Super late last night I returned from a weekend of instruction, teaching, discussion, bouting, and all manner of swordy fun at the St. George’s Day Exhibition of Arms held at the beautiful Chateau South, Atlanta, Texas. The event was put on by Russ Mitchell and the excellent people at Winged Sabre Historical Fencing, and hosted by the generous owner of the Chateau, Raoul, who not only trusted us to honor the integrity and safety of this property, but also who grilled a feast for us. If you’re in eastern Texas, “Piney Texas,” and need a venue for any event–wedding, family reunion, business retreat, you name it–I can’t recommend Chateau South enough (https://www.chateau-south.com/). Raoul and the family who take care of the property and are helping to restore it, Shawn and Rebecca, put the hospitality in southern hospitality. Seriously nice and generous folk.
Learning, Camaraderie, and Cross-Fertilization
I hope that the St. George’s Day Exhibition of Arms will become a regular event, because it needs to be. We have tournaments, we have seminars, conferences, and in some rare instances a mix of the three, but in some cases the dates are tough to make, the cost prohibitive, or the environment/attitude less than welcoming. Russ Mitchell and the fine folk at Winged Sabre put together a fantastic event–it was friendly, open-minded, and welcoming, but more than that the classes and discussion, the chat over meals or between sessions, all were informative and thought-provoking.
In addition to my two classes, there were a class on movement and balance by Russ that has changed not only my understanding of footwork, but also how I will teach it from here on out; there were two by Francois Perrault (Montreal, CAN), first on French foil as a way to understand the second topic, contre-pointe (the French approach to sabre ca. 1800-1908); and two by Jonathan Carr (Dallas, TX), one that made more sense of Hutton’s sabre than anything I’ve read, seen, or heard until then, and then a fascinating lecture on Sir Richard Francis Burton’s 1875 sword system.
Discussion between classes, over meals, and especially at the end of the instruction-day, were as valuable. They were also a chance to get to know one another, share ideas, and increase understanding on the various tangents covered in the topics. For someone as introverted as I am, and who normally has to bow out to recharge, the fact I wasn’t once in need of that recharge should suggest a lot.
Exhibition of Arms vs. Deeds of Arms
Both have their place, but what an exhibition of arms seeks to do is share a particular style or tradition’s uniqueness within the Art, that is, what makes it what it is. While I cannot say to have represented the Radaellian school particularly well in my own bouts, I will say that my compatriots did a wonderful job. Russ’ students have been studying hussar sabre, which is very different than the profiled styles that predominate; Francois’ early French approach and Jonathan’s debt to English sabre and broadsword were clear as well. The focus in our bouts was to do our best to fight within the body of techniques and tactics of our specific traditions, and, to have fun doing it.
We also had time to explore a venerable Hungarian weapon, the fokos, a shehpard’s axe that the Magyars brought with them from the Steppes in the Early Middle Ages and which was used in the trenches of the Great War. Never have I faced a more challenging weapon sabre in hand than I have that wee axe. Russ made a few converts among us, I’m sure; least, I’m looking into the more than academically now.
Raising the Bar
Winged Sabre’s “St. George’s Day Exhibition of Arms” raises the bar for what we can and should be doing more often in historical fencing. Each of the classes had students drilling. There, I said it, the “d-word,” drill. It’s become a dirty word in “HEMA,” and to the detriment of that community. The garbage posted so often on Youtube as championship sabre is a case in point. The hop and chop, simultaneous single-tempo cuts lauded as the end-all be-all of sabre are to Plato’s cave what shadows on the wall are to the sun outside the cave that creates them.
Drill. Hard work. Effort, time, and sweat. These are what make a decent fencer. One can spend weeks, years even, in study, but if intentional, well-designed drill is missing, there is only far someone will go in that time. Another way to say this is that much of HEMA is doing it wrong, and should seek better methods, better instructors. I’ll not go so far as to list myself among their number, but I will say that I know some people you should talk to.