguenots rather than Indians.


King Charles IX of France issues letters of patent to a Parisian fencing guild called the Académie d’Armes. This effectively standardizes French fencing, and removes such ungentlemanly activities as wrestling from the sport.

During a war against the Mughuls, Udai Singh of Mewar leaves 8,000 soldiers to defend his old capital at Chittor while he moved the rest of his army south to Udaipur. While some modern Indian historians have called this abandonment of Chittor a discredit to the Rajput race, it was actually a rational action conducted by a general who thought it better to be a live lion than a dead martyr. Udai Singh and his descendants were all patrons of wrestling and animal fighting. As the Rajput aristocrats bet on the outcomes, and hated to lose, injuries were frequent among the players. The players were in the business for money -- while an average professional earned just 2 rupees per month, he received a bonus of 50 rupees for winning, which was more money than an artisan made all year – and public acclaim. (A champion was treated with great dignity and respect, no matter if he was Muslim.) Training for the Rajput combat sports included wrestling, stick dancing, and various bodybuilding exercises. Practice took place in streambeds and fields. Wrestling styles of the era included Hanumanti ("Monkey-god Style"), which relied on throws, Jamvanti and Jarasandhi ("Bear-god Style"), which relied on joint-locks, and Bhimseni (the legendary brother of Arjuna), which relied on great strength and body slams.


Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva, passes the death sentence over the entire Protestant population of the Netherlands. This united both Catholics and Protestants against the Spanish, and is a reminder that more than a whiff of grapeshot often incites the rebels more than it terrifies them.

The Mughul Emperor Akbar is reported sniping at Rajputs defending the fortress at Chittor. The emperor owned 105 muskets. He watched each of these firearms being manufactured in his shops, and although his favorite was one he called Sangam, he always tried to fire them each in succession. The Rajput defenders shot back, of course. In Chittor’s garrison of about 8,000 men, about 1,000 were musketeers. As these matchlockmen were mostly from Buxer, they were allies rather than liege. Therefore, unlike Chittor’s knights, they felt no need to die gloriously for a lost cause. So when Chittor’s defenses finally fell to Akbar’s mines and sniping, the Buxer musketeers marched out the back gate disguised as Mughul mercenaries and hightailed toward home. Outraged by their escape, Akbar then killed or enslaved the 40,000 peasants huddled in the town for safety.


Richard Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England, describes the long-dead Edward Plantagenet as "the Black Prince." The story claimed that Edward wore blackened armor at the fourteenth century battles of Crécy and Poitiers. Although an invented tradition, the story proved so popular that during the Victorian era the armor worn by a gilt copper effigy at Canterbury Cathedral was painted black to match.

The Basque soldier-poet Alonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga publishes La Araucana ("The Arawaks"). This classic of colonial literature describes the fighting between the Spanish conquistadors and the Mapuche Indians south of the Biobío River in Central Chile. As there was mutual respect on both sides during these wars, their savagery is perhaps attributable to the youthfulness of the participants. (Leaders were frequently in their early twenties, while their followers were generally in their middle teens.)

Hieronymus Mercurialis publishes De Arte Gymnastica ("The Art of Exercise"). In it, the author argued that while a little exercise was good, athletic contests were bad, as they accomplished nothing and made one lethargic afterwards. Furthermore, for the Renaissance man, appearances counted more than checks in a win-loss column. Says historian Allen Guttman, "Geometry was the mathematical key, not arithmetic; it was the form of one’s movement that mattered, not some quantifiable result."

Hieronimo de Caranza writes Libro Que Tratta della Philosphia de las Armas ("The Treatise on the Philosophy of Arms"). In 1582, the manuscript was published with the patronage of Alonzo Pérez de Guzmán, Duke of Medina-Sidonia. (The latter was subsequently in charge of the Spanish Armada, and known as a brave man without much practical experience.) Because Caranza’s text stressed the importance of keeping a clear mind and spirit during one’s activities, it was highly regarded by Jesuits. Consequently, it continued to be respected (and plagiarized) into the 1750s. However, it was less highly regarded by nineteenth century fencers, who accused it of placing inordinate emphasis on arcane geometric principles.

Wrestling is included with foot races and hammer throwing in a list of working-class entertainments printed in Middlesex, England. Contemporary English wrestling styles included "backhold" and "loosehold." In backhold (now called Cumberland and Westmorland or Scottish Backstyle), the wrestlers kept their hands locked behind each other’s waists. Obviously, backheel trips were popular. Loosehold was similar to modern freestyle except that it did not have groundwork. According to "The History of Wigan," wealthy wrestlers wore special tight-fitting jackets while common men wrestled in their long underwear.


Giacomo di Grassi of Modena publishes an Italian-language fencing manual that in 1594 was translated into English under the title His True Arte of Defenses. The book taught two-handed sword, sword-and-buckler, poleaxe, pike, and rapier -- di Grassi was a firm believer that it was better to thrust than to slash -- and simplified parrying methods. He further defined the "four lines" of Italian fencing, namely high, low, outer, and inner.

Gründliche Beschreibung der freyen, Ritterlichen und Adelichen Kunst des Fechtens ("Exhaustive Writings about the Free, Chivalrous, and Aristocratic Art of Fencing") by Joachim Meyer gives Italian names to what is otherwise orthodox German swordsmanship. (Rather than rapier, most of the book described the use of traditional weapons as staves, two-handed swords, and the hiltless cutlasses known as Düsack.) The illustrations were woodcuts.

By doing single backward aerial somersaults, an Italian mountebank named Arcangelo Tuccaro becomes modern Europe’s first famous trapeze artist. Due to problems with ropes and springboards, double back flips were usually fatal until the 1890s, while triple back flips were equally hazardous until the 1920s. These statistics about first class gymnasts are worth recalling whenever encountering tales about the exploits of legendary heroes.

Although he had essentially divorced her years earlier, the Polish King Sigismund August cries crocodile tears over the death of his wife, Catharina of Hapsburg. This latter is mentioned as a reminder that some warrior societies expect big boys to cry, and that all behavior is to some extent learned.

About 1571:

Italian rapier and dagger fighting techniques appear in London. Pioneers included Rocco Bonetti, who opened a salle (e.g., school) in Oxford in 1576, and Vincentio Saviolo, who joined with Bonetti’s son Jeronimo to establish a separate salle in London in 1590. The Masters of Defense objected to the development, partly from national pride, partly from economic self-interest (the Italians were business rivals), and partly because they viewed the Italians’ elaborate explanations as inane. (They had a point, too, as theory aside surviving accounts describe most sixteenth-century English duelists drinking heavily for courage, and then rather than fencing tic-tack, charging madly in hopes of skewering the other on the way past. Therefore, the usual cause of death was not some clean thrust through the heart but secondary infection from wounds.) Still, Elizabethan playwrights such as Ben Jonson and Will Shakespeare were attracted to the visually elegant Italian swordsmanship, and as they wrote roles for rapier fencing into their plays, sword-and-buckler fighting fell into disfavor on the English stage.


To increase his power, prestige, and wealth, the Japanese Lord Oda Nobunaga orders the destruction of the Buddhist temples on Mount Hiei. (When King Henry VIII of England dissolved all Catholic monasteries in Britain between 1535 and 1540, he almost tripled his private income. Although these two men didn’t know each other, doubtless they had similar hopes and expectations.) As Nobunaga’s persecution causes the surviving monks to begin living in towns instead of monasteries, the destruction is partially responsible for spreading Buddhist martial arts into the Japanese cities.

Mexican conquistadors conquer Luzon in the Philippines. The Mexican soldiers clearly were not responsible for introducing firearms into Luzon, however, as one of their discoveries was a cannon foundry at Manila. They were not the only foreign settlers in the Philippines, either, there being fifteen thousand Japanese in the islands by 1602. Japanese also visited Mexico between 1609 and 1611, and Mediterranean Europe between 1615 and 1620.


African slave organizations obtain licenses to dance and play drums in the streets of Cartegena, in what is now Colombia. Organized by ethnicity and language, these slave groups elected leaders and arranged funerals for old people emancipated by masters too cheap to pay for them. Similar national organizations appeared in rural Brazil in 1587, and urban Brazil in 1674.


Afraid that feral cattle herds might disappear, the Spanish prohibit American hide hunters from hamstringing cattle they intended to kill for their skins. As a result, the hide hunters start using rawhide lariats instead of hocking knives. Early roping methods involved tying one end of the lariat to the horse’s tail, and then throwing the other end in a backhand fore-footing catch known as a mangana. (The overhand neck-looping throws seen in cowboy movies and known as "hoolihans" only date to the 1860s, and were originally used mostly for roping corralled horses.)

About 1575:

A muscular Japanese youth named Ito Kagehisa kills a man in Kamakura province. This caused the youth to flee to Honshu, where he started studying Chujo-ryu swordsmanship under Kanemaki Jisai. After five years, Ito defeated all the fencers in Kanemaki’s school, including its master. So he left Kanemaki’s school to become one of Japan’s premier duelists; indeed, he even posted signs advertising that he would "accept a match with any man confidant of his swordsmanship." Decades later, Ito, now known as Ittosai, became a teacher himself. One of his students was Ono Jiroemon Tadaaki, who in turn became a senior swordsmanship instructor at the Tokugawa court. Because of this special status, Itto-ryu enjoyed enormous prestige in Japan, and many other instructors borrowed the name who had nothing to do with the Ono lineage.


At Nagashino, Japan, 10,000 musketeers concealed on the far side of a streambed massacre thousands of aristocratic cavalrymen under the command of Takeda Katsuyori. This event provides the climax for the stirring 1980 Kurosawa Akira movie called Kagemusha ("Shadow Warrior") and rocketed the victors, Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, to prominence. However, it was an ironic victory, as Takeda’s father had been first important Japanese warlord to advocate the use of firearms in battle.

At Kenilworth, Danish and English knights joust with blunted weapons before the English Queen Elizabeth I.

North Italian peasants are reported fighting spiritual battles on the various equinoxes. During these battles, the forces of good carried fennel stalks while the forces of evil carried with sorghum stalks. If the forces of good won, then crops would be good.

Lo Schermo d’Angelo Viggiani ("The Schemes of Angelo Viggiani") is published in Venice. In this text, the Bolognese fencing master described the use of the proper use of the lunge. However, as this was a posthumous publication, the development of the lunge may date to the middle rather than the late sixteenth century.

About 1578:

To secure the support of the Tibetan theocracy for his son Yonten Gyatso, the Golden Horde’s Altan Khan orders that people start referring to the young man as the Dalai Lama Vajradhara. The phrase means "the teacher whose wisdom is as great as the ocean."


Lord Oda Nobunaga hosts Japan’s first major sumo tournament. Because Oda invited over 1,500 participants, officials drew circles on the ground to speed up the matches and make things safer for onlookers. This is the first known use of standardized rings in sumo. While referees and heroic ring names, or shikona, also date to the 1570s, the straw-and-earthen ring, or dohyo, only dates to the 1670s. While the center of this stage originally measured about 13 feet in diameter, these measurements increased to 15 feet in 1931. The north side of the ring was designated the front, and the teams were divided into East and West. (The East was the place of honor reserved for the previous year’s champions.)

Following a catastrophic defeat in Morocco, a Portuguese observer writes that the dead lay "on top of the living and the living on top of the dead, all cut to pieces, Christians and Moors locked in each other’s arms, crying and dying, some on top of the artillery, others dragging limbs and entrails, caught under horses or mangled on top of them, and everything was much worse than I can describe."


Queen Elizabeth I of England approves legislation limiting rapiers to a yard and a half in length.

The Stroganov brothers of Moscow hire a band of Cossack boatmen and mercenary arquebusiers to destroy a Siberian khanate located on the middle Irtysh, southeast of modern Tobol’sk. By 1582, the deed is done and in the process, the Cossacks seized 100,000 rubles worth of furs. This bonanza turns the mercenaries’ leader, Yermak Timofeyevich, into a Cossack hero, and sends Muscovite and Cossack fur hunters racing toward the Pacific at the rate of 60 miles a year. (They reached the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1696.)

About 1580:

On the battlefield, grenadiers operated outside their regimental squares. Their job was to throw grenades at enemy cavalry, thus scaring their horses. Since the grenadiers were not superhuman, they could not carry pikes, muskets, and grenades all at once. Therefore, they left their pikes at home. To make up for the loss, they stuck their knives into their fusils’ bores. Of course, doing so caused still-charged firearms to burst if fired. The French experimented with ring bayonets, but these too could be shot off. So, while the French started issuing socket bayonets around 1678. The invention dates to around 1675, and is sometimes attributed to the French engineer Vauban, and other times to a man named Puysegur. However, most other European armies continued issuing pikes into the 1690s. There was little training provided soldiers in bayonet fighting until the 1890s, at which time the British adopted methods borrowed from Italian fencing. Although modern armies still teach bayonet fighting as a way of making their soldiers more aggressive, the rifle-bayonet combination is a terribly expensive and poorly balanced pike. It is also impractical: as Erwin Rommel said in his 1937 memoirs: "In a man to man fight, the winner is he who has one more bullet in his magazine." Therefore, outside drill fields, the little knives were (and are) used mostly for frightening (and sometimes murdering) prisoners, subduing rioters, and opening ration cans.

According to Terence Dukes, an Okinawan man named Otomo Nogunto goes to Taiwan to learn about ch’uan fa. If true, then this provides the first concrete link between the Chinese and Ryukyuan martial arts. Unfortunately, no one but Dukes -- who is not always reliable -- claims to have seen the Otomo family archives. Further, Otomo was a merchant, not a soldier. So, if I were to speculate about why Otomo went to Taiwan, then I would say that it was not to learn boxing, but to see if Taiwanese pirates had ideas concerning ways around Chinese laws that favored European over Ryukyuan traders.

Lai Ch’i-te becomes the first Chinese philosopher known to have illustrated his explanations of the Tao using a circle of interlocking black and white fish. Lai’s goal was to emphasize the central nature of yin and yang rather than outward nature of the 64 trigrams of the I Ching.

Japanese soldiers begin routinely wearing the daisho, or matched pairs of long and short swords. The fad originally showed that a man was a soldier, and lacked any social significance. During the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa government prohibited peasants from owning any swords, and merchants and artisans from wearing more than a single short sword. The result was that two swords came to symbolize a samurai’s rank.


Franciscan missionaries introduce Roman Catholicism into Vietnam.

Don Juan Suárez de Peralta writes the first Mexican book on equitation. Suárez said that the best horses in the land were light chestnuts, silver greys, and dark sorrels, as these were "excellent animals of very good speed, very appropriate to convert into war horses because of their seat and easy gait."


