Last year’s event was fun, but a bit chaotic with some snafus. Our principle goals this year were to: 1) streamline the process and 2) Improve judging. I am confident we achieved both of those, although as we all know, improving judging is a perpetual process.
Tournaments are not a big part of what we do at the CSG, far less than many HEMA schools, but I *do* think that developing martial artists need a chance to test themselves against people from outside their school, outside their art. I *don’t* think tournament fighting is any more “real” or reflective of “combat” than any other fencing, in fact some ways less so. (People wear a lot of safety gear and their adrenal reflex is to be more *aggressive*, rather than more *cautious* as you immediately become when faced with sharp weapons.) But it provides a way to learn to manage adrenaline, resist temptation to play the rules, face other styles, and to learn how to use art to defeat “il uomo bestiale” the so-called “untutored fencer” of whom many fencing masters warn.
Put another way, martial artists love to complain about bad sports fighting, and for good reason — combat sports really do often encourage certain gimmicks or actions that are best suited for a ring.
Here’s an example. CSG’s Ben Horwitz fought his first tournament this past weekend, and was able to win his pool fairly easily against some very good combatants. I am SUPER PROUD of him. But although he wins the below fight fairly definitively in score, it wasn’t his best match martially.
Note the move that Ben pulls off at time-stamp 1:55. He manages to duck under Keith’s defense and take a lowline cut. But Keith’s sword is hovering over his head. Sword’s aren’t disintegration rays: unless the man’s arms or head fall off, there is no guarrantee that ANY blow is immediately disabling. Here, the hit scores, and the fight stops. In a real fight, there’s a very good chance that Keith gets his legs slashed and spends time learning to walk with a limp (if infection doesn’t kill him), but first cuts Ben’s head clean off.)
Different groups take these issues into account in different ways. In developing the MidWinter rules (based on those we have used at various events in the past, such as Viva L’Italia and the Western Martial Arts Workshop) I chose to use the following assumptions:
Real combat is ugly;
You can’t legislate pretty fencing, but you can design rules the courage good tactics;
Good tactics will lead to prettier fencing anyway;
Six hundred years of European fencing masters say the goal is to hit without being hit, so any rule-set should reward never losing a pass, and punish double-hits ruthlessly.
If the rules take more than one sheet of paper to write out, there are too many of them!
Combatants will be divided into pools, fought under the below conditions, with an award to the overall victor.
Tournament One: Single-Handed Sword Due to the diversity of single-handed sword styles (and scarcity of focused exponents of the same) , this will be a mixed-weapon tournament with the following, permissible weapons:
Rapier (max blade length 45″);
Note: Sabers, backswords, broadswords, smallswords, etc are not permitted. (We love them, too, but we’re keeping this to fencing styles c. 1600 and earlier.)
Tournament Two: Longsword Longsword’s have a maximum length of 130 cm, minimum weight of 1450 g.
The Winter King As a culmination of the event, the victors of the two tournaments shall fight a mixed-weapons bout using the previously denoted scoring conventions, with the victor to be declared the winner of the overall tournament
CONVENTIONS OF COMBAT With the Sword
Each bout is fought to a total of five landed blows;
The entire body is a target;
For our purposes a “blow” constitutes any “fight-ending action”:
a solid cut with the edge, thrust, disarm or throw;
a pommel strike to the center of the face;
a thrust to the center-of-mass with the dagger.
Incidental blows, light touches, flicks or hits rather than cuts, punches and open-handed strikes that do not end in a throw or lock, etc will not be scored.
With the Dagger Combatant may carry a dagger on their belt in the longsword tournament, and switch to its use as they see fit.
Daggers may only strike with the point.
If a dagger hit is scored, combatants may, after the halt, switch back to their sword.
Grapples that end in a throw with party dominant will score a point.
Grapples lasting more than 5 seconds or deemed to be dangerous will be halted by the judges;
Grapples that go to the ground with no one dominant will be halted.
SCORING Once a fight is concluded, the combatants will report their scores to the list-table. Fights are scored as follows:
Overall Victor receives 2 pts;
If the Victor was not struck he or she receives 1 pt additional;
The person who scored the first blow receives 1 pt;
If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lose 1 pt.
Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 4 and -1 points.
These rules are not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding being hit and, most especially double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt is lost. However, additional double hits are not refought, so if you rack up too many double-hits, the victory in that match is going to go with who scored the first blow, and your overall score is going to go down!
ADVANCEMENT There are two ways to advance to the final round of four combatants – by Score or by Accolade.
Score After the Pool Round ends, total scores for each will be totaled, and the combatant with the highest score from each pool will move to the finals. (If two or person tie, then the person with the highest total of first blood scores will advance. If there is still a tie, the combatant with the most “never hit” scores will advance.)
Accolade The list will be “balanced” to an even number by adding a combatant chosen by the other combatants. If the list is already balanced, the Advancement by Acclaim will not be needed. (This wasn’t needed this year)
FINAL ROUND Once the Finalist are assembled, they shall fight with the prior scoring conventions in a simple single elimination tree. (NB: In the event of a small final list (four or less), the finals may be fought as a pool at the judge’s discretion.
Although there is no formal prize for second or third place at this event (the guy who comes in #2 in a swordfight is usually called “a corpse” not a silver medalist), the top three competitors in the tournaments were all excellent, and the #2’s could easily have been 1st place. So I would like to congratulate:
2nd Place – Adam Franti (with some of the cleanest fencing of the day in both events)
3rd Place – Cameron Metcalf (with the second highest average score of the entire tournament)
2nd Place – Scott Scooter Jeffers (with the HIGHEST average score of the tournament)
3rd Place – Robert Salud
After Sam Street of the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association pitched a shut-out, winning all three events last year, this year’s tournament was dominated by Guild members and swordsmen from the Michigan diaspora, holding seven of the final eight spots between them in 1H sword and six in longsword. (Sam had to go and mess up the clean sweep!) The pool victors were:
One-Handed Sword Final 8
Lars Olesen (Minnesota)
Scott Jeffers (CSG)
Robbie Salud (CSG)
Nic Cabrera (CSG)
Thayne Alexander (CSG)
Zeke Talmage (Tri-Blade Fencing Academy)
Sam Brian (??? — I just realized I know Sam, but not where he is from!)
Thomas Niebor (Michigan)
Longsword Final 8
Jesse Kulla (CSG)
Ben Horowitz (CSG)
Adam Franti (Lansing Longsword Guild)
Cameron Metcalf (LLG)
Thayne Alexander (CSG)
Sam Street (WHFA)
Thomas Niebor (Michigan)
Lars Oleson (Minnesota)
The fencing on a whole was like all fencing: some amazingly good, some…er….and a lot of bouts that combined moments of brilliance with moments of adrenal reflexes or choking under pressure. That’s how these things go, so let’s focus on the good!
1. Fencers all had a good spirit of friendship and conviviality combined with good sportsmanship. People routinely declined points or called hits when the judges missed something, or if they just felt their hit was ugly or sloppy. This even happened twice in the longsword *finals.* In a perfect world, a judge would never miss anything, but we live in the real world, and I think the one good thing about any errors was that it gave the combatants to show their own character. The following, IMO, shows this in an exemplary fashion:
CSG’s Jesse Kulla and Adam Franti of Lansing Longsword Guild fought a real nice bout for the longsword final. Although their being tired after 6 hrs of fighting meant that there were several double hits, it wasn’t because of stupid choices, it was because of either slowed reflexes, or failing to close a line sufficiently to prevent a counterattack. The best part, however, is that these two gentlemen showed why, IMO, a combatant should always get to call a blow to his own detriment. Our judges blow an early call that would give Jesse the victory. I was pretty sure it was a double hit, but my judges were all in agreement, so I was reticent to second guess them. But Jesse and Adam thought it was a double hit too, and Jesse declined the victory. Next pass, similar issue but reversed roles and before I could make the call, Adam declined the point, and we tried it a third time. Yes, each man gave up his chance to end the fight there and claim victory — those are the character tests competition can give, far more than they test “if you can bring the heat” (whatever the hell that even means in a pretend fight).
(Video courtesy Zeke Talmage)
Here is the fight from a second angle, which also shows what an “adventure” judging can be:
2. Although Scott Jeffers and Robert Salud are both CSG members, I think I can say with (minimal) bias that their sidesword bout was one of the most dynamic, prettiest and historically correct of the day. But you be the judge:
(Video Courtesy Zeke Talmage)
3. I always enjoy seeing my friends Adam Franti, Keith Stratten, Josias Arcadia and Zeke Talmage fence. I was super happy to be directing their pools, and in longsword to have almost all of them all in the same pool, with my student Benjamin Horwitz, who did some of his best fencing (after I informed him I had registered him for the tournament, whether he liked it or not). I really enjoyed their pool and the fencing they displayed.
4. Additional kudos to Adam and Keith, who brought proper steel dussacks (Keith’s was barely bigger than a bowie knife) to the 1 H tournament and used them to great affect and with great form, despite knowing they were giving themselves a huge disadvantage against some of the very long, very thin bladed rapiers a few combatants were carrying.
(Video Courtesy Lansing Longsword Guild)
5. Lars Olson was a fantastic in the 1 H sword list, and it was great finding out their is an armizare practitioner, not affiliated with the CSG/Milwaukee in the Midwest.
Of course, as I directed just over a third of the fights, I also missed seeing a bunch of them. I really wanted to see the Sam Street (who won all three events last year), Jesse Kulla rematch, but it was not to be. In fact, I never got to see any of Sam’s fights, and only saw Jesse fight in the finals. Ah well, it’s not about me.
Finally, I would like to call out and thank our team:
Kaethe Doherty who wrangled the pools, created the trees and basically did all of the ugly back-end stuff before the event, and then made changes on the fly at the speed of light as we added and dropped people. Their work made the day run far more smoothly than last year. You are a rock-star.
James Reilly, John O’Meara and Rob Rotherfoord directed, and James is functionally my chief lieutenant for the day of the event.
Alex Moe and Joseph Doherty were score-keepers, and were fantastic at it, Alex not least because we drafted him on Saturday morning.
Libby Beyreis, Robine Asamar, Heather Hilchey, Nic James Cabrera, Victor Allen Bayona, Rebecca Smith Cruz, Summer Sparacin, Alexander Shekleton, Andrew Morris, Robert Salud, Ben Horwitz and Jesse Kulla who all judged, a couple of them after being pressed into service.
