Event Report: The Western Martial Arts Workshop, 2005
An article by Bill Grandy

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Taylor Hall of the DeKoven center

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Greg Mele and
Nicole Allen

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Warming up with
Roger Siggs

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John Hounsell and Stephen Hand

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Harlan Hastings
of Albion

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Chivalry Bookshelf

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Craig Johnson of A&A

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Custom items of Darkwood Armory

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Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armory

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14th century harness next to the Armour Research Society table

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Christian Darcé of Purpleheart Armoury

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Brian Price

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Christian Tobler

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Stephen Hand teaches George Silver's fighting system

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Kristi Charron's demo of mounted combat

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Swords from
Arms & Armor

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Rob Lovett teaches Fiore di Liberi

It wasn't very long ago that the term "western martial arts" meant nothing. The idea of modern students practicing martial arts from a tradition that wasn't oriental was inconceivable. Considering the daunting amount of historical research that is essential to reviving these western traditions, it is almost a wonder that anyone could have made any progress bringing these arts back to life. Thanks to the accessibility of the Internet and the unselfish and dedicated work of several isolated people and groups, though, somehow a community of serious students of these once-forgotten arts have pooled resources together and propelled the study of the ancient fighting forms of the western hemisphere forward.

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.

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Tom Leoni with
the halberd

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Christian Tobler
and Bill Grandy

This year's WMAW 2005 (September 9-11, 2005) was the sixth event of its kind, and is the largest North American event for WMA students. The Chicago Swordplay Guild hosted it in Racine, Wisconsin at the DeKoven Center. The DeKoven Center was a perfect location: a small 19th century college that was later turned into a retreat. The campus was created with beautiful stone architecture that captured a medieval feel, and it rests right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Many of the participants, myself included, stayed there rather than at hotels, which made the event that much more of a bonding experience between all who attended.

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.

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Craig Johnson holds the antique Schloss Erbach sword
It was especially a pleasure to finally meet Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor face to face after having talked to him so much on the phone. Craig is a very personable and fun guy, and I am always impressed by just how much knowledge the man has. He brought along several new bouting swords that they have been working on, particularly longswords, and I suspect we'll see more WMA tools coming from their shop. I handled one of their Bavarian rapiers that had their prototype fencing blade on it, and I'm already planning on working something out with A&A along those lines. Craig also taught a wonderful lecture called "What Makes a Sword?" This lecture discussed how much more there is to a sword than a sharpened bar of metal on a handle, and also brought up the important factor that we as modern practitioners have to keep in mind: there isn't just one perfect type of sword for one specific style, else so many different swords would not exist. A special bonus at this class was when Craig brought out several originals for us to handle, including the sword on which the Arms & Armor's Schloss Erbach is based. I have handled the reproduction before, and it was amazing just how dead-on faithful it was to the original. Among the antiques were two transitional rapiers that were so beautiful it made me almost want to cry. They were incredibly lightweight and simply wanted to dance in the hand.

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.

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Jörg Bellinghausen and Hans Heim

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Ben Roberts revives the English longsword on Jeff Tsay's head

Also there from the Order of the Seven Hearts were Steve Reich and his wife Kara. Steve was teaching an introduction to Italian rapier, but he and Kara also admirably stepped in to teach David Borland's rapier class when he was unable to attend. Steve and Kara showed that Italian rapier isn't a game about bouncing around, poking and grabbing, but is founded on certain scientific and precise principles. Best of all, I could see many beginners who were unfamiliar with these principles leaving the class with the excited looks on their faces of those who have just had the light bulb click "on" inside their heads.

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.

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Bill Wilson teaching sword and dagger
In addition to the classes, of course, was the socializing. Saturday night was the big feast in the great hall. The food was wonderful, and the event included entertainment. It started out with Tom Leoni and Steve Reich performing a quick Bolognese sword and buckler drill, followed by Christain Tobler giving a speech. Christian and Brian Price suited up to bout with longswords, pitting the Italian Fiore's style against the German Liechtenauer tradition, which was wonderful to watch. Stephen Hand and Sean Hayes then came out and showed a quick but intense bout with swords and bucklers in the style of the I.33 manuscript. Tom Leoni and Steve Reich came back up to have an incredibly clean and graceful match with rapiers from the style of Salvator Fabris. As they finished, loud arguments and German swearing were suddenly heard as Hans Heim and Jörg Bellinghausen started animatedly bickering at their table in their native tongue. After several pushes and the knocking off of a hat, the two reached for their langes messer and came to the center floor as the hall cheered. They proceeded to perform a choreographed fight involving several of the historical messer plays strung together to make an exciting stage combat performance with many humorous antics, resulting in both losing their weapons and grappling with one another, and Jörg being tossed into a burlap sack and dragged out of the hall to the laughter and cheers of everyone. WMA meets WWE.

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 Information
Additional photos can be viewed in our WMAW 2005 Event Photo Album.

Photographers: Bill Grandy and Amanda Saulsgiver


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