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A view of Poland from far far away


Galloglaich 3 | 36
26 Aug 2010 #1
Hi, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Jean (Jan in Polish I guess?) I'm from New Orleans in the US. I do not speak a word of Polish (except maybe to say 'Thanks') and I cannot pronounce or even type most Polish names, a deficit I hope to rectify.

But I think I can relate to Poland in one sense. By American standards New Orleans is an old city (very young by European standards of course) is somewhat apart from the rest of the nation and not very understood or appreciated. We too, have been occupied by foreign governments, the French, the Spanish, the Americans, the Confederates, and the Americans again who we do not consider really the same as us, at best distant cousins. Also I think the terrain in the Baltic is something like a much colder version of our bayous and cypress swamps, though I know you lack alligators.

In the 1980s during the Cold War, I was stationed in Germany in the US army and we were supposed to think of the Eastern Europeans as our enemies, but I knew they in the same bind, young soldiers under the authority of political masters we did not understand.

I like Eastern European literature, particularly Polish and Czech. I have been reading Stanislaw Lem since I was about 14. I liked Jersy Kozinsky (especially "being there"). I am a big fan of the novels of Henryk Sienkiewicz and of the films made based on his novels. People tell me this is Polish nationalist propaganda but by American standards it is very accurate history; no American film even comes close to these films, even the ones done during the Communist era, in terms of showing ancient times close to what they were like. Krzyżacy is a more realistic depiction of Medieval warfare than any western film I've ever seen. The 'With fire and Sword' films were introduced to me by a friend in the Historical Fencing community who had spent some time in Poland. The Deluge is particularly well known in HEMA circles due to the famous saber duel scene, again one of very few accurate (if somewhat dramtic) depictions of European fencing in a modern film. What I love about these films is how well everyone dresses.

I think Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular have been behind a veil of a language barrier and the propaganda of the Cold War and have been hidden from the history books of the English speaking world, which in the US means English history (with a little French history thrown in seen through an English filter). This makes the Medieval period seem quite boring to Americans since very little happened in England. My family were in the French resistance and I grew up with stories about the Polish pilots in the RAF and Polish agents who stole the Enigma code from the Germans. My family respected the Poles.

But I am not as much interested in WW II as I am interested in the history of pre-industrial Europe. Before Napoleon scared everyone into forgetting the past. Before the treaty of Westphalia created the modern nation State. Before the 30 years war ravaged the continent and made the scars of religious / ethnic conflict which are so hard to heal.

And though I have a keen interest in ancient times, I'm not a real big fan of religion, or of Aristocracy, or feudalism.

I'm interested in the art and science of the Renaissance, the independent trading cities. I'm interested in the confederations and republics, like the Lombard League, the Republic of Venice, the Swiss Confederacy, the United Provinces, and the Prussian Confederation and the Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Cossacks. The Hussites. The Szlachta. These seem to me to point to another way of doing things, which can be found in pockets all over Europe.

Such pan-Europeanism may not be popular in Nationalist Europe I know, where people prefer to emphasize their differences due to all the baggage of recent history. But this is where I am coming from.

I'm also interested in pre-Christian European culture. In the Pagan religions of the Baltic, the Lithuanians, the Prussians, the Poles themselves. The times of the Kieven Rus and the Vikings.

I'm specifically interested in two subjects right now.

1) I'm doing a project based on the Medieval Baltic, specifically on the events surrounding the Prussian Confederation and the West Prussian Hanse cities joining with Poland in the mid 15th Century.

2) I'm into Historical Fencing as I said, and this is based on some very old martial arts manuals which were found or kind of rediscoverd in the 1990s. There are two major systems in HEMA, a "German" system based on German language manuals, and an Italian system based on Italian manuals, both pretty similar initialy. The "German" system was primarily founded by a guy called Lichtenauer, apparently, and was the focus of middle class burghers who had fencing clubs . But the interesting thing is, many of their activities took place in Eastern European cities such as Prague and Gdasnk / Danzig. In fact a list of the names of the early Masters, you can see many names which are from the East.

here is an example of a video from one of the Polish HEMA schools which have sprang up in the last ten years (you'll have to add the other standard parts of the web address due to the spam filter)

...

But it's hard to find out about any of this from within the US. I believe there is still an amazing amount of residual prejudice in the West toward Eastern Europe. When I first travelled to Prague ten years ago I half expected to find a dark, sooty village under a cloudy sky, overlooked by a castle on a stark hill ruled by Vampires with peasants toiling miserably in the mud. I was a little bit surprised to see a stunningly beautiful city full of striking women, excellent beer and amazing architecture. I thought I was open-minded for an American but it struck me how much I had been subject to propaganda myself, why is this so little known about in the Western media? But it reminded me of my own town in that sense.