Alisha Workman, Jess Johnson and Dante Guinazzo who were the event “gophers”. That might not sound like an illustrious job, but GOD it helped having them!
Thanks to Nicole Allen who donated one of her products from SwordGeek Boutique (which launches as an Indiegogo Thursday, but you can get a sneak peak now) as a tournament prize.
Finally, every combatant I didn’t mention — everyone who attends and does so with a good spirit and gives their utmost makes the event.
We’ll do some after action review, continue spending time each CSG FightNight training judges, and hopefully be better in 2019!
Let it Be Known to All that Profess the Study of Arms, that the Chicago Swordplay Guild does Challenge All Men and Women of Good Character and Keep Blade to Inaugurate the New Year in a Competition of Arms
In conjunction with the Midwest Historical Fencing League and Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts the Midwinter Armizare Open is a public display of skill with one and two-handed swords in a relatively rules-light format meant to emphasize the tactical priorities of fighting with sharp weapons in lethal combat.
WHERE & WHEN
Date : Saturday, 27 Jan 2018
Location: Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts, 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
10:30 – Sign In
11:00 – Introduction: Rules and Demo
11:30 – Sword in One Hand
1:00 – Break
1:30 – Longsword
5:00 – Awards
5:30 – After Event Party
Let it Be Known to All that Profess the Study of Arms, that the Chicago Swordplay Guild does Challenge All Men and Women of Good Character and Keep Blade to Inaugurate the New Year in a Competition of Arms
In conjunction with the Midwest Historical Fencing League and Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts the Midwinter Armizare Open is a public display of skill with one and two-handed swords in a relatively rules-light format meant to emphasize the tactical priorities of fighting with sharp weapons in lethal combat.
WHERE & WHEN
Date : Saturday, 21 Jan 2017
Location: Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts, 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
11:30 – Sign In
12:00 – Introduction: Rules and Demo
12:30 – Sword in One Hand
1:45 – Break
2:00 – Longsword
5:30 – Awards
6:30 – After Event Party
HOW: Tournament Rules and Equipment Requirements can be found midwinter-steel.
JOINING: Registration is $50. Register online through the Forteza website.
Mark your calendars for September 2016, because REGISTRATION IS OPEN!
The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation present an event celebrating the ancient & living traditions of the land that brought you Fiore, Fabris, Marozzo, Galileo, DaVinci, Casanova and … spaghetti!
Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee includes ALL classes, meals and lodging onsite at the beautiful DeKoeven campus.
This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because ttendance is limited to the 70 folks we can house on site!paces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!
Dates: September 16 – 18, 2016
We are pleased to bring an international cast of renowned instructors including:
Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada)
Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild (USA)
Roberto Gotti, Guardia di Croce (Italy)
Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy (USA)
Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
John O’Meara, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
Marco Quarta, Nova Scrimia (Italy/USA)
Robert Rutherfoord, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
This year we have organized classes two ways: stand alone classes on a wide variety of topics, and several themes, meant to allow either in-depth study of one topic or to show commonality throughout the breadth of Italian fighting traditions. Stick with your favorite arts or dive into a pool 600 years deep!
Series One: Control the Center
These 3 hr classes allow an in-depth exploration of both the how and why of Italian martial arts.
The Tactics of Bolognese Sword and Buckler Combat (Devon Boorman)
The Tactics of Empty-Handed Combat (Marco Quarta)
The Tactics of Armizare (Greg Mele)
Series Two: So You Got Yourself Into a Duel…
As much as we imagine skilled swordsman meeting at dawn, most duelists had often never fought before, and might not even be trained combatants. In these 2hr classes, students are taught what the historical masters themselves considered the “bare bones” basics of their art, in order to fight and survive. A perfect way to try something new!
Dall’Aggochie’s 30 Day Recipe for Success (Robert Rutherfoord)
You Got into Another Duel? A Survival Guide to Italian Rapier (Devon Boorman)
Dueling Fin de Ceicle Style: A Short and Concise Guide to the Dueling Saber (Sean Hayes)
Series Three: In Arnis — The Art of Armoured Combat
Every year folks who participate in the armoured deed of arms talk about how much fun it was…but also who they wish they had more time to use all of that gear they lugged across the country. Well, we listened! This third series, taught “on the green” (weather permitting) combines daily classes, coached fencing and lectures — and of course, the invitational Armoured Deed!
Commonalities of Spada, Lanza and Azza en Arme: Making the Cross in Armoured Combat (Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild)
Armour as Worn: Understanding the Practical Ramifications of Harness Choice in Modern Deeds of Arms (Bob Charrette, Sean Hayes and Greg Mele)
Now We Wrestle: Moments of Transition in Armoured Combat (Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy)
The return of Uncle Bob’s Armour Schmooze
Two and three hour classes on a wide variety of topics covering the 14th – 19th centuries!
Integrated Body Mechanics and Movement in the Art of Arms (Sean Hayes)
The “New Footwork” of Filippo Vadi: Variations on a theme in Italian Longsword (Greg Mele)
Bolognese Fencing without Tears (Robert Rutherfoord)
Spadone: the King of Swords (Roberto Gotti)
Marozzo’s Defense Against the Dagger (Roberto Gotti)
Getting from Dui Tempi to Stesso Tempo in Six Easy Lessons (John O’Meara)
Tutta Coperta I: The Dagger Has the Rapier’s Back (John O’Meara)
Tutta Coperta II: The Dagger Frees the Rapier (John O’Meara)
Infighting and Disarms with the Rapier (Devon Boorman)
18th – 19th c Martial Arts
Stick-Fencing: From Gentleman’s Cane to Modern Self-Defense (Marco Quarta)
An unarmoured Accolade Tournament with Sword, Spear & Dagger
An invitational Armoured Deed-of-Arms;
A Contest-of-Arms with Sword, Rapier and their trusted companions: the Buckler and Dagger.
More details forthcoming!
(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)
Location: The DeKoven Center 600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403
On campus; double and triple rooms. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.
It has been a strange week in HEMA-land; at least from my little corner of the world. On the one hand, it has been a great week for getting the word out into the mainstream that there is something called Historical European Martial Arts; on the other, what should have been a fascinating attempt at a deed of arms bridging practitioners of two different martial traditions turned into an unnecessarily violent attempt at a “smackdown” and much of our community has responded to this by showing a profound ignorance of what the event was about, combined with putting the blame almost squarely on the injured party; largely, I suspect, because he’s the outsider.
ANY PRESS IS GOOD PRESS, BUT GOOD PRESS IS BETTER
Folks in the HEMA-Sport world are rightly a-glow with the positive New York Times Article on the popular Longpoint event, and justly so: it was a well-done article that nicely portrayed the international efforts to create a modern combat sport focused on unarmoured longsword fencing — only in modern safety gear — deriving from late medieval German martial arts; in essence, European kendo, complete with a standardized look, rigorous and complex judging, resets after every blow (but not fought to a single blow, as a real match with sharp steel would likely transpire) and a set number of points to win the match. Indeed, much like kendo, points are even conveyed by the judges using colored flags or batons in semaphore-like actions. Unlike post-WWII kendo, but much like its predecessor, limited degrees of grappling and unarmed striking are also allowed. The article did a nice job of covering this, and showing that this is a serious attempt at creating a new sport by normal folks, not a bunch of Highlander-meets-Game of Thrones rejects. (Well, the original article did; MTV and some of the other less “newsy” outlets had to work GoT in there somehow.)
I haven’t been to Longpoint, but colleagues have, and I have had a lot of talks with Ben Michels, one of the organizers, and think that they have tried very, very hard to take their sport and keep it reasonably well-tied to the source art by creating an event where the specialists can compete in their thing (forms, cutting, sparring), just like in most martial arts tournaments, while there is also a more pentathalon approach. Basically, it combines what in Asian martial arts would be completely separate combat sports (kendo, batto, judo, etc) and goes them one better, combining them into an omnibus event that is something like an Olympic pentathlon. In a nod to the diversity of HEMA, Longpoint even featured demo bouts of areas outside tournament interest, such as armoured combat and Polish saber.
So the story is getting a lot of play which is great news and I cheerily shared it; to the perplexity of some of my more traditional-minded friends (those who know myself or the Guild will know that I’m a fan of competition but not formal combat sports, for reasons I’ve articulated elsewhere at length). It’s been a weird conversation, that can be summarized like this:
THEM: “Why would you think this is a good thing? Doesn’t the article just point to the idea that there is this modern tournament sport?”
ME: “Yes, that was definitely the point of the piece: to cover a tournament that is promoting a new sword sport.”
THEM: “But what about the more holistic look at the art? Not just besides longsword, but actually training in techniques that don’t show up in tournaments?” (By which they mean things like the German *schnitt* or *Abschneiden*, polearms, dagger combat, armoured combat — all the stuff that makes the “knightly art” a composite art.)
ME: “That wasn’t the point of the story, nor is it the point of Longpoint or the HEMA Tournament folks — it is to have a competition derived from historical material with mostly longswords and some dabbling in other swords and wrestling. The article makes that clear, and I am not sure how many times Jake, et al had to use the word “sport”, “competition” or “tournament”, or refer to “clubs” (vs. schools) or “coaches” (vs. instructors) to get that across.”
THEM: “Well, yeah, but that isn’t what we do.”
THEM: “So what makes that good for us?”
ME: “Truth? Not much, except that people want to learn to “swordfight”; whatever that means to them. So if you see this story and type in “medieval swordfighting Chicago” you get the CSG. If you show up and find out that some of our folks go to tournaments, but we don’t all dress in black Absolute Force gear, use feders and focus on judged tournament fighting and that is a turn-off, no harm done.”
THEM: “Yeah, but….”
ME: “Look, two of my friends [Jake Norwood and Ben Michels] have worked their asses off for several years to build this thing and their community. Can’t I give them an attaboy?”
THEM: “I guess….”
And so on. Stupid, right? If this were some kendo buddies or sport fencers whose event got notice and I plugged it, no one would care. But this is “HEMA” (whatever that means to each reader) and we have to pretend that:
a) it is a singular, monolithic “thing”;
b) we are all training for or trying to do the same singular, monolithic thing,
c) if you don’t do it my way you are either a lily-livered wimp OR just a sport fencer who wouldn’t know a medieval manuscript from a piece of old toilet paper.
