Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Swordfish 2011 review

It took me a while to recover but yet again the effort of getting to and from Gothenburg was well worth it. I enjoyed most of the classes I attended and had chats and beers with some very interesting people.

Friday morning-Parrying with the Longsword by Matt Galas

On the first morning, I attended Matt Galas' class on parrying with the longsword. His premise is that although due tempi actions are found in the German schools, the single time action is considered (quite rightly) to be the pinnacle of the art. However, in his opinion, KDF exponents focus too much on the single time action, when a parry riposte is safer, albeit slower. As a Fiorist, this wasn't really news. Two things bugged me about the clclass though. First off, very few people bothered to put on masks. If I'm drilling with someone I know well, then ok, but in such a situation, I have no idea who I might end up training with. Hence, the mask. Not very cool perhaps, but I like my eyes. Me and another chap from Hammaborg had a look around during the class and we were among the only ones wearing head protection. The second thing I found a tad annoying was that even though I said I was a Fiorista, Mr. Galas, when he came to inspect us in pairs, still maintained that I should do absetzen as a parry, rather than a rebatt. Ok, as the vast majority of the class are KDF heads, this was understandable and actually, it was fun to do stuff other than what I'm used to. It was just that, as far as I'm concerned, there are lots of ways to parry, and one is as good as the other. Still, the class was very  interesting with some nice drills to practice. I crossed swords with some nice people and had fun. The 3 hours went by really quickly and that's always a good sign that it was absorbing.

Friday afternoon-Halbe Stange: The quarterstaff of Joachim Meyer by Roger Norrling

This was a super interesting class. Mr. Norrling is a very dedicated teacher and began the class with an intro to the art and supplemented the experience with a short bio of the German master, presented by Mr. Kevin Maurer, another Meyer expert. The staff is a formidable weapon whose striking power alone is pretty scary, let alone a staff weapon with an axe head and spike (halberd). The footwork was interesting, more reminiscent of kung fu than what I'm used to in Fiore. Mr. Norrling showed us some solo drills that can be used to progress through the guards and practice the footwork. We moved onto pair drills and I was struck (figuratively!) by the similarities to jogo do pau. I think I may have to have a closer look at this master, it is very intriguing stuff!

Friday evening saw the usual gathering in the pub and there was a very tasty locally produced dark beer on offer this year. The Dugges beer was more expensive than usual but was well worth the cost. I took my slings and tennis balls down to one of the halls and soon had about 10 or so people coming to learn. I think they had fun although people were a bit more reserved this year, compared to last year.

Saturday morning-Ringen by (Polish chap-Gregor Medvesek)
This class had the potential to be very useful for me. I don't do nearly enough wrestling or even pummelling stuff that i should. The warm up though was (for me) a little on the tough side and although I got through it ok (I sweated buckets), I was already having doubts about lasting the full three hours. The teacher was super fit and was clear and precise in what he showed and what he wanted us to do. He also wanted to keep us moving the whole time, so it was obvious he comes from a well-disciplined group. Then I got a shoulder in the gob, split my upper lip and bled a bit. By the time it stopped I was cold and so didn't feel like jumping back into the class, so I went to watch some of the competitions instead. To be honest, although the ringen stuff was interesting, it was a good excuse to duck the rest of the class. A lot of the people there were well fit, which I'm clearly not, and had more wrestling experience to boot.

Saturday afternoon-Marozzo unarmed by Mr. Roberto Gotti
This class was a blast! As we entered the training space we were greeted by large plates from the manual by Bolognese master marrozzo, depicting blocks, breaks and throws against an opponent armed with a sharp dagger. It was very like the images found in Fiore and a lot of the techniques were very similar. Mr Gotti is very animated in his delivery and clearly loves teaching this material. Again the class went very quickly and i couldn't believe the 3 hours was up. This class was a highlight of Swordfish 2011.