I have come to the conclusion lately that there is too much cultural prejudice in the West, and too little understanding of Eastern European languages, to find out much of anything about the intriguing history I've seen glimpses of, especially in these areas where German and Polish (and Dutch, and Swedish, and Lithuanian, and Estonian, and Czech etc.) culture are so mixed together in such complex ways.

I'm hoping people here will forgive my ignorance, perhaps my misguided zeal, and Yank status, and help me gain some insight into this part of the world of beautiful women and wild rivers and ancient cities, and many mysteries.

G.
ender 5 | 398
27 Aug 2010 #2
You need to be more precision Polish Renaissance is as long as America history. I doubt you find here someone interested in Medieval Martial Art.

about your youtube film I'm almost sure its author came from Ringshule Wrocław
ringschule.org
Looks like there is a lot of English and American immigrants in Wrocław and I'm sure they will be helpful in contacting you with Ringshule School.
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
27 Aug 2010 #3
Hi Ender,

Thanks for replying... Perhaps I veered to far into my own interests. I only mentioned that for context. My introductory post was way to long I was going to edit it down but the system wouldn't let me edit after I posted (or I couldn't see how to)

I already know people at Ringshule Wroclaw and have connections to Polish HEMA (Martial Arts) groups in Gdansk and Wroclaw, but I'm interested in talking to ordinary Poles outside of the HEMA scene, just to get a sense of perspective, particularly on Polish history.

My real reason for posting here is to learn some more general background on Poland from a Polish point of view. I have read some Polish history as written by English, American, German and even Russian historians, but I have read very little (other than Sienkiewicz) of Polish perceptions of their own history which has been written since the end of the Cold War.

Does that make sense? Anyway I started this thread for an introduction, I have some specific questions I'll get to after I read a few more threads and get a better sense of etiquette here.

G.
Ozi Dan 26 | 569
27 Aug 2010 #4
Hi GalloG and welcome to the forum. Great post too by the way.

The Deluge is particularly well known in HEMA circles due to the famous saber duel scene,

The one on top of the battlements of Kamieniec-Podolski between Pan Wolodjowski and the Turk?
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
27 Aug 2010 #5
No, although that one is very good too...

but I was referring to this one. Many HEMA practitioners have watched this clip (which only shows the second half of the fight)

youtube.com/watch?v=kx_vLz-DXjs

Whoever was the fight choreogropher for those films knew some real fencing techniques, and I don't mean the olympic / collegiate type of fencing, the old type which is for real.

G.
grubas 12 | 1,391
31 Aug 2010 #6
Here is the whole thing.


Eurola 4 | 1,906
31 Aug 2010 #7
Gallo, your post is like a breath of fresh air on this forum. I am amazed with your knowledge of the polish literature, the medieval movies, HEMA...Very few westerners bother to take any interest in the 'other' half of the world (unless it is business). Most people still rely on the old, obscure propaganda information or whatever they learned from the stale dated, one sided history books.

There is still a lot to be done in the eastern/central european countries as they still struggle with the newly found freedom and free market economy, but nobody can take their rich history away from them. Ever.
sledz 23 | 2,250
31 Aug 2010 #8
Eurola

Hey are you going to T.O.P?
jwojcie 2 | 763
31 Aug 2010 #9
Hi Galloglaich

First piece of info: there is not much Poles on this forums actually, what you get here are mostly foreigners views of Poland some of them with Polish roots. So if you are looking for "Polish views" on Polish history then there will not be many.

As for sabre scenes in "The Deluge" it was made by this guy: "Waldemar Wilhelm"
filmpolski.pl/fp/index.php/11994
His CV says that he was doing quite a lot choreography for duel scenes.

As for "Colonel Wolodyjowski" the story here is maybe more interesting, because main choreographer for duel scenes there was Andrzej Piatkowski a Polish sabreur who won three medals at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrzej_Pi%C4%85tkowski
sport.interia.pl/inne-sporty/news/zmarl-andrzej-piatkowski-trzykrotny-medalista-olimpijski-w,1491617,3511

As for historical fencing I will not help, but certainly there is quite a lot people in Poland who invest a lot money and effort into it:



those above are only show for "common folks" but in fact many of those guys are very careful about historical details. Maybe you can try to estabilish some contact using that lists:

Those are "Flag commanders" on this show (in polish):
grunwald1410.pl/index.php?art=1
Those are craftsmans making medieval staff (in english):
grunwald1410.pl/index.php?cat=151

As for general history for English speaker, books by Norman Davies can be a good read:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Davies
especially
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcosm:_Portrait_of_a_Central_European_City
as a description of complexity of this region history using example of Wratislavia, Wroclaw, Breslau.
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
30 Oct 2011 #10
Jwojcie, Eurola, thanks for your posts. Sorry to revive this old thread but I sort of lost track of this forum after finding it several months ago. Jwojcie the link to that book 'Microcosm' is really great, thank you, I'm going to pick up a copy of that as soon as possible. I think it will be very helpful for my little research project.