The Japanese Lord Oda Nobunaga attacks Iga Prefecture. The resulting battles pitted Lord Oda’s matchlockmen and cavalry against spearmen from the Buddhist monasteries and swordsmen from the mountain clans of Central Japan. Lord Oda won, and in the process destroyed the military power of both the big monasteries and the mountain clans.

Richard Mulcaster, Headmaster of Merchant Taylor’s School in London, publishes a treatise on education called Positions in which he recommends that scholars wrestle. Why? Because "vehement upright wrestling … takes away fatness, puffs, and swellings: it makes the breath firm and strong, the body sound and brawny; it tightens the sinews and backs all the natural operations."


To keep Easter aligned with the spring equinox, the Vatican introduces the Gregorian calendar. While Jesuit priests introduce the new calendar into China and Japan the following year, its innovative leap years and January 1st New Years do not become common in Protestant European countries until the eighteenth century.

Cutlass in hand, Lady Killigrew of Cornwall leads a piratical attack on a German ship anchored in Falmouth Harbour. Queen Elizabeth is not amused, and has Lady Killigrew imprisoned and her henchmen hanged. Lady Killigrew’s Irish equivalent was Grace O’Malley, who fought Spaniards and Barbary corsairs with pistol in one hand and cutlass in the other.

While dining near a battlefield, a cannonball splatters the brains of a Walloon aide across the dinner of the Duke of Parma. The Duke orders the body carried away and a new tablecloth laid. Subsequent writers cite this as an example of the callous nature of early gunpowder-era soldiers. Unfortunately for the premise, similar stories have been told of battles and warriors from antiquity to the present. Therefore, it is a statement about war rather than a statement about sixteenth century soldiers.


The Sultans of Aceh, in northern Sumatra, begin to court the British. The reason was that they wanted a cheaper source for firearms than the Dutch or Portuguese. But the British were not much cheaper than the Dutch -- three English cannons were literally a princess’s dowry. Accordingly, Brunei, Palembang, Aceh, Menangkabau, and Trengganu all established local cannon foundries by 1600. The most popular local guns were small brass weapons carried on war canoes and junks. They were mounted on swivel-mounts similar to the oarlocks seen on rowing boats, and were about as powerful as a large matchlock.

The publication of De thiende ("The Tenth") by the Flemish mathematician Simon Stevin helps popularize decimal fractions in Europe. Stevin also introduced Italian double-entry bookkeeping into European logistics (military supply). After all, as the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci wrote, "the good general has to estimate the availability of food supplies for his troops and his horses, and calculate all the elements on his line of march." This improvement to military and naval logistics is less dramatic but actually more important than gunpowder for explaining the subsequent successes of European, and particularly the British, colonial empires.


The City of London boasts at least licensed fencing academies, to include the Whitefriars’ at St. Paul’s and Rocco Bonetti’s school in the basement of Blackfriars’. (William Joyner had a fencing academy in the same location during the 1570s, but in different rooms; the actual instructor was evidently a man named Francis.) During 1596-1597 James Burbage’s son Richard turned Blackfriars’ into a private theater, but by then the fencers were already gone from the location.


The Imperial Chinese bureaucracy disarms the Wan-li emperor’s personal bodyguard. In theory, it prevented rebels from overpowering the guards and using their weapons against the emperor or his family. In practice, it kept the Imperial Guard from becoming a Praetorian Guard. Gate guards, on the other hand, continued carrying weapons. There were also a few swords and firearms in the imperial chambers that were kept for the amusement of the royal grandchildren.

An Englishman named William Harrison writes that since few Englishmen traveled without a dagger (likely true, since they ate using those knives), it behooved them to learn something of the art of fencing, such as was taught by Italian and Spanish masters in the schools at Smithfield.

About 1588:

In a stage play called The Wounds of Civil War, the Elizabethan playwright Thomas Lodge becomes the first English playwright known to have included lusty rapier work in a secular entertainment.


To ensure the safety of his tax collectors, the self-made generalissimo Toyotomi Hideyoshi prohibits Japanese farmers from owning weapons of any kind, which in turn forced peasants to choose between being samurai or farmers. Nevertheless, firearms, swords, and other weapons remained easily obtainable throughout the Tokugawa era, and as late as 1840, perhaps 80% of the participants in Saitama Prefecture fencing contests were commoners. (According to the research done by Professor Watanabe Ichiro, popular provincial styles included Shindo Munen-ryu, Kogen Itto-ryu, and Ryugo-ryu.)

In a book called Orchésographie, the French dance teacher Thoinot Arbeau describes the use of side-drumming as a pace-setting instrument for soldiers. Such drumming, said Arbeau, kept soldiers from moving at different speeds or becoming disordered, and told leaders how far the unit traveled each day. (Someone apparently counted how many times a pattern repeated throughout the day.) Heavily laden soldiers move best without their footfalls being exactly synchronized, and there are no reliable descriptions of cadenced marching before the 1740s. (Pictures of the funeral of George Monk, Duke of Albemarle, made in 1670 show musicians marching out of step. As for Trooping the Colors, it only dates to 1755, and was not a regular affair until 1805.) So why was cadenced marching created at all? Perhaps because of ballets in France and music boxes in Germany. After all, one can always fantasize about an army that works like clockwork.


A Ritterakedemie ("Knight’s School") is established in Tübingen, Germany. Here, aristocratic boys learned to ride horses, joust, wrestle, shoot crossbows and firearms, dance, fence, and play tennis. Aristocratic girls, on the other hand, usually had private tutors. Girls’ sports included ball games, hunting and fishing, golf, running, and swimming.

About 1590:

A chronicler named Abu Fazl describes the harem of the Mughul Emperor Akbar as housing about 5,000 women. About 300 of these women were wives. (While the Qur’an enjoined men from having more than four wives, Iranian mullahs had found some loopholes, and Akbar exploited these loopholes for political purposes. Sexually, he probably ignored most of these princesses, as he has been quoted as saying that it was best if a man had just one wife.) The other 4,700 women were servants and guards. The guards were mostly from Russia and Ethiopia, and were little more than armed slaves. There were exceptions, of course, and one of Akbar’s chief rivals in the 1560s was a warrior-queen named Rani Durgawati.


A posthumously published book by John Twyne introduces the theory that Phoenician tin-merchants were the first Welshmen.

Austrian gunsmiths introduce wheel-lock revolvers. Their advantage was that they did not require a lit match to fire. Their disadvantage was that their mechanisms were both fragile and outrageously expensive. Consequently, they were most popular with equestrians and traveling merchants.


Four thousand Moroccan, Andalusian, and Turkish soldiers under the command of a Spanish eunuch called Judar Pasha smash a Songhai army of about 20,000 men near Gao, in present-day Mali. The Moroccan victory was due almost entirely to their firearms panicking the Songhai cavalry’s horses, which had never before seen or heard gunpowder weapons. The Moroccan victory represents the first major use of firearms in Sudanic Africa; it also caused the Songhai Empire to become a province of the Sultanate of Morocco.

The Japanese Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi announces his plans to invade the Philippines, Korea, and China. While Ming armies and Korean naval forces ultimately scotch his ambitions, Hideyoshi’s scheming leads to a greater reliance on firearms by the Satsuma and other smaller Japanese clans.

The English Parliament orders London theaters closed on Thursdays. The reason was they distracted people from "the game of bear-baiting and like pastimes which are maintained for her Majesty’s pleasure." Professional fencers and wrestlers were particularly hard hit by such bans, as they greatly reduced their access to paying audiences. The British banned animal baiting in 1835 and cock-fighting in 1849. The motivation was on religious rather than humanitarian grounds, as the slaughtered animals were eaten afterwards. Today, however, the cocks are generally discarded, because with all the growth hormones they have been given, the dead birds are not fit for human consumption.


A massive Japanese invasion causes a desperate Korean government to create a Hullyon Togam, or "General Directorate for Military Training." Its purpose was to teach peasants to be musketeers, archers, or pikemen, and its pedagogy came from the 1562 Chinese military treatise called New Text of Practical Tactics. An unintentional result was the publication of some of the first detailed descriptions of the Korean martial arts. Unsurprisingly, the book emphasized fighting with weapons rather than fists and feet.

Jesuit priests introduce Roman Catholicism into Korea. As these priests were chaplains for some Christian samurai, the Korean interest in their faith was minimal. Accordingly, the spread of Christianity into Korea more accurately dates to the baptism of the scholar Yi Sunghun in 1784. Note that the Christianity to which Yi converted was Chinese Catholicism, not Roman Catholicism. This was partly availability of texts, and mainly that Chinese Catholicism, which emphasized redemption rather than hell-fire, better fit the Korean culture.

In Kwangtung Province, north of Canton, some Buddhist monks incite an attack on the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. Their charge was that the foreign priest kept mechanical clocks and other magical devices in his house, and never ran short of money despite having no visible means of support. While the attackers carried staves, ropes, and hatchets, they were not monks. Instead, they were simply a gang of young toughs from the suburbs. They were also cowardly young toughs, as they fled almost immediately upon finding resistance from within the house. Of such events are the stories of Shaolin "fighting monks" made.


Near Nong Sarai, Thailand, the Siamese King Naresuan charges his elephant straight through the Burmese lines toward the Burmese crown prince. The Burmese prince slashes at the Thai king with his war scythe. According to one account, a Thai woman blocks the blow, and according to another, Naresuan ducks. Either way, the Burmese misses. On the second charge, Naresuan counters with a straight thrust with his sword. This causes the Burmese to die and his army to fall into disarray, and allows the Thais to counterattack into Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. Although Naresuan appears to have been a pragmatic man (certainly his 21 stratagems are terse and to the point -- "Assemble the troops and select those who are brave and reliable. Then draw the foe into the trap."), people who prefer other explanations have attributed his victories to some esoteric Buddhist training. According to H.G. Quaritch Wales, esoteric training consisted of reciting mantras while ingesting pharmaceuticals made from "several kinds of pungent roots and a bitter vine, as well as pepper, cardamom, nutmegs, and camphor, all of which must be beaten into a coarse powder, steeped in hot water sweetened with palm sugar or honey, and then drunk. And the treatment goes on longer than the [equivalent] Burmese [practices for obtaining invulnerability]: five months to become proof against sword and spear thrusts, three years to have the strength of an elephant." The Siamese also practiced an esoteric Buddhist breathing exercise that was supposed to provide invisibility, but invisibility seems to have worked better for guerrillas and escaping prisoners than the soldiers sent to pursue them.

A lawsuit in Bern describes injuries resulting from a belted wrestling game called Schwingen, or "swinging." Swiss historians sometimes claim that Schwingen is related to glíma. There are some similarities in the way the wrestlers take hold. For example, the Swiss take hold of the breeches while the Icelanders grab hold of belts or harnesses. However, glíma is practiced indoors on wooden floors while Schwingen is practiced outdoors on sawdust or grass. Furthermore, due to the Icelanders’ wooden floors, there is rarely violent follow-through in glíma, as there would be in Schwingen. Therefore, the relationship between the two sports appears to be little more than shared Pan-German nationalism.


Yagyu-ryu kenjutsu ("sword fighting method") is introduced to the court of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan. Following Lord Ieyasu’s becoming Shogun in 1603, the Yagyu-ryu becomes the most prominent swordsmanship style in Japan. Because the Yagyu-ryu originated in Iga Prefecture, some researchers claim that it had links to ninjutsu or related Tantric Buddhist swordsmanship styles. However, this remains unproven.

China’s Wan-li emperor canonizes a third century CE soldier-saint named Kuan-yü. This converts the latter into Kuan-ti, the Chinese God of War, whose likeness graces the entries of many modern martial art schools.

About 1595:

Dutch Republican soldiers develop the marching and musketry drills that eventually become military close-order drill. The popularity of these Dutch drills had several roots. One was that they greatly reduced the risk of clumsy soldiers accidentally bayoneting their neighbors, or soldiers causing their neighbor’s powder charges to explode through the careless use of matches. Another was that the Dutch drills greatly increased sustained rates of fire, thus allowing regiments to be subdivided into smaller, more manageable sizes. More importantly, wrote historian William McNeill, "drill created such a lively esprit de corps among the poverty-stricken peasant recruits and urban outcasts who came to constitute the rank and file of European armies, that other social ties faded to insignificance among them." Therefore, the Dutch infantry fought as teams instead of individuals. The idea of moving soldiers together as disciplined units is attributed to Count Louis of Nassau and his cousin, Maurice of Orange. Their sources of inspiration reportedly included translations of ancient Greek and Roman military texts. Meanwhile, Jesuits observe the Japanese developing kata (forms) with which to train their firearm-toting soldiers. Although outwardly similar to the European developments, the kata are probably concurrent rather than related developments, as the Japanese use kata to teach everything, and the Dutch did not arrive in Nagasaki for several more years.


Vincentio Saviolo, an Italian fencing master living in London, publishes His Practice in Two Books. The patron was Robert, Earl of Essex. A manual of Italian rapier fencing featuring dialogue between the master and student, His Practice was much despised by George Silver and the Masters of Defence.

The Lord Mayor of London complains that prize-fighting of any kind represents an "unthrifty waste of money by poor persons, sundry robberies by picking and cutting of purses, uttering of seditious matters and many other corruptions of youth and other enormities."


Spanish musketeers help overthrow the government of Cambodia. After the Spanish continue meddling in local politics, the Cambodians have the musketeers killed. In 1613, the pattern repeats in Burma, where a ruler named Anaukpetlun has a Franco-Portuguese adventurer named Philip de Brito y Nicote impaled, and his European and Eurasian soldiers enslaved.

The Jesuit monk Francis Cabral complains to the Vatican that the homosexuality of the samurai classes posed a major obstacle to their conversion.

About 1598:

The Iranian Shah Abbas I raises a standing army consisting of musket-armed infantry, European-trained artillerists, and Afghan light cavalry for the purpose of defeating the Ottoman Turks.


Armed mostly by a royal charter from King Philip II of Spain, a Mexican colonial official named Don Juan de Oñate occupies New Mexico. The indigenous Pueblo Indians did not resist this occupation too strenuously, partly because they were farmers instead of warriors and mainly because the Mexicans agreed to protect the Pueblos from the raids of the Apaches and Navajos. Obviously, this was easier said than done, and the Mexicans’ failure to protect the Pueblos from their neighbors was one reason for the Pueblo uprising of 1680.

In a book called The Theorike and Practike of Moderne Warres, an Englishman named Robert Barret writes, "It is rarely seene in our dayes, that men come often to hand-blowes, as in old times they did: For now in this age the shot so employeth and busieth the field (being well backed with a resolute stand of pikes) that the most valiantest and skilfullest therein do commonly import the victorie, or the best, at the least wise, before men come to many hand-blowes." And, if this was the case in Elizabethan England, where firearms had effectively replaced longbows as the ranged weapon of choice, think of how rare a sword fight must have been in contemporary Japan, where even provincial lords routinely fielded 10,000 muskets a side!