The truth, of course, is rather different:
a) as an activity that covers the research, reconstruction and on-going interpretation of martial arts from Europe and her colonies over a 600 year time period, even if we all had the exact same methods and goals, “HEMA” would hardly be a singular thing;
b) when you train to compete in a sport, you learn how to train to maximize your performance, which leads to some very effective competition techniques [see Axel Peterson’s victory described in the NYT video slow mo at 3:19] that simply do not show up in historical sources, or are even directly advised against, but make perfectly good sense in a bout where as soon as the hit is made a judge throws a flag and the fight either halts (no need to worry if your fight killed him), or an “after blow” scores and potentially negates the low hit. Thus it is no surprise that this same strategy is common in modern kendo and has a specific name: nuki do, often done dropping to one knee.
c) the truth is that some folks both compete and study the holistic art, but we all have to choose where our focus is. If it is competition, then you are going to need to pare down what you do to the weapons and rules that will work best in that environment — you *must* if you wish to be competitive — and if it is the latter, you train broadly and try to adapt what you know to the given ruleset and equipment you are presented with. The problem only comes when you start believing that a tournament is a measure of real combat effectiveness anymore than is doing partnered drills or politely fencing with your mates in the salle. This is as true of is HEMA as it is to mistake boxing or MMA for Combatives and urban defense.
So congrats to Jake, Ben and all of the other xKDF folks for landing their 15 min of fame: while we have different focus and interests in the larger HEMA-umbrella, you worked hard, it’s paying off and more people know that there even were historical arts to learn in the first place. Good on you!
MISSING THE POINT
Sadly, what one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Remember that last point of mistaking what you do for being “real” or indicative of “the way?” Because combat sports are by nature meant to be large, unifying endeavors, they are particularly bad at this, and many practitioners, immersed in their sport’s culture, quickly forget that not all similar activities are meant to be a new take on their sport, and are not done for “competitive” reasons.
This takes us to the second part of this weird week, which was the video, reports and discussions on my friend Dr. Manoucher Khorasani’s 100 Man Fight in Prague this past weekend. Firstly, Manoucher is not a HEMA person at all, but rather has taken a parallel path in reviving Persian martial arts, which he has written upon extensively and maintains a large Youtube library of videos of his work. What’s this have to do with modern HEMA? Read on…
As Dr. Khorasani writes:
Persian sources talk about the legendary hero of one thousand man “Hezarmard” a hero who survived one thousand fights. In the same spirit japanese kendo has tachikiri/tachigiri no seigan as a test of courage, endurance and stamina. As a former Kyokushinkai and an admirer of Soke Mas Oyama I have been admiring the one-hundred man fight kyokushin test. Only few blackbelts worldwide have passed the test. Many tried but failed. Everyone who knows fullcontact knows how hard the Kyokushin as a bare knuckle fight is. Although one hundred man fight is very hard and fullcontact its goal is not to destroy the candidate and to knock him out as it is done in the Kyokushinkai world championships or selection tournaments. Moreover one wants to test the courage, stamina, determination and willingness of the candidate.
As a researcher I wanted to see how a person can handle that type of fighting with unsharpened training swords and weapons. My team and I trusted Mr. Herbert Heissler, the head of the Czech Stuntsfighter association with choosing the opponents and weapons.
It Probably Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
This should also hardly be a new concept to people who have been in the martial arts world for any appreciable time. As Dr. Khorasani mentions, this contest exists in the Kyokushinkai and is quite famous. It also exists in kendo, in the form of tachigiri and in more contemporary martial arts in the “Beastings” of the famous Dog Brothers. This latter is described as:
The “Beasting” is an initiation tradition taken from the UK Training Groups. If a Dog Brother Tribe member wishes to become a DBMA Group Leader he/she has the choice to undertake a “Beasting”. The initiate has to fight continuously for 8-12 mins, every minute facing a different (and fresh) Dog Brother (aka ‘a Beast’). The Beasting is totally voluntary, and is not required to become a GL, but is done by those who want the Kudos…
You don’t go into a Beasting to win, but to survive. The ‘Beast line’ should be composed of fighter who are your peers or better. Any one of them has the capacity to end your day. The purpose is to push rather than break, after 3 or 4 minutes the initiate is usually exhausted and battered. At this point it’s all about balls and determination.
So far so good, and really this should not be considered “weird” to a HEMA person: after all, Playing the Prize; which was how the historical guilds in many countries bestowed rank, and has been used by many modern HEMA schools was just such an event. Although 100 men exceeds the numbers recorded by 16th century Guilds such as the London Masters of Defence, those prizes were also played without any real safety gear besides blunted weapons, and some basic safety rules: no pommel strikes or grapples, no hits below the belt, no thrusts to the face (sometimes no thrusts, period). Likewise, staking out a location for a set time to fight all comers did not originate with the Guilds — it was an aping of a tradition already established by knightly combatants in the 14th century — nor did it end with them; such activities continued with English “stage gladiators” until well into the 18th century was the origin of modern prize fighting.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go very well. As Dr. Khorasani reports, from the moment he arrived the rules changed, making him underequipped and his opponents with a very vague notion of what “full contact” meant:
He assured us that all weapons were aluminum besides Fechtfeders which were made of steel. We were assured that they were light Feders as used in longsword championships. My main instructor Mr. Heiko Grosse pointed out to me that I should make sure that they should be flexible enough as our armor was light for steel weapons. I have always admired longsword fighters as they are very technical. We figured my light armor which was meant to absorb the shock of fullcontact aluminium sparring weapons could also do the same with very flexible steel feders. We agreed that the fights would be fullcontact and contnuous. In spite of the fullcontact nature of the bouts, the event was to test my stamina and willingness to fight. We asked couple of times to change the date from Thursday September 11 to a weekend so that both my staff members could accompany me at least and even some other team members from Razmafzar. However we were reassured by Mr. Heissler couple of times that was the only day where all participants including fighters, doctors and organizers could come…. I was relaxed and not nervous but to my surprise I realized that some of the participants were nervous and were speaking loudly to Herbert in Czech. I did not understand anything but I figured they were discussing the rules. I did not care about the rules as my intention was not to score neither count points. My biggest challenge and enemy there were not my opponents as I looked at them as my helpers. My biggest challenge and enemy were my stamina and dehydration.
He was clearly wrong about that, since:
There were a professional surgeon and a medic there who advised that after ten rounds the fights should be stopped as they had to check me and my possible injuries and I had to drink due to the danger of dehydration in armor. That meant stoppage after twenty minutes of continuous fighting. I agreed with them. At this stage I would like to thank both gentlemen for their professionalism and their help during the entire event.
Although Dr. Khorasani was polite in his analysis of the fight, he makes it clear that the feders were not the lighter flexible feders he was familiar with, nor where his opponents really trying to “press him”, they were trying to break him. Which they did, with four broken ribs, two cracked ones and several broken fingers, one requiring surgery.
Now, as you can see in the report of the event from one group of challengers, they feel they did nothing wrong and “were fighting as they always do”. Indeed, they state expressly:
Members of Digladior did not fight brutally. Conversely they tried not to attack stronger than was necessary in acute situation. The aim was not to knockout dr. Khorasani but to fight him for 3 hours and 20 minutes. (Most illustrative is video of the 8th fight – dr. Khorasani and Vladimír Nerandži? of Digladior. Dr. Khorasani has already no energy to defend himself and V. N. is attacking and hitting him but without speed and power.)
Maybe so, and from the video, I would agree about the 8th fight. But it didn’t start that way. I don’t know a single member of Digladior, but I can at least compare the video of the challenge fight with the videos they post of them fighting amongst themselves. As a good example, look at the end of the second fight and the transition into the third. I understand that the rules were “full contact”, by which I would assume that it was meant with sufficient force to deal with an unarmoured foe with sharp blades — no playing tag. Those hits, while fairly typical of many tournament hits for sure, were far harder than necessary to the task. More so, the mad rush to attack Dr. Khorasani by the sword and dagger man, without so much as a salute or even a pause for him to catch his breath, was just coarse and set the tone for the entire fight which was wild and brutal. To be blunt, those weren’t sword cuts, they were stick fighting strikes with a blunt, steel stick. The sixth and seventh fights weren’t much prettier than the third, but at least most opponents offered a salute and moment to catch your breath.
I can’t comment on the idea of letting a guy with an axe and shield fight, and I won’t dignify a number of the non-Digladior fights with the term “HEMA”, other than the gentleman with the dussack and buckler, who seemed to the only guy actually trying to use technique and fence, rather than “beat down the foreigner”. Since it happened in Europe, and it was martial (that is what you call it when someone is trying to beat your head in), so maybe we can just call it EM.
HEMA-tic Naval-Gazing (Or, Not All Feats of Arms are Sporting Events)
Of course, folks on the Internet will never miss a chance to pass judgment, even when they continue to miss the point. So, we have a group of HEMA folks, mostly European, who are quite content to lambast Dr. Khorasani. Here are a few:
1) This is what happens when a Battle of the Nations guy decides he is going to play in light gear with HEMA people.
2) This is such an embarrassment for our sport, and misses the entire point of why we do this.
3) This is why you have referees calling hits!
4) The event itself was a chest thumping exercise coupled to an ego trip the result of which is something akin to a pissing contest. I have little or no respect for that kind of event or the self serving nature that really underpins it … it reflects poorly on the wider community and is nothing I would ever want any part of. My two sous …
Unfortunately, these comments are myopic. Perhaps, just perhaps, this entire martial challenge had nothing to do with a) HEMA or b) a sporting event? Just taking these four comments, look at the logical rebuttals:
1) Dr. Khorasani recently taught some Persian wrestling to a BotN team; he is not a Battle of the Nations fighter. (For those not in the know, Battle of the Nations is another type of “medieval combat sport” — essentially submission fighting with steel weapons in full armour. It is very rough fighting, although as the rules expressly ban thrusting, it negates the principle historical method of combating armour, and consequently most BotN fighters have little interest in the historical arts themselves.) He *does* own a full suit of Persian armour, just as I own two suits of European harness. However, most HEMA folks — especially those focused on tournaments — have no interest in armour or armoured combat and consider it “dress up” or “reenactment”. An odd position for folks studying ‘the knightly art’ perhaps, and not true — there was even an armoured demo at Longpoint — but the larger point here is that the poster clearly didn’t read either the challengers or challenged description of what the event was, and just assumed that Dr. Khorasani must be engaged in “that other sport”, one that has no love lost with the HEMA tournament scene.
