Swordplay 2009 was an inaugural event hosted by the Australian College of Arms. The ACA wanted to see if there was any interest in a small inter-school tournament for historical fencing groups in the Brisbane area and ended up drawing participants from all over the country and as far away as Hobart and Perth. Apparently, the gathering even garnered the interest of swordplay groups in New Zealand.
Events on offer included:
- a grand tournament using the (still under development) ACA tournament rules which test skill-at-arms with rapier and a companion weapon,
- a demonstration of the fifteenth century Belgian guild tourney rules,
- a general melee using padded and rubberised weapons and armour organised by KnightFight,
as well as seminars on various topics ranging from:
- an introduction to sixteenth century Italian rapier fencing and
- the bio-mechanics of swordplay.
For me, the highlight of Swordplay 2009 was bouting with guys from the other schools. It’s only natural that you get used to the techniques of your own school and the responses and reactions of the people you train with. Bouting with someone from another school is a whole ‘nother thing. They react to your feints and strikes in ways your training has not anticipated and their strikes on you come from directions you’ve not previously considered. I think these friendly bouts, when conducted at a slowpace, are an invaluable training tool and when we bout at something close to full speed they can become true competitions of skill. There’s a couple of guys from the SCA and from Prima Spada that I seriously look forward to meeting again in the arena.
In terms of the ACA tournament, the event was great fun even though I was knocked out (not literally) in the first round. There were a few injuries but these were confined to later rounds when the participants were becoming tired. Fatigue and swordplay are two concepts which just plain don’t mix. However, I think there’s something at the core of the experience and within the rules that, with a little tweaking, can provide the foundation of an annual event that all participants can safely be very proud of. I’m sure Scott is being bombarded with comments and suggestions for improvement.
The Belgian Guild Rules tourney put on by Leith Golding of Collegium in Armis was basically a fast and furious version of piggy-in-the-middle using wooden wasters and German longsword techniques. The wooden swords are a little light and under a padded fencing jacket it’s a little hard to register whether you’ve been hit or not. Next time, I’m told, it will be run using proper federschwert. This will make a world of difference to the event.
Richard Callinan ran a workshop describing the basic offensive and defensive maneuvers of the Italian, specifically Bolognese and Dardi traditions. For me, this workshop made the readings I’ve done into the tradition a lot clearer. The problem with reading the original texts (apart from translation difficulties) is that they all assume that you are familiar with the system or at least with fencing in general. Richard reduced the number of guards to the minimum common across all treatises describing this style of fencing and showed the actions or attacks common to all of them which start and end in these guard positions. A lot of stuff we did in the workshop, we do in our own ACA curriculum but there was plenty of new stuff and extensions on top of what we do. I’m plan on incorporating some of these techniques into my own style.
The seminar on the biomechanics of swordplay was dead interesting and I’d like to know more about the subject. Stu MacDonald of Core Life Concepts talked about how energy moves through the body using the mechanism of contraction and relaxation of muscle groups. He then demonstrated how these muscle groups chain together to create typical swordplay motions such as swinging one’s arm to strike with the blade edge or lunging forward to thrust the blade point into a target. He also provided a bunch of simple exercises (which reminds me that it’s been a few weeks since I went to yoga) to better utilise these muscle chains and improve strength and reaction time.
From my point of view, there’s plenty here to commend in Swordplay 2009 and I truly hope that others felt the same. I’d really like to see it become an annual event and, with appropriate tweaking, I’m sure it will.
Lastly, I’d like to ask for a big round of applause for the ACA‘s own Scott McDonald for going to the effort of bring us all together for this wonderful weekend.