I have been rather silent on the Academie Duello blog over the past 2 weeks as I have been away in Germany at the third World Wide Open Championship that took place just outside of Hannover. I thought I’d take a few moments to share my impression and experiences of this Historical European Martial Arts event.
WWOC is a week long event that spans two weekends and is one part seminar, one part tournament. It drew attendants this year from as far away as Canada and South Africa with most of the major western European countries being represented, particularly its host country of Germany.
The event took place in two small villages Hulsede and Meinsen, these are quaint little renaissance towns with absolutely no services. If you come by train (as I did) you are certainly reliant on your hosts to provide for you. That being said the towns were beautiful and provided the event with some excellent venues for their opening and closing ceremonies as well as a nice hostel and sports hall.
The event began with a rather spectacular opening ceremony on the first Saturday evening. This event catered to the general members of the community and even opened with a speech form the town’s mayor. Though it was not medievally themed (WWOC is a modern event that focuses on historical martial arts), it was at a beautiful 300-500 year old castle still occupied by its baronial charges. Festivities included a live blacksmith, merchants, a few historically themed show and tell booths, wandering performers including people dressed as dragons and giants (men on stilts), and a slate of performances and demonstrations.
I was personally involved in 3 demonstrations with daggers, rapiers, and longswords. Colin Richards, the event’s organizer, had had a slate of last minute cancellations and so I ended up stepping in in place of several other performers. I think considering the last minute nature of things the performances went off quite well. Other performers showed off skills with German longsword, war archery with 100 – 160 pound draw-weight bows, and fire dancers.
It was a great way to start the event and a fun way to begin meeting many of those involved. The event was also well attended by the locals and even by several sword fighting and reenactment groups who just wanted to check things out but didn’t attend the workshop or tournaments afterward.
The workshop portion of the event started up on Sunday morning. I taught a workshop in the very first block so I was happy that I chose not to stay up too too late the night before. My students were keen, attentive, and those with more experience seemed to have a sound background in their respective martial arts.
The nature of my students was similarly reflected throughout the three days of workshops and the workshops I attended were generally of good quality. I did note however that the experience level of many instructors was less than what I have come to expect at some comparable North American events but there were definitely a few workshops and instructors I felt I could gain insights from right away.
Each night after workshops were complete we had dinner (provided on site), and then some would retire to the sports hall for sparring. After that the event had a beer trailer that was on site throughout the week and made for many a drunken evening for those who chose to partake.
The event centred primarily around a hostel that had a large camping area in its back fields that also provided for outdoor workshop space. Indoor space was lacking in a couple regards, the dining hall of the hostel was good for smaller workshops or unarmed topics but couldn’t handle anything where you had to swing a sword over your head. The Sports Hall, which was the main large facility, was about a kilometre away which meant a good hike with your gear to take a class. This combined with the weather being quite good for most days, meant that most workshops happened outside and the sports hall sat empty. I’m not certain how things would have been handled had the threatening rain fallen more frequently, I think many workshops would have been cancelled.
On Wednesday there was a last workshop block in the morning and then the afternoon was left open for people to relax, head on a charter bus to a nearby Renaissance town, or fight there afternoon away as I did with my friend Roland Warzecha. Tournaments then began in earnest the next morning.
This year the tournaments featured included:
- Sword and Buckler
- Langes Messer
- Dusack (with leather dusacks)
- Backsword (with nylon backswords)
- Action Flex (a type of foam wrapped rubber dowel)
- Women’s Longsword
- Open Longsword
Most of the tournaments had quite small fields between 6 and 11 competitors with women’s longsword, rapier and sword and buckler being the smallest. The largest tournament was the action flex tournament which had 24 competitors and the open longsword with 20.
All of the tournaments were fought in round-robin pools. If the tournament was small there would be only one pool, if there was 12 or more they would divide it into two equal pools. All fighters would fight everyone else in their pool in a series of bouts that would go for as long as 3 minutes (maximum time) or until 10 exchanges had been completed. An exchange started when the referee signalled “Fight” and concluded when a valid blow had been struck by one or both of the fighters. After the 10 exchanges or 3 minutes the scorekeeper would announce who had won the most exchanges and that person would be the victor of the bout. Double hits, number of successful blows given, and blows received were all recorded as well to help settle tie breaks in seeding later on.
I liked this format overall as it gave the fighters lots of fights in their particular pool and against each individual opponent.