2) It can’t be good or bad for “our sport” because a) “HEMA” does not unilaterally equal “tournament fighting”, b) Dr. Khorasani does not study HEMA, and not all of the participants were “HEMA” people, c) wait for it….this was not a sporting event, but a martial arts test, as was made clear from the get-go. Why a man studying Persian martial arts is now responsible for the reputation of HEMA tournament combat is beyond me.
3) Referees defeat the entire purpose of a test of character and endurance. Indeed, part of the reason for referees in competition is an inherent suspicion that the fighters will not be honest in calling blows. Further, many forms of HEMA competition today do indeed have people call their own hits, or at least refuse points for blows they think they improperly landed. This is simply purged from the competitive tournament circuit because it “puts too much pressure on the combatants”. That right there is the difference between a martial art as a test of character and a combat sport as a way to win some sort of trophy. Both are correct in their own place and time, but the post shows a complete ignorance as what this event was.
4) If any chance to hold the field is just arrogant chest-beating, I would presume that this poster would frown on things like this:
Willyam Pascall shalle stand againste all Maisters with the following weapons, vis Axe, Pyke, Long Sword, Backesworde, Two Hande sworde and Rapyr & Dagger
Robert Grene and William Browne shall play against all alyens and strangers beinge borne Without the king’s Dominions in Axe, Pike, Rapyr, Dagger and Rapier and Targait.
Which are only two of the many challenge matches fought by members of the London Masters purely as a public test of arms, and have clear analogs throughout the 14th and 16th centuries, throughout Europe. Likewise, I am sure that modern challenges such as Guy Windsor’s two-hour holding of the field at WMAW 2009, or Bob Charrette’s celebration of his 60th birthday by fighting 60 minutes in full harness at WMAW 2013 are just marks of hubris, rather than a personal test?
I don’t know that last poster even by name, so I confess that it is a bit unfair to make him a strawman in an argument, but it speaks to what discussion on social medial regarding the 100 Man Fight has really left me feeling appalled by: the length to which the self-referential nature of HEMA Sport fighting has made it impossible for so many students of western sword arts to even “get it” when confronted by something that doesn’t involve referees, flags and points — items that our ancestors would themselves have been largely bewildered by.
Take this comment, by one of my colleagues and a respected, “up and coming” teacher of European swordsmanship, who has a very detailed and active blog:
There is very little in this event for the HEMA tournament organizers to learn from in my opinion, but it does enforce what is already common knowledge. As a singular event there may be something to learn from this — mostly what not to do — and the main point I wish to emphasize is that for a swordsman, or a fencer, it is a requirement to be brave and tough, but doing something like this is not necessary nor is it beneficial for anyone. This should be true to those who were part of it too, as it seems that no one had intended for the event to finish this way.
That would be reasonable if only a) this sort of thing had *anything to do with tournament fighting in the first place* — as Dr. Khorasani had stated repeatedly, and as the Digladior report makes clear they also understood, at least in theory, b) what the test was meant to be and what happened are not the same thing — again as made clear, c) these sorts of tests of character already occur in many martial arts, and indeed in HEMA groups — almost any that use Prize Playing.
Again, from the same poster:
there is no glory in getting bruised by a sword. There is some, but very little being tough. Each one of those bruises probably stands for a lost limb and a fatal injury.Also there already exists decades of testing of protective equipment, and riot vests and hockey gloves have been seen as inadequate years ago. It saddens me too someone walk the path of broken fingers just because of ignorance.
While I agree with the statement in general, I would point out this is comment is somewhat disingenuous as the specialty HEMA gloves worn by tournament fighters did not stop not one, not two, not three, but four broken fingers at WMAW, one of our own members from getting a broken hand in the tournament at CombatCon, and on-going complaints after every tournament about broken fingers or hands. Further, as Dr. Khorasani states, he went there expecting to use aluminum swords and light feders, and that is not what he was greeted with. Events like the Dog Brother Beastings demonstrate quite clearly that one can fight in very, very little gear very hard and not get overly injured if everyone understands what they are trying to do.
I would really like to write the challengers a pass and say that they didn’t understand, their own words state that they knew why they were there.
This same poster goes on to post:
These things have been discussed before, but the notion of full-contact swordfighting is strange. Due to the paradoxically impotent but dangerous nature of the blunt weapons leads to an emphasis in effectiveness of unarmed close quarters techniques and at times overly hard hits with the weapon. The latter is due to the need to get physical effect on the opponent with the weapon that is essentially deprived of its capability of causing this effect: the sharp bits. In the video the fights were not stopped on hits, which is exactly the things that leads to escalation unless the fighters have a proper mutual understanding and good communication during the fight. Again something that has been established during the years in various tournaments, hence leading to rules where maximally one “after-blow” or follow-up strike after initial hit is allowed.
Again, what seems reasonable at first, makes sweeping assumptions about how fencing occurs throughout the HEMA-verse and assumes that tournaments have been designed to address this “problem”. They have not. Not least of which being the one-hit and stop, reset, nature of HEMA tournaments is highly artificial. As a great deal of forensics data, not to mention historical accounts of swordfights and the advice of the masters themselves, unless the head or hands come off, very little in a swordfight is guaranteed to be an instant fight-ender. Having a judge call HALT does not simulate this in any way — nor was it thought to do so historically; the “afterblow” as used in modern tournaments is entirely anachronistic from its use in the 16th century fencing Guilds and is at best based on a very liberal read of a very short passage on fencing competitions by the Bolognese swordsman Antonio Manciolino. Indeed, German Fechtshule seemed to have been much more like knightly deeds, consisting of counted blows, where the fight just continued until the set number of blows had been thrown.
While some folks complained that there was “too much grappling” (again, assuming that any one hit is guaranteed instant incapacitation) on Khorasani’s part, they ignore that the hard blows were being delivered by the guys in the HEMA gear. Which, of course, is another myth: that HEMA tournament fighting is “unarmoured combat”. Sure, the same way kendo is — fought in modern armour. When the tournament circuit was first beginning, mostly with nylon swords, many of us were criticized for being overly armoured by wearing helmets, gambesons, gauntlets and forearm guards. But now that steel is in play, the average tournament fighter now wears a functionally heavier set of equipment:
A heavily padded jacket, a gambeson by another name, which is designed to incorporate plastic armour plates on the inside should the wearer choose;
Heavy plastic/foam gauntlets or lacrosse gloves of varying design;
Hard joint protection for the elbows
hard knee and shin guards
And a number of them wear additional protection under their jacket or trouser.
The end result of heavy kit is that people aren’t terribly afraid of getting hit and throw themselves into fights. Anyone who wants to say that HEMA tournaments avoid “full contact hitting” because it really isn’t necessary to hit that hard with a sharp weapon (a point on which I agree), or that allowing takedowns on a hard surface is unusual just need watch the messer finals from Longpoint to see that clubbing-masquerading-as-swordsmanship is hardly something that was invented for the 100 Man Fight.
The idea of calling a halt at each hit ignores that continuous, flowing fights is common in many schools, particularly during Prize Playing, and yet injuries, escalation and other problems are rare. Why? Because the challengers aren’t there to win, only to give a good, clean fight. But as this sort of engagement is not a part of his own sparring culture, nor does he have any background in martial arts that have these sorts of initiatic challenges, he assumes it cannot be done and that a style of combat sport that has been invented over the last decade must provide the one, true, working model for testing oneself with swords.
This post ends with the sage advice that seems to run through many of the discussions on social media:
Likewise, if a full contact armored fighter wants to study – or compete in – a historical sword art simulating unarmored duel with sharp swords, he has to somewhat adjust his mentality and equipment.
And it should not require anyone getting beaten half-dead to realize the above.
Again, the only terms I can use are myopic, because the assumptions on this post, and others, is that they are in a position to sit in judgment on the “outsider” who was messing with their sport, and thus any problems must have been almost entirely Dr. Khorasani’s. Over and over the discussion since last week has circled around the following:
There is an assumption that Dr. Khorasani was a BotN fighter, when a simple read of his webpage and watching his videos (also at least one of the posters was just at a seminar with the man), would make it clear that what he meant by full-contact, and that the gear he stated he would fight with is what he does most of his bouting in. You don’t have to know the man at all, you just need to go to Youtube. Persian Martial Arts are just like their European counterparts of the period — meant to be used in and out of armour, and originally developed for warfare. The fact that so many modern HEMA people want to study a 15th c art while ignoring a major part of the context, does not mean those who do differently are engaged in “crash and bash” fighting.
There is a hypocritical contradiction here, where Dr. Khorasani must be a BotN guy looking to duke it out in heavy gear, but then he is held to task for being the guy too lightly armed and armoured. Now, whether or not he should have trusted the organizer to communicate this is another matter, but then again so is the question of why his opponents felt a need to come after him with kicks thrown while wearing plate armour, an axe or throwing blows that frankly were way harder than necessary for a friendly challenge, particularly one where there was nothing to win.
No one was “beaten half-dead” — although the injuries are far more than they should have been, broken fingers and hands are quite common in HEMA circles, and broken ribs, etc not terribly uncommon in many other martial arts. The fact that one poster feels “the reason we fight with swords is because we don’t particularly like black eyes” may be true for him, but has little to do with martial arts in general.
Nor was the intention to try and prevent being “beaten half dead”. As stated clearly: In the same spirit japanese kendo has tachikiri/tachigiri no seigan as a test of courage, endurance and stamina. What he got was a group of more heavily geared guys who, whatever their claims, were quite clearly batting for the fences.
This was not a tournament, it was not meant to inspire tournaments. Dr. Khorasani wished to test himself in a type of deed of arms that is part and parcel of both our historical, European tradition, and his Persian one, and which has been part and parcel of a number of armed and unarmed combat arts, as already stated. This was a personal test, and the challengers are meant to push and test, not try to crush — which is far too easy to do as they are fresh and the challenged grows progressively wearier.