An upper-class English writer named George Silver publishes Paradoxes of Defence. His stated purpose was to prove that traditional British sword designs and methods were better for both offense and defense than the Italian rapier and dagger. While many of his points were valid, Silver was involved in the efforts of the London masters to exert their monopoly to include rival Italian fencing teachers. Therefore there may be some commercial bias to Silver’s words.

About 1599:

Nurhachi, a Tungus chieftain descended from the Jurchen, begins uniting the tribes of Inner Mongolia, and in 1606 uses this unification as a basis for establishing the Mongolian Manchu Dynasty. This Mongol resurgence was not limited to the Far East, either, as the Kalmyk and Torgut Mongols began pushing their way into southern Russia about the same time. (Mongol armies reached the Caspian around 1670.)


The Jibaro Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon unite and rise against the Spanish. This has the practical effect of driving the Europeans out of the upper Amazon for the next 300 years. From a contemporary European perspective, the Jibaros’ most lethal weapons included broad-headed wooden lances and some very devious minds. (The Jibaros delighted in constructing booby-traps and making pre-dawn attacks on sleeping encampments.) From a modern perspective, disease was undoubtedly the Indians’ best ally. However, from the Indian perspective, magic was probably their best weapon. Jibaro war lances, for instance, were made from a palm wood believed to possess demoniac properties. Meanwhile, Jibaro war plans were hatched under the influence of manioc beer and datura-laden hallucinogens. Nevertheless, the Jibaros did not use poisoned arrows or blowgun darts during their wars or feuds. The reason was that they believed that if they used their vegetable poisons for killing people, then they would no longer work for killing game.

In Basilikon Doron, King James I of England warned his son not to participate in "rough and tumble" sports such as football. Instead, he advised the young man to engage in safe sports such as wrestling.

Don Luys Pacheco de Narváez publishes the Spanish-language rapier manual called Libro de las Grandezas de la Espada ("Book of the Grandeur of the Sword"). It was essentially commentary on the methods of Caranza. Later, however, he became critical of Caranza, and established his own school of diestros, or dexterity, in Madrid.

About 1600:

The members of a Hindu religious cult known as the thugi (pronounced tug-ee, and meaning "sly deceivers") become notorious throughout India for strangling unsuspecting merchants, then dancing around their bodies. While loot was behind the cult’s popularity, cult leaders claimed that the Indian death-goddess Kali provided occult powers when offered human sacrifices. The goddess did not like bloodshed, however, as this only strengthened her enemy Raktavira. Therefore strangulation was the preferred method of execution. (Strangulation offered the spiritual advantage of making its victims look like Kali, whom artists depicted with a black face, bulging eyes, and a protruding tongue, and the practical advantage of negating the defensive value of chain armor. Without a list of robbers and their victims, it is not possible to determine whether the prime motivation for Thugi violence was financial -- e.g., robbery -- or sectarian -- e.g., Minas youths attacking their Gujas rivals. Doubtless both motivations played some role, especially as peddlers and circus performers, the people most likely to be traveling through mostly Hindu central India, were usually Muslim.) According to nineteenth-century trial records, thugi attacks generally used multiple assailants. The first attacker distracted the victim, the second attacker threw a noose around his neck, and then, ideally, a third attacker kicked him in the scrotum while the second man strangled him. If they had time, they would also bury the victim in a shallow grave. This also had a ritual. The grave, for instance, was dug with a special pickax called a mahi, and the victim’s belly was slit with a snake-handled knife called a cathini. In theory, this let his spirit escape, but really caused his body to decompose faster, thus making discovery harder. The most notorious Thug was a man named Bahram who claimed to have strangled over 900 people between 1790 and 1840. While such outrages caused the British to persecute the cult, it continues to be commemorated by the English word "thug," and as recently as 1977, the Indian police advised travelers not to travel unarmed at night through rural Rajasthan.

Imbangala bands begin emerging throughout West Central Africa. While the name imbangala is an Angolan title of indeterminate meaning, the imbangala bands themselves were little more than gangs of heavily armed teenagers that fought hand-to-hand using lances, and lived by slave-raiding and looting. Philosophically, the imbangala warriors worshipped evil rather than good. They were routinely drunk, used women as cupbearers, and, to prevent the formation of binding ties, often killed their children. They also practiced ritual cannibalism and used traditional Central African talismans as malevolent weapons that subsequent oral traditions have linked with American and Caribbean voodoo dolls.


Queen Elizabeth I of England grants a charter to the "Company and Merchants of London trading with the East Indies." Better known as the Honourable East India Company, this company was the sole British agent in India until 1858.


The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci takes mechanical clocks and the Gregorian calendar into the Wan-li emperor’s court in Peking. While more accurate than Chinese clocks, the Chinese viewed them mostly as curiosities. Traditionally, Europeans say that this was because European mathematics and models threatened the paradigms underlying Chinese astrology, mathematics, and religion. Unfortunately for the premise, computer-generated fractal proofs run by late twentieth century mathematicians have shown that the Jesuit mathematics were wrong. So the Chinese doubts may have been due to a better grasp of intuitive mathematics. The Chinese reluctance to adopt hand-held firearms may have equally pragmatic roots. For one thing, cavalrymen (whether Ming, Manchu, or Mongol is irrelevant) preferred quiet, reliable, rapid-firing bows to noisy, misfiring, clumsy muskets. Furthermore, Confucian bureaucrats abhorred gunpowder, which in China literally stank of Taoist alchemy. And even if the refusal to use firearms was mostly fear of shifting paradigms, the Chinese are hardly the only people to reject potentially paradigm-shattering devices. For example, in 1971 the United States Marine Corps stopped using divining rods to locate Viet Cong tunnels. This was not because individual Marines could not locate Viet Cong tunnels using the rods -- they could and did -- but because Department of Defense scientists couldn’t determine what made the rods work.

A Javanese prince named Sutawijaya Sahidin Panatagam dies. Throughout his life, the man’s courage and luck were legendary, and he reportedly forgave would-be assassins by saying that daggers could not pierce the skin of a man who was protected by the gods. He took this belief seriously, too, as his concubines included an East Javanese woman who introduced herself to him by attacking him with some pistols and butterfly knives.


Afternoon wrestling matches are described as providing entertainment at Clerkenwell, England. The Lord Mayor and his aldermen adjudicated the matches, and, as they pitted sheriffs and sergeants against the townsmen, they were probably used to reduce political unrest. But they could as easily have been sporting events, as the Prince of Wales was reported betting on wrestling matches during the 1660s, by which time Clerkenwell was home to London’s largest distilleries. Either way, the predominant style was Devon and Cornwall. Female fencers and gymnasts were also seen during these same Clerkenwell entertainments.


While bands of runaway slaves in Colombia were reportedly well armed with arquebuses, casualty statistics suggest that bows caused more injuries to slave catchers.

Fearing that they were the advance guard of an invasion, the Spanish kill 20,000 Chinese immigrants on Luzon. Most of these people grew rice for Fukienese rice merchants. American cash and subsistence crops that were introduced into south China as a result of their employment, however, included tobacco, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes.


The leaders of the Satsuma clan of Kagoshima, Japan patronize a Zen Buddhist swordsmanship school known as the Jigen-ryu. During the 1830s, various Ryukyuan officials including the karate master Matsumura Sokon patronized the Jigen-ryu. While the boxing and the sword fighting are visually very different, this is perhaps where Buddhist ideology began infiltrating the Okinawan martial arts. Or perhaps that is better dated to the Zen revival of the 1890s. Either way, it is all speculation.

A Catholic attorney named Robert Dover protests English Puritanism by reviving and perpetuating such traditional village entertainments as horseracing, shin kicking, and quarterstaff fighting, and calling them the Cotswold Olympick Games. While most events were for men, women could participate in the foot racing and dancing. Still, the Cotswold games were popular mainly because Dover offered cash prizes to the winners, and as a result they fell into decline following Dover’s death in 1641.

King James I of England and Scotland ends the argument over whether English or Italian swordsmen were better by hiring French fencers to teach the Prince of Wales.

About 1605:

The Tokugawa court of Japan patronizes the Go In, or Go Academy, of a master called Honinbo Sansha. This introduces Honinbo’s method of classifying players, e.g., shodan for the first degree, nidan for the second degree, and so on, to the samurai class.

A Japanese stick fighter named Gonnosuke Muso fights a notorious duelist named Miyamoto Musashi. Depending on the account, the result is either a draw or a defeat for Gonnosuke. Either way, this leads to the development of Gonnosuke’s Shindo Muso-ryu of jojutsu, or Japanese singlestick fighting. Modern Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Association, or ZNKR) jodo claims lineal descent from this system.


Guy Fawkes and some other Roman Catholics conspire to blow up the English Parliament. Their weapon was 36 ninety-pound barrels of black powder that they had purchased from a London fireworks maker named Charles Pain. The conspirators are caught and executed, but for years afterwards the English celebrated Fawkes’ efforts by stuffing live cats into effigies of the Pope and then burning them. The English also burned cats to celebrate the day of Saint John the Baptist (June 24).

Working on the principle that anyone who killed Roman Catholics couldn’t be all bad, English merchants send shiploads of musket and sword parts to Ottoman Turkey.

The Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra publishes Don Quixote de la Mancha, a book in which the once-proud knight is reduced to tilting with windmills.

The Danes introduce snaphaunce muskets into West Africa. While the weapons added a new dimension to West African warfare, the more important African military development involved the creation of huge militia-based armies.


Bolognese fencing master Salvator Fabris publishes Scienza e Pratica d’Arme ("About Fencing, or Rather, the Science of Arms") in Copenhagen. A rapier manual produced for Christian IV, King of Denmark and Norway, the text and illustrations showed the fencer using the sword rather than the left hand for defense. (The Dutch artist Halbeek made the 190 copperplates that illustrate the text.) Technically, this book showed all modern guards and used the lunge for both attack and defense.

Juan Fernandez de Quiros, a Portuguese navigator working for the Spanish government, visits the Tuamotus Archipelago, and while there he observes its Polynesian inhabitants wrestling. Both men and women wrestled, and there were sometimes mixed bouts. The audience defined the ring by standing around the participants. The wrestling was freestyle, and hair pulling was allowed.

By winning a wager that he could ride the 200 miles between London and York five times in a week, John Lepton of Keswick, England becomes the first man known to have raced against time.


The Tokugawa government orders all Japanese gunsmiths relocated into central locations -- and then pays the relocated gunsmiths to learn new trades, such as manufacturing pots and pans.

The Jesuits establish their first mission in Eastern Paraguay. Over the next three decades, they build a string of 29 missions throughout the region. Yet their goal, which was to turn the Guaraní Indians into Christian agriculturists and herders, is ultimately brought to naught by Brazilian slavers, Spanish land speculators, and repeated plagues.

Dutch and English merchants sell inexpensive iron tools to the Woodland Indians of New York and Virginia. The most notorious of these were the small hand-axes that the Algonquin Indians of Virginia called tomahawks.


Samuel de Champlain establishes Quebec, France’s first permanent settlement in North America. While the town was heavily fortified against Indian attacks, its greatest enemy was scurvy, a disease which the French and English had still not learned was due to eating too much salted meat and not enough vegetables. The disease, on the other hand, rarely bothered the Dutch, Norwegians, Portuguese, and Spanish; the reason was that the Iberians liked hot peppers, the Dutch liked sauerkraut, and the Norwegians liked raw seal meat.

In Venice, Nicoletto Giganti publishes Scola overo Teatro ("School or Theater"), a fencing text that shows cuts over the blade as a form of counter-parry. The text also fully describes the lunge, and teaches just two guards (tierce and carte).


Johannes Kepler declares that the planets take elliptical paths around the sun. The German astrologer achieved this knowledge, says the English historian J. E. D. Williams, through "painful devotion to the odd notion that a true theory must fit all the facts." (Although a Neo-Pythagorean mystic, Kepler once discarded 900 pages of calculations because observation disagreed with theory by eight minutes of arc.)

Samurai belonging to the Satsuma clan of Kagoshima, Japan, raid the Ryukyus. Although Japanese historians rarely admit this, the Satsuma brought with them 700 muskets and 30,000 bullets. The chief exception is Hokama Tetsuhiro, who wrote in 1984 that the Okinawans believed that the firearms were some kind of magic stick. He added that the Japanese lost 7 musketeers, 6 archers, and 44 pikemen during a forty-day campaign that caused the death of over 500 Okinawans. While this raid was of little importance in 1609, during the mid-seventeenth century the Satsuma began using it as justification for organizing "tribute" expeditions that were little more than government-sponsored smuggling operations. (Barred from trading directly with China or the West except through heavily watched Nagasaki, the Satsuma were of course free to do any trade they liked in their Okinawan "protectorate.") The Satsuma raid became historiograpically important following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, as it gave the Japanese the excuse they needed to occupy Okinawa in 1879.

Samuel de Champlain describes a pre-firearm battle between the Mohawks and the Hurons. First the Mohawks beached their canoes and built a barricade using stone axes. Then they spent the night singing songs and shouting insults at the Hurons. In the morning, they emerged from their walls and advanced toward the Hurons until the two groups were about 30 yards apart. Neither side shot arrows during its advance, probably because wooden body armor and shields provided adequate protection against arrows shot from long range. What usually happened next is unknown, for at this point Champlain and another Frenchman emerged from cover and fired double-shotted muskets into the Mohawk ranks. This killed several Indians, and caused the rest to run away in confusion.

Garcilaso de la Vega writes that the Incas made poisoned arrows by putting arrowheads into a dead warrior’s leg that had been hung up in the sun, and then leaving them there for several days. The Incas said that arrowheads prepared this way killed with the Sun God’s intervention. The Spanish said that they killed by witchcraft. Twentieth century pathologists say that they killed via subcutaneous infection.

About 1610:

Because Japanese gentlemen always carried swords, Japanese scabbard makers start putting slots for small knives and skewers into their scabbards. These small knives and skewers were usually used as penknives, hairpins, and ear picks, and only in fiction were they used as chopsticks, throwing knives, or lancets.

The Spanish and Italians start putting basket-shaped hand guards on their rapiers. To protect their hands from blisters, Spanish and Italian duelists typically tied their sword to their hand using a kerchief. The French, on the other hand, put guards shaped as double loops on their rapiers, and then protected their sword hands using soft leather gloves. To reduce injuries to the forearm and elbow, the gloves used during training were padded along the back, and made to extend to the elbow.

The Dutch East India Company introduces Chinese tea into Europe and American tobacco into East Asia.