The Tournament finals
In a nutshell, there was good fencing and terrible fencing. The guys were super determined and more than willing to stand toe to toe and bash the shite out of each other. That's fine I suppose, not my cup of tea though. After four years watching tournaments in Swordfish, some of the guys are still hammering, and I mean HAMMERING the snot out of each other. I just cannot understand the desire or even need to hit as hard as you possibly can. This is somehow deemed a good thing yet the claim is that these blows are still controlled. My opinion: Bollocks! Even more irksome is the macho bullshit idea that if you are afraid to get hurt, you shouldn't step into the ring, i.e. you're a pussy. If I'm in a tournament am I trying to kill my opponent? No. So I use as much control as I have so as to score hits and not unduly hurt my opponent. If he wants to hit me as hard as he can and doesn't really give a fuck about my welfare either way as long as he wins, who has the psychological advantage in the match? Look, I expect to get bruises and sprains and light injuries when doing HEMA. It's normal and acceptable and I'm fine with that. Having my fingers broken or worse, is not. I also understand that controlled aggression may be a good thing while fencing. Flicking a switch and going into "kill mode" though is just ridiculous. In the longsword final, which showed some fine and exciting fencing and grappling, unfortunately also IMO devolved at one point into a brawl on the floor and the combatants completely ignored the order to break and kept on trying to mash the other into the mat. The referee had to dive in and use a rear choke hold to pull one of the chaps off the other. Hallo people! Ummm, control? I thought that this was an embarrassing spectacle, particularly as the finals were streamed live online. Of course a lot of the crowd lapped up the argy-bargy, but last time I checked the finals were supposed to highlight HEMA not the sodding UFC.
Thankfully, there were also moments of fencing glory. The longsword match for third place was better imo than the finals. The sabre final was beautiful. The rapier and dagger finals were superb, and the now much talked about sword and buckler finals was nothing short of inspiring. Here we witnessed simple but precise technique beat the buffalo-type fencer. Despite getting two heavy afterblows to the sword arm and ribs, the s&b champion, Christine Konsmo, continued to dominate her larger and heavier opponent, going on to win in a very convincing manner.

Saturday evening saw us slinging again, with fewer number as many people attended the now traditional Midnight Brawlers club. One fun slinging innovation this year was the Mexican standoff where we had two teams of 3 or 4 on each side of the hall slinging tennis balls at each other. My thanks to the Hammaborg folks from Swordfish 2010 for inspiring this. My one regret though is that although I took my video camera along to capture the atmosphere, in the fun I completely forgot. Oh well, perhaps next year.

Sunday morning- Bolognese sword by Ilkka Hartikkainen
This was a very interesting class and Ilkka was very nice not to give us a horrible warm up. We went through footwork, single and paired drills and pedagogic techniques to help our training partners learn proper form. Ilkka kindly used me as his demo partner so although sometimes winded and a bit confused, he generously offered me some very valuable one on one instruction in front of the rest of the class. I think I'll have to visit his group  Espoo Historiallisen Miekkailun Seura at some time in the future.

Overall impressions? Superb! The Gothenburg Historical Fencing School excelled as per usual and pushed the envelope even further with technical innovation, such as the live streaming tournament finals. The venue is ideally located and set up for the event and in its way is also a "star". Negatives? Just a little niggle. Swordfish is getting big, lots more people. It used to be that everyone knew and spoke with everyone else. This year people seemed to be just a tad serious about everything. I had the impression that groups didn't seem to mix much outside their own and at least I felt like there was some sort of hierarchy thing happening. Sometimes it felt a little like being in school, where the cool kids and jocks are the centre of the universe and only associate with their own kind, and some people came off as a bit smug. Weird. The Midnight Brawlers affair was much more serious than it has been, with much longer brawls and a real focus on winning the bouts. Used to be you had to have at least a few beers in you before you could compete. Then again maybe its boring to watch and more fun to do.
To finishing on a positive: It was great to see first timers to Swordfish come away inspired to continue their HEMA training. It was also great craic drinking beers and slinging with sword-meet veterans likeNigel Plum and Kit (surname?), both of which took part in everything with obvious great enjoyment. I look forward to perhaps visiting Dijon or maybe even Fightcamp in 2012.