The Salle Saint Louis is the martial arts studio directed by Dr. Thomas Rowland, located in Lexington, Missouri
Photograph courtesy of Michelle Peltier, Saint Louis University, 2013
Dr. Thomas Rowland started the Salle Saint Louis in 2009 as a place for practice and study of the western martial arts. He was completing his doctorate on medieval studies (focus on reading practices) at Saint Louis University, and had come across a niche group working on the mostly-forgotten medieval martial system of swordfighting. Finding himself immensely interested, he began studying at St. Martin's Academy of Medieval Martial Arts, based in Wisconsin, for a few years, then translated his work into a small school directed to university students. Over the years it grew into the Salle Saint Louis, and he began to work with other groups on campus, and to expand the scope of the school to wider goal of teaching and sharing with other martial art groups.
Since then, Dr. Rowland has lived for a period in South America, then returned to Missouri, and now resides in Lexington, where he had the opportunity to restart the salle in a new home.
The salle was established as a teaching school under the auspices of Saint Louis University (though technically unaffiliated with it). The name comes from the French phrase salle d'armes, which referred to an instructional school teaching fencing and self-defense. Since its start in 2009, the salle has welcomed many students, some of whom have in turn helped to build and grow the school by offering classes themselves. In 2017 the school officially moved from St. Louis to Lexington, Missouri, following the career change of its director, to a temporary home at Wentworth Military Academy, and then in its new home at the Riverwell Institute of Arts and Language.
The Salle Saint Louis is closely affiliated with St. Martin's School of Medieval Martial Arts and with the Karate Club at Saint Louis University. As a result of these affiliations, the salle has grown to include more than instruction. The salle has sponsored workshops for its students and for the public about the martial arts in the Middle Ages and their value today, as well as serving as co-sponsor for the World Martial Arts Symposium.
What we are not
The salle is not a branch of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), though we have hosted some of its members as students.
The salle is not a branch of the CSG (Chicago Swordplay Guild), though we have at times met up with their students in formal martial art situations. We are also not affiliated with or resemble the group known as ARMA (Association of Renaissance Martial Arts), which in general focuses on principles in conflict to our own and those of our brother art systems.
The salle is not a hobby group, who focus on artifact construction (such as armor or clothing), though we can appreciate the work and investigation these groups do.
What makes us different
There have over the last two decades sprung up a wide assortment of niche groups practicing the medieval martial arts. Most of these have not grown past a small group of invested students because of a lack of qualified teachers: many of these groups are essentially "making it up" as they go, or following instructors who are.
In addition to its tradition of instruction, the salle is collaborative. Working closely with experts from the Tang Soo Do tradition of Karate, as well as related eastern arts, the salle features a form of instruction that highlights universal principles of movement and defense that have resonance with other martial art systems. To that end we collaborated with these experts, hosting joint classes and crossover instruction. The salle focuses not just on a niche movement of medieval investigation but on recovering a martial art system that is relevant and useful today and that is in dialogue with other traditions.
The salle has a rule does not use a belt system like other traditions, but we do ask students to wear specific colors relating to their experience in the school.
Blue is reserved for casual students: children and adults, who are interested in learning some techniques but may not be ready for or interested in mastering the art.
Black signifies a student who is still relatively new in the art. The majority of the salle students are in this category.
Green signifies someone who has passed a rigorous exam to demonstrate an ability to stay safe in dangerous situations and to understand and employ basic defensive techniques. It is a difficult test, and is offered only to those students who have shown persistence and interest and discipline in the art. Green shirts can host their own low-level classes.