The top 2 to 8 were chosen from the overall tournament standings, depending on the size of the pool, to advance into the quarters, semis, or finals.
I was part of the judging committee for this year’s tournament. We spent a couple days in advance prepping and practicing and I felt that all the judges were as competent as they could be with limited prep before the tournament. The sports hall was setup with two fighting fields which had matted floors so wrestling could be done safely, and a team of 4 judges and 1 referee oversaw the bouts at each arena.
The judging system worked as well as any externally judged system can work. A judge stood on each of the four sides for the field and called hits witnessed against either fighter by lifting a flag and calling “point!”. The referee started and stopped each fight and would signal the end of a bout as soon as they heard the word “point”, which left a tempo or two for the struck competitor to attempt to succeed with an afterblow (a strike delivered by the defender to make sure that an attacker continues to maintain their defence even after having struck).
The judges were only responsible for calling blows they could directly witness and two flags were required for a point to count (meaning two judges would need to witness a blow and signal it with a flag for it to be counted). If there were two or more flags shown for both competitors it was considered a double hit (this included the afterblow).
I was of course particularly interested in the rapier tournament and I’m sad to report that the main tournament itself was largely terrible. I think there were more than 35 double hits in the various bouts that occurred. Very little attempt was made by participants to manage distance or constrain the opponent, the primary focus seemed to be on getting around the opponent’s defences regardless of your own safety. There were certainly some capable fighters in the mix but much of that seemed to go out the window because of adrenaline, the format of the tournament, or the context of the event — I’m not sure which.
I did see some reasonable performances from a few of the fighters in some of their bouts, in particular Piermarco and Rob Runaces from School of the Sword and Lee Smith from Blood and Iron and the first two advanced into the finals with Lee and Denis Lundquist (who will be mentioned later) in the battle for 3rd.
Sidesword and Buckler
This tournament continued with the high degree of double hits but there were a few more moments of brilliance. The general experience level in the tournament was not super high but there were some bouts I very much enjoyed and even one series of exchanges that had fewer than 2 double hits!
These tournaments which featured only a single cutting sword had their share of brilliance and sloppiness. The more experienced fighters, especially in the backsword tournament, showed some consideration for parrying and safety. I particularly liked some of the fights of Ben (not sure of last name) who instructs at a school in Florida.
Dusack has largely become a weapon focused on distance control and timing more than covers and parries. This showed quite prominently in this tournament with the best fighters being those who could fly in and fly out with rapidity, timing, and physical agility. There really were some brilliant fights here, in particular from Rory Van Noort from AMEK in the Netherlands. There were also some very messy slash and bash affairs but the more experienced fighters in general seemed to be able to avoid these.
Action Flex is a brand name for a foam padded type of simulator (though I’m not sure you can really tell what they’re supposed to be simulating). Luis Preto, a good friend of mine and Colin’s, was the main proponent for these being at the WWOC tournament. The idea is to armour the weapon instead of armouring the fighter.
This section of the tournament, which had the largest list of competitors, was also taken the least seriously. I think it’s hard to feel like you are truly practicing a martial art when you’re handling a 3.5 foot wiffle bat. The Action Flex tournament was cleverly put at the beginning of the last day of tournaments as a kind of light palette cleanser between events. Competitors had gleeful smiles and the the excessive number of double hits was more humorous than appalling. I could not imagine ever watching a televised event that featured action-flex as its core simulator, it would be too hard to have any real respect for it (sorry Luis!) However I do believe it is worth hosting experiments with different types of simulators to keep pushing the potential boundaries of our art and related sports.
I only had the opportunity to watch the finals for the women’s longsword tournament so I can’t comment directly on the tournament itself. All I can say is it would have been great to see even more women, but I was very happy to see those that I did. Rachel Froyn (spelling is definitely wrong) of Norway took all fighters in her field undefeated to move on to the finals.
This was really the pinnacle tournament for the event, both in intention and in execution. Though many of Europe’s best longsword fighters were not present at the event (I’ve been informed), there were some very good quality fighters as well as some decent mid-range people and some enthusiastic beginners. I found it rather intriguing that in the pool where I was a judge the most experienced and the least experienced were the most guilty of charging in without awareness of their own safety. I imagine the lesser experienced fighters acted through lack of awareness, I think the most experienced fighters hoped to overcome their opponent’s through sheer dominance but often found themselves taken out with good stop hits from solid medium range combatants. From that mid-range group I did see some some excellent engagements, plays from the bind, as well as control of distance and timing. There were some engagements that were very pleasing to watch and I was happy to see them in action.