Nor was it a HEMA event. If one of us wished to do this — as has been done in a variety of ways — it would be quite simple; there are now HEMA events all over the world. Dr. Khorasani and his small team represent the sum total of Persian swordplay researchers. So, rightly or wrongly, he trusted someone he knew to help him arrange such a test vis a vis the help of swordsmen he felt shared a similar interest in reconstructing their traditional martial arts. I would assume he came that conclusion based on the HEMA events in Italy, Malta and Germany he had participated in. He was clearly wrong.
I want to be very clear. I think Dr. Khorasani was ill-advised to do this. The reason is that all of these other challenges, from Guild Prize Playings to Dog Brother beat-downs, occur “in house” — within one’s tradition, with fellows on the same path. Because he does not have other folks in his tradition to do this, he of necessity had to go outside his tradition. But in that case, he would have been better-served working more closely with a group of HEMA folks he knew well, perhaps at one of their events, where he could have had more control over the events. When the organizer would not move the date, and it was clear that the standards of weapons and gear were wildly different, it was late in the game to back out.
I also look at the recommendations made by both Khorasani and Digladior for moving forward and agree that the matches should have been shorter (a set number of blows, IMO), the exact specific gear noted and required and mass weapons banned on less the fighting was to be done in armour. Those things were poor choices on everyone’s part.
But having said that, as HEMA person, what I find depressing is not the “effect on HEMA” of this event, but the sure inability of people to understand that fights like this can and should be conducted in a tough, but friendly manner, and that while a safety marshal is necessary, fighting shouldn’t need a referee to constantly call hits: the ability to fight with control and to acknowledge hits ought to be well-within the means of anyone who calls himself a “martial artist”. The constant discussion about sports conventions, refereeing, a need to stop after every hit and so forth points to the largest problem when combat sports and martial arts collide: one finds worth in collecting points, trophies and medals, one through challenging oneself. One relies on external factors and people for control, one is about controlling oneself. One is concerned with knowing the rules and playing to those rules; one is concerned with understanding the spirit of the rules and what they are meant to challenge. Neither is “right”; they exist in a context, and both differ dramatically from combat, which is about, as Fiore dei Liberi said, “fighting without rules to the bitter end.”
I fully expect and accept that as HEMA has grown, specialization has occurred, not just by art, by what aspects of that art to practice and in what environment. We can agree or disagree on various points as to the virtues and flaws of our particular approaches, we can even agree to disagree. What we cannot do as serious researchers, teachers and students of HISTORICAL EUROPEAN MARTIAL ARTS is to ignore these differences, or insist that it is impossible or undesirable to move from one modality to another. Doing so already destroyed the diversity of fencing, and exterminated the first HEMA Renaissance in the early 20th century, in the push for standardized rules and focusing on referred competition as the “measure of the man” comes the real problem of dismissing any who are interested in something different as aberrant; it also rapidly removes us from the martial ethos of our ancestors, and makes this the pursuit of creating just another contact sport like rugby or football.
I wish Dr. Khorasani the very best in his recovery and hope the 100 Man quest will someday see light again, just more carefully planned, with folks who get its purpose and in an environment that will be respective of what all deeds of arms in chivalric cultures were meant to do — to assert one’s willingness to put themselves out on the line and test themselves in public to their utmost.
The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. After years of attendees decrying a two-year wait between WMAW’s, in 2009 we hosted The 600: Prepare for Fiore – a celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Flower of Battle. This was followed by last year’s Armizare Academy.
In 2014, we turn to the Mediterranean Renaissance and the art of the duel! This full, three day event will feature:
A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
Lectures and demonstrations;
A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.
Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee includes entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.
This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!
Dates: September 19 – 21, 2014
The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403
(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)
On campus; all rooms have two single beds. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.
Nine hot meals.
$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014
Whew! As is a decade-old tradition, eight days after it began, Sean Hayes was the last to board the plane, officially turning out the lights and locking the door on the Western Martial Arts Workshop.
WMAW 2013 was our most packed event ever, not just in terms of classes, but with an armoured Deed of Arms (actually, a Deed within a Deed – more on that later), an on-going Challenge Tournament, an early-morning Duel at Dawn and more lectures than we have ever had before. Based on early feedback, I think it all worked, or mostly worked, but the downside was that many of the special events required special planning meetings on site, so as part of the event staff, I saw less of the actual classes than I normally do.
We try to change out about 1/5 of the instructor roster each WMAW, bringing in new folks from both the US and abroad. This year our new faces included Tim Rivera (Esgrima Comun, USA), Roger Norling (All-Meyer-All-the-Time, Sweden), Mishael Lopes Cordoza (German longsword, Holland) and Roberto Laura (Traditional Italian Stick and Knife, Germany).
Despite by best efforts, it proved impossible for me to get to Tim’s Spada e Rodella (sword and round shield) class, although it received rave reviews from my students, as did Lopes’ Dutch dagger fighting class, which one my students dubbed: just like Fiore, only meaner and more vindictive. Fortunately, I *was* able to take most of Lopes’ longsword cutting patterns class and to audit Roger’s short staff class. Neither disappointed. “Techno-Viking” moniker aside, Lopes is an articulate instructor with fantastic body-mechanics who was able to relate why the patterns he was teaching were not just mechanically efficient, but tactically preferable in terms of tempo and line. It was a great class, even if I got pulled out to go deal with some administrative issues about 2/3 of the way through.
Roger Norling and I share a love of polearms, so when I invited him to come, I of course insisted he teach a class on Meyer’s staff. This three hour workshop was a real highlight, not just because I think Meyer has left us a brilliant, elegant and powerful system of staff-fighting, but because Roger’s pedagogy was equally brilliant. Ably assisted by new friend, fellow Illinoisan and brother-at-arms Chris Vanslambrouk of the Meyer Freifechter, from the moment he began his warm-up, everything Roger taught was designed to initiate students in the body mechanics and broad motions of the art. The Gothenburg Historical Fencing Society is known for its physicality and conditioning, and Roger brought this to his teaching: the first hour of the class would have been a fantastic stand-alone class in relating warm-ups and conditioning to your martial arts practice. Fortunately, there was two more hours of solo and paired work and people got a great work out, exposure to an art most of them had never seen before and I suspect an eye-opener as to the power of the humble staff….
Speaking of sticks and staves, I have already talked at length about my teacher Roberto Laura’s dedication and mastery of the traditional staff and knife arts of Italy, but I was eager to share his knowledge with the larger HEMA community. For those who do not know Roberto Laura, after many years in traditional Asian arts, he has spent the last twelve years traveling back and forth from Germany to Italy to research, document and train in traditional Italian arts. At WMAW, he presented a class on the shepherd’s staff from the Scuola Fiorata of Sicily, and a 3 hr workshop on the dueling knife both the Fiorata and Calvieri d’Umilita schools. These were some of the first classes to fill up in registration, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed. I think they also learned what I mean when I say that Roberto demonstrates what “sprezzatura” looks like in action. I suspect these old folk arts may gain some new students here, thousands of miles from their home…
As a side note, I will add that my good friend Jorg Bellinghausen has told me to invite three people to WMAW over the years: Roland Warzecha, Christian Eckert and Roberto Laura, and his recommendations have always become event favorites. Moral of the story – listen to Jorg. Well, maybe not after hours, after a few beers and smokes, but otherwise…
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Speaking of Jorg, he also taught a brilliant class toward the end of the weekend (what the instructors named “the Graveyard Shift”) called “The Sword Comes from the Messer”, that demonstrated adaptations of messer play to longsword, rather than the other way around. This became was one of tidiest, most concise lessons I have seen, equally useful for experienced practitioners as well as a short immersion course for newcomers to the German tradition.
Dr. Les Moore has become synonymous at WMAW with American Catch Wrestling (the colonial inheritor of English Catch-as-Catch Can), and he did not disappoint this year. But he also told me early on that he wanted to focus on beautifully illustrated, but slender self-defense work by Nicholas Petter. I confess I was a bit skeptical – not in Dr. Les, but in whether or not there was enough there for the class he was proposing, but since I hadn’t looked at the text either seriously or in over a decade, I said OK. Apparently, that was a good move! I could. I could tell you my thoughts on the class, but I’ll instead quote Jesscia Finley, herself no stranger to grappling: “I think I am in love with Dr. Les. Holy Crap that was good!” There you have it.
Jessica herself taught both a class on how to “spar” with historical wrestling and a 3-hour workshop on the work of Ott and Von Auserwald which also included a significant component on how to actually enter into wrestling: an area that many HEMA folks without prior knowledge of grappling, judo, etc are usually fairly weak. I only got to audit about half of the class, but I loved what I saw and my selfish solution will be to have her here for a private workshop.
Roland Warzecha has long been an advocate of slow-motion, free-form training, and this year he refrained from participating in coached fencing to instead teach an evening mini-class in his methods and principles. I cannot express how much the attendees loved this: I was cornered by almost every attendee and told “why can’t we have him do an entire 3-hr workshop on this?” OK, OK, I get it – I’ll talk to Roland… or at least, his alter-ego, The Dimicator.
Unfortunately, my dear friend Tom Leoni took ill and had to drop out of the event, and combined with Devon Boorman’s induction into the Dolorous Order of the Dislocated Digit (see below), I suddenly found myself picking up an extra 4.5 hours of teaching duty. I certainly didn’t mind – it meant an excuse to play with polearms! – but it did sadly happen to coincide with exactly the remaining class slots I had left myself the freedom to attend. Damn! It also means that I was suddenly teaching first period Sunday morning – double damn! But I went to bed early(ish) like a good boy, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the workshop, which built off a pair of classes on Italian spear, and sword vs spear that I had co-taught with Devon One-Arm the day before. (How does a one-armed man teach spear? Through a body-double, of course, in this case Roland Cooper.)
I know there were other classes, and I know a lot of them were great: “Wow, Sons of Hauptgames was even better than the first! That was a really great rapier mechanics class! The Sneaky Stuff class really was…sneaky.” But I didn’t get to see them. (How *does* one get to be a guest at his own event?) I *did*get to see some of the lectures, from Elizabethan Sea Dogs to Spada da Popolo (the history of the Italian knife arts) and an intriguing lecture by Ben Roberts on the English longsword tradition. Mark Lancaster began the event with a lecture on A Hidden Tradition – a rumination of the “common art” of the Middle Ages which the various masters were improving upon or countering; essentially “what did most combatants know”? It was well-received and Mark is still working on the topic, so hopefully I’ll see version 2.0 someday.
