- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 6th June 2016
The international HEMA community mourns the recent and untimely passing of Ken Pfrenger; musician, raconteur, family man and modern pioneer of 19th century martial arts revivalism.
With a background in Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do Concepts and Filipino martial arts, Ken’s strong interest in Celtic fighting styles prompted him to start the Western Arts forum in 1998. Western Arts became a key online meeting place for many others who shared Ken’s fascination with reconstructing historical European combat systems.
Ken’s work in this area was highly influential, particularly his careful, pragmatic recreations of Irish martial arts and combat sports such as shillelagh stick fighting (with reference to 19th century scholarship via the works of Donald Walker and R.G. Allanson-Winn), collar-and-elbow wrestling and bare-knuckle boxing. At a time when the gigantic majority of HEMA activity concentrated on the Medieval and Renaissance eras, Ken’s example “offered permission” to many other revivalists in the niche field of 19th century martial arts. His interests later expanded into Eastern European systems including SAMBO wrestling and the martial use of the long-handled axe.
Prone to out-of-left-field adventures and anecdotes, Ken was a regular and highly popular teacher at WMA/HEMA events including ISMAC (later CombatCon) and the annual “Recreational Violence” weekends hosted by his own training group, NEOHEMAS – the Northeast Ohio Historical European Martial Arts Society. He also authored a number of articles on subjects ranging from Iron Age Celtic sword fighting to 19th century pugilism stances.
Our thoughts are with Ken’s friends and family at this very difficult time. Please consider donating to the family’s fund towards funeral expenses.