The reasons for the creation and existence of the Guild are varied. In essence it was founded to teach the approach to Historical Combat used by John Waller (1940-2018) Guild Master.
John had been investigating the combative behaviours and approaches of the past since the 1950's.
He had founded The Medieval Society, in 1963, where he had begun to more seriously begun studying the use and making of the weapons that produced the fight arts of the past.
He had taught a number of people in many contexts and had conducted his own personal research and had used his skills and knowledge to teach combat in Drama Schools and in Fight and Action Direction in theatre films and Television.
However there had been no specific structure or syllabus. Nor had there been a way in which people could more generally access the teaching and approach.
In the early 90's with the movement to have a purpose-built museum to house the majority of the Royal Armouries collection. As these were progressing with the necessity of the collection moving away from its historical location at The Tower of London.
Because of Johns collaborations with the Royal Armouries since the 60s and his works with and friendship of Guy Wilson who was by then the Master of the Armouries in making the films How a Man schall be Armyd and Masters of Defence, lead to John being involved in the new project and becoming the Head of Interpretation, later Creative Director.
During the late 80s and in to the 90s Steve Tappin had become aware of John and his approach Historical Combat. Steve whose background was as a martial artist, he was then an instructor for the Latosa Escrima organisation itself involved with the pan European EWTO. While Latosa Escrima stemmed from the Teachings of the Pilipino American Rene Latosa and was both an inclusive art incorporating both weapons and unarmed, it was based upon the teaching of Concepts, many of which were the same or analogous to Johns (and consequently the Guilds) Principles. As part of Steve’s teaching and to help make connection to those Concepts tied within his teaching his own interest and love for History and had begun to make use of European Weapons. This was also in response to finding that many of his British and European Students had desire to fight in a European style but until that point there was little European weapons combat unless one looked at Fencing or Re-enactment,
To further his knowledge Steve had been travelling to work with anyone who could offer him insight into the Historical Martial heritage of Europe, this had led him to various avenues including fencing stage combat, and various forms of re-enactment combat, all of which he felt lacked the vital elements he was looking for and knew must exists in any practical application of combat behaviours and practice.
During that time, he had also sort to gain more academic knowledge where he could and that lead him to the Library of the Royal Armouries then still at The Tower. There he got to see the source materials, we need to also remember that this was before the expansion of the internet and the access to source materials that followed ad people now take for granted. In those days you had to acquire the information by visiting the libraires and collections where the works were located, or perhaps acquire an expensive facsimile, though these were generally in a foreign language, if you were very lucky you might be able to obtain poor photocopies of some of the works. While also became more aware of John Waller who he had heard of in other contexts.
This Led Steve to contact John and make the trip to the Royal Armouries in Leeds. After that meeting Steve knew he had found what he felt was missing from the others he had met and trained with.
What he wanted now was to help make this available to a broader range of people, many of whom he knew within the membership of the Latosa Escrima and EWTO membership across Europe.
Further considerations, a large, organised, and structured organisation could work with ad study from a teaching base that was both informal and personal.
Then more discussions about how that may come about. It also led to John stating that he would support Steve but that with the Armouries he did not have the time but that perhaps Jonathan, his son would be interested and who was also like Steve based in London and who would find it easier to train further with Steve.
These discussion between Jonathan and Steve lead to the idea that the teachings of the Wallers would be better feed into a broader audience and in association to the larger organisations such as he taught with if it were structured as an organisation.
This was through 1997-98 and where the seed for the formation of the Guild took place.
This change was to lead to difficult decisions to be made, as again it was the need to fit a personal approach to the training based as it was around small groups in an informal setting in to one for large groups that were used to more structured syllabus and things like formal gradings.
Once it was beginning to develop the Guild began teaching in Europe as Steve and Jonathan took the teaching to various groups both in and outside the EWTO. Initially in Denmark then Sweden and Germany.
This led to the holding of International Guild Seminars at The Royal Armouries in Leeds, participants from the US and Europe attended these and this led to a wider expansion of the Guild and the forming of Chapters in other parts of the UK and Europe as well as in the US.
During this time John and Jonathan went to US as Guests of John Clements and HACA'/ARMA, JC had visited the Armouries and was a guest at the inaugural Guild Seminar there.
Jeffery Forgeng was also in attendance and became the first US Chapter Master, having met John Waller when at the Armouries researching with work on the Armouries MS I-33 and encountering Johns approach to historical Combat. other speakers and attendees included Toby Capwell, who John and Jonathan had met in the late 80s when he was in the UK studying with Mike Loades, John Waller's long-time friend and also attendee. Toby now well known as Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection as well as authority and author, had worked for John as riding interpreter at The Armouries. Arne Koets attended with Joram Van Essen who had visited the Armouries and met with John and Jonathan and later Arne was also to work for John at The Armouries.
While this was an exciting time for the expansion of the Guild it also revealed the difficulties that all organisations experience, especially as they grow larger, and also exacerbated by the contrasting differing the differing backgrounds of those that now came to the Guild, of people with experience in large Martial arts organizations, those with an interest and love for history and the emerging world of HEMA, something that did not even have the at name being WMA. As well as trying to keep a consistent and coherent level of quality and training across countries and continents.
John had been involved in other organisations and had already been the Founder of the Medieval Society in 1963 as well as involved in the origins of the Sealed Knot. He had always held that while an organisation needs to have a structure that too much Hierarchy and rigidity was equally bad.
Conversely Many Martial arts organisations work in the format of a Franchise and areas of control, teaching and even financial matters and formally structured and rigidly guarded. This can lead to internal politics that would not sit well with the goals of the Guild. Many members were seeing the wider growth of HEMA and the emergence of the focus on sparring wearing masks. Again, this was something that John, Jonathan and Steve were reticent about within the Guild for a number of reasons.
Others had a growing interest in particular historical styles, masters, and weapons. This was possible within the Guild Structure and one of its Goals was to use the Principles to further the understanding of Historical combat in general and specific areas. However, some were feeling that a more focused approach was needed.
KDF in the UK and Europe, Zwardkring in the Netherlands, Historical Weapons Combat in Denmark and Combat Archaeology as well as number of individuals and smaller fewer formal groups can all find the link and connection to the Guild.
At its largest the Guild had Chapters and Groups in Leeds London Liverpool Nottingham, Jersey, Conwy and Dundrum.
Copenhagen and Helsingor Denmark
Malmo and Gothenburg Sweden
Erlangen Bonn Dresden Germany
Worcester Massachusetts USA