And you thought running with scissors was risky.
As mentioned in a previous post, I came out of the UWM test event with a burning desire to improve my weapon fighting skills. I could tell you how I structured my training towards this goal by joining the HEMA school Collegium in Armis, studying longsword techniques and other European weapon systems. I could go through in detail how I pimped my basement into a mancave-slash-dojo (‘The Mojo’ for short) and set up a sparring arena in the backyard. But I won’t bore you with details, nor will I be the guy that rambles on about what supplements and dietary regime he follows. Let’s just say it’s been my main focus for some time now – and after about a year’s training, it was time to put the skills to the test.
In lieu of participating in UWM again, one way to explore weapons fighting is to attend a HEMA tournament. Enter Swordplay – arguably the most prominent HEMA tournament in Australia, this action-packed weekend is run by the Brisbane HEMA personality James Wran, head instructor at Brisbane Swords. He also manages Brisbane Swords HEMA Gear, an excellent source of quality equipment for Australia based HEMA students. I actually went to Swordplay last year but was not allowed to compete as I didn’t’ have a gorget (neck protector). The requirements for protective gear are quite stringent – and rightly so; when fighting with steel weapon you want safety first! This year’s event would see close to a hundred participants who over the course of four days would take part in a variety of workshops, social sparring and competitions. With over ten different tournaments, there were well over 500 bouts in total. There was a First Aid crew present during the fighting days, which spent most of their time suffering from utter boredom (which is great).
Ever the opportunist, I was able to get Rory ‘Red Rock’ Trend to visit Brisbane at the time so on the evening of the first day I invited him and Jim ‘Fierce’ Campbell over for dinner at my house. First time since UWM that three of the Original Six were in the same place; a pleasant chaos of catching up, comparing notes and exchanging smack talk.
When I got there on Friday morning a couple of workshops were already underway; at one end Bill Caeriw was running a Jogo do Pau workshop (Portuguese staff fighting) and in the next area Skye Hilton was running a HEMA-based fitness workshop. Skye is one of the international guest instructors, who also competed in several tournaments; check out her material at the Nerd Trainer page. Right after her workshop another international guest, Steaphen Fick of the Davenriche European Martial Arts School (DEMAS), ran a session on Italian longsword.
Workshops, merchandise, safety marshals. Not making people awkward at all.
To get into the swing of things I did a bit of social sparring with Chris Nguyen and Jim ‘Fierce’ Campbell from Perth-based House Darksun, since I haven’t seen them since last year. It didn’t take long before Jim stabbed me right in the throat, making me very thankful for bringing a gorget this time around! After repeatedly whacking me in the side of the head with his longsword, we had a constructive chat about exactly how and why he was able to use my cranium for a game of whack-a-mole. Very educational.
But enough talk; time to fight. The Friday tournaments were all ‘informal’ competitions, meaning placing in the top three spots did not count towards the Australian HEMA League ratings. Lesser formality did not equate to lesser pressure, however, as fighting took place across the categories of Spear, Dussack and Dagger. For yours truly, this was where I enjoyed myself the most – thanks to my background in Jow Ga Kung Fu, I appreciate diversity in weapons. I was able to grab a 2nd place tie in Spear, pull off an impromptu roll in Dussack (with a three point landing pose, no less) but it was in the Dagger tournament that things got most intense.
The dagger tournament was run in a King-of-the-Hill format where bouts all started with the fighters at arm’s length, hands by the sides and dagger tucked into your belt. When the marshal gave the command, fight was on. For such a small, straightforward weapon this tournament had a lot of cool moments – such as stealing your opponents dagger before they can draw it, fierce grappling .
Personally I managed to pull off the coolest move I’ve ever done in a fight; when the fight started I fumbled the draw, dropping my dagger on the floor. Seeing my opponent come at me, the old reflexes from the Kempo days resurfaced; I dove for the dagger, grabbed it as I rolled and came up standing, weapon at the ready. Just like we practiced, twenty-odd years ago. I tried to get my opponent with a jumping “Superman Stab” but alas, it was judged as a double hit. Later on as the fighting was coming to an end, I was five wins behind the lead scorer but managed to get my game face on and rack up a succession of wins, enough to secure first place!
Keen on more fight footage? Click here for more recordings from the Friday fighting
End of part 1. Check out Part 2 for more swordy goodness!