Event Report: The Western Martial Arts Workshop, 2005
An article by Bill Grandy
The western martial arts (WMA) community, however, is thinly spread across the globe. It is no wonder, then, that events such as the Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) were created, gathering experienced practitioners and novices from all over the world to a central location for a weekend of martial arts, scholarly research, and plain old fun. The event included many classes from skilled teachers and researchers dealing with swordsmanship, close quarters combat, various weapon styles from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and beyond, and also lectures and round tables discussing subjects ranging from wound pathology to Kristi Charron's wonderful demonstration of combat from horseback.
While technically the workshop was scheduled to start Friday morning, festivities and greetings were already in full swing Thursday night as participants from the US and Europe began arriving. Everyone began greeting old friends who they never see outside events such as this, and introduced themselves to new friends who were there for the same passions.
Friday morning, after a brief but cheerful introduction from chairpeople Greg Mele and Nicole Allen, we took off to our respective classes. While each was scheduled to be held in separate buildings, no one could have asked for a more beautiful weekend, and most teachers quickly took their classes outside in the sun to train. As a teacher, I was very interested in taking classes that might improve my teaching ability as much as my ability to perform my arts, so I was drawn to classes on conditioning. Roger Siggs of the Tattershall School of Defense taught a wonderfully fun class entitled "Work as Play" which included many games designed to get students to not only warm up, but to "trick" them into learning skills such as weight distribution, balance and control. It was wonderful playing his fox tail game, where one person had a towel stuffed out of the back of their pants while twenty or so grown adults chased them around trying to steal it.
In addition to conditioning, I was pleasantly surprised to see several classes on pedagogy. These were of particular interest to me as an instructor, and I found myself very excited to start evaluating things that I want to do when I got back to my classes.
It was hard to decide exactly what classes to take because there were just so many wonderful ones being offered by very talented instructors. Maestro Sean Hayes taught a wonderful class on the timing and measure of the sword and buckler system of the Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33, getting right to the heart of the most important aspect of the system that both novices and experienced fencers alike gained from. To appeal to both levels is a not an easy task, but Sean Hayes pulled it off admirably. Sean also gave other classes throughout the weekend, including a lecture on period artwork and scholasticism, particularly its relationship to interpreting the I.33 manuscript.
Brian Price taught a class on the medieval poleaxe, which he described, using the words of Fiore di Liberi, as "ponderous, cruel and mortal". I was thrilled to take part in this class, as Brian's teaching style was very patient and understanding for those who were new without sounding condescending, yet also appealed to the more experienced students there. He also was able to show the style but left enough creative room for the students to work with each other and teach themselves, something I highly value in a teacher. The poleaxe has always been one of my favorite weapons after the longsword, but after Brian's class I felt the need to really hit the books on this beautifully versatile weapon.
Between classes and lectures I also spent a large amount of time at the vendors' pavilion, where many familiar companies had set up shop. Long-time favorites Arms & Armor and Albion Armorers were there along with many wonderful toys. Harlan Hastings, whom I'd met at last year's WMAW in New York, manned the Albion booth. It was a pleasure, as always, to chat with him and check out the huge rack of swords he brought along. I finally got the chance to handle the Regent, and found it to be one incredible sword. Harlan also brought along two of his custom swords, which were amazing to hold. Guy Windsor humorously attempted to steal them.
Next to the A&A table were Scott and Lesley Wilson of Darkwood Armory. Darkwood has been my favorite choice for fencing rapiers that handle like the real thing, are sized proportionately, are safe to use, and, amazingly enough, are still quite affordable. What a lot of people don't realize, though, is that although the bulk of Scott's work is on utilitarian pieces meant for fencing, he does some very nice custom work as well. Scott brought along some amazing pieces he'd been working on showing elements such as decorative piercing and even a "flambard-"styled rapier that I ended up walking out of there with (which Guy Windsor also attempted to steal from me). His blades included both fencing blunts and sharps. Scott is also an instructor, which gives him a very good insight into what students need in WMA training gear. Chatting with Scott is always a lot of fun.
