This past weekend was the 20th Anniversary of the Western Martial Arts Workshop hosted by the Chicago Swordplay Guild at the lovely Dekoven Center on the shores of Lake Michigan. I have had the opportunity to be teaching at this event for the past 10 years and it is always one of my favorite events as both a teacher and participant. This year was no exception--in spite of getting food poisoning from my one dinner offsite!
Though I did not do very much sparring this weekend (there is tons to be had), the sparring I did was exceptionally special to me. On the opening day I spent a couple hours sparring with Roland Warzecha of Dimicator from Germany. Roland is one of a select few I feel present a truly interesting and sophisticated challenge for me at the sword in one hand. This year we fought with the single arming sword, sword and buckler, as well as sword and norse hand axe! The fencing is always fluid, multi-intentional, and supremely well controlled. Thanks again for the lovely challenges Roland!
I also repeated a standing date with my friend Robert Rutherford, authour of the recently published The Art and Practice of 16th-Century German Fencing. Rob is as demanding of himself as he is of his opponents. I enjoyed all of our passes at rapier, rapier & dagger, and sidesword alone. Rob has deeply internalized the arts that he studies and I enjoy our technical fencing bouts nearly as much as I enjoy our technical conversations (which tend to span the entire weekend).
Lastly I got too few passes in at longsword with my friend and student Kate Jay. Kate is a beautiful and technical fencer who plays with control and thoughtfulness. I always enjoy working with her and am sad I did not get a chance to do more.
To everyone else who I had hope to fence, I'm sorry that circumstances (and my guts trying to leave my body) did not allow.
I hope to make some videos of my fencing bouts from the event available soon once they get to me!
If you'd like to see some superb fencing from others, check out the demonstration bouts from the pre-feast:
The Deed of Arms
A special highlight of WMAW, this event had 21 armoured fighters participating this year as the Italians faced the Germans. There were four women in armour, which is the most this deed has hosted and they fought superbly. Scott Ferrel's students were a particular joy to fence with and I was impressed with their armour and their ability.
I very much enjoyed my two fights against Hank and Scott at spear and sword respectively. Fighting Hank was a particularly interesting challenge because he was just so well armoured! I felt pretty happy to find some gaps, especially while wearing the helmet I was borrowing (thanks Richard!) that restricted my vision significantly more than my Windrose one. Scott is always a joy to fence with. I hope we can get a deed happening on the west coast sometime soon so I can see more of him and his amazing students!
A video of the entire Deed of Arms is here. My fights are at 00:20:00, and 01:29:20
This year I taught a session on the use of sword and buckler, with an emphasis on the interplay of the two, a class on building complex plays with longsword, one on combat analysis and improvement, and a lecture on curriculum design. I was honoured to have a lot of full classes and the quality of students at this event is always high.
I have increasingly been teaching classes and workshops on effective learning and teaching. Though I miss teaching as many technical classes, it is nice to have practitioners of all different backgrounds and disciplines in these theory and pedagogy sessions. I had literally dozens of people come to me after classes and tell me how they were planning on implementing what they had learned immediately in their groups and programs. It tells me there is a big need for this material and that people are ready for it.
Conversations and Classes
I stepped in on many classes over the weekend (when I wasn't sorry for myself in bed) and had many great conversations about fencing. A few that stood out to me include:
Puck Curtis and Eric Myer's class on controlling power in friendly fencing. Here they helped guide their students through how to fence fast and effectively without injuring their training partners. An important skill for many to learn.
Francesco Loda's class and our conversation on a recently discovered and transcribed Bolognese fencing text from the 1650s that fits within the Marcelli fencing tradition (from Rome). There appear to be a lot of interesting concepts expressed here in unique ways including a lot of close fencing/grappling at the sword actions that are missing in most contemporary rapier texts.
Roland Warzecha's class on the viking round shield. I loved his method of using thrusts of the sword, and their mechanics, to translate to the maneuvers of the shield itself as it seeks to oppress and open the opponent's shield.
Scott Jefferies class on the two handed sword of Achille Marozzo and the Anonimo Bolognese was enjoyable to see as these manuals introduce a lot of sophisticated swordplay involving entries, multiple intentions, feints and counter-actions that are lacking in many longsword texts from earlier periods in both Italy and Germany.
My time with John O'Meara, Kevin Murakoshi, Rob Rutherford, and Michael Heveran puzzling out plate 33 of Fabris.
Conversations with Eric Myers about fencing tempo and intention in the Spanish school compared to the Italian school and, finally, my conversations on "proportion management" with Robert Rutherford, a summation of tempo theory that I introduced to him the year before that effectively ended all future fencing conversations between us. When all fencing questions can essentially be answered with those two words, what's the point?
Things I'm Sad I Missed
Other than not being able to participate in the demonstration bouts—thanks Kevin Murakoshi for taking over for me! I was particularly sad to be teaching at the same time as all of the Hoplite and Italian warfare experiments. check out some cool clips of that in this video:
So much of WMAW is about what happens outside of classes. There are so many special connections to be made at lunch or dinner, or sitting under the trees or in one of the little nooks while drinking a glass of wine late into the evening. Thank you in particular to my friends Greg Mele, Nicole Allen, Jess Finley, and Marco Quarta for your sincere and beautiful friendships.
Thanks to John, Greg, Nicole, Jacques, Caitlin and all the others that made this event happen. I look forward to 20 more years!