THE CHALLENGE TOURNAMENT
There has long been a great deal of discussion, interest and debate in the virtues and methods of competition in refining and testing martial arts skill, and a strong divide between traditional martial arts and combat sports. In recent years, this same interest, debate and specialization has become a part of the Historical European Martial Arts community, with various sub-communities ascribing different levels of importance, emphasis and virtue to formalized competition.
My own views on the subject are similar to those eloquently expressed by new WMAW instructor Roger Norling in “The Wreath or the Cash” at his HROARR website: http://www.hroarr.com/the-wreath-or-the-cash-on-tournament-fighting/ and the WMAW Challenge Tournament, derived from a proposal by Maryland KdF member Ben Michels, was an attempt to put some of these ideas in practice. The tournament has been developed with the following precepts in mind:
Competition should be a good test of physical skill as well as character; If combatants don’t have a chance to fail both physically and personally in a match, you do not have a martial arts competition, you have a sports competition.
Judged combat can lead to awarding technically better fencing, but it also reduces the character test on combatants, as they are absolved from calling hits and learn to “sell” points. Fencing is the Art of Defense, and we see far too many double-hits in sparring;
The current emphasis on the After Blow in all fights, rather than the original “king of the hill format” has actually encouraged double-hits as people game the After Blow to negate an attack.
No one likes to be eliminated in “sudden death”, one-hit fits, but that is the reality of a lethal fight with sharp swords. As Fiore dei Liberi wrote: “in one missed parry lies death”.
Most fencing tends to be like vs like weapons, whereas the various masters all assert that their art works in all manners of combat, against all weapons.
No set of rules can accurately reflect real combat, only reward realistic tactics and deemphasize unrealistic ones.
With these rules in mind, Ben and I conceived the WMAW Challenge Tournament. Here is how it worked.
The tournament was fought in two rounds – an open Challenge and invitational Finals. The Challenge Round was open to all attendees with the requisite equipment, began during Thursday night free-fencing and ran all through Friday classes, concluding with Friday night free fencing. Fights were conducted privately and judged on the honor system, based on the stated Scoring Conventions (see below).
Overall Victor received 2 pts;
The person who scored the first blow received 1 pt;
If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lost 1 pt.
Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 3 and -1 points.
These rules were not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt was lost.
Finally, Combatants could choose to fight in any of the following categories (and could participate in as many as they like): Longsword, Cut and Thrust Sword (inclusive of sword alone, sword and buckler, or sword and dagger), Thrusting Sword (Inclusive of rapier, rapier and dagger, rapier and cloak or smallsword). What defined which category you were fighting in is what you are armed with, not your opponent. Thus, if two combatants wish to meet in the field with longsword vs. rapier and dagger, they are welcome to do so – with one person receiving a score in the Longsword category and the other in the Thrusting Sword category.
After the Challenge Round ended, total scores for each combatant in each Weapon Category were totaled, and the top two combatants for each round moved to the finals, to be fought as an exhibition during Sunday’ s lunch period. The Finals were a formally judged match, based on the rules designed by Sean Hayes for VISS. You can find those rules at http://chivalricfighting.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/tournament-rules/
The finalists in each round were:
Longsword: Mishael Lopes Cordosa and Roland Cooper (victory to Lopes)
Cut & Thrust: Bill Grandy and Doug Bahnick (victory to Bill)
Thrusting Sword: Kathleen Gormanshaw and Nat Ward (victory to Kathleen)
So Did it Work?
Good question! The answer is: parts did and parts didn’t.
The scoring conventions and open format of the Challenge round worked very well, not least of which because combatants were sometimes annoyed or frustrated by the results. “What do you mean I got zero points? I WON!” Yes, but you got hit first and double-hit. Look at it this way, your opponent got nothing, too! What was interesting was that in some cases, he who fought most and won most clearly dominated – Lopes had more points in longsword than the second and third place finish combined – at other times the two finalists had not fought that many bouts, but had managed to win, score first blood and avoid double-hits, as happened in the Cut & Thrust round.
The honor system worked just fine, but in part because we put in a caveat: if you couldn’t agree on the results of the bout you went to the recorder and were forced to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The victor in the Rock, Paper, Scissors was to be announced at Saturday’s dinner. Act like a child, get treated like one. The RPS Solution was never invoked.
Now, a few people gamed round one – both parties scored poorly and decided not to report their results – and that’s probably no better or worse than any other problem in tournaments, from poor or biased judging to gaming the After Blow. In this case it really didn’t matter, because there was no prize to be won – as we made clear at the start, this was just an experiment to try various scoring and judging conventions with a heterogeneous audience.
The finals, IMO, and even within my own school it seems I was a minority, were a mixed bag. I appreciate what both the Longpoint rules and Sean Hayes’ modifications to them seek to achieve, and I think they work well to train fighters, but within a tournament I think they take too long to score, make the action too staccato and make it hard for the audience to understand what they are seeing. I think that the idea of the system, including priority, which worked well, is good and can be refined and perhaps slimmed down for actual competition. In any event, you can see the system at work here, in the well-fought messer finals:
The major flaw with the tournament was that participation was lighter than anticipated and as I asked people why they weren’t trying their luck, I heard a common refrain, even from those who like to compete: it was hard to move back and forth from a competitive mindset to a free-play mindset, from focusing on trying new things or being highly-technical to relying on “what worked”. I hadn’t really considered that, but in retrospect it makes good sense. I *was* happy to see that a number of folks did try mixed weapons, and that added some diversity and variety to the fighting.
At its core, WMAW is a teaching, research and networking event, not a tournament event, of which there are a growing number. I don’t know that we’ll do much with refining the model at WMAW itself, but those lessons will plug in to what we do with our off-year events. I will say that if I were to carry the experiment further forward, I would make phase one of the tournament focused on a single, three-hour evening block, probably advance the top four to the second phase, and perhaps have the two highest-scoring finalists of whatever weapon bout for the overall victory. But it was fun to try and it did reinforce my feeling that if your goal is to use competition as an adjunct to training, rather as a focus for a particular event, the rules can be quite minimalistic, and a lot is gained by not placing all responsibility in the hands of the judges. I look forward to chatting more with Ben, Jake and Sean about refinements in the days to come.
THE ARMOURED DEED OF ARMS
In the last few years a reconstruction of an Armoured Deed of Arms has become one part martial exercise, one part extended exhibition match. It is not meant to be a “reenactment” (although I certainly caught a few snickers about that), but rather an homage: if you are going to go the trouble of wearing $3 – 10K of armour and reconstruct armoured combat the best way to pressure test that is the same way as the people who did so originally. My model for this has been the modern jousting movement, where the competitors are in historical kit, using a modernized set of historical rules (generally for safety), with a ground crew in historical kit, but with no pretensions by the competitors or announcers that it is an historical event, anymore than dressage, fox hunt or rodeo riders pretend it is the 19th century, despite wearing a traditional ‘costume’.
We must be doing something right, because from a meager handful of guys at the first Deed, there were nearly combatants this year, most in full, homogenous harness! Among the new faces were Christian Cameron, Marc Auger and Dr. Ken Mondschein.
Nicole Allen has long been the sole representative of the “armoured ladies who kick ass” contingent in these Deeds, but this year she was joined by Jessica Finley of the Old Dominion Fechtschule. In fact, Jessica was chosen First Among Equals and invited to join the Companions of the Seven Swords. You can watch Jessica hand me my ass here:
Although I was disappointed with some of this year’s Free Fencing (including the handful of pick-up bouts I managed to get in myself), I think we saw some of our best armoured combat matches, with everything from dagger to poleaxe. Judging of a good kit was a bit uneven – I generally required a more solid blow than Devon did – but we’ll work that out, and I believe that all of the combatants felt “well-satisfied”.
The Deed also had a second Deed with in! Last year, Bob Charrette, a founding member of the Seven Swords and a participant in all of the Deed we have hosted, asked if there might be a time and place to allow him to do a feat of arms in honor of his 60th birthday: to fight in harness for one minute for each year of his life. How could we possibly say no to that?
So in between each bout, Bob met a challenger with their their choice of dagger, sword, axe, short spear and long spear. Bob fulfilled his Deed and could have stood a few challenges more (although I suspect he was content not to have to do so) – an inspiring model for all of us to emulate! At the end of the Deed, he awarded each person he fought with a token: a figurine of the Master of the Segno, carved by his own hand. In turn, and to his great embarrassment, the Companions of the Seven Swords awarded him with a token of our own: a tournament sword in the style of Rene d’Anjou, made by Companion Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armoury, and inscribed with both Fiore’s four virtues and a crowned 60. A fine end, to a fine deed!
The day could not have come to completion with the Dawn Stiers and her “squire team” who where indispensable in the running of the deed. Dawn is a master of organization who stepped in last year with my student Cooper Braun-Enos to whip the flow of the event into shape. This year, she and her crew made things move so smoothly that we finished half an hour early! A huge thanks to all of the team, especially Erin Fitzgerald, who was always on hand to help me with my armour, hand me water and make sure I knew where I was going and what I was doing.
SATURDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
Saturday night’s feast – an old-school pig roast – has become a tradition at WMAW. Every year we’ve had a different theme. One year was a costume party “celebrating 600 years of Western martial arts”, another year was medieval, and last year was Victorian, in keeping with the entertainment: a reconstruction of a 19th c Assault of Arms, such as might have been seen at the Bartitsu Club. This year was modern formal. Every year, Dr. Bill Ernoehazy, as master of ceremonies, takes on the persona of the theme and weaves that into his presentation style. But what do you do with modern formal?
Why, you do a 1940s-style Night at the Fights, of course! There might not have been quite enough sweat or cigarette smoke, but we did have a bell! (Some remarked that it looked suspiciously like the dinner bell Dekoven rings. I can only say that while it did have a certain resemblance, all I know is that I told Spark that “we need a bell” and a) a bell appeared and b) the dinner bell was in place at breakfast the next morning. What happened in between is a mystery.) We also had what was, beyond a doubt, some of the best demo bouts we have ever hosted, of which the one that must take special note was the messer bout, wearing only mensur-style googles and gloves, fought by Roland Warzecha and Jake Norwood:
This was one of the cleanest and finest martial displays I have *ever* had the privilege to watch. It also revealed Roland and Jake’s alter-egos, as can also be seen from the photo at the bottom of this article…..