An unfortunate occurrence did happen in a fight between Denis Lundquist and Kristian (from Finland). During one of the later exchanges in their set, Denis came in with a series of high blows that were trying to beat down the high binding sword of Kristian and in the course of the action he came down hard on Kristian’s hand and head, breaking his left index finger, badly bruising his arm, and caving in a section of his mask. The truth is it didn’t look super super hard but it shows what powerfully intentioned blows can do. I’m also not sure whether all the damage was done with one blow or through a series.
What this meant was that both fighters were out of the tournament — Kirstian because of his broken hand and Denis because the tournament rules stated that those who delivered hospitalizing injuries were to be knocked out. Denis was able to continue his participation in other tournaments. Kristian returned to the event later that night with his hand in a cast and seemed to be in reasonably good spirits though understandably frustrated. The whole event was unfortunate; I felt that both Kristian and Denis represented some of the best and generally cleanest fighting in the tournament as a whole. (note: Kristian was wearing Encifer Gauntlets, considered in Europe to be the best hand protection available).
The longsword bouting was spread over two days (as were the bouts for many of the tournaments with larger lists of competitors) with the finals being on the third and last day. This separation certainly helped to create some drama and the opportunity for speculation on rankings as they developed. In the end 8 were advanced from both pools into the quarter finals.
On the afternoon of the last day, after the action flex tournament had concluded, the semi-finals and then the finals were held for every tournament. This was done in rapid fire fashion with a resolving set of matches happening about every 15 minutes. Organizationally it went brilliantly and for the most part the quality of the fighting with all weapons was of much higher calibre. I think in general the right people were advanced through by the judging system and the first place finishers were well deserving of their rewards.
I’ll post a link to the list of winners once I track down where it is. This will save me butchering the spelling of everyone’s names.
Podiums were erected, medals given for Gold, Silver, and Bronze, and prizes given to the gold medalists promptly following the last tournament. Everyone was thanked and we headed out to freshen up for the final gala dinner.
This post has certainly gone on at length so I’ll be brief here. The final gala took place at a restaurant called the Rittersalle (Knight’s House) which was a beautifully appointed renaissance era building with a massive chandelier, wall hangings, antique furniture, and a stage. A musician played us through our social time and a multi-course buffet-style banquet with the best food I’d seen all week. It was a really nice way to wrap up the evening discussing the event and future events with new friends. I turned in fairly early as I was exhausted after a very full day, or 3 days rather, of judging and administering.
The next morning had a final breakfast, packing, and well-wishes as we all headed back home and for my part off to Hamburg for the next part of my journey, which is another story.
Largely I had a great time. Colin and Sandra were very welcoming as hosts and it was a pleasure to meet them and get to know them. I met many superb people, had enthusiastic students in my workshops, attended some excellent workshops myself, and enjoyed the bouting I did at rapier, sword and buckler, and longsword. The tournament was well planned and organized by Phil Marshall of School of the Sword, and I enjoyed being part of the judging system. I think for this style of tournament it was perhaps the best format a judged tournament could have.
On the down side, the event was organizationally far more chaotic than it should have been, site confusion, multitudes of last minute changes and venue issues all compounded to make things difficult for instructors and participants. As an instructor I have never worked so much as I did at this event both with judging but also with stepping in and helping pick up slack and solve problems. For me this was not a big deal, in fact it was even enjoyable, but for others this was a real trial and unexpected when you’re in the position of being a guest and not an organizer.
The tournament itself, outside of the organization was mediocre at best. There were some moments of brilliant fighting but in general the level of experience was low and some of the fighting down right appalling. As a regional tournament with some international participation it perhaps made the bar but it has a long way to go before it’s a true World Championship.
In the end I truly had a great time and the WWOC served to show me how little it really takes to get value from an event (provided you’re in the right mindset to do so). There were great people brought together, much to be learned, and much enjoyment to be had. The event and tournament definitely do need a good rehash before the next time to help prevent the problems and challenges of this year. I think the will does exist to do so and perhaps with even more explicit help from others the next one could be a real step up from this one.
All in all, I would certainly go again.