At the beginning of July I had the pleasure of once again being a Ring Director, Judge, and Instructor at Lord Baltimore's Challenge in Washington, DC. This event aims to be a meeting of Historical European Martial Arts practitioners from HEMA clubs and from historical re-enactment backgrounds (primarily the Society for Creative Anachronism). The focus of the event is on disciplines that often get overshadowed by the longsword, namely the rapier, sidesword, and sword and buckler.
On the Saturday there were 4 tournaments that took up the entire day:
- Rapier & Dagger
- Sidesword alone
- Sword & Buckler
- Rapier alone
They ran smoothly and were packed. Events started at 9:00am and didn't conclude until 8:00pm. I was impressed at the endurance of folks who fought in all four tournaments!
In general I thought the blow calling and control of blow power was really good this year. I appreciate that this event has really put a lot of emphasis on reducing excessive force. That meant that in some of the tournaments lesser armour could be worn. That made for lighter and more agile rapier play. Sadly a lot of HEMA events feature rapier tournaments where the competitors are wearing full rigid gloves, chest protectors, and fully rigid elbows and knees and then spend most of their time hacking at each other and wrestling, partly because the equipment itself restricts much of the manual dexterity required for the finesse of this weapon.
As with any event of this type the tournaments featured some beautiful swordplay and some terrible swordplay but in general I feel that the quality overall ticked up from last year. What I like to see is fighters who are seeking to control their opponent's capacity to strike them through timing and cover. In short people who are prioritizing not getting hit over just hitting the opponent. I didn't get to watch everyone fight but a few people that really stood out to me include: Isaiah Baden-Payne who had some beautiful covered and control actions in sword and buckler, Owen Townes in rapier and dagger (especially when supporting the sword with the dagger), and John Drake who was precise and well timed in his fights particularly in single rapier.
Kudos to Lisa Losito and the full tournament admin team for such a smooth logistical execution. This is definitely a tournament event worth attending.
Sunday of the event featured a full slate of workshops delivered by myself, Guy Windsor, Mike Prendergast, and Jonathan Mackenzie Gordon. I was teaching most of the time but I did get the pleasure of popping in on Guy's class on developing fighting memory - great stuff with an emphasis on learning the language of swordplay so you can better categorize and thus memorize your fencing actions, great stuff!
I taught classes on controlling the centre, dealing with unorthodox rapier postures, and use of provocation with the sidesword and sword and buckler. I had full houses (about 40 people per workshop) and the level of engagement of the students was super high. I was sincerely impressed with how well people absorbed what I had to share and I enjoyed some very thoughtful and challenging questions from the attendees.
It's great to see a tournament event that has such well attended workshops. It says a lot of the desire to improve and attain mastery that is inherent in these practitioners.
David Biggs has done a great job in putting together an event that has some of the best elements of tournaments and workshops while minimizing many of the worst. The crowd that came out to this event was gracious, learning focused, and very honourable in how they approached their bouting.
It was a pleasure to be a part of things again and I'm looking forward to seeing this event thrive in the future!