Last weekend Stoccata, Australia’s oldest HEMA school, hosted a fantastic conference bringing together many of the country’s finest instructors and fencers. It was a privilege to have been a part of it, so here is our (somewhat tongue in cheek) tribute to the event.
‘What’s in the bag?’
A Federschwert, a rapier, a broadsword, two dussacks and a parrying dagger, all of which are restricted items in Melbourne and the knife is questionable in Sydney.
I smile at the lady at the baggage counter. ‘Sporting equipment,’ I tell her and she send me down to the oversize baggage station.
Where I run into another ‘sporting type’ off to the same event though as Andrew Kenner is teaching I- 33 not longsword his bag’s a little shorter than mine. Not much though because he’s got a rapier or two in that bag as well. Doesn’t everyone take a case of sharp pointy things to a conference?
Well, everyone I know does. And standing on the Baden Powell parade ground surrounded by bush, surprisingly luxurious cabins and a dozen people with nine-foot long quarterstaves I have a moment’s sympathy for those ‘ordinary’ folks whose idea of a conference is power-point, lecture halls and men in suits. Because if you’re a HEMA nut then your conference is sticks and swords and throwing each other on the ground and the closest thing you’ll get to a graph is Steve Hand and Andrew Kenner arguing over a funny looking picture of two monks with swords and shields.
AWMACs II (Australasian Western Martial Arts Convention) gets underway Friday night with an in depth discussion (over Pizza) of such important HEMA issues as:
- If Callum and Colin have unearthed the secrets of all marital arts why can they not afford better pyjamas? (or Music?)
- Is Paul Wagner right about the protective powers of air or has he seen too many kung fu movies and now believes that taking off your shirt will give you extra hit points?
- Is Melbourne (where you can now get a deconstructed cappuccino and be formally introduced to your cheeses) still weirder than Sydney which really has a temperance bar?
- Will Darkwood ever produce a good sword again?
- Gauntlets. More gantlets. Why don’t Red Dragon produce mittens? Do the SPES heavy’s wear in well? (answer yes) Has anyone heard any more about the pro-gantlet? (answer no, hell will freeze over before we can buy one).
- And the old timer discussion of ‘back in my day (i.e. five years ago) we didn’t have this stuff and if we wanted protection we had to make it ourselves.
Really when you consider that the conversation also included references to Doctor Who, medieval marginalia and manuscripts, and an extra order of pizza the only surprising fact was that Paul didn’t once tell us that we were doing it all wrong.
But it’s early days yet.
Swords and Fire
Does it get any better? The weather is amazing. Last week Sydney was literally underwater, and the floods meant that the bonfires built for the girl guide camp couldn’t be lit. The perfect weather all this weekend has meant that we can. Oh, apart from the fact that the afore-mentioned floods have soaked the wood. But we have pizza boxes, matches and beer to drink while Fire-Dan (a much cooler moniker than MunDan) and friends create an actual air tunnel, find some dry leaves and soon we have fire to go with the swords, beer and great conversation.
HEMA discussion can get pretty heated. Just look at the latest flame war over the failure of a gambeson to protect a rock melon. 😉 Mind you, a conversation that starts with the statement ‘You’re doing it all wrong’ rarely ends with peaceful agreement (unless you happen to be talking to Bill Carew, The Reasonable Man).
But around the bonfire this weekend the only flames came from the fire as Stoccata, Adelaide Sword Academy, Collegium in Armis, Fechtschule Victoria, The School of Historical Fencing, Victorian Historical Combat Academy, and Fitzroy College of Arms, not to mention re-enactors, SCA and HEMA (don’t those elements explode when you put them together?) talked about everything from tourney rules to Silver’s true name, fire construction to dealing with epilepsy, Meyer’s rapier to the best way to fight with a lightsaber (complete with people on the sidelines throwing boxes to simulate force powers). And if I found it pretty awesome that (according to Mr Physicist/Evil Scientist/Gareth) even if we can’t yet create a lightsaber the sums suggest it’s theoretically possible, it’s the sight of different groups working together that was the advance HEMA in Australia actually needs.
A furious agreement.
Which is not to say there weren’t some fireworks when four different experts got together for a round table discussion on I-33. Now ‘round table discussion’ makes one think of an old Star Trek episode while people in silly costumes sit around a long oval table and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS.
It wasn’t like that.
Lots happened. And there were swords, and bucklers, and no table. And Paul and Michael Brown bonding on the strategy of ‘just hit the buggers’. While Steve Hand agreed that medieval monks don’t stand still to be stabbed, it was Andrew who provided the highlight of the evening when he announced Paul and Steve’s interpretation of falling under the sword was ‘shit’ and ‘that doesn’t work.’
‘So get up off the seat and show us,’ is Paul’s response.
As these are clearly fighting words, Andrew picks up his sword and shows them.
‘You’re using too much distance,’ is his criticism, followed by a discussion of how to angle the sword and whether it’s long point brought back. And after about five minutes of practical—aka sword clashing—discussion Steve announces he can live with that interpretation. And that it’s similar to something Tim Hendry often does. Though Tim (who has left his top-hat but not his sartorial arrogance at the door) is quick to point out that though Paul might be right, his own parry is of course, far more sophisticated.
Perhaps, but sophistication does not seem the order of the day. With phrases like: ‘over-bind and hit them’, ‘if they do nothing stab them in the face’, ‘cut under the shield though it may be a bit wussy’ (‘It wasn’t a wussy cut, Paul, I had bruises’ – Steve), and ‘try a spike on your shield, it’s a bit nasty but it does make your binds more effective’; what we are “discussing” is definitely pragmatic swordplay. And as Michael said (though Andrew might fairly argue the point) our I-33 experts were often in furious agreement.
Doing It All Wrong.
But in case you wondered in between wrestling (“Just lift your leg like a dog taking a piss”- Terry Williams), Quarterstaff 101 (“Into his kidney’s—that’s it!”), longsword (“Oh shit I’m in the nach”), Meyer Rapier (“Yeah, like he says, ‘in the manner of the slice’ yada yada yada”) and a list of workshops I didn’t manage to get to Paul did announce that there will be a new hi-res set of Angelo’s plates available soon. And that apparently they’ll show us WE’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG!
Told you we’d get there in the end.