Three members of the Academie Duello crew and I visited the February 8-10 Capitol Clash in Washington, DC. This is a well run HEMA tournament event that runs alongside a huge modern fencing tournament all hosted by the Virginia Academy of Fencing (VAF).
I had the pleasure of being part of the reffing staff, a workshop instructor, and at the last minute a participant in the combined Longsword, Sidesword, and Rapier team tournament where my team placed first.
I had the pleasure of reffing the Open Longsword, Sword and Buckler, and Teen Longsword tournaments so I got to see a lot of fights. I also had two students on the field (who did really well!). One thing that stood out to me overall was the control exhibited by so many of the fighters. Tournaments can frequently be slugfests of brutality and I found a generally higher level of control than I see at many events. Kudos to the predominantly East Coast field who attended for this.
I still feel that the level of swordplay exhibited in tournaments has a ways to go but there were definitely some moments of brilliance. The finals between Ties and Mackenzie was certainly an athletic feat that was a lot of fun to watch.
I also enjoyed the time that I spent with some students outside of the events digging into the finer points of martial practice, body mechanics, and tactics. To me these opportunities to gather together like-minded practitioners hungry to learn, share, and practice together is what makes events special.
I appreciate the desire on the part of VAF to bring together workshops and tournaments into the same event. This is always a challenge both in scheduling and in focus. There was not enough going on to attract a workshop-only crowd and those in tournaments had to sacrifice tournament time/focus to attend them. I have encouraged them to either run a parallel workshop event to attract the more martial art and scholarship focused crowd, or run something before or after. The organizers spoke frequently about wanting to create a festival of sorts that brought together all things sword and I salute this vision. I think we'll see more good stuff in this area next year and I look forward to being a part of it.
I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the modern fencing tournament that was happening in another area of the convention centre, parallel to the HEMA event. It was impressive to see an event that was hosting over 2500 competitors. It was a huge hall that dwarfed our small HEMA event (approx. 100 competitors) by comparison.
Interestingly enough, in spite of its size I couldn't help but have it further emphasized for me that the strength of HEMA is in the fact that it is not a tournament-only focused activity. What I feel has attracted many is that there is such diverse expressions of these arts. Modern fencing is predominantly youth, and predominantly competition oriented and it shows in its steep attrition as its practitioners age (and by that I mean get into their 20s!)
Though I think there is much to learn about how to run effective tournaments from modern fencing, I also feel that we should not follow in their footsteps to become a sport-only activity. When speaking with the head coach of Columbia University it was interesting to compare a program (his) that focuses on a four-year window for practitioners and one (mine) that focuses on a 60+ year journey. It certainly changes your priorities and emphases.
Thanks to my hosts Dagi Johnson, Alex Rijyk, and Bill Grandy for their hospitality and welcome. It was also great meeting and spending time with Francesco Loda, an excellent fencer, teacher, and gentleman, as well as Nathan Grepares who I had not met till this point and really enjoyed hanging with.
Until Next Year!
If you're interested in attending an event with a focus on workshops, intensive learning, and camaraderie, come and check out the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium from April 5–9 this year. This is our fifth event anniversary and it's promising to be an amazing year!
Also, there are still a few spaces in the week-long level 1 Rapier and Longsword Intensive I'm teaching in Vancouver from March 11–15 and I've just announced a special Level 1 Intensive in Boston in June!
Take care everyone!