Next entry in the Chronicles. The UWM event had now finished; where to from here?
Leading up to the Unified Weapons Master event, I had put as much focus as I could on my training. This enabled me to get into good shape and a decent technical level, which was obviously of great value to me when the time came to fight in the VTC (Vital Target Combat) event. However, this gain came at a price – for some time I had barely scraped by at work and at home, as the training and diet often left me mentally and physically drained. With the event now behind me it was time to spend some serious quality time with my wife and son, as well as explore Brisbane.
We also went to Europe, to visit family in Sweden and travel the Mediterranean area. We even got to meet up with Ronin in Istanbul! He took us for a city tour that ended at the Topkapi palace which, amongst other sights, had an impressive collection of arms and armour. Unfortunately, there was no time to visit his old academy, Bujin Ken Ryu Kenjutsu.
Although I enjoyed the holiday immensely (perhaps too much; damn that smörgåsbord), my mind kept going over what I had experienced at the VTC event. There was a lot to meditate on. Some aspects of my training had been greatly beneficial, but other attributes needed work. My quick and snappy staff techniques, for example, had not been a good fit for generating the necessary power hits in the UWM staff rounds. I found myself with a burning desire to do better next time around. My Jow Ga Kung Fu academy has great variety in empty hand and weapon forms, but most of the sparring was of the unarmed kind.
As I understand it, this is a common scenario among traditional martial art schools; sparring with weapons takes up more space, requires more money to be invested in gear and brings a higher level of risk (injuries, insurance costs, potential lawsuits etc). Additionally, students are often more interested in improving their empty-handed skills as people are normally not carrying weaponry around. So the sparring with weapons that I had done had always happened in parallel to the usual curriculum or after class, with padded weapons and basic (if any) protective gear.
This would not do. Going forward, becoming a better weapons fighter would be the focus of my training. After looking at the ringside footage, I knew I could have done better. Should have done better. I really hate the feeling of underperforming – win or lose doesn’t matter as much as knowing that you went out there and gave it your all, to the best of your ability.
I considered my current situation. After relocating to a different city, I was no longer able to train at my old academy. It also meant that I had no access to my old friends and training partners. And make no mistake – I felt this loss quite keenly. The Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy had become my home away from home, and my fellow students felt like extended family. But no point in crying over spilt milk. Life is what you make of it, so I forced myself to see the positives. As I would no longer be hitting the gym or the Kung Fu academy, I had more money and time at my disposal. And although I would always be welcome back at the academy, there were no expectations on my in terms of where I trained. It was time to make some serious changes.
First off; the equipment. During the VTC event, I had the chance to try out some of the protective gear that the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) guys were using and I was duly impressed. The equipment was of really high quality, the kind that would allow you to fight at full capacity (or close to it, at least). After some online window shopping I invested what money I had on “budget friendly” models of HEMA gloves, padded jacket and a fencing mask. Not the highest range, but something was better than nothing.
Next; my training. Since coming back from the VTC event, I had continued to spar with my friend at the local Karate dojo but I knew this would not suffice if I wanted to truly raise my game. UWM’s style-agnostic nature means that you need to expose yourself to a diversity of opponents, to learn how to handle any kind of opposition. I was also keenly aware that although Kung Fu had given me a sound foundation for the dual-wield scenario (e.g. two swords, sticks etc) I didn’t have any real skillset when it came to using a two-handed sword. For the record, I should note that the Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy does have a form for the Chinese two-handed sword; I just never got to that level.
So I made the decision to join a HEMA group in Brisbane. After a bit of research, I found the school Collegium in Armis which apparently focused on German longsword fencing but the curriculum also included other weapons, such as the Portuguese staff fighting system Jogo de Pau. Perfect.
I committed myself to the training, asking for homework between the sessions to keep improving. There were a number of new elements to take in – for example, the longsword techniques often utilise the crossguard in their fighting, to ‘wind’ the attacker’s blade into a position where the defender has all the advantage. In typical HEMA fashion, the techniques that were taught were based on two things; research into old martial arts treatises from European medieval times, and pressure testing within the group itself to interpret what the instructions were trying to convey. This combination of exploratory interpretation and practical application has led to a surprisingly effective system.
Obviously I had no intention of just dropping everything I had learnt during my time in Kung Fu, so I continued to practise that in my spare time. Both styles have strengths and weaknesses, so my intention has been to explore both and hopefully come out the other side as a more versatile fighter. The aim is to be able to fight any opponent with any weapon. When the UWM reps asked me what weapons training I’ve had, my response was about 99% Kung Fu. Somehow, the marketing department interpreted that as my being a “Mixed Weapons Fighter”. Might as well rise to the occasion.
Edit – my apologies; below paragraph originally stated that the Brisbane area had the highest density of HEMA groups in Australia, in comparison to Melbourne that only had one major group. It’s been brought to my attention that this is utterly wrong, as Melbourne could very well rival the Brisbane area when it comes to number of schools. Paragraph has been rewritten to reflect this.
To my surprise, it turned out that Brisbane area has one of the highest density levels of HEMA groups in Australia. Normally, every major city has a few schools but between the Brisbane and neighbouring Gold Coast areas there are about six different schools. One of them, Brisbane Swords, even has an open Friday Fight Night now and then. Consequently, there are also a number of tournaments running in this area every year. It should however be mentioned that HEMA is on the rise; if you look at Melbourne, you have another six different schools available.
Last year I got the opportunity to visit SwordPlay 2016, arguably the biggest HEMA tournament in Australia. Four full days of workshops, competitions and sparring with some of the best practitioners on this continent. Jim ‘Fierce’ Campbell also attended, so I took to watching him demolish the opposition across almost every category over the next few days. I was very impressed by his excellent skill levels and solid conditioning. The man’s a machine. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in weapons fighting in the Perth area to visit his school, House Darksun.
Sample fight with Jim ‘Fierce’ Campbell (left) from Swordplay 2016. Check out his YouTube for more.
I now had the equipment, the direction and the inspiration. All that was missing was a place to practise – and that where the fun began.