The French clock makers Marin and Pierre le Bourgeoys manufacture a flintlock musket for King Louis XIII of France. Their design used a cocking lever to slam a flint into a sliding steel pan cover. The inspiration was possibly a Japanese lighter. Flintlocks were several times more expensive to manufacture and considerably harder to repair than matchlocks. They also required as much training to use and nearly as much time to prepare for firing. (The British drill manual of 1685 showed that it took 32 motions to prepare a matchlock for firing, which was just two motions more than flintlocks required.) In their favor, flintlocks did not require users to keep match cords continuously lit, which made them better for sentries and armies on the move. They also worked better in volleyed fire, and could fire more shots in a shorter time. (Matchlocks became too hot to reload following perhaps seven or eight discharges, while a well-made flintlock might go ten or twelve.) Of course, as flints had to be replaced every twelve to fifteen shots, while a match could burn all day, matchlocks were better for battles lasting all afternoon. Nevertheless, as European generals did not see themselves fighting long wars, flintlocks gradually replaced matchlocks in European military service, and were standard issue by the 1690s.


Due to deforestation threatening Royal hunting preserves, the English Parliament bans the manufacture of cannon for export. (Hugh Platt had only started making coal furnaces seven years earlier. Therefore, most English iron smelters still burned charcoal made from trees poached from the royal forests instead of coal purchased from the merchants of Newcastle. The real problem was of course shipbuilding fires rather than foreign arms sales – it took 4,000 mature oak trees to build one ship of the line -- but Parliament did not want to ban battleships.)

The Spanish create the name arnis de mano ("harness of the hands") to describe the ritual hand movements used during Filipino folk-theatricals.

An Italian fencing master called Ridolfo Capo Ferro (he may have been German, in which case his name would have been Rudolf Eisenkopf) publishes a text called Gran simulacro ("Great representation"). This rapier manual is sometimes considered the birthplace of modern sport fencing, as it emphasized the use of the lunge and the upraised free hand. While the purpose of the lunge is obvious enough, what was the purpose of the upraised free hand? In theory, this was to cause the body to be turned as narrowly as possible, and therefore offer the minimum target area. In addition, it kept the head back, and thus safe from counterblows with the pommel. (Hence the English verb "to pummel".) Finally, it looked graceful. Elegance was increasingly important to the people wealthy enough to afford regular fencing instruction. As French courtier Jean Guilleaume Tabourot put it in 1596, "Besides fencing you [a prospective gentleman] are to learn dance and ball games in order to acquire contact with gentlemen and ladies."


The word "duel," a shortened version of the Italian duello, first appears in print in England. This said, most documented English fights of the era are better described as tavern brawls than duels, as the weapons were more likely to be walking sticks and beer steins than matched pistols or rapiers.

In Leipzig, Michael Hundt publishes a quarto called Ein neue Künstlich Fechtbuch in Rappier ("A New Style Fencing Manual for Rapier").

The Mughul Emperor Jahangir falls in love with an Iranian widow named Mehrunissa. The emperor’s fascination is not surprising, as Mehrunissa was a gifted poet, competent dress and carpet designer, and avid tiger hunter. (She hunted from atop a closed howdah, and once killed four tigers with just six bullets.) Her niece was Asaf Khan’s daughter Arjumand Banu, the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built.


Tokugawa soldiers hunt down gangs of armed peasants unwilling to resume their status as serfs. This process is pronounced complete in 1686, when 300 members of the All-God Gang are arrested and their leaders executed. As usual, this was more a case of the government declaring victory than an accurate representation of the facts, as the modern Japanese crime syndicates known as the yakuza date their origin to the officially sanctioned guilds of peddlers, gamblers, and strong-arm men formed in the wake of this repression. The literal translation of yakuza is "8-9-3," which describes a losing hand in a Japanese gambling game and alludes to the numeral 20, which is an unlucky one in Japanese. Therefore the meaning is more malevolent than a contextual definition of "worthless" implies.


Some Beothuk Indians kill a couple of Basque cod fishers during a fishing dispute off Newfoundland. This encourages the angry Basques to sell large quantities of weapons, including a few old muskets, to the Micmacs, the Beothuks’ traditional enemies, and to offer bounties for Beothuk scalps. While the first known North American scalping soon followed, the practice did not become widespread until the Massachusetts Bay Colony began offering scalp bounties in 1675.

The Romanov dynasty is established in Moscow.


The English secret society known as the Freemasons is established at the Apple-Tree Tavern in London. This society, which claimed roots in ancient Egypt, provided a forum for a series of European metaphysicians who sought scientific (as opposed to demonic) magic. Freemasons also contributed to the establishment of the Theosophical Society, which popularized Buddhism in Europe, in 1851.


The Dutch antiquarian Philip Cluver publishes Germania Antiqua. Cluver’s conclusion was that ancient Germans were a rude and barbaric lot. German historians generally concur with this conclusion until the 1890s, at which point their national pride took their conclusions off in the other direction. A German politician named Adolf Hitler said of this phenomenon: "There is no such thing as truth. Science is a social phenomenon and like every other social phenomenon it is limited by the benefit or injury it confers on the community."

With the publication of Kriegsman und Freyfechter von Nürnberg ("Warrior and Free-Fighter from Nuremberg"), Sebastian Heüsler describes Italian-style rapier fencing as taught in Germany.


During a festival honoring the canonization of the Jesuit Ignatius Loyola, the Incas hold their last major public celebrations in Cuzco, Peru. To keep the festivities from frightening the Spanish, the requisite military demonstrations featured the Great Inca dressed as the Infant Jesus.

In return for allowing Anglican missionaries to spread the Word of God among them, the Woodland Indians of the Powhatan Confederation begin acquiring snaphaunce muskets from the Virginians. The Indians preferred snaphaunces to matchlocks because snaphaunces did not require either glowing coals or stinky matches, both of which revealed the shooter’s position during ambushes, raids, and hunting trips. The Virginians liked snaphaunces, too, but usually could not afford them.

An English ambassador named Sir Thomas Roe describes life in the court of the Mughul Emperor Jahangir. Shortly before sunrise, musicians played to wake the court. After showing himself at his balcony at sunrise, the Emperor then went back to bed for a couple hours. At noon, Jahangir watched elephant fights and parades. At four he went to his public hall and listened to petitioners and ambassadors. Wrestlers and tumblers provided sideshow entertainment during these afternoon audiences so that Jahangir could stay awake while the petitioners and ambassadors droned on. (Like many Mughul princes, Jahangir liked his alcohol and opium. Therefore business was, in the words of Sir Thomas, often "prevented by a drowziness which possesseth His Majestie.") Singers and dancing girls provided most of the entertainment during Mughul festivals. In Jahangir’s time, the most important Mughul festivals were the emperor’s birthdays (he celebrated both his solar and his lunar birthdays) and the Iranian New Year. The Iranian New Year (No Ruz – literally, "New Day") was a pre-Islamic celebration of family and friends given orthodox Shiite trappings that was introduced into India by Emperor Akbar in 1582. The holiday began following the first sunset before the vernal equinox, and lasted 6 to 19 days.


Despite their King James’ belief that dipping and chewing tobacco was vile, Virginia planters start sending boatloads of non-hallucinogenic Nicotiana tabacum to London, advertising it as a defense against bubonic plague. The theory was that bad air spread the disease, and the idea found quick favor. In 1665, diarist Samuel Pepys wrote that seeing quarantined houses "put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell and to chew -- which took away my apprehension." Consequently, within twenty years the settlers’ "mild" tobacco exports exceeded three million pounds weight, and within fifty years, fueled a land hunger that ultimately drove the Woodland Indians into near-extinction.

Joseph Swetnam becomes the first English swordsman to encourage the use of the Italian-style lunge in a book (The Schoole of the noble and worthy Science of Defence). However, rather than naming the techniques Swetnam simply gave them several paragraphs of text.

English merchants carry Japanese matchlocks into Thailand "three or four at a Tyme" so that the government "would not take notice thereof." Japanese firearms were preferred partly because they were better constructed than European weapons, and mainly because the Christian samurai in the Siamese king’s bodyguard preferred them.

Chinese merchants living in Sumatra start mixing cheap Bengali opium with expensive Dutch tobacco (Nicotiana rustica, itself a mild hallucinogen) and then smoking the mixture in long pipes. While the practice quickly spread throughout Indonesia, it took a Ming Dynasty ban on tobacco smoking to popularize opium smoking inside China itself.

Several Italian cities prohibit civilians from carrying pistols or swords without a license. Sometimes claimed as a prohibition against dueling, these restrictions actually protected wealthy merchants from kidnappers and robbers.


The outbreak of the Thirty Years War causes European sword makers to start fitting their swords with cheap brass hilts instead of expensive iron hilts.

King James I of Britain signs laws saying that religious sectarians could not prevent people from dancing, shooting bows, vaulting, or running after church on Sundays. His reasoning was that sports prepared men for war, and kept them from engaging in vices such as drunkenness or making seditious speeches. Outraged Puritans promptly burned these laws, and said that they were the work of the Devil.

About 1620:

European hunters start hunting birds using snaphaunce muskets instead of crossbows. (Matchlocks were almost useless for hunting because blowing the match tended to frighten the game.) While German marksmen tried shooting birds in flight as early as 1560, and Japanese hunters were shooting birds in flight as early as 1612, aerial shooting was not mentioned in English sporting literature until 1686. By the 1710s aerial shooting was all the rage in France, and became popular in Britain during the 1720s. The popularity of the sport was partly that deforestation had pushed larger game into near-extinction.

A British missionary named Captain John Thorpe mixes the Gospels with homemade corn liquor and then introduces the result to the Powhatan Indians of Virginia. Thorpe’s brew was probably maize beer rather than moonshine. Either way, most seventeenth century settlers viewed liquor as "one of the good creatures of God to be received with thanksgiving." Few settlers were as wealthy as the Reverend Higginson, who brought five tons of beer and twenty gallons of brandy to the New World in 1629, or as well-connected as John Winthrop, who received title to Governor’s Island in 1632 in return planting the apple trees needed to produce apple jack. So they made alcoholic beverages from fermented corn, pumpkins, and berries instead. Factory-made beer became available in the colonies by the 1640s. Early brewers included William Penn and Matthew Vassar.


Some British aristocrats propose to encourage "sport" (a seventeenth century euphemism for gambling) by building a new amphitheater in London. While Puritan opposition scotched the plan, fencing, wrestling, foot racing, and long jumping had been among the activities planned for the building.


A military manual called Wu Pei Chih, or "Account of Military Arts and Science," appears in China. Its last chapter includes illustrations of some unarmed martial arts exercises. According to tradition, these descriptions subsequently influence the development of Shuri-te karate. For example, elements of gojushiho kata appear in the text, and wanshu kata is reportedly named for the Chinese soldier who brought the book to the Ryukyus. Even so, the eponymous Wu Pei Chih, or Bubishi, text of Goju-ryu karate is an entirely different book. This one came to Okinawa during the late nineteenth century. It is not known who introduced it, but it may have been Higashionna Kanryo of Naha.

Gervase Markham publishes Hunger’s Prevention or the Whole Art of Fowling. While most of the book was devoted to netting and snaring, it also provided the first English-language description of gun dogs.


The Roman Catholic Church adopts January 1 as its New Years Day. While the old date of March 25 represented the presumed date of the Virgin Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Spirit, the new date reflected the Italian fiscal year.

Base-ten logarithmic slide rule calculators appear in Europe, thus greatly simplifying the multiplication and division of large numbers.

The Powhatan Indians kill over a quarter of the white people living in England’s Jamestown colony. The directors of the Virginia Company found that reasons for the Indians’ initial successes included most of the settlers being drunk at the time of the attack. In general, the Indians spared the settlers’ African slaves; the reason may have been significant intermarriage between runaway slaves and Indians. (In 1930, sociologist Melville Herskovitz estimated that 29 percent of African Americans had Indian ancestry. If this is true, then a similar number of Indians surely have African American ancestry. As to what comprised a Negro, this was a legal definition, and changed over time. Before the Civil War, for instance, Virginia slave owners held that one was a Negro – hence a slave – if any known relative was black African. In 1879, Virginia redefined the term to mean anyone with one-fourth or more African ancestry. However, during the 1930s, Virginia returned to its racist pre-Civil War definitions. Consequently, Roi Ottley is probably correct in defining Negro as a state of mind rather than a race.)


The Japanese government prohibits merchants and artisans from wearing the two swords of a samurai. Similar restrictions are levied against lower-class samurai in 1640, and musicians and painters in 1683.


While European historians would subsequently create the convention that the conquistadors went to Mexico for God, gold, and glory, a contemporary Englishman named Thomas Gage wrote that the men of his era went to such remote parts "only for four things: the women, the horses, the clothing and the homes."

The British establish a sugar plantation colony on Barbados. They settled the island because it was upwind from the Caribbean, which made it hard for the Spanish to attack. Most of its sugar was made into rum, either in Barbados itself or in New England. Newport, Rhode Island, was the principal distillery town, with over thirty manufacturers by the 1750s.

Needing sugar to make their gin, the Dutch seize the sugar plantations of Salvador da Bahia. A year later, the Spanish eject the Dutch. Two years later, the Dutch return the favor. And so on until 1654, when the Luso-Brazilians finally make Bahia their own. While the importance of all this was that it gave the Dutch the desire to establish slave-and-sugar plantations in the Caribbean, some Brazilian historians have seen in these battles the roots of capoeira, which was supposedly developed to help slaves who escaped during the confusion better resist recapture. Yet this causality seems improbable, mainly because the Maroons of Haiti, Jamaica, and Reunion all greeted the bounty-hunters with firearms, spears, and pungi sticks, not musical bows and twirling shin-kicks. So, while roots of capoeira can be found many places, the art itself probably dates to the development of sizable mixed-race urban populations during the eighteenth century.

The English coin the word "gunman." The idea was to distinguish the matchlock-armed Woodland Indians of the Carolinas from the European settlers (who were described as "firemen," after their snaphaunce and wheel-lock weapons).

The French introduce laws requiring duelists who wound their opponents to forfeit half their property, and the execution of duelists who cause the death of their opponents. These laws were believed necessary because many, perhaps most, duels were faction fights between aristocrats who wanted to return to the old feudal lifestyle and aristocrats who supported the central government.

About 1625:

The Ottomans adopt miquelet lock muskets. The name "miquelet," or "little feet," is a modern term, and refers to some Spanish bandits who were among the weapons’ other users. The firing mechanism was similar to that of a snaphaunce, except that it was more reliable in dusty conditions due to a fixed instead of a sliding primer pan cover. The design remained popular in Turkey and Russia until the nineteenth century, and North Africa and Afghanistan until the twentieth.