Standing in for both an injured Devon Boorman and John O’Meara, CSG’s Rob Rutherfoord met Bill Grandy in an Italian rapier bout that was, bar none, the most technically clean we’ve ever had, while also being quite athletic. I don’t think Rob needs to ever worry about being the “stand in” again!
Finally, the Demo Bouts have always featured swords, but this year we also had knives. Roberto Laura opened the demonstration with one of the elegant solo forms of the Italian knife schools, and there was a bout with American Bowie knives; a spirited display by Keith Jennings (CSG) and Thayne Alexander (RMSG). I think next time we need to chalk their blades….
All-in-all it was a great night of food, fencing and merriment, and a great capstone to the event.
THE DOLOROUS ORDER OF DISLOCATED DIGIT Every event has its flaws. Although there were notable, and inspired exceptions (Jake Norwood and Keith Jennings, I am thinking of part two of your bout!), the freeplay quality was lower this year than at last WMAW. But the decided downside was an increased number of injuries, particularly to thumbs and fingers. The two worst injuries were Sean Hayes’s little fingers, broken by a pollaxe during the armoured Deed of Arms, and Mishael Lopes Cordoza’s thumb, which we thought suffered a bad jam during the Challenge Tournament, but which in reality has a complex fracture (damn, damn and triple damn).
We’ve tried to look at the injuries that were recorded, what the combatants were fighting with and what, if anything could have been done to prevent the injury. Here’s a little after action review:
Sean’s finger was broken in a pollaxe bout with a new pollaxe design. The weapon behaves really nicely – indeed, just like a pollaxe, which was the problem. The axe head was likely too narrow to distribute force, particularly against someone wearing finger gauntlets.
The solution is two-fold: 1) the weapons need to be redesigned and 2)combatants can consider wearing mitten gauntlets or additional finger bucklers when fighting with the axe. Other than this, there isn’t much to be done – the weapon is a mass weapon and the hands will always be vulnerable; just as was discussed historically;
Devon Boorman shoulder was injured during a throw, also during the Deed of Arms, which rendered him out of combat for the weekend and a lefty for teaching purposes for the next two days. At first I thought he might have dislocated the shoulder, but it proved to be just deep tissue bruising.
There really isn’t one. Grappling is inherently dangerous, and in harness the higher center-of gravity and lack of sensitivity often takes both people to the ground. In reviewing video, no one really did anything wrong, nor was the throw particularly dangerous – one combatant simply landed hard on the other. This injury probably falls into the realm of “things will happen in full-contact sports”.
Lopes’s thumb was broken at the middle joint during the first round of the Challenge Tournament. Of course, Lopes being Lopes, this in no way stopped him from fighting and winning the longsword finals, so I doubt most people realized how complete the fracture was until he got home and posted x-rays to Facebook.
During the particular bout where the injury happened, Lopes had complained about his opponent hacking needlessly hard. This may have been a matter of too much blow force (it is a sword, not a mace, people), and in a judged tournament the judges might have been there to step in, but in addition to this, I think this sort of injury is in turn a combination of training and culture issues and combatants being willing to say “Dude, quit hitting so damn hard.”
We had three other notable hand injuries that I know about: a thumb that had its nail pulled back, a severely jammed thumb, a dislocated finger and a broken thumb. In talking to the combatants about how they happened, when, what they were fighting with, etc, here is what we were able to determine:
All of the injuries happened in longsword bouting;
All of the injuries noted above happened to practitioners of German longsword;
None of the combatants were wearing plate gauntlets, but what they *were* wearing varied from the custom gloves at Sparringglove.com, the cheap Absolute Force knock-offs and lacrosse gloves.
There was no consistency in the swords used in the injuries, but they included an Atrim I-beam sword, a Regenyei feder, and an Albion Meyer.
We discussed this a lot with the instructors who stayed afterwards at the event, and I don’t really have one, in part because I don’t think the injuries were because of a singular issue, but rather a “perfect storm” of a variety of issues.
Swords – I can’t say anything for certain, but I will note that each of our last three events someone has gotten a part of their hand mashed by the Atrim I-beam swords. I love Gus, but I really think he’s recreated a crowbar, not a sword, with these weapons, and I think the use of this weapon in inter-group fencing and competition needs to be evaluated.
Blow force – I will say that I saw people hitting harder and relying on far more safety gear than in previous years. This was particularly true of those who come from a tournament-focus. More gear, more force, and while higher level combatants were good at modulating their power, lower level fighters emulating them clearly were relying on the armour to get the job done. The end result was that I saw a lot of what was familiar from my SCA days – a reliance on safety gear over control, and a lot of *hitting* with swords, as opposed to cutting – with the same sorts of injuries.
Safety-Gear: the problem clearly went beyond safety gear, but I do think that in some cases that exacerbated the problem. As I said in my review when the Absolute Force gloves came out, they do not have the shaping, dexterity or strength of the Fechtschule Gdansk gloves they knocked off. I particularly noted that the thumbs were flimsy, particularly at the joint, and the way they fold over the glove, instead of to tucking in (as seen in historical mitten gauntlets) made thumb injuries likely. I was told by the manufacturer “oh, everyone loves them”. Maybe so (although I think what they love is the price-point), but between WMAW and Armizare Academy I have now seen five significant thumb injuries to people wearing these gloves, and as blow force goes up, I suspect more will follow. If you have $120 hands, by all means wear $120 gloves, I guess.
Style: All of the thumb injuries happened to people who practice German arts. I don’t think that is a critique of the style, but I do think that since it uses slipping in and out of the thumb grip, it is worth investigating how people are using that grip under adrenaline pressure, and with different sorts of hand protection, to determine if they are over extending or hyper-flexing their thumbs, making them more susceptible to being hit.
Shameless Personal Editorial: When the debates over historical gear vs. non-historical gear went through the community, one complaint was that the gambeson, gauntlets and helmets that some of us favored were “too bulky and too heavy” for unarmoured combat. Indeed, that was the rationale behind many of the nylon swords, such as the Rawlings line. That argument may or may not be true, but the overall amount of kit that I saw the modernists wearing – full shin, knee and instep guards, full arm guards over an Axel Petterson jacket (a gambeson by any other name), reinforcing gear *under* the jacket, sometimes black, plastic reinforcing gear (shaped, I might add, like medieval armour) the arms of the jacket, compression pants with protective plates, and so forth, was astounding. It also actually weighs notably more (and in the case of the hand protection, clearly protects less) then what I was told was too heavy to simulate “unarmoured combat”. I think the virtue is it’s modern and black. In any case, I think too much armour + blunt swords comes to less fear of closing and more percussive use of the weapon, making it more like stick-fighting than swordfighting. YMMV.
IN CLOSING This was our most ambitious WMAW and I think our most successful; not just because the event was sold-out, but because attendees had a vast choice of activities, there was plenty of friendly blade-crossing, and I think the overall spirit and nature of the event was the most upbeat, warm and positive I have seen. WMAW was designed as a way to showcase research, try new things and build bridges, and I hope that was achieved with some of this year’s new faces.
Of course the event only happens because of the tireless work of the WMAW event staff: Nicole Allen, John O’Meara, Jacques Marcotte and Christina Bailey, and the hair-pulling efforts at ride coordination and equipment transportation by Davis Vader, whose job I would not do at gun-point. Our staff’s efforts only get us to the day of the event; after that it is the legion of Blue Shirt volunteers and drivers who make us pull the event off. Thank you, each and every one. And thanks to all of the students who make this worth doing time and again.
You can find additional WMAW reviews from Jake Norwood on the HEMA Alliance forum and a variety of instructors and attendees at the WMAW Facebook page.
This past weekend I had the privilege to teach at the first Borealis Swordplay Symposium, accompanied by fellow Guilders Nicole Allen, Adam Schneider and Davis Vader.
Borealis grew out of an annual cookout and celebratory pas d’armes held by our Ottawan sister-school, Les Maitres des Armes. The photos from last year’s event made it all seem like so much fun that Sean Hayes from the Northwest Fencing Academy and I both pledged to attend, and then suddenly, Jason Smith, LMdA’s chief instructor, had conceived of a new event!.
PRE-EVENT: WELCOME TO CANADA, EH?
Sean Hayes flew into Chicago for a day of training and hanging out, before we headed off to Ottawa. Unfortunately, Sean’s arrival was close on the heels of the death of my father after a long, debilitating illness – close enough that I had planned on canceling my attendance. It was my lovely girlfriend Tasha, who suggested that rather than my mother and I spending the Father’s Day weekend alone, I just pack Mom up and take her with – they could go sight-seeing as I hit people in the head with swords. Jason immediately agreed that this was a brilliant idea, so a little scrambling and our itinerary was adjusted, and were off.
If there is a defining trait for my friends in LMdA it is “warm”. So, it was no surprise that from the moment we were picked up at the airport, we were somewhere between honored guests and close family. Our first night was a private dinner at the home of Jason, his girlfriend Celine and their delightful children; Team Smith produced an amazing dinner of good food, good drink, and good company – all while entertaining us in a house they had moved in the week before! Like any good son, I threw Mom in the deep end, and she was soon hearing about odd fencing terms, pedagogical debates and a variety of other things which she said she “didn’t understand, but seemed interesting, particularly after the second glass of wine.”
The next day was a relaxed walking tour of downtown Ottawa, which is a beautiful and *spotless* city. We were joined by the Mighty Might of Les Maitres des Armes, Rachel Beauchamp, and her delightful daughter, Michelle. Our tour began at the Museum of Civilization, took a river taxi to climb alongside the locks, made our way through the downtown to the crowded outdoor market, and then had an entirely-too-delicious lunch in a delightful pâtissière that immediately put me right back in Paris. From there we toured the Neo-Gothic splendor of the Canadian Parliament and as dinner time came our feet were quite ready to get in the car and head for home, where a housewarming potluck awaited at Jason and Celine’s. What a shock, the food was amazing – especially when accompanied by the brewing mastery of Jim Clark of LMD, whose hop-less medieval beer had claimed my hear at Chivalric Weekend, years before. Jim did not disappoint, but Tasha, Mom and I all started nodding off early, so we regretfully drove back to the hotel as the party was still going strong.
