Rogue Element #93: The Future of Forteza
By Avril Brown
Fitness is the wave of the future. People are waking up from their high fructose corn syrup comas and realizing that our bodies are temples: you are either a ward or a sacrifice. Eating healthier and engaging in some form of regular exercise is not as painful as people think, and can actually end up being fun and addictive (my first, and certainly not last, tattoo artist told me the same thing about body art. Five tattoos and counting…).
Swordplay is the fighting style of the past. Years ago, people used to live, and die, by the sword. How one handled a blade could determine his or her station in life, the length of said life, and how much poontang was received. Though people are still fascinated by the art and culture of swordplay as evident by wildly successful sword and sorcery series, such as ‘Game of Thrones’, few people have any knowledge of how to actually use one.
Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts is a brand new facility where the future and the past collide in a flurry of coordinated movements and metal sparks. Western martial arts meets modern fitness in methods and styles unseen in any part of the world in recent history. The range and diversity of skills amassed by the staff of Forteza Fitness is astounding, and the location and setting are ideal for what they offer. In addition to having a separate area for traditional personal fitness training, Forteza will also serve as the practice arena for the Chicago Swordplay Guild which studies close-quarter combat, Renaissance rapier and Armizare, an Italian style of longsword fighting. Membership packages will be available, such as the Modern Combative Membership which will include bi-weekly Martial Blade Concepts classes and several FightingFit bootcamps, and for those interested in joining the Guild the Swordsman Membership offers several Swordsmanship Foundation classes, bootcamps and a variety of Taster and Focus classes. Both packages include additional perks, and for those in need of even greater flexibility in their training schedule, a Multi-Class Punch-Card will be offered for your drop-in convenience.
Forteza Fitness offers a bit of everything for the work out, fighting and fantasy fanatic, all within a few steps of the Montrose Brown line station at 4437 North Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, a location that is well on its way to becoming the most beautiful and architecturally inspiring private gym and training arena. The high ceilings and distinct lack of walls in the center space open the floor, keeping it airy and giving the area an energy all its own. The newly finished wood floors give off a resplendent shine and a tasteful nod to their modern fitness culture, while the original brick walls are a visual reminder of the ancient styles from which many of their teachings are drawn from. There is also a “gymuseum” displaying several pieces of antique exercise equipment, making Forteza even more of a perfect venue for their first major seminar: an introduction to the art of Bartitsu.
What is Bartitsu? Ask Tony Wolf, a New Zealand native and Chicago resident, and the man responsible for bringing Bartitsu back to the Midwest. A fighting method created in the late nineteenth century, Bartitsu combines martial arts, British fisticuffs and stick fighting to produce a practical self-defense style that refuses to fade. Though the original London Bartitsu Club closed in 1902 only a few years after its founding, the art was given a vague reference in one of the greatest ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories ever penned, and Bartitsu lives on through people like Mr. Wolf who kept it alive and continue teach their skills. Now Chicago residents can feel safer and stronger as they walk the city streets armed with knowledge, confidence and a cane, and what better way for a unique gym like Forteza to open its doors than to a Bartitsu seminar?
Tony’s introductory session on January 22nd called to history buffs, fighting fans, Guild members and Steampunk squires alike. They listened with rapt attention as Tony spoke of the history of this fighting style he is so passionate about, and soon enough he had his new students walking the room, introducing themselves to one another and learning and practicing balance and synergy. “Trust in the sensation,” he instructed as a range of disciples stood with backs pressed together, lowering themselves to the floor and raising themselves back up utilizing said synergy. The connection, unity and sense of strength he inspired in his pupils were a joy to watch, let alone participate in. Laughter erupted periodically as Mr. Wolf’s quips and quirks kept people entertained as well as educated.
“The counter attack is based solely on your opponents’ actions, which is a lovely thing,” Tony told his listeners as he began another demonstration and went on to explain how Bartitsu covers every possible eventuality. There was a tangible hum to the air when Tony told his followers to fetch their sticks (plus a few chuckles as well), and grins erupted on eager faces as they scurried to begin their training with tools. Soon enough the halls of Forteza echoed with the crack of wooden sticks meeting in mock battle and clattering against the floor as partners were disarmed. The flexibility and versatility of Bartitsu is an understandable attraction for a man with interests and skills as eclectic as Tony Wolf, and now he is sharing his passion with those fortunate enough to register for his upcoming six week class (registration is still open for those inclined, and all pertinent information can be found at www.bartitsu.org).
Though the men outnumbered the women in the Bartitsu introductory seminar, the numbers are not as skewed as one might think. As with Comic Conventions and varying forms of nerd-dom, women are no longer shy about expressing their interests, though there is photographic evidence of women’s historic involvement in the Bartitsu culture. On the Bartitsu homepage there is a picture of Edith Garrud, a former jujutsu instructor for the English women’s suffrage movement and who studied under a Bartitsu Club instructor, demonstrating a jujutsu wrist lock on her interviewer Godfrey Winn.
Tony varied his choice in demonstration victims, every student both excited and concerned about being Mr. Wolf’s latest punching bag. He remains, however, a gentlemanly professor, and consistently offered clear instructions that were firm but non-painful. A charismatic creature, Tony is an impossible man to ignore, and his teachings are only a taste of the variety of forthcoming programs Forteza has to offer.
Early morning Fighting Fitness classes, Martial Blade Concepts courses (modern, practical self-defense) taught by one of the only local and fully vested instructors in the art, medieval swordplay and premiere personal training are just the beginning. Find Forteza on Facebook and keep watch for the launch of their website, opening galleria and oodles more to come. The future of Forteza looks bright, lit by the rising stars of modern fitness and the glean of polished swords. En garde!