The Thirty Years War causes the development of new codes of warfare in Europe. The Dutch jurist Huigh de Groot described these changes, the main purpose of which was to put legitimate use of force into the hands of a central state rather than regional chieftains, in a legal text called On the Law of War and Peace. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Japanese warlords were trying to figure out ways of recovering the power that they had recently lost to the central government. Toward this end, they formulated a flexible new code of bureaucratic militarism known as bushido, or "the Way of the Warrior."


Jesuit priests introduce Huron Indians living around Quebec to Roman Catholicism. When the Five Nations wiped out the Hurons in 1649, almost half of the Hurons were Roman Catholic, and there is reason to believe that the Huron conversion was due mostly to laws allowing French traders to sell guns only to Christians. Undaunted, the Jesuits started over at Montreal, where they succeed in converting many war refugees to Catholicism during the 1660s.


The Dutch describe a Chinese Christian named Cheng Chih-lung as the most notorious pirate on the East China Sea. Besides terrorizing Dutch and Portuguese sailors, Cheng and his sailors also introduced Chinese culture into Taiwan and opium smoking into south China.

Korea’s Ministry of Defense orders leather armor to replace its conventional iron armor.

A French Jesuit named Alexandre de Rhodes creates the modern Vietnamese alphabet, a system that the French adopt for use throughout Indochina in 1910.

The citizens of Nuremberg, Germany build a Fechthaus, or "Fencing House," that featured "all sorts of fencing shows, comedies, and animal baiting."


In Leyden, Girard Thibault publishes a fencing manual called Académie de l’Espée ("School of the Sword"). This book had magnificent illustrations, and its author used them to show his improvements on the theories and commentaries of Don Luis Pacheco de Narváez. According to Thibault, sword duelists fought one another along the lines and chords of a circle. What was more, he said, an appropriate knowledge of those lines and chords could virtually guarantee victory. Although nineteenth century fencers roundly ridiculed these theories, in their time they were not as impractical as the critics believed. Why? Because they emphasized attacks to the eyes, which were as yet unprotected by masks, rather than to the heart, which was the only legitimate target of the school-trained nineteenth century European fencer.

A court reporter describes an average day in the life of Maharana Amar Singh of Mewar. First, the Maharana prayed to Shiva. Next, he listened to a Brahman recite the Puranas. Then he visited his mother. Afterwards, he ate breakfast and did some work. Following lunch, he took a nap, then spent the late afternoon inspecting troops or watching wrestling, animal fights, and acrobatic feats. Finally, after dinner, he went to his women’s quarter where he enjoyed music, dance, and theatrical acts. Since state business took place after the theater, this meant that the Maharana rarely got to bed before midnight. Of course, this did not mean that the state business was neglected; far from it. The Rajputs viewed themselves as warriors rather than administrators. Therefore they hired Brahmans or Muslims to manage daily affairs, and killed them if they did a bad job of it.


English Puritans obtain permission to colonize Massachusetts Bay. Their symbol was an Indian man clad only in a loincloth saying, "Come over and help us."

About 1630:

French and German duelists begin scoring points using the points instead of the edges of their rapiers. To reduce injuries during training, fencing masters first develop fleuret, or flower-like leather sword-tips, and then special lightweight swords known as épée. According to Richard Burton, writing in The Sentiment of the Sword, the development was attributed, perhaps erroneously, to the rapier techniques taught by Maestro Ricconi of Siena.


The Swedish King Gustavus II Adolphus introduces light artillery and volleyed musketry to European warfare. Requiring the Swedish musketeers to hang pre-loaded linen cartridges from cross-strapped bandoleers facilitated the latter feat; although useful in combat, the practice was dangerous in garrison, as cartridges carried in bandoleers exploded when struck by sparks, and tobacco smoking had just become the rage in Europe. (Close-order musket drill was originally designed as a safety precaution against men shooting or bayoneting one another accidentally.)

Franciscan friars introduce viniculture into New Mexico. By 1776, villagers were making wine in both California and New Mexico. In the nineteenth century, the German and English settlers of the Ohio valley also grew grapes and made wine.


Dueling provides a favorite theme for French playwrights. According to these writers, people (both men and women dueled in French plays) dueled more often for love than honor, and found that trickery brought victory more often than bravery.


Visitors to London’s parks describe swordplay as a contest waged between professional sword-and-buckler men. While crowds threw coins at the fighters between rounds, wagering upon the outcome made the real money.

The Manchu general Abahai orders the manufacture of brass cannons to counter the Jesuit-cast bronze cannons used by his Ming Chinese enemies.


A Japanese sword master named Yagyu Munenori completes three scrolls called "The Killing Sword," "The Life Giving Sword," and "No Sword." During the 1930s, their text was closely studied, apparently because Yagyu was also involved with the Tokugawa secret service. In their own time, however, they were family heirlooms shown only to specially honored students. Which is too bad, since Yagyu’s theory that "It is sickness to be obsessed with winning, it is sickness to be obsessed with using martial arts, and it is sickness to be obsessed with putting forth all one has learned" is valuable in all times and places.

A Dutch merchant named Joost Schouten writes that Japanese "Horse-Men are all harnessed, though the Foot have no defensive arms then a Head-Piece; the Horse are armed, some with short Guns, some with short Pikes, others with Bows and Arrows, and all with Swords and Sabres. The Foot have likewise Sabres, Pikes, and Halberts, and those that are divided into companies." As for their training, the Japanese soldiers "are more inclined to play then to learn, unless it be waggishness and wantonness. At School they begin by degrees, by sweetness and not by force, the Masters imprinting an ambition and desire in each of them to out-go his fellow." In other words, the sadistic training associated with post-modern Japanese martial arts probably owes more to twentieth-century fascism than to Tokugawa practice.

A decade of war with the Powhatan and Chickahominy Indians causes the Virginia government to order its land-hungry settlers to carry their snaphaunces to church and to practice musket and pike drills following services. In New England, militia assemblies took place twice yearly, and were such drunken affairs that Cotton Mather called them "little more than drinking days."

A chapbook story called "The Pindar of Wakefield" describes the young men of Wakefield, England engaging in cudgel and quarterstaff fighting with the young men of Halifax and Kendal, and afterwards playing football and wrestling with one another. (In cudgel fighting, the players carried two sticks, both of which could be used for blocking and striking. This differed from singlestick, where the players were prohibited from using their left hands, usually by tying their wrists to their thighs. Either way, the object of the game remained the same, namely to cause a cut on the opponent’s head that was an inch or more in length.) These unrestrained (and essentially secular) games probably bear comparison to the similar boxing shows reported in north-central China during the nineteenth century, and northern Nigeria during the twentieth.


A Portuguese priest named Manrique describes the armies of a Western Burmese king named Thiri-thu-dhamma. There were three cavalry squadrons, one Indian and two Burmese. The Indians were Muslims, and wore green uniforms. Their weapons were gilded bows, carved quivers, and curving scimitars. Their horses carried silk trappings. The Burmese were Buddhists. Those from Pegu wore purple uniforms. Their weapons were straight swords and small shields. Their horses carried iron trappings. The Burmese from Ava wore ring mail and steel helmets. Their weapons were pennoned lances. Their horses carried multi-colored trappings. The Burmese king also had several hundred elephants. These animals carried swords in their trunks and towers on their backs. Despite all this military might, the weapon that undid Thiri-thu-dhamma was occult magic: the king’s wife paid the court astrologers to remove their blessing from the king, and in 1638, she killed him.


Japanese shogun Tokugawa Iyemitsu decrees that any Japanese who leaves Japan for any reason, to include study or shipwreck, could not return. While Japanese shipbuilding went into decline, cultural purity was maintained. Nevertheless, at least sixty Japanese craft were shipwrecked on the North American coast between 1613 and 1876; the average drift time was about seven months.


The Puritans begin the ethnic cleansing of New England. "It was a fearfull sight to see [300 to 500 Pequot Indians] thus frying in the fyer [of their burning homes at Mystic Village] and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stinck & sente ther of," wrote Plymouth Plantation’s Governor William Bradford. But "the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice." The Pequot Indians whose land the Puritans coveted enough to kill for also equated war with fire. So they frequently painted their faces, bodies, and weapons using vermilion and charcoal. Hence the pejorative term "redskins." As for non-incendiary weapons, both the Puritans and the Indians liked English snaphaunces and Spanish rapiers. But, as rapiers and snaphaunces cost more than most people could afford, English militias carried cheap cutlasses and ancient matchlocks, while Indians carried spears, hand-axes, and self-bows.

About 1640:

Catholic Irish butchers are reported hamstringing or kneecapping their Protestant rivals, who retaliated by hanging the Catholics from meat hooks.

Matchlocks and rockets cause the gradual disappearance of armored cavalry in Mughul India. Nonetheless, until the 1940s, many wealthy Indians continued wearing mail shirts under their robes as a defense against knife-wielding assassins.

Japanese urban detectives start carrying one-tined truncheons called jutte. These weapons were about 15" long, and their tine was used to capture or break sword blades. Ryukyuan police officers used similar truncheons with two tines; these were called sai. Independent invention is possible, as are contacts with Siam. (There were many Christian samurai in the seventeenth century Thai military, plus a sizeable Japanese trade with Siamese hide merchants.) Another possibility is diffusion via Indonesia, where Hindus used tridents as weapons, or south China, where they were used for fishing and turtle hunting. Either way, the weapons were popular with Japanese and Okinawan policemen. For the most part, these men were not constables or patrolmen, but instead detectives and bailiffs recruited from low-ranked samurai, and the sinecures were hereditary. Unlike modern Japan, there was not a policeman on every street corner, either. For example, during the mid-nineteenth century Edo (modern Tokyo) had just 250-300 detectives working for two municipal magistrates. This was not because there was less crime in the old days but because the government was mostly interested in crimes against the state. As a result, crimes against people and property were dealt with by private detectives or guards employed by business or community associations, and the men in these occupations were often outcastes (hinin) rather than trained soldiers.


The fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, becomes the first Tibetan leader to combine secular and religious leadership. He did this using Mongol military aid to crush Tibetan religious and political opposition.

The Dutch sell muskets to the Mohawks. In return, the Mohawks agree to attack some Algonquin communities that refused to pay tribute to New Amsterdam. Proud of their new weapons, the Mohawks started fighting like the Dutch, and running toward enemy warriors, yelling and shooting as they came. The Algonquin responded by dropping to one knee, aiming, firing, and then leaping up and counterattacking using tomahawk and club. After a couple tries at this, the surviving Mohawks started sinking Algonquin canoes instead.

In Ulm, Germany, Johann Schröder publishes Pharmacopoeia medicochymica. This was a popular pharmacopoeia, and among its recipes was a salve for wounds caused by swords. "The formula," Stephen Jay Gould writes, "called for boiling boar fat in red wine and adding crushed worms, the boar’s brain, sandalwood, dust from a corpse, and skull scrapings from a man who had been killed." The cranial scrapings were gathered as the moon waxed, preferably with Venus in conjunction (but certainly not Mars or Saturn). For best results, both the wound and the weapon that caused the wound required treatment. The inventor of this ointment was reportedly Oliver Croll, a follower of Paracelsus.

About 1642:

A Spanish priest named Montesinos claims that Peru was really King Solomon’s lost kingdom of Ophir. Although properly ignored during its own time, Montesinos’ theory became fashionable following the publication of Montesinos’ history of pre-Columbian Peru in 1840.


Because scarlet was one of the traditional colors of the British monarchy -- the other color was blue, but that color was already in use by the King’s officers -- Parliament authorizes British infantrymen to wear scarlet jackets. (The exact color was "Venice Colour Red.") The retention of these scarlet coats among British infantry until 1882 was not as reactionary as it sounds. For example, sweat-stained scarlet is hard to see at a distance and hides bloodstains well. Also, long-range identification depends more on the shape of a soldier’s cap or pack than the color of his clothes.

The phrase "second-string" starts referring to the substitute during a football scrimmage rather than the spare bowstrings which British archers carried in case their first string broke or got wet.

About 1644:

Swiss sharpshooters begin loading their flintlock rifles using greased patches. The practice does not become popular elsewhere for a hundred years.

Ivan Mazepa is born in the Ukraine. While Lord Byron introduced English readers to this Cossack hero’s tumultuous life in 1819, he only became famous in 1861, when the Louisiana-born actress Adah Isaacs Menken, who reveled in playing the part where "Mazeppa" survived being stripped naked (or at least to pink tights), then tied to a horse and chased offstage by wolves. Incidentally, Mazepa’s bareback ride across the steppes was quite survivable, provided that the rider stayed calm enough to goad the horse into galloping itself into exhaustion before attempting to untie his knots. At least that was how Harry Houdini did the stunt during the 1890s.


The Spanish hunter Alonzo Martinez del Espinar complains about the spread of firearms, saying that arquebuses were so easy to use that they denied the value of wings to birds and speed to animals.

The Ming Dynasty collapses amidst the bodies of thirty or forty million of its subjects. To put this into a more local perspective, "It was on 30 January 1643 that [the Manchu army attacked T’an-ch’eng city], slaughtered the officials, and killed 70 or 80 per cent of the gentry, clerks, and common people; inside the city walls and out they killed tens of thousands, in the streets and the courtyards and the alleys the people all herded together were massacred or wounded, the remnants trampled each other down, and of those fleeing the majority were injured." To prove their loyalty to the new Manchu regime, surviving Chinese men are required to shave their heads in front and braid their hair in back. While some men refused, most complied, as to do otherwise put their entire families at risk of death.

In an essay called On Education, John Milton describes his ideal public school education. This included requiring scholars to fence or wrestle for an hour each day, as "this will keep them healthy, nimble, strong, and well in breath."

About 1645:

Parliamentary soldiers reorganize the English army. Each regiment of the New Model Army had ten companies, and was commanded by a colonel. Line companies were authorized about 100 enlisted men, two-thirds of whom were musketeers and one-third of whom were pikemen. Each company also had a captain, a lieutenant, and an ensign who carried the flag. Sergeants led the troops on the march while corporals trained them in pike and musket drill. Drummers controlled movement using eight basic calls. Headquarters companies were somewhat larger, and their commanders included the lieutenant colonel and the sergeant major. Dragoons, cavalry, and artillery had their own separate units, and sutlers followed along behind. Cavalrymen and soldiers assigned to artillery units carried wheel-lock or flintlock weapons. (Accidents with slow matches could cause powder wagons to explode.) Most other soldiers carried matchlocks. Infantry wore body armor mostly during sieges. Cavalrymen, on the other hand, often wore steel corselets or thigh-length leather coats. Generals also wore suits of plate armor when getting their portraits painted. Despite being Puritans, religion was not much of a factor in the soldiers’ daily life. Indeed, in 1646, the New Model Army had only five chaplains, and their sole duty was to pray for victory in battle, and give thanksgiving afterwards.