(Meanwhile, Davis and Adam – aka, the CSG Armour Sherpas – were on an educational tour of the Flop-Houses of Dearborn Michigan. This is a tale best left untold, but I will offer this advice – if your hotel parking lot has a giant billboard that points towards the closest emergency medical service, you probably shouldn’t sleep there.)
ENTER THE SALA – DAY ONE
Saturday was the class day of Borealis. Sometime in the previous night, our bedraggled Armour Sherpas had arrived, and I found all of my gear awaiting me (for the record – Armour Sherpas rock!).
Sean Hayes taught an armoured class, ably assisted by Bill Ernoehazy and the Guild’s Nicole Allen, while I taught a class on the sword in one hand, and how its presentation in the Getty Ms is designed to be a direct parallel in organization to both the equestrian combat and the plays of the dagger. Of course, LMdA is a “Fiore Shop” and Jason and I see armizare very similarly, so my class was full of ringers. Having said that, easily half came from outside the school and were either German swordsmen, Bolognese fencers or had never really worked with the one-handed sword. Even so, the students were attentive, courteous and trained diligently, carefully, and with great focus for the entire two hours. It was a delightful class to teach, with my only regret being that I couldn’t split myself so that I could have simultaneously been taking Sean’s class.
Following my class, Devon Boorman introduced students to the mechanics of Bolognese sword and buckler fencing, while Jason taught an informative, but light-hearted class on using the pommel and hilt of the sword as weapon. People cheerfully chuckled and laughed as the “popped” each other, levered one another over and threw each other to the ground, but one wonders how many thought about just how ugly a pommel strike to the teeth really is….
Celine and Rachel’s mothers then filled our bellies with a lovely homemade lunch, before Sean, Devon Boorman and I were on-tap to team-teach a 2-hour Applied Combatives class. Sean introduced a lesson on structure and strike in True Times, Devon took those principles and showed how to apply them to controlling measure and learning how and when to come to the cross, and then I showed how this in turn could inform specific techniques – taking plays that Fiore teaches defensively, such as the Exchange of Thrusts, and demonstrating how to apply them offensively. We joked afterwards about our five minutes of preparation before class, which is literally true, but in a much larger sense we’ve been prepping this class for years. All of us have taught together, trained together, been guests in each other’s schools, and have very similar theories on armizare, so this really was a delight to teach and I think we succeeded in sending the students home with new ideas and concepts they could use to build drills of their own.
The final event of the day was Tasha Kelly’s presentation on her detailed analysis of the famed Charles VI gambeson (aka “Red Charlie”), including a showing of her reproduction. Of course, having been a proof-reader for her paper, which has just been published in the German journal Waffen und Kostumekundst, I had heard this before, but I was really curious to see how much interest a lecture on arming clothes would garner at a HEMA event, especially while open sparring was going on. The answer was a lot – about a third of the attendees turned up, and she was asked a bevy of highly detailed questions, all of which she was able to answer. On yet again seeing the reconstruction of Red Charlie, I continue to remain bitter that it was sized to an 8 year old child, rather than, oh, say a 6’2 man….
Day One at its end, we returned to the Marketplace to a wonderful Irish Pub where we gorged ourselves on pub grub and good beer. That evening I had a chance to have a great chat with Pascal Theriau and Katia Chouinard of Arte Dimicatoria in Montreal. Pascal gave me an overview of the growth and evolution of Western Martial Arts in Quebec, which as a decided Anglophone, I have to confess I’ve been embarrassingly ignorant about – something I hope to rectify in the future.
PAS D’SOLSTICE – DAY TWO
If the first day of the event was classes, the second day was nothing but fighting, fighting and more fighting. Bernard Emerich had designed a beautiful, outdoor fighting list, surrounded by brightly painted pavilions and banners, but after days of beautiful breezes and fluffy, white clouds, fickle Dame Fortuna sent us a never-ending rain shower that began an hour before the event and lasted for most of the day, forcing us to retire back inside.
Undaunted by the elements, fighting commenced. The unarmoured tournament ran in heats of competing teams labeled Udine, France, England and Swabia. The first heat ran for three hours, took a break for lunch and the armoured deed of arms and then picked up again for several more hours. Weapons included longsword, arming sword, spear, sword and buckler and daggers. I marshaled the morning rounds, but Adam and Davis took the lists on behalf of Udine and Swabia, and fought a number of spirited bouts – some bringing them victory, other a beautiful collection of “educational bruises”. Particular stand-outs for me were Christopher Duffy’s arming sword bouts, a similar match between long-time fencers Dr. Bill and Christian Cameron, and Jim Clark’s Bolognese fencing. Although Jim sometimes lived and died by the same technique, there was a precision to his work that showed me that he and Dan Sellars have been not only diligently training their Dall’Agocchie, but thinking about how to apply it.
The armoured pas d’armes was modeled on similar events held at the Fiore 600 and Armizare Academy – a system of pre-arranged challenges, fought until one of a variety of conditions is met:
Five blows are landed upon one combatant in a way that would compromise the harness with sharp weapons;
One combatant is completely disarmed of all weapons;
One combatant drives another from the list.
A set-time limit is reached.
Weapons included the sword, spear, pollaxe and dagger. In previous events, being thrown to the ground was also a loss, but at the Pas d’Solstice, it counted as a “point”. We started late, and had 18 combatants, so there was really only time for 2 – 3 bouts for each fighter. My long-time friend and honorary CSG instructor, Dr. Bill Ernoehazy and I were the first bout, a very fun exchange with spears, which I am told that I won 5 – 2. That may be so, but I wish it had gone 5-4 so we could have kept trading blows! Dr. Bill kept it “all in the family” by also giving Nicole Allen her first fight in the lists, again with spears.
My second fight was also with spears, this time against a Facebook acquaintance – historical novelist Christian Cameron. Christian and I had “met” via my colleague Guy Windsor, who had told me at the time that he was a “chap’s chap, a reeactor of the first degree, a swordsman and a gentleman”. If anything, Guy undersold his friend. He and his people kept insisting that they were “living historians who swordfight”, to which I say bullsh!t. They were fantastic students and good fighters. Christian does not dress like a knight to research his novels – he is one in his demeanor and actions. What really warmed my heart was how he sought out newcomers who were shy to ask for fights and gave them solid encounters while not simply destroying them, nor making it seem like he was just playing down. We had a delightful spear bout, and I am still fuzzy as to who was declared the victor, but I count the win as mine, because I came away with a new friend whom I feel like I have known most of my life.
There were some other excellent bouts or moments of bouts – Chris Duffy executed a fight-ending throw that had a level of effortlessness and clenliness to it that was a sight to behold, ‘Kristall Crash’ wielded her poleaxe with aplomb, but the fight of the day goes to Sean and Matt McKee of the the St. Lawrence Swordfighter’s Guild who had what was quite possibly the best armoured spear fight I have ever seen. Beginning in long range, they crossed, began to wield their spears like staves, struck with the heel, disengaged, clashed together and it all began again. It was fantastic, and having never Matt before, I was extremely impressed by his fencing in the list – both in and out of harness! And oh yeah, he’s really good people, too!
Unlike previous events, the armoured bouts were not judged, merely called on the honor system. Now, those who know me know that I do not mind judged contests, but strongly oppose those in which the combatants are expected to stand mute to their own detriment – that is, where they may not refuse a point or call a hit against themselves – as it simply moves the combat one step closer to a simple sports match. However, I will say that purely having the combatants call the hits in the armoured pas d’armes proved to be problematic, not because anyone was trying to shrug blows, but rather because in a visor it can be hard to see if a hit was with the point or not. I am sure that all of us inadvertently denied some good hits or acknowledged some iffy ones, and in the end, it really didn’t matter, but I think the exact format for calling hits probably needs some refining.
Once we were done being the world’s noisiest dinner theatre, the final round of the unarmoured tournament began – with many of the folks in harness stripping down, getting their light kit on and jumping right back into the fray! And for those for who a solid fix hours of fighting wasn’t enough, there was an hour or so of open-floor time to exhaust them – although as one of the last two people on the floor when it was at last called to a halt, it is debatable if our own Davis Vader was ever satiated.
When all was said and done, a small subset of out-of-town guests (including Ser Cameron, who had sworn that he had “to dash, as soon as all was done”) and Les Maitres des Armes members retired to a nearby pub for beers, food, and various silly, raucous conversation. (Oh, and most importantly – poutine!)
Of the various sala d’arme I have encountered over the years, Les Maitres des Armes has always been one of those closest to my heart, as we share the same art, the same sentiments of how to train in it, and the same philosophy of what these arts can be and can make of those who study them. But I have also just always loved the caliber of people who call this school home, and as the school has grown, that has only become more true. Guys, you are something special, and you just gave us an event that was equally so.
I also think that Jason and his wonderful school have created a model for melding classes and tournaments in this event to which those of us in the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association need to pay attention. With all of the laborious “to tournament or not to tournament” debate of recent years, Les Maitres des Armes created the “unTournament”. Yes, there were combat conventions and victory conditions, but at their heart was “don’t be a dick and fight fair”. There was a winner declared by points, as well as a victorious team, but there was also a Princeps, chosen by the marshals and instructors for exhibiting a combination of skill, adherence to martial principles, tenaciousness and spirit – how you fought, how you conducted yourself, etc. And you know what, it was the Princeps – the very deserving Rachel Beauchamp – that received the greatest cheers from the gallery.
I say all of this because this was not an in-school tournament; there were people from probably five different schools, many with very different philosophies, and some very much a part of the ultra-modernist philosophy. They arrived skeptics and went home well-satisfied and satiated too.
Was every fight a perfect expression of the Art? Hell no. But was every fight that I marshaled was a serious attempt by those combatants to express the art to their level of understanding and ability? Yes. Yes it was. I can honestly say that this was the best overall attempt I have ever seen to express what we study in a competitive fashion that still kept the integrity of the art as a combat discipline.
It was a beautiful four days coming all-too-soon atop of one of the worst experiences of my life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity for my mother and I to have gotten a little soul-healing at the Canadian version of Elrond’s House, surrounded by old friends, and having made many, many new ones.