The re-enactor links you posted are very impressive, they do re-enactment fighting very hard core in Eastern Europe, one of the things I hope to see one day are the big celebrations at Malbork one year and maybe go see the "Battle of nations". There is a very lively re-enactor scene in Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular. They even have their own music, I ran across this interesting video the other day:

youtube.com/watch?v=lGupr_ISDtc

But Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is actually a different thing. Probably all seems the same if you aren't into it, we are all sword nerds I guess. We study some very old books and try to work out what the martial arts techniques are, and then we fight each other competitively. We do not dress in historical costumes and most of the fighting does not involve armor, but more like modern sports equipment. The only thing historical are the fighting techniques and the weapons (special type of blunt sparring sword called a federschwert, and the dussack). The emphasis is more similar to something like MMA, but maybe not quite that tough:) For contrast to the videos you posted, here are a couple of promotional videos from a Swedish group from Gothenburg my group is friendly with and a Polish group in Gdansk which I also have a little bit of contact with.

Sweden
youtube.com/watch?v=ZQMrbj3Ukws

Poland
youtube.com/watch?v=H7aXtzf7-Lk&feature=related

To give you an idea of the specific techniques here is a video from a group from Slovakia demonstrating a progression of attacks and counters, in a rather dramatic manner :)

youtube.com/watch?v=ln94E9AGYTc

We know this ancient martial arts system from about 200 books which have survived the ages. One of the interesting things about this system is that almost half of the one's thought of as "German" books were actually published in Polish or Czech towns, and some of the historical Masters have Slavic names. There were also some Jewish Masters. The Poles are very good at this stuff by the way, the Polish groups are generally considered some of the best fencers in the HEMA community right now. Anyway enough about that stuff. I promise not to divert into it again!

I am also a great fan of the With Fire and Sword series of films of course. Have there been any other good historical films made in Poland in the last ten years or so that I should know about?

I was recently in Toronto and that very diverse city apparently has a substantial Polish ex-pat community, I was hoping to go visit the neighborhood near Roncesvalles Avenue and try something close to authentic Polish food but we weren't able to get there. We will probably be going back there next year so I'll definitely make it. I'm trying to put together a trip to Central Europe though it's difficult to go to Europe due to the economy and the cost of the Euro and so on. How does US currency hold up in Poland? Poland isn't on the Euro right? That was probably a wise decision...

From what I have heard the economy is good in Poland right now, is that true? Don't mean to open a can of worms there but I'm just curious.

G.
wersy - | 6
13 Jul 2013 #11
Well, I don't know whether the original poster will read this thread after all this time, ut one thing made me curious:

In the 1980s during the Cold War, I was stationed in Germany in the US army and we were supposed to think of the Eastern Europeans as our enemies
(...)
I believe there is still an amazing amount of residual prejudice in the West toward Eastern Europe

I fortunately was ***** enough not to live during the Cold War, but I honestly thought the US/Western propaganda at that time was kind of different, presenting Eastern Europeans as the poor people enslaved by communists, but not exactly "enemies". Was it really that bad? Were Americans supposed to hate Poles, Czechs or Hungarians and consider they their foes?

I know that the communist propaganda did indeed try to make people hate America but it didn't really succeed, all my relatives I asked said they had rather positive or at worse neutral view of the Americans and didn't really thought of them as the enemies. Of course there was some resentment towards the West, but it was of quite different kind - I'll try to give you an example by the way of a poem wrriten by A. Waligórski in 1980s:

"For the Allies"

YET

Sorry, I my not be the best at translating poetry, but I gues I managed to convey the mening. One more fameous poem would be probably "Raport z oblężonego miasta" ("Report from the besiged city") by Z. Herbert, but it is more peoetic and less straightforward. In any case, I hope you see what I mean.
Foreigner4 12 | 1,769
13 Jul 2013 #12
I've only watched some of the first video, before I invest more time in that, I'd like to ask a question (of sorts).

Based on what I saw, this looks like a lot of per-existing techniques combined in a unique fashion (ahead of its time by Western standards imo).