A Japanese duelist named Miyamoto Musashi writes (or at least tells to his students) the text known as Gorin no sho ("Book of the Five Elements"). Keeping with this metaphorical structure, in his Earth scroll he discussed the principles of heiho, or strategy. In the Water scroll, he discussed the way heiho was used and misused. In the Fire scroll, he discussed specific fighting techniques. In the Wind scroll, he discussed the strategies of other schools. Finally, in the Void scroll, he described how a perfected, balanced, and aware consciousness was attained. In its own time, Musashi’s book enjoyed only a minor reputation among Japanese swordsmen, but due to stage plays (and eventually, newspaper serials), Musashi became a popular literary figure. In 1974, Gorin no sho was published in English under the somewhat misleading title of The Book of Five Rings, where it soon achieved cult status among American businessmen interested in understanding more about Japanese business culture. This is ironic, as the text was written by a man who ridiculed merchants for manipulating people into buying goods they did not need and producing nothing except profit.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony returns some African slaves to Africa with an apology. The reason was that the Africans had been seized against their will instead of purchased from a recognized agent, and, knowing that violence invariably spoiled trade, the Puritans wished to avoid it.


The English word "fire-arm" is coined to describe wheel-lock carbines and other weapons that discharged projectiles using the hot gases released by burning gunpowder.

An English traveler named John Evelyn writes that "a little out of the Towne [of Geneva, Switzerland] is a spaceous field which they call Campus Martius… forr here on every Sonday after the evening devotions, this precise people permitt their youths to exercise armes and shoote in gunns and in the long and crossebowes, in which they are exceedingly expert." While competitors brought their own weapons, the city provided the ball and powder. Musket targets were set up at about 100 paces, while crossbow targets were set up at about 130, and the prizes given winners included stockings, belts, and breeches. Probably to keep the champions modest, each week’s champion was charged with marking targets the following week, while the runner-up was tasked with tending the competitors’ slow-matches.


Russian fur hunters begin paddling their canoes into the Bering Sea. As a typical Russian fur collecting expedition consisted of bombarding an Aleut village until its clan elders agreed to collect furs and women for the invaders, this had disastrous results for the native populations, both human and fur-bearing. The Russians crushed resistance by lining groups of hostages up side-by-side, then firing a musket into the column to see how many Aleuts it took to stop a musket ball. (The answer, by the way, is nine, which implies summer rather than winter attire.)

European slave-ships introduce yellow fever, an African disease, into the Caribbean.

About 1648:

According to a Dutch geographer named Olifert Dapper (who based his comments on an account written by a Dutch mercenary named Fuller), the armies of the Angolan queen Nzinga Mbande trained for war using leaping dances. Dance implements included iron swords and axes, wooden self-bows, magical fetishes, and ritual cannibalism. Musical accompaniment came from drums, bells, and other percussion instruments. The iron swords and axes may have been items of dance costume used to show the relative rank and wealth of the dancers. Similarly, the wooden self-bows may have been magical weapons used to communicate with the spirit world rather than war weapons. (A self-bow is a bow made from a single piece of wood. While this is normal for musical bows and children’s toys, it is unusual for war weapons, as laminated bows are vastly stronger. Yew bows are an exception to this rule, as the sapwood has a different consistency than the heartwood. While West Africans had access to Portuguese yew, African war bows were often quite small, probably because they were meant to fire poisoned arrows from close range rather than armor-piercing arrows from long range. Hence their shooters’ interest in magic and divine assistance.) If these conjectures are true, then the cannibalism was probably a method of humiliating dead enemies or a way of transmitting the spiritual attributes of dead friends to the living rather than a dietary supplement. Still, given the time and place, the weapons could have been real. In that case, the dances probably showed individual skill while the cannibalism invoked various malignant deities. Either way, this Angolan dancing has been claimed as a root of the modern Brazilian game called capoeira.

The etymology of the word capoeira is debated, but guesses include the Tupi-Guarani word "ca’apuera," which refers to the tall grass in which highwaymen lurked and escaped slaves hid, and another word meaning "cockfight." The oldest extant style (more correctly termed "family") of capoeira is called Angola. Today, while most people believe this name refers to the African country, the usage only came into use during the 1950s. Consequently, it is possible that it actually refers to N’golo, which is a ritual combat done by men and boys during West African (and Afro-Brazilian) female puberty festivals. Either way, the angoleiro never stands erect like a Regional player, but instead dances very, very low.


To make tax collection easier, the Muscovite government issues laws making its Christian peasants into hereditary serfs.

After gaining the political ascendancy, the English Puritans impose a rigid Sabbath on Britain and do their best to eradicate all holy day games and festivities. Explained the Puritan Thomas Hall, "If I would debauch a people, and draw them from God and his worship to superstition and Idolatry, I would take this course; …they should have May-Games, and Christmas-revels, with dancing, drinking, whoring, potting, piping, gaming, till they were made dissolute, and fit to receive any superstition, and easily drawn to be of any, or of no religion."

About 1650:

Some boxers of Shensi Province begin practicing an internal martial art they called hsing-i ch’uan, or "Mind Boxing." (While all martial arts, from boxing to handgunning, rely on some combination of speed, power, and technique, only internal martial arts develop them through meditation and visualization rather than physical exercises. While hardly the direct route to success, Cheng Man-ch’ing, the doyen of modern t’ai chi boxers, said that after he had mastered the internal arts, he was never again injured during training or defeated during push-hands.) Despite the magical name, hsing-i was a practical boxing art. Therefore, it proved quite popular with convoy guards. (Convoy guards were necessary because bandits and thieves were common in early Ch’ing Dynasty China, and insurance companies [piao-chü] employing "armed travelers" [piao-k’e] started organizing before 1690.) But neither the bandits nor the guards were the heroes of The Water Margin. Instead, they were simply men who, in the words of the scholar Huang Liu-cheng, "held their lives to be of no value, for the area was so wasted and barren, the common people so poor and had suffered so much, that essentially they knew none of the joys of being alive."

Doña Eustaquia de Sonza and Doña Ana Lezama de Urinza of Potosí, Alto Perú become the most famous female swashbucklers in Spanish America. At the time, Potosí, a silver-mining town in the Bolivian Andes, had more inhabitants than London, and was probably the richest city in the world. As life in the mines was brutish and short (an estimated eight million slaves died in Potosí’s mines between 1545 and 1825), the mine owners and their children wore mail shirts and took their fencing lessons very seriously.

An English witch-hunter admits to using sleight-of-hand and retractable pricking pins to collect witch-finding fees from government officials. These fees ranged from 20 shillings to three pounds per witch. These witch-hunts are ancestors of North American commercial scalp-hunts.

Drinking coffee, tea, and cocoa becomes fashionable in London and Paris. (At least among the Fancy, as the London aristocracy was known. In 1657, a Fleet Street barber named James Ffar was accused in court of "makinge and selling of a drink called coffee, whereby in makinge the same, he annoyeth his neighbours by evil smells.") These new addictions were hardly benign, either, as they formed a root cause for the West African slave trade (sugar for coffee, tea, and gin), the enslavement of the Mexican and South American Indians (the silver needed to buy and transport that coffee, tea, and gin), and the Chinese opium wars (a cheap and reliable substitute for silver).

About 1653:

Rather than shaking hands before a match, school-trained French fencers are reported raising their swords to their hats. The practice is attributed to Charles Besnard, whose Le Maître d’arme libéral ("The Master of the Broad Sword") was published in 1653. Besnard is also remembered for reducing the number of guards and parries to four (these being two high and two low) and enumerating the four engagements and four straight thrusts. Part of the reason was that under Louis XIV, life in the French court was becoming more ritualized every day.

About 1655:

Blunderbusses appear in Britain and the Netherlands. Large-caliber self-defense guns, the blunderbusses’ short barrels and flared muzzles helped frightened persons quickly load and reload. Blunderbusses were especially popular with mail coach guards and homeowners, and aristocratic beds often had special blunderbuss shelves built into their headboards. The weapons were also popular with highwaymen and pirates. For example, when Horace Walpole was robbed in Hyde Park in 1749, his two assailants had a blunderbuss with them.


During their efforts to strangle the Spanish economy by depriving Spain access to the wealth of the Americas, the British fail to capture Hispaniola. One cause of the British defeat was thirst. The reason was that English soldiers did not yet carry individual water bottles. Thirst intensifies fear, and fear leads to defeat. Modern military practice requires soldiers in hot climates or doing heavy labor to drink at least one quart of water per hour. This is worth considering next time you hear a martial art instructor encouraging students to train without water. But, undeterred, the British survivors sailed to Jamaica, where they succeeded in taking Port Royal, and with that Port Royal soon became home to Protestant privateers interested in seizing Peruvian and Mexican silver on its way to Madrid. So, what is the distinction between a privateer and a pirate? Legally, a privateer is a private citizen who carries government documents authorizing him to attack the ships of a specific nation, while a pirate is a private citizen who attacks the ships of any nation. The distinction is fine, however, and as Sir Walter Raleigh once put it, "Did you ever know of any that were pirates for millions? They only that work for small things are pirates." Most of the captured ore ended up in China, where the English used it to buy tea and the Ch’ing emperors used it to build palaces.

French playwrights introduce a series of melodramas in which a hero armed with a sword triumphs over a villain armed with a pistol. In this period that was not quite as ludicrous as it might sound; contemporary firearms were prone to misfiring and had only one shot. The following is an example to illustrate the point. In September 1661 members of the French and Spanish diplomatic legations in London decided to fight over diplomatic precedence. The French had pistols and the Spanish had swords. Samuel Pepys described the result as follows: "There were several men slain of the French, and one or two of the Spaniards, and one Englishman by a bullett -- which is very observable, the French were at least four to one in number. And had near 100 case of pistolls among them, and the Spaniards had not one gun among them; which is for their honour for ever, and the others disgrace." As a result of this victory the Spanish ambassador got to ride his horse nearer the English king than did the French ambassador.


In Britain, the Associated Ministers and Churches of the Counties of Cumberland and Westmorland issue the following edict: "All scandalous persons hereafter mentioned are to be suspended from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: this is to say… any person that shall upon the Lord’s Day use any dancing, playing at dice, or cards, or any other game, masking, wakes, shooting, playing, playing at football, stool ball, wrestling; or that shall make resort to any Plays, interludes, fencing, bull baiting, bear baiting; or that shall use hawking, hunting, or coursing, fishing, or fowling." The edict is interesting because it suggests that the Puritans viewed wrestling as a game and fencing as a form of public entertainment.


Outside Pratapgarh Fort, 80 miles southeast of Bombay, the Maratha hero Shivaji agrees to discuss terms with a Bijapur general named Afzal Khan. The two men met with their bodyguards inside Shivaji’s tent to discuss terms. While there is sectarian debate about who struck first, there is no doubt that the talks broke down into a brawl in which Shivaji killed the Khan while his bodyguards killed the Khan’s bodyguards and beheaded the Khan. The poet Paramanand said that the weapon Shivaji used during the fight was a bagh nak, or "tigers’ claw." This is a kind of bone-and-metal knuckle-duster used during a gladiatorial game called vajramushti. Despite appearances, the purpose of vajramushti players is not to cripple or kill one another, but to control the hand that holds the weapon. Some accommodation among players is likely, as few men would want to incur the financial or karmic responsibility stemming from deaths or disfigurements. The games were most commonly seen during Dussehra festivals, so self-flagellation rituals are probably involved, too. At Baroda, Maratha rajahs patronized such bouts until the 1860s, when the British made them stop. The Baroda rajahs also patronized animal fights and wrestling matches. Although twentieth century Indian nationalists have claimed that the animal fights and wrestling were meant to inspire Maratha youth to become better soldiers, the wrestlers were usually Muslim and a Baroda maharani told historian Charles Allen that the elephant fights "were more for show than anything else."

Johann Georg Passchen publishes a wrestling manual called Vollstandiges Ring-Buch ("Complete Wrestling Book"). The focus was on unarmed self-defense, and the dedication was to the late August of Saxony.

Finding rustling a quicker way of increasing herds than trying to buy animals, the Apache and Navajo Indians begin stealing large numbers of horses from Spanish farms in New Mexico. As it seems unlikely that the Indians’ rapid development of significant cavalry skills was based solely on their observations of the Mexicans and their Pueblo herders, I suspect (but cannot prove) that runaway African slaves assisted them.

About 1660:

German cutlers begin selling large numbers of lightweight, hollow-ground, triangular swords. Known as épées, these weapons soon proved enormously popular with European courtiers and fencing masters. A leading advocate of their use was Philibert de la Touche, author of Les vrays Principes de l’Espée seule (1670).

The word "science" begins meaning "systematically reasoned knowledge" rather than simply "reasoned knowledge." "Superstition," meanwhile, begins to mean "irrational fears" rather than "a non-Christian religion." An important reason for the change was that the men of England’s Royal Society rejected the theory that classical learning was the only knowledge worth having. Therefore, they encouraged one another to do original research, and then publish their findings in the vernacular rather than Latin. Unfortunately, the new scientific culture was extremely patriarchal. (Only one woman was admitted to the Royal Society’s membership before 1945, and she was decidedly eccentric.) Nevertheless, many middle- and upper class European women took an active interest in scientific research well before 1945. (Think of Madame Curie, for example.) How did these female scientists develop their skills in a patriarchal society? The same way the men did: by hosting social events at which they read aloud to one another.

When challenged to a duel and offered his choice of weapons, a myopic London economist named Sir William Petty proposes to fight in a darkened cellar using carpenter’s axes. The response was general laughter, and an amicable settling of the dispute.


The English chemist Robert Boyle becomes the first European philosopher to write that gunpowder had revolutionized European warfare.

Sho Koshin Motobu Chohei, the sixth son of the Ryukyuan king Sho Shitsu, develops a martial art known as goten te, or "palace hand," and has it taught to the eldest sons of senior Ryukyuan nobles. Training normally began around the age of six with students learning to punch, kick, and throw. After they mastered that, students started learning different weapons. After mastering twenty different weapons, they began learning unarmed forms designed to subdue multiple armed assailants without harming them. At all levels, training included partner-assisted drills and kata, and the goal was never to stop moving and flowing from the center. In this, it was almost dance-like. However, they are not dances: "One thing I am sure of," says Uehara Seikichi, a modern master of the style, "is that bujutsu and dances, which are precious assets of the Okinawan people, developed independently."


