Event Report: The Western Martial Arts Workshop, 2006
An article by Bill Grandy
One of the more exotic classes of the weekend was Jeff Tsay's presentation on the sickle and scythe fighting described in Paulus Hector Mair manuscript. He showed how these agricultural tools were put to use for fighting and how they are linked to the overall framework of German martial arts. That was a particularly interesting class because one could see the connections to longsword, dagger, poleaxe, and just about everything else in the system, but there were clear distinctions to certain techniques due to the strange shape of the weapons themselves. It was fantastic to see someone researching new territory within a commonly practiced system.
In addition to the large array of classes offered, there were a number of lectures. Craig Johnson gave a wonderful presentation on antique arms, showing the variances of design and construction between historical examples of swords. The highlight was when he brought out several pieces from the Oakeshott Collection for us to handle. I was able to sit in on this lecture at last year's workshop, and Craig brought a completely different group of swords this time, including a beautiful mortuary hilt, the amazing single-handed sword on which Arms & Armor bases their "Oakeshott Sword," and even a wonderful pattern-welded Viking sword. The grip and guard of the Viking sword were modern for the purpose of handling, but the pommel and blade were completely original, and there is something almost spooky about holding something so ancient.
Another wonderfully interesting lecture was on wound pathology by Dr. Richard Swinney and Scott Crawford. They analyzed historical accounts and modern records of injuries and deaths to form an interesting case study of how people react to certain types of wounds. The lecture was not only fascinating, but also quite entertaining, as the two put it together in a very humorous way. The lecture looked at how certain types of wounds that are often taken for granted as "stopping wounds" are sometimes more complex than that, and many of the techniques practiced by modern martial artists need to be practiced in the correct context. This type of research is very welcome because it explores an area that training and free-play cannot, and gives us a much better understanding of just what exactly it is that we are practicing.
There were also tournaments of arms that were open to all. Friday night there was both a rapier/side sword tournament and a baton tournament. I was not able to see any of the baton tournament, but I can definitely say that I was pleased to see at the rapier/side sword tournament some very excellent and clean form from the participants. Too often, people attempt to play to the rules to win at any form of competition. What I saw, though, were fencers who had practiced their respective arts and were bringing their skills to the forefront in the spirit of preserving these martial traditions rather than the spirit of playing a game of tag; that is something to be commended. A longsword tournament also happened on Sunday afternoon, but I was not able to see this because I was taking a class. From what I am told, it went well.
Where there are swordsmen there are always swords, and sure enough there were several vendors there to share their wares. Of particular note was Arms & Armor, manned by Craig Johnson, with a table full of their wonderful weapons and training tools. Craig brought along several of his new blunt longsword and single-hand sword training weapons, but he had a number of new surprises. On his table were a new training side sword, a practice rapier that was created to intentionally keep cost down without sacrificing quality, and two new beautiful smallswords intended for fencing. The new smallswords were a pure joy to handle, with their modified epee blades and hilts cast from moulds of an original. I kept going back to the table just to play with them. But all of those swords, wonderful though they were, took a backseat when I laid eyes on the newest trainers Craig brought along: A set of full-sized two-hander training swords. Craig had made very rough versions of these for Steve Hick, who was presenting a class on the Montante, the Portuguese two-handed sword. These were prototypes that were essentially large versions of the Fechterspiel training swords, except that they were based off an original Iberian two-handed sword. Since these were unfinished prototypes meant for Steve's class, the furniture was very rough, the grips were unwrapped, and there were forging marks still apparent on the blade. Nonetheless, as soon as I picked one up I knew for certain I had to own it. It felt like magic that swords of this size could be maneuvered so easily. Even knowing that swords this big were much lighter than people expect, I still was in awe. I have never handled a reproduction sword of this size that came anywhere close to this new trainer, and I immediate began pestering Craig to buy it even though when he'd first brought them he hadn't figured out a price yet. By the end of the weekend all four of his prototypes were sold.
Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armory was there with a table full of his renowned fencing rapiers. Scott's swords ranged from bare bones economy pieces to elaborately decorated works of art, all of which are top quality fencing tools. He also had a number of other trainers, including several blunt longswords with slightly flexible blades. I was very interested in these, as I had not seen them before. He had one fantastic 16th century-styled one with a full complex hilt that unfortunately sold so fast that I didn't get a chance to photograph it. All of the swords handled excellently, and given how impressed I've always been with Darkwood's rapiers, I have faith that these longsword trainers will also be a worthwhile buy for customers.
In addition to sword vendors, Mugen Dachi Company was there selling tatami mats for test cutting, as well as a vendor I had not previous been aware of named Sword Fodder, selling test cutting materials made of modern foam. Revival Clothing had a table selling books from Chivalry Bookshelf as well as many of the clothing and sparring products, from shoes to padded gloves. Alliance Martial Arts had a booth selling their DVDs, and there were a few vendors selling armour as well. All in all, WMAW proves to be quite the shopping experience.
Saturday night was the medieval feast, where participants were encouraged to wear period garb if they owned it. The food was wonderful, and awards were given out to instructors for their incredible contributions to the community at large. There was even entertainment in the form of a stage combat group known as Cut and Thrust. At first this seemed a surprise to see a stage combat group performing after spending a weekend of practicing with swords as a martial art, but the performers of Cut and Thrust were quite skilled and put on a good show.
As usual, though, the most important part of such events is not just the great activities present, but the people who attend. It was fantastic to sit and chat with instructors who were more than happy to converse with everyone, as well as meet the vendors and members of various groups from across the world to share thoughts, interpretations, and to simply laugh. It is always a sad thing to leave, knowing that one will not see many of these good people for another year. Nonetheless, I am happy to report that WMAW 2006 came off wonderfully and it was a joy to have spent the small amount of time there, sharing the camaraderie, the stories, the fun, the swords, and most importantly, the friendships.
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.
Photographer: Bill Grandy