Do the other videos focus on more of the same or do weapons and crazy sh*t like that eventually come into it?
I'm not complaining btw, I just want to know if it's going to be more of the same.
I noticed 2 things:
- Their technique combinations (first video) focus quite a bit on what to do when you have someone off guard but not really how to get them off guard . That being said, I do realize they may not have wanted to include that because it's more of a nuance and not as spectacular to showcase.

- There wasn't much focus on body control, it was very explosive oriented. The longer a fight of any kind went on, the more those two element fade, so I'd hope they have some back up techniques in case things don't go according to plan. And remember, the better the other guy is, the more likely that event will occur.

But overall it's fun stuff to look at and investigate where their techniques derived from and what their school of thought was on "a fight" and the different scenarios they prepared for. Cool stuff in general overall, it's nice to hear that people back in the day knew what was up and get credit for it.

^I may have been under the influence when I wrote that; )
What I meant to say regarding body control and explosiveness is that the longer any fight of any kind goes, the more crucial it is to have solid body control techniques and experience and the more one's ability to be explosive is diminished. That of course is just in my experience and observations.
ttt2
27 Jul 2013 #13
The OP was trying to suck up to Poles so hard that he failed, tripped and then tripped again.

handful of tips for the future
-you said you don't like aristocracy and feudalism and religion, poland had all of this things
-polish don't deny that Sienkiewicz was writing propaganda. even he admited that.
-polish don't like the movie adpatations of his movies so if you were trying to suck up to us by complimanting that garbage you have failed

-polish have a victim complex about occupation, and all that stuff so comparing polish history to some pathetic new orleans is not a good idea if you want to compliment us

-polish people don't like revolutions due to conservative historians. polish people do like Napoleon.
-polishlithuanian commonwealth was nothing like city-states

etc

if you just wanted help with your projects you could have just asked and spared us that ****** huge opening
OP Galloglaich 3 | 36
2 Jan 2014 #14
The OP was trying to suck up to Poles so hard that he failed, tripped and then tripped again.

I may have failed in many respects, but I was not trying to 'suck up'. I was trying to convey my perspective, for context. I knew it was too wordy and was going to pare it down but I was used to other forums where you could edit a bit after posting.

handful of tips for the future
-you said you don't like aristocracy and feudalism and religion, poland had all of this things

Of course, I am fairly well-read on Polish history. I just didn't know too many Poles when I wrote the OP. I do know a few now.

-polish don't deny that Sienkiewicz was writing propaganda. even he admited that.

I didn't think I said otherwise? I understood the reason for the propaganda. I also read a bit about Sienkiewicz and his experiences in the US. There is kind of a cinematic or literary link I can see between John Ford Westerns, Kirosawa Samurai films, and Sergio Argento 'spaghetti' westerns. Perhaps Sienkiewicz fit's into that pattern a bit.

-polish don't like the movie adpatations of his movies so if you were trying to suck up to us by complimanting that garbage you have failed

I wasn't sucking up to anything. I knew the films weren't too popular (or were complained about) but they are still better than anything we have in the US.

-polish have a victim complex about occupation, and all that stuff so comparing polish history to some pathetic new orleans is not a good idea if you want to compliment us

New Orleans isn't pathetic, I wonder how much you actually know about it to have such a specific point of view? I understand the beef about occupation. It's a bigger deal for a whole country. What I was trying to convey is that it leads to a different type of 'nationalism' so to speak. Parochialism. We are pretty proud here as well. I don't like people insulting my home any more than you do.

-polish people don't like revolutions due to conservative historians. polish people do like Napoleon.

That's something I didn't know. But it seems like a rather broad generalization.

-polishlithuanian commonwealth was nothing like city-states

Maybe not but there were most certainly city states in it. At least based on Jan Dlugosz whose Annales I have read, among many other historians.

if you just wanted help with your projects you could have just asked and spared us that ****** huge opening

Nobody forced you to read it amigo.

G
Ranger 1 | 23
3 Jan 2014 #15
I am glad the OP is interested in Poland and its history. I think the accomplishments of Poland are overlooked deliberately.
However I'm glad that they haven't cheapened the history with revisionist Hollywood movies that have hidden agendas in it.
Living in East Texas, I admire the Cajuns and French Americans ability to thrive and appreciate the swamps instead of "tame" them by destroying them.

may have failed in many respects, but I was not trying to 'suck up'. I was trying to convey my perspective, for context. I knew it was too wordy and was going to pare it down but I was used to other forums where you could edit a bit after posting.

Don't worry about him. I would be glad to talk to you about Polish history


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