International Rapier Seminar Dublin 2015 [English]
Greetings fellow sword fighters! It has been a great pleasure to be able to attend the IRS 2015 which took place in Dublin, Ireland this year (it was held in Netherlands last year). As I don’t own any 17th century replicas of arms or armour yet I was very fortunate to have an organizer (thank you Mike) organize a rapier for me to use throughout the event. I haven’t actually handled a rapier for the first time as I was given a brief introduction to it by Gregor Rozman (thanks Gregor for that brief introduction in Ljubljana a few years ago) but it was in fact the first time I have ever handled a 17th century Spanish rapier. I fell madly in love with it but will get to this part later.
The event was held in a peaceful, historical town named Swords a few kilometers north of Dublin. What a great choice of location wouldn’t you agree with organizers? During the weekend ten workshops were delivered by five renowned, experienced and well established teachers (or masters if you will) from Europe. Schedule and classes are available here. Teachers included Piermarco Terminiello (School of the Sword, UK), Reinier van Noort (Frie Duellister, Norway), M° Francesco Lodà (Accademia Romana d’Armi and Associazione Italiana Maestri d’Arme, Italy), Ton Puey (Academia de la Espada and AGEA, Spain) and Mike Prendergast (Historical Combat Academy and SCA Dun in Mara, Ireland). I haven’t attended workshops by any masters before except it might be that I have attended a workshop by Reinier on some other discipline before but don’t quite recall it at the moment.
As usual it started with the registration in the morning. All unfamiliar faces except for Reinier, but that was expected. I quickly jumped into the line to grab my weapon of choice – largest blade available which happened to be an (late 16th/early 17th century) Italian rapier. Luckily I was able to fit into a tight fencing jacket also available to be let by an organizer. Eager to learn the rapier fundamentals I decided to attend Mike’s opening class for beginners. Fundamentals learned in this class made perfect sense to me. Holding a rapier in a stance, even though it’s not a heavy weapon was quite exhaustive and being out of shape I often had to relax my muscles. Ah, so had to everybody else so I guess it’s normal After a short break had ended I moved back to the basic section to attend the workshop on the Roman school of rapier by M° Francesco Lodà. Focusing strictly on the very core of the system with emphasis on distance, positioning and preparations for a duel.
After these two classes I had just enough time to comprehend all new knowledge and gained experiences and mentally prepare for the tournament!
The tournament was scheduled for after lunch. I had registered for it already online out of pure fun and without absolutely any expectations whatsoever. Being a complete beginner in rapier fencing with just two classes behind me I was sure I would be humiliated and eliminated even before properly extending my arm for a potential thrust. Rules were simple yet odd but they allowed all participants (virtually all attendees chose to participate) to engage in several duels but sadly – due to the way it was conceived, it would be more or less with the same contestants in pair each round.
I didn’t win the tournament of course but was surprisingly good. That was partially due to the fact I have many years of HEMA practice behind me and partially due to other competitors not being that good. Overall I would average among the practitioners with at least 2 years of rapier practice already. I even received compliments from a fellow fencer and a surprise look on his face when I told him I’m basically a complete beginner.
I did not participate at the dinner arrangement which was organized later that evening somewhere in the city center.
I started the second day with even more enthusiasm and a proper self-guided warm-up exercise to relax the pain in my muscles. Basic warm-up sessions should take place collectively though. Warm-up sessions as are usually delivered by Lea Z. would get us ready in no time I decided again to start with a basic class. Ton’s class was excellent. His approach, where he had us feel the movement, distance and interactions with an opponent without actually holding a sword in our hand was something I would promote as an obligatory part in any class, regardless of the discipline. It was actually in this class that I held the Spanish rapier in my hand for the very first time. Presented with the distinctive differences between the Italian and the Spanish fencing style I immediately realized this is the historical period I wish to devote more attention on. I am very determined when it comes to choosing a period in history I wish to reenact either as an act of experimental archeology within which I would learn trades, traditions, culture, music, art and art of combat. My ultimate period in history I feel most inline with is late Gothic period (for example 1475-1510, local to Steiermark). I’d skip the Renaissance period but would then again become more interested in late Baroque. Spanish fencing style incorporates combat at a closer distance, less or absolutely no exaggerated stretching, and it is in general more direct when compared to the Italian style. That’s my personal view on it and I might be completely mistaken.
A short break and up to an advanced class now, another class by M° Francesco Lodà, entitled Disciples of Marcelli’s family, or the new discoveries on the Roman School of Rapier. Although advanced I didn’t feel left out as to not being able to understand what we are working on/with. I was very fortunate this time to be paired together with Ton so I could get an opinion on my every action by an experienced fencer. I loved it how Ton constantly compared Italian school to Spanish giving examples on how this would have been done the Spanish way. And I must say I would have liked the Spanish way better. As Lichtenauer cited: “This you should grasp: All arts have length and measure“, the very same is deadly true for the rapier fencing, deadly indeed . As we progressed with what I would still classify as a basic knowledge on fencing, my understanding of the art started to expand. Francesco also shared a secret with us. Something every fencing master knows, but I won’t share it with you – as it wouldn’t be a secret anymore now would it?
A lunch break and I was yet again before a decision which class to take, a basic or an advanced one. I decided to attend the advanced one by Ton Puey: Francisco Lorenç de Rada: The “Atajo”. Workshop included a lot of straight forward one on one practice of presented techniques. Ton borrowed me his lighter Spanish rapier so I could perform faster, be more precise and efficient. Even more evident with Spanish rapiers is the fact that a greater focus is on thrusting as there’s virtually no cutting involved. Some winding techniques, parring and feeling for opponent’s blade towards the end. I would again be able to very closely relate the techniques to my past experience of German long sword. Great workshop which just made you hungry for more!
My overall impressions of the seminar is positive. Organizers had several pieces of arms and protective gear available to let which was great as it offered people like us to attend although we don’t own a rapier (yet). There were no accidents or injures at the event. My skull-painted mask received a complement as usual Every class I have attended was very well presented, well structured and extremely interesting. I was missing a collective warm-up session and some workshops had actually none intended. I realized that having past experience in HEMA helps you understand (much) younger disciplines of combat way better. The most difficult thing to adopt for me was the distance as the thrust with a rapier is usually finished within two-tempo action. Protective gear used is lighter which means greater mobility and better flexibility! Being fit is extremely important so regular visits to a gym would help you a lot. So where to go from here? First I need to acquire a rapier, late 17th century, Spanish one and try to find a sparring partner. I look forward to attending any future seminars and workshops on rapier in the future. The word is one is being organized in July in Vienna.
Some photograph from the event (I apologize for the poor quality):