After hearing about the way Chinese bureaucracies worked, the French King Louis XIV announces his intent to promote his military officers based on merit instead of birth. This is ironic, as one weakness of the Chinese military was that it based its promotions more on literary skills and political connections than a man’s ability to vanquish enemies. But then again, perhaps not. For the French tests, like the Chinese tests that they were modeled after, were easy for well-born men to pass, and nearly impossible for the merely hard-working or intelligent.

Aristocrats pass laws prohibiting serfs from running away in Russia and indentured servants from running away in British North America.


Yoruba priests are described as attempting to divine the future by throwing cowry shells on specially designed boards. (The divination was called ifa.) The checkerboard pattern used on these Yoruba boards was probably intended to resemble irrigated fields.


Samuel Pepys describes a match between two prizefighters named Matthews and Westwicke. The rules required the fighters to use eight different weapons. Since the fighters’ only payment was coins that the audience threw into a hat, probably neither man had much interest in injuring the other so badly that he could not continue. But this is not certain -- Pepys thought the fight was honest enough, and a man named Jorevin de Rocheford saw a match where one fighter had his wrist nearly severed and the other had his ear cut off. "For my part," said Rocheford, "I think there is an inhumanity, a barbarity, and cruelty, in permitting men to kill each other for diversion."

Juego de cañas ("jousting with canes") appears in Chile. An Ibero-Moroccan game, it involved two riders galloping toward each other on horseback, and then throwing sticks at one another’s chest. The sport was not in avoiding the opponent’s stick; that part was comparatively easy. Instead, the trick was to catch the opponent’s stick in mid-air and then throw it back.

About 1664:

A Central Chinese soldier named Ch’en Wang-t’ing dies. According to tradition, Ch’en combined General Ch’i Chi-kuang’s military conditioning exercises with Taoist breathing exercises, thereby creating the oldest known t’ai chi ch’uan practice forms. But Ch’en’s martial art was called p’ao-ch’ui, not t’ai chi ch’uan. Further, p’ao-ch’ui means "strike like a cannon," which sounds like something one would name an external art rather than an internal art. Also, the Ch’en family records do not describe the man as the founder of a system. So some skepticism is perhaps in order.


A German named Christopher Weikhmann invents Königsspiel ("King’s Game"), a form of chess made more challenging by the introduction of a larger board and more pieces. This was probably the first Western European attempt to create a true war game.

A posthumously published essay by René Descartes strongly contradicts the ancient theory that a "vital force" or "soul" animated humans and animals.

Morikawa Kozan establishes an archery style called the Yamato-ryu. While acknowledging that firearms rendered bows obsolete for military purposes, Morikawa believed that bows did a better job of improving the spirit, and so taught archery as a Buddhist exercise.

Kotoda Toshisada publishes Ittosai sensei kenpo sho ("Notes on Master Ittosai’s Swordsmanship"). Although the name referred to the famous duelist Ito Kagehisa, the text was a description of neo-Confucian doctrine. That is, swordsmanship was a form of training in self-discipline rather than a form of mayhem with sharp objects.


The French send regular infantry to Canada to protect its towns from Indian attacks. Besides doubling the European population of New France, these 1,200 men from the Caraignan-Salières Regiment were the first sizable European army in the Americas to be armed entirely with flintlock muskets.

The Asante people establish the city of Kumasi in the forests of southern Ghana. The location connected the African coast with the Saharan interior, and in 1700, Kumasi became the capital of an important West African empire. To protect this empire, the Asantes issued firearms to their infantry. This said, the Asante military power depended on conscript soldiers more than firearms. Traditional weapons remained important, too. Asante aristocrats, for instance, carried gigantic swords as badges of rank, while common soldiers often carried iron-tipped spears, poisoned arrows, and various amulets, charms, and fetishes. All three of the latter magical devices imprison spirits, and can be made to work for good or evil. Charms bewitch, befuddle, or otherwise influence others. In this part of Afrcia, the charms are usually Islamic; even animist charms often contain Qur’anic verses. Amulets provide a defense against sickness or injury. Their magic is sympathetic. Therefore, amulets usually consist of herbal or animal medicines sewn into pouches and festooned about the body. Fetishes are associated with statuary, swords, and religious icons. The fetish is usually the most powerful of these three magical weapons, and its price may be measured by the number of human or animal lives sacrificed to it rather than the amount of money paid to its priests.


The French politician Jean Baptiste Colbert organizes the Académie des Sciences in Paris. Scholars associated with the Academy of Science included Christiaan Huygens and Giovanni Domenico Cassini. Their greatest achievement was devising a way of accurately determining longitude.

Iroquois warriors are described as going into battle wearing only loincloths, moccasins, and war paint. The reason was that firearms had rendered their body armor, shields, and war-clubs obsolete.

Hendrik Hamel, a Dutch merchant shipwrecked in Korea for thirteen years, writes that every Korean town "furnishes a number of Religious Men, drawn out within its own Liberties, to guard and maintain the Forts and Castles at their own Expense; these being in narrow Passes, or on the sides of Mountains. They are counted the best Soldiers, and obey Officers chosen out of their own Corps, who observe the same Discipline as the other." While these "Religious Men" were usually down-on-their-luck laborers rather than tonsured monks, they did shave their heads and accept tattoos as symbols of their servitude. Accordingly, this is another likely source for the stories about Buddhist monasteries teaching fighting arts. Hamel also noted that the only employment of many aristocratic Korean youths was shooting the bow. The archery game the Koreans played was called hpyen-sa, or "Side Shooting." Twelve men shot for each side, and there were usually three or four sides represented. Their target was a square board with a smaller square as the bull’s-eye. Each archer shot fifteen arrows in three turns, with a shot in the center counting as two points and a shot outside counting as one. Women and girls sang songs and waved flags following each successful shot, and the losers paid for the feast that followed each day’s shooting. These Korean archers, who were known as han-ryang, or "unoccupied fellows," were often second sons from military or aristocratic families. Like modern street gangsters, they showed group affiliations by wearing colored scarves or sashes.


Lieutenant Colonel Jean de Martinet becomes the first Inspector General of the French Army. His job was to instruct French soldiers in the Dutch manner. (That is, in close order drill and volleyed musketry.) The savage pleasure that he took in his work has since become legendary.

The Spanish destroy Quilmes, the last important Inca fortress in the Andes.


The French build a government arsenal at Ste. Étienne for the manufacture of flintlock muskets. Known as MAS, this is the oldest continuously operating military firearm factory in the world. Nonetheless, the city’s oldest private firearms factory, Verney-Carron, only dates to 1830.

The Japanese close the only swordsmithy on Okinawa. During the 1930s, Iha Fuyu and Funakoshi Gichin claimed that this closure caused Ryukyuan farmers to develop karate for the purpose of self-defense. Fuyu is also responsible for the theory that peasants who lacked weapons created karate. But, as this theory was not publicly advanced until 1942, it may have more to do with Japanese militarism of the 1930s than historical fact.

Adam Olearius, a German scholar from Holstein who visited Moscow four times between 1634 and 1643, writes that while the Great Russians often cursed one another in the most scurrilous fashion, they fought only rarely. Furthermore, when they did fight, it was usually with fists or riding crops rather than pistols or swords. This said, Olearius observed some Muscovites amusing themselves with boxing and cudgeling on Sundays and holidays, and was amazed that the losers did not become violent afterward. Meanwhile, wrestling was associated mostly with skomorokhi, or "players." These entertainers sang, danced, juggled, wrestled, and worked puppets and bears. Some worked in small groups while others organized into companies of 60 to 100 people. Consequently, most Great Russians associated wrestling with traveling circuses. Such acts traveled widely, too. For instance, one puppeteer, J.B. Hilverding, was in Prague in 1698, Danzig in 1699, Stockholm in 1700, Nuremberg in 1701, and Basel in 1702. Therefore, it is possible that the spread of culture owes as much to puppeteers and wrestlers as businessmen, soldiers, and priests.

About 1670:

Slings appear on French military muskets. The reason was that French officers wanted their grenadiers to keep hold of their muskets while lighting and throwing their bombs. Slings occasionally appeared on German muskets in the 1610s and British muskets during the 1640s. The original motivation was individual dragoons -- mounted infantrymen -- wanting a better way of securing their discharged firearms.

French fencing masters begin wearing padded waistcoats (plastrons) with their leather fencing jackets. The plastron was decorated with a red heart, the purpose of which was to provide students with a target against which to practice their lunges and thrusts. The affectation of elegantly elevated sword hands was adopted soon thereafter, apparently as a way of keeping thrusts from accidentally slipping into the face. (Masks were still uninvented.)


European fur traders introduce muskets into the Upper Great Lakes region of North America. Business was good, too, as by 1689, they had sold over 10,000 firearms to the Cree, Ojibwa, Fox, and Sioux.

About 1671:

A Chinese dramatist named P’u Sung-ling writes about T’sui Meng and his friend Li Shen, who delighted in using boxing, stick-fighting, and firearms to correct injustices. One suspects this was fantasy rather than reality. After all, when two Shantung headmen named Hu offered to testify against a corrupt landlord named Liu in 1671, Liu hired thugs to break their legs. And when a Shantung farmer named Li Tung-chen got into a dispute with a landlord named Wang in 1670, Wang had Li and three of his sons murdered in their beds.


A Chinese potter named Chen Yuan-yun dies in Nagoya, Japan. Chen entered Japan via Nagasaki about 1619, and moved to Edo in 1625. According to Hinatsu Shigetaka’s Honcho Bugei Shoden ("Brief Accounts of Our Kingdom’s Martial Arts," 1716), Chen had discussions with three ronin named Fukuno Hichiroemon, Isogai Jirozaemon, and Miura Yojiemon that influenced the development of Kito-ryu jujutsu and related styles. Chen also traveled through the Ryukyus, and while there, he reportedly published a text on Shaolin boxing. Consequently, his guidance has been cited as a possible inspiration for the Ryukyuan royal martial art called Motobu-ryu Udun-di.

"Have they [kings] not sword-players, and every sort of gymnic artists, wrestlers, riders, runners, jugglers and dancers, antics, mummers, mimics . . . to make them sport?" complains Samson in John Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes. ("Struggle and violence were common themes in the play of carnival," Mary McElroy and Kent Cartwright have written.) As for the military value of swords, even traditionalists such as Sir John Turner thought that the government would do better to issue hatchets. Why? Explained England’s General Sir George Monck, "If you arm your men with swords, half the swords you have in your army amongst your common men will upon the first march you make be broken with cutting of boughs."

About 1672:

A Japanese swordsman called Nakagawa Shoshunjin advertises himself as a master of ninjutsu, and even offers to teach people to avoid detection by changing themselves into birds or rats. Since Nakagawa studiously avoided matching swords with duelists and only taught children, the truth of his claims is unknown.


Parliament authorizes the Gunsmiths Company to test any firearm sold in Britain. This was intended to force manufacturers to sell firearms that would not burst in their users’ hands, and was one of the first industrial safety acts in history.


Dutch naval raids along the Chesapeake Bay cause English colonial governors to replace their militiamen’s matchlocks with flintlocks. (Because they did not require shooters to carry smoldering matches wherever they went, flintlocks were safer during operations aboard powder-filled wooden ships.)


According to an eighteenth century tradition, five Shaolin monks skilled "in the art of war and self-defense" establish the first Chinese Triad, the Hung League, in Fukien Province. What these military skills involved is unknown, as they changed over time. In 1925, for instance, they included praying for rain and making a few magical passes with a sword, while by 1960, they included superhuman prowess in Chinese boxing. Whatever the Shaolin methods, the Hung League only came to the attention of the Chinese government during the 1750s. At that time, it was a loose association of river gamblers, boxers, and patent medicine sellers, and its only connection with religion was that it agreed to pay burial costs for members. Although the word hung means "Vast Flood," it can be written using the magic numerals 3, 8, and 21. Therefore, both individual members and society leaders often used numerological references to show their gang affiliations. Here, due to Chinese number magic, 36 and 108 were more popular than 007.

In the oldest known illustration of a modern European boxer, a Dutch engraver depicts a pugilist standing in a southpaw stance. That is, he led with his right fist forward. The pictures accompanied Nicholaes Petter’s Klare Onderichtinge der Voortreffelijcke Worstel-Konst ("Clear Education in the Magnificent Art of Wrestling," Amsterdam, 1674). In the translation of Remko Prevo, the accompanying text reads: "As it is usual, and mainly amongst the Dutch, where there is any sort of quarrel or discord between people that has risen so high that a physical fight follows, that they punch each other on the chest and use the heavier fist punches later on during the fight, we have decided to start of with the chest punches, those being the actual beginning to start the fight: later we shall discuss all grips in order."

About 1675:

English infantry quit wearing external metal body armor. Reasons included metal armor being expensive, heavy to carry and hot to wear, and not especially resistant to musket balls. This said, iron skullcaps, or "secretes," remained popular with cavalrymen into the eighteenth century, as they provided significant protection during falls. As late as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, European cavalrymen wore chain-festooned leather cuirasses meant to prevent injuries from flying debris.


In a book called Historia media aevi, Christoph Keller invents the term "Middle Ages." As he used the phrase, it described European history between the Vandal sack of Rome and Columbus landing in the Americas.

About 1676:

A Japanese man named Fujibayashi Yasuyoshi publishes ten hand-bound volumes known collectively as Bansenshukai, or "Ten Thousand Rivers Collect in the Sea," that collectively discussed ninja techniques and mysteries in some detail. The first volume dealt with strategy. The second discussed spiritual strength. The third described management techniques. The fourth volume talked about the life-giving side of the ninja’s power. The fifth, sixth, and seventh volumes dealt with the death-dealing side. Volume eight discussed astrology and nature, while volumes nine and ten covered weapons, explosives, and poisons. How much of this book is true is debatable. According to an article appearing in the Japan Times in June 1940, the real ninja were simply men who specialized in thievery and assassination. Then, during the seventeenth century, "Playwrights and story-tellers in order to increase their own sense of importance through sensational announcements advocated the ‘ninjutsu’ in their fabulous claims. Needless to say the methods the ‘ninjutsu’ used to escape from some delicate situation were to say the least, most comical." Typical tricks attributed to the Kabuki ninja included hooded black uniforms, blinding powders, magical weapons, and superhuman prowess.


Britain’s Royal Observatory institutes Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), as this facilitated the measurement of longitude. In 1884, GMT became the international standard. Although by then, three-fourths of the world’s merchant shipping used GMT to calculate longitude, the French did not like English time. Consequently, they used Paris Observatory time minus 9 minutes 21 seconds, a measurement that just happened to coincide with GMT. The Japanese likewise used Tokyo time as their naval standard until the end of World War II.

After rebellious indentured servants burn Jamestown, Virginia, plantation owners start importing African slaves into British North America. Parliament also starts stationing larger numbers of regulars in the colonies.


