The origins of Stoccata go back to the early 80s when Stoccata founders Stephen Hand and Andrew Brew were both reading the currently available secondary sources on historical fencing. Both were members of historical re-enactment groups, each looking for real historical systems that they could learn and teach, rather than simply making things up. Both also studied modern sport fencing in an attempt to discover the core principles of western swordsmanship.
In 1995 Stephen and Peter Radvan, another long term medieval re-enactor, were asked to assist in teaching combat to a new Dark Ages re-enactment group, the Macquarie University Dark Ages Society. Very little is known of Dark Age combat. Eventually, after evaluating both “standard re-enactor combat” and the historical writings of George Silver, it was decided that despite considerable time passing between the Dark Ages and Silver’s 16th Century work that working from a real historical system was vastly superior to using one that was made up by people who had never been in a real swordfight.
By the late 90s it was becoming clear that historical swordsmanship was branching out from re-enactment and becoming its own activity. People outside of re-enactment were expressing interest in studying historical swordsmanship in its own right. Consequently Stephen, Andy and Pete decided to start a historical fencing school. It was decided to name the school Stoccata after the Italian word for a straight or rising thrust, a word also used by Silver to refer to one of his guard positions. The first formal night of teaching was at Gordon, Sydney in August 1998. Stephen taught a one hour class on Silver’s single sword, assisted by Pete, while Andy taught a class on Italian rapier, assisted by Steve.
At around the same time that Stoccata was forming, several other groups were coming to much the same conclusion and starting their own historical fencing schools. Scott McDonald formed the Australian College of Arms in Brisbane and organised the first Historical Fencing Meeting (later Historical Fencing Conferences) in Brisbane in September 1999. The second conference was organised by Stoccata in Sydney in 2000 and successful conferences were run in Canberra (2001 and 2005), the Gold Coast in 2002, Melbourne in 2003, Sydney again in 2004 and Brisbane in 2006. Unfortunately enthusiasm for the conferences waned after that. As part of the coming together of the different historical fencing schools, the Australian Historical Swordplay Federation was mooted in 2000 and formally started in 2002, with Stoccata’s own Stephen Hand as the inaugural President. It included six groups and was successful in fighting repressive anti-sword legislation in Victoria and New South Wales.
May 2000 saw Stoccata become part of the wider international historical fencing community. Stephen Hand was invited to teach at the first two international historical fencing conferences. These were held within two weeks of each other (deliberately, to allow overseas instructors to attend both) in Lansing, Michigan and Houston, Texas, both in the USA. Stephen presented Silver and Saviolo at both events, where he met and fenced with many of the early pioneers of historical fencing. Also during this trip Stephen gave a lecture at the Higgins Armory, in Worcester Massachussets, one of the largest collections of Medieval and renaissance arms and armour in the world.
Paul Wagner was a member of the Macquarie Dark Ages Society and was present at the first night of Stoccata in 1998. He quickly became Stoccata’s top student and in 2004 played a Provost’s prize, the first person outside the initial three founders to do so. Part of Paul’s grading was to conduct original research, which he did into the sword and buckler system of MSS. I.33. This culminated in a book by Paul and Stephen on the system, which was released in 2003 to accompany Professor Jeffrey Forgeng’s fine translation. Paul was also a prominent contributor to both volumes of Spada, an anthology of HEMA released in the early 2010s. Stephen and Paul have both gone on to write other books, cementing Stoccata’s place as one of the premier research and teaching schools in the world.
In 2001 Stephen won the rapier fencing tournament at Western Martial Arts Workshop in New York, while in 2013 Paul won the Gloriana Cup, an English backsword championship.
Since then Stoccata has gone from strength to strength, spawning a number of new branches. We have a 5th Provost, Richard Cullinan, who specialises in in Italian Fencing systems, particularly the Bolognese tradition and who is an Instructor with the Sonoma State University Fencing Masters Program, a 6th, Stuart McDermid who works with the German Liechtenauer tradition, and a 7th, Matthew Boyd, who studies Silver and Wylde. Rick and Stuart teach in Sydney, while Matthew teaches in Tasmania. A branch also exists in Newcastle and one is planned for Port Douglas.
In 2016 Richard and Stuart attended and presented at the inaugural Festival of the Sword in Melbourne. Richard gave workshops on Bolognese Sidesword, and Stuart gave three workshops, English Pugilism, Meyer Rappier and an introduction to 19th Century Knife.
2016 was the first year of AWMAC The Australasian Western Martial Arts Convention. Events in Australia in recent years have largely revolved around tournaments and whilst Stoccata is not against tournaments, they are not a primary focus of our practice. We wanted to create a more scholarly event where learning and teaching were the focus rather than winning fights. Over 60 people attended over the long weekend and workshop topics ran the gamut from folk-wrestling to quarterstaff. The event was a HUGE success and will happen every year from now on.
Paul has been keeping our international presence ticking over during the last few years by teaching at the International Sabre Symposium and touring parts of the USA and Canada.
Stephen Hand was Fight Director on the Feature Film Macbeth: 1040AD. In the future Stoccata members will continue to teach in Australia and across the world, will conduct and publish new research and will lend their swordfighting skills to a range of theatrical and historical organisations.
In the last couple of years, events have been few and far between due to Covid. Stoccata Instructors and students have continued to attend the events that they can, both bringing home medals and teaching well received classes.
Most recently, we have enjoyed interacting with our sister school the Gunning District Sword Fighters. Gunning is a small town in NSW near Canberra. In June 2021, we attended the inaugural Gunning Sword Symposium. Rick, Paul, and Stu all taught multiple classes and Stoccata Baulkham Hills member Alex Munro was voted best and fairest by a popular vote of all present.