Also at the pavilion was a table manned by Brian Rainey who was promoting the The Armour Research Society. I hadn't realized they would be there, and was happy to meet Brian, whose knowledgeable posts on various forums I'm always interested in reading.
Chivalry Bookshelf and its sister company Revival Clothing had a booth as well. Chivalry Bookshelf brought all of their new and best sellers, including Tom Leoni's fantastic book Art of Dueling, a translation of the Italian rapier master Salvator Fabris that reads like modern English.
Tom Leoni of the Order of the Order of the Seven Hearts is a dedicated researcher and instructor of Italian Renaissance arts, especially the rapier in the style of Fabris, and Tom was there at WMAW teaching. His classes were fantastic, combining both his charming Italian wit with his incredible passion for true, accurate research. Of particular note was his class on High Renaissance Italian polearms, an often-ignored class of weapons to modern students. Tom brought to life the gracefulness and intensity of these deadly weapons and no one left his class without a great appreciation for exactly why the style was so popular.
It was no surprise to anyone that Christian Tobler was there teaching medieval German arts from the Liechtenauer system, but he brought some new light to the table by sharing his new research into the Paulus Kal manuscript. Kal was a master contemporary with Hans Talhoffer, and Christian's work with his dagger techniques showed a style that was both brutally effective and fun to watch. I first met Christian a few years ago, and he is one of the nicest people I've ever met. He combines a thoughtful and laid back friendly demeanor with a fierce dedication to preserving the arts of Master Liechtenauer. Christian also suited up to teach the techniques of harnisfechten, or armoured combat, which I brought my harness along for. Guy Windsor was kind enough upon seeing me to race up, grabbing someone's sword and start banging away on me, explaining the importance of scratching up someone else's armour when no one else had any. He then went on to explain how he and his mates deal with those wearing full mail, which involved casually walking up behind the armoured person with metal tent stakes and leaving the poor victim stuck to the ground. Guy was an incredibly lively and hilarious person in addition to being a skilled and fun teacher, and I really enjoyed getting to meet him this weekend.
It's hard to pick a favorite class from all of the wonderful ones I took, but I think my favorite has to go to the very last one I took with Hans Heim and Jörg Bellinghausen of the German group Ochs. Hans has recently become well known from the DVD The Longsword of Johannes Liechtenauer, which is a fantastic aid for anyone getting started. Hans and Jörg were teaching a class on the langes messer, a weapon which I have held a long fascination with. Not only were the techniques they demonstrated fantastic, but the two were hilarious. One of the memorable highlights of my already incredibly fun weekend was Hans teaching us a solo form with the messer to practice cutting drills. Once we had the form down, he had us stand along the shores of Lake Michigan performing this graceful series of movements in rhythm while blasting 1980s hair metal music from his car. I hope these guys come back to more events in the US; they were a complete riot.
Each night involved raucous laughter and drinking all night long as everyone got to know one another. I got to meet several forum members such as Bill Reynolds and Chris Last, and it is always a strange experience to talk with someone for half an hour and suddenly realize you've been reading their posts for years. Stephen Hand, as usual, was full of hilarious stories from his reenactment days in Australia, Tom Leoni traveled from room to room and had every female's heart aflutter, and I was shocked and amazed to discover that both Christian Tobler and I do Velociraptor impersonations.
The weekend really was a surreal experience, where we truly were in another world, one filled with friendship and dedication. It was quite a disappointment having to leave the picturesque campus to go back to the real world. I renewed old friendships and made new ones altogether, and while I left for the drive back home with a touch of sadness, I also am already excited about next year's workshop.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Additional photos can be viewed in our WMAW 2005 Event Photo Album.
Photographers: Bill Grandy and Amanda Saulsgiver