Swiss physicians note that many young soldiers became homesick and indifferent to duty after surviving battles. Although the Swiss physicians had no cure for the syndrome except time, they sought to gain power over it by calling it "nostalgia." Unfortunately, reification did not solve the problem. So, during the eighteenth century, generals tried to cure the problem using harsher discipline and more drill, while their civilian counterparts recommended attendance at the theater with friends. Neither approach solved the problem. Nor did changing the name to "shell-shock" circa 1900 or "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders" in 1980, or treating it with electroshock therapy during the Russo-Japanese War, firing squads during World War I, jail during World War II, or psychotropic drugs during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.


Turkish merchants introduce public baths into London. (While the Romans had also built public baths, those were demolished sometime during the third century CE and were never rebuilt.) However, unlike the baths in Istanbul, the London baths were never especially profitable. Why? Well, as Richard Francis Burton put it in The Sentiment of the Sword, "The City man drove off to Jermyn-street or elsewhere, undressed, sat five minutes in the tepidarium, rushed into the calidarium, oscillated between the two for a quarter of an hour, lay fidgeting for another fifteen minutes in the frigidarium, hardly waited till the first perspiration had passed off, rubbed himself down, re-dressed, and drove back whence he came, in nervous anxiety lest he should be too late for a business letter or a party of pleasure. After this can you wonder that he execrated the Turkish bath, and that his friends sometimes attributed to it his apoplexy, his epilepsy, or his paralysis?" Their pleasure was therefore limited mostly to people who enjoyed, with the modern writer Jeffrey Bernard, walking about and having a chat with all sorts of oddballs that loomed up in the steam.

An Italian fencer named Theodori Verolini condenses Joachim Meyer’s Fechtbuch of 1570. This is remarked partly because it was the last German fechtbuch and mostly because it suggests that contrary to Victorian belief, Italian fencers trained in Germany at least as avidly as German fencers trained in Italy.

About 1680:

Malaria appears in the Americas.

On Easter Island, the Short Ears clan wipes out the Long Ears clan. Although these clan names suggest Peruvian or Ecuadorian influence -- the Peruvians and Ecuadorians routinely used deformed ear lobes as a way of showing rank – that influence is speculative rather than proven. Easter Island weapons included obsidian-headed spears, wooden clubs, fire, treachery, and starvation. A popular deity of the Easter Islanders was a thunder god named Makemake. His followers determined political succession by having picked champions scale sheer cliffs, swim shark-infested waters to nearby islands, and then race back to a ceremonial site at Orongo with unbroken sooty tern eggs in their hands.


Pietro Beretta establishes Italy’s oldest extant firearms factory. Pietro’s ancestor Bartolemeo had begun manufacturing and selling arquebus barrels as early as 1526.


The London Protestant Mercury provides the first known description of an English bare-knuckle prizefight. The ring was a movable space created by spectators holding ropes in their hand. Onlookers placed bets on who would be the winner. The fight had no referee, and continued until first blood. The patron was the Duke of Albemarle, and the pugilists were the Duke’s footman and a local butcher. "The latter won the prize, as he hath done many times before, being accounted, though a little man, the best at that exercise in England."


Despite proof that he had destroyed 25 ships and killed over 200 people, England’s High Court of the Admiralty finds a pirate named Bartholomew Sharp not guilty. Why? Because he provided the court with a captured Spanish atlas that showed the Admiralty how its sailors could safely enter every Pacific port between Acapulco and Cape Horn. Anglo-American justice proved equally blind following World War II, when it granted German and Japanese concentration camp researchers immunity from prosecution in return for notes concerning nerve agents and biotoxins.


The Poles and Lithuanians defeat the Ottoman Turks and the Crimean Horde. This saves Vienna from capture, and causes the Austrian and French cavalry to copy the colorful clothes and huge pistols of the Lithuanian and Polish cavalry. The French name for such Eastern European cavalry was "hussars," a word meaning "twenty-worth" in Hungarian. The reference was to a sixteenth century Hungarian law that required every group of twenty households to provide one man, mounted and fully equipped, for military service.

The New York Assembly prohibits slaves from meeting together in groups of four or more, or from carrying guns, swords, clubs, staves, or any other kind of weapon.


Just 76 years after the construction of the first telescope in Holland, a Jesuit named Francesco Lana suggests mounting one on a musket and in 1702, Johannus Zahn of Nuremburg described how to build such a sight. But, as contemporary firearms were not accurate enough to justify telescopic sights, nearsighted shooters such as Denmark’s King Frederick mounted monocles on their stocks while farsighted rulers such as French King Louis XIII preferred fixed sights cast in the form of reclining nude females. Anyway, the first verifiable use of a telescopic sight on a pistol dates to 1834. Meanwhile the first verifiable use of a telescopic sight on a rifle dates to 1840. A few telescopes appeared on sniping rifles during the American Civil War, and afterwards wealthy hunters used telescopic sights while hunting in the American West. In 1880, a German game warden named August Fiedler developed an adjustable telescopic sight for Prince Reuss IV of Riesengebirge, and through the efforts of the Duke of Ratisbon, the German Army had about 20,000 adjustable sights mounted on bolt-action sniping rifles by 1914. This in turn explains the rash of head injuries reported by the Allied forces in 1914 and 1915.

Upon learning that a French expedition led by René-Robert, Sieur de La Salle was exploring the Mississippi Delta, Juan Dominguez de Mendoza occupies Texas on behalf of the Viceroy of Mexico. These Mexican soldiers reported that the region, which they called the New Philippines, was a fertile country – and by northern Mexican standards, they were clearly correct. Visitors more accustomed to trees and running water were not so impressed, however, and General Phil Sheridan went so far as to say that if he owned both Hell and Texas, he’d live in Hell and rent out Texas.

By defining the 48 acceptable grips and the exact size of a sumo ring, Ikazuke Gondaiyu codifies sumo. Ikazuke also declares Shiganosuke Akashi, a famous wrestler of his youth, as Japan’s first yokozuna, or sumo grand champion.


Escaped African and Afro-Indian slaves establish an independent Maroon society in Surinam, and, despite Dutch efforts to destroy it, this Saramakan settlement still had 20,000 members during the 1980s. Oral tradition states that a Saramakan sparring dance known as susa evolved from a form of Bakongo foot-fighting known as nsunsa. According to a seventeenth century Dutch painter named Dirk Valkenburg, susa involved one-on-one sparring, and the players tried to knock each other off their feet while musicians played wedge-shaped drums and women clapped their hands.

King Louis XIV of France legalizes chattel slavery in French colonies in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans. While the Code Noir is temporarily suspended in 1794, it is reinstated in 1802 and not fully abolished until 1848. For reasons of economy, French slaves at Reunion and other Indian Ocean islands usually came from Mozambique, Madagascar, or India. As in West Africa, the Europeans obtained slaves from local traders, and paid for them using firearms, rum, and cloth.


As sugar pours into the Netherlands from the Antilles, the Dutch government begins issuing its soldiers cheap gin instead of expensive brandy. "Dutch courage" then spreads into England after the Netherlands’ Stadholder becomes England’s King William III in 1688. Britons sold gin tax-free until 1736, when sales in London alone equaled nearly ten gallons per person per year.

In Kyoto, a Japanese archer named Wasa Daihachiro scores over 8,000 hits on a target set up 120 yards away during 24 hours of shooting. From a Zen perspective, writes historian Walter Umminger, "it was unimportant who he was. ‘It’ shot, and ‘it’ hit." However, only a few Japanese archers and swordsmen were actually Zennists. Indeed, the relationship between Zen and the Japanese martial arts was not established until the late nineteenth century, at which time the Japanese government was interested in "proving" that psychological phenomena recently noted by Herbert Spencer and others were old hat to the Japanese.


Following a coup in Siam, women drilled in the use of muskets replace the 600 European mercenaries and Christian samurai who had served the previous government. The leader of these women was called Ma Ying Taphan, or the Great Mother of War. Burmese princes also used female bodyguards inside their private apartments, and European, Japanese, or Pathan mercenaries without.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarch denounces the Muscovite government for allowing Germans to hold commands in the Russian army. One of his chief objections was to the Germans’ "science," a term that both the Patriarch and the Germans viewed as being synonymous with skill in gunnery and drill.


The Mutiny Act authorizes flogging as a punishment in the British military. Until 1807, when King George III set the maximum punishment at 1,000 lashes, commanders were free to award as many (or as few) strokes as they wished.

About 1690:

High-ranking sumotori begin doing dohyo-iri, or elaborate Shinto purification rituals, before their bouts. For example, the wrestlers raised their hands and arms to show that they had no concealed weapons, and stomped their legs to drive away demons. Then they clapped their hands to get the attention of the gods (and the audience). And so on for many minutes. These rituals are attributed to two wrestlers named Tanikaze Kajinosuke and Onagawa Kisaburo.

Female wrestling acts become common in Japanese red-light districts. Although Confucianist officials charged that such acts were harmful to public morals, female wrestling remained popular in Tokyo until the 1890s and in remote areas such as southern Kyushu and the Ryukyus until the 1920s. Mildred Burke of Kansas City, Missouri successfully reintroduced female wrestling to Japan and Okinawa in 1954.

Hieroglyphic writing spreads through southeast Nigeria. Tradition credits the invention to a woman, and this seems plausible since the glyphs were first used to decorate drumheads and bangles. Male secret societies also used these glyphs to scar members’ bodies, placate ghosts, mark territory, and frighten opponents. European writing probably influenced these hieroglyphics, as the Nigerian traditions say that the glyphs’ creators had been privy to secrets stolen from beings living in the sea.


During a war that pitted the French Canadians and their Indian allies against the New Englanders, the Iroquois quit palisading their villages. The reason may have been that iron axes and muskets had made such defenses obsolescent. However, as the New Englanders did not quit palisading villages for twenty years, one suspects that the Indians simply did not have enough men left to maintain their labor-intensive walls.


In honor of Saint George’s Day (April 23), Virginia governor Sir Francis Nicholson posts prizes to "be shott for, wrastlled, played at back-swords, & run for by Horse and foot." To keep indentured servants, Indians, and slaves from winning these prizes, the prizes were awarded "the better sort of Virginians only, who are Batchellors." (It was contrary to Virginia law "for a Laborer to make a race being a sport for Gentlemen.")

About 1692:

A man named Kung Hsiang-chun introduces a form of Chinese boxing to Okinawa. Supposedly a Ming official, Kung was more likely a smuggler from Taiwan, as on the mainland the Ch’ings had replaced the Mings forty years before. At any rate, the Shorin-ryu kata kusanku commemorates his instruction.


In Some Thoughts Concerning Education, the English Utilitarian John Locke writes, "As for fencing, it seems to me a good exercise for health, but dangerous to the life, the confidence of their skill being apt to engage in quarrels those that think they have learned to use their swords. This presumption makes them often more touchy than needs, on points of honour, and slight or no provocations… A man that cannot fence will be more careful to keep out of bullies’ and gamesters’ company, and will not be half so apt to stand upon punctilios, nor give affronts, or fiercely justify them when given, which is that which usually makes the quarrel. And when a man is in the field, a moderate skill in fencing rather exposes him to the sword of his enemy than secures him from it. And certainly a man of courage, who cannot fence at all, and therefore will put all upon one thrust and not stand parrying, has the odds against a moderate fencer, especially if he has skill in wrestling. And therefore, if any provision is to be made against such accidents, and a man be to prepare his son for duels, I had much rather mine should be a good wrestler than an ordinary fencer; which is the most a gentleman can attain to in it, unless he will be constantly in the fencing school and every day exercising."

Simon de la Loubere, a French envoy to Siam, describes Thai festivals included wrestling and boxing events. "In boxing," said La Loubere, "they guard their Hand with three or four rounds of Cord instead of the copper Rings, which those of Laos do use in such Combats." In the nineteenth century, such matches were patronized by the local nobility, and had no set number of rounds. So probably earlier matches were similar.

About 1694:

Having no serious threats to national security and a government opposed to war, Japanese gun makers begin making pots and pans and Japanese sword makers begin making ornate gilded fittings. Samurai, meanwhile, start seeking employment as tax collectors and firefighters, while magistrates have to be reminded to practice their swordsmanship.


To test cannons and shot, the British build an arsenal at Woolwich, an industrial town along the Thames near London. In 1719, artillery cadets also began receiving training at Woolwich. The Woolwich Arsenal, also known as the Royal Military Academy, is therefore the oldest extant military academy in Britain. Famous graduates include Charles ("Chinese") Gordon, Lord Kitchener, and Orde Wingate.


Tsuji Getten Sakemochi establishes the Mugai-ryu, or "Harmless School" of kenjutsu. A former peasant, Tsuji taught that survival was not a matter of skilled swordsmanship. Instead, it was a matter of pitting the politicians against the soldiers or the priests against the judges. The word Tsuji used to describe this relationship was heido, a word meaning "the military Way." This distinguished his methods from the older heiho, which stressed steel and honor rather than words and politics.


Laws prohibit industrial workers or apprentices in Newcastle, England from joining fencing or dancing academies, attending music halls or theaters, and keeping horses, hunting dogs, or fighting cocks. The idea was not to keep the young men from having fun but to keep them from engaging in riots, gang rapes, and religious pogroms.

After visiting London, a Frenchman named Mission reports that "anything that looks like fighting is delicious to an Englishman. If two little boys quarrel in the street, the passengers stop, make a ring round them in a moment, and set them against one another, that they may come to fisticuffs." A German visitor named Zacharias von Uffenbach who visited London in 1710 saw no change, and added that the spectators encouraged the brawls by throwing coins at the fighters. Women were often involved, sometimes as fighters, but more frequently as cooing spectators. Why? Said Sir Thomas Parkyns, the women "come not thither to choose a coward, but the daring, healthy, robust persons." In other words, the ladies liked a man who was handy with his fists. Pickpockets also worked the fights. That is why poet John Gay wrote, "Why shou’d I warn thee ne’er to join the Fray,/Where the Sham-Quarrel interrupts the Way?"

A 40-year old Maine woman named Hannah Dustin escapes from an Abenaki Indian war party after hatcheting to death two Abenaki men, their wives, and six of their seven children as they slept. (A third Abenaki woman and a child escaped, although both appear to have been injured.) For this slaughter (which is almost unique in frontier annals), the Puritan minister Cotton Mather proclaimed Dustin "God’s instrument," while the General Assembly of Massachusetts awarded her a sizable scalp bounty.

The Spanish destroy Tayasal, the last major Mayan ceremonial center in Guatemala.


An Englishman named Thomas Savery patents the world’s first commercially successful steam engine.

About 1700:

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