German longswords are not as heavy as I thought they would be.
Also? “fighting” with swords is really a lot more complicated than what you see on TV. Either that or all the actors who swing swords about are adept at swordplay technique with minimal instruction. You decide. (I prefer to think that all my TV Boyfriends who play with swords in their shows are talented, but that’s just me…)
Also Also? Swordplay is really A LOT OF FUN, a challenge physically and mentally, and seriously, you’ve never done anything like this before. Tree branch swordfighting when you were 7 this is not.
How do I know this? No, I have not been travelling with The Doctor. I took sword play classes! With real swords! Yes!
A friend had a Groupon for three private lessons and three classes, and one of the ladies who had purchased couldn’t come. So my friend Jay, who can convince me to try almost anything, cast her net and asked who wanted to fill the empty slot. I saw that Facebook post, and jumped on that like a band of ravenous kids on birthday cake. Why not? Try new things, expand my comfort zone, be adventurous. Not that I needed a new hobby, but this was a chance to cross off the “learn to swing a sword” bucket list activity.
Once I had paid for the lessons, I found out the classes were at Ottawa Swordplay (http://ottawaswordplay.com/). The name was vaguely familiar to me. Why had I heard that name before? It turns out a former co-worker is an instructor there! I love Ottawa for the fact that we have such a small town feel in a big city. Also? John is a most excellent person, and it was great to catch up with him.
So, on the night of our first private lesson, the four ladies went off, nervous but excited. We had no idea what to expect, and rightly so! Despite our nerves, Craig, the head instructor, also proved to be most excellent, and we relaxed into the lesson immediately. When we headed back to our carpool meeting place, we were all buzzing with the infodump of longsword theory, happy we had shown up, and ready for more.
Seriously, y’all need to try this. Want to learn something about yourself? Learn how to use a sword. Want a neat activity to do with your entourage? Do this.
The system of swordplay for the German Longsword the school teaches is from late 14th century Germany, developed by Johannes Liechtenauer. He compiled a book named Kunst des Fechtens, more commonly referred to as Art of Combat. From this, you get your different types of guards, strikes and footwork. Guards and strikes I had read about before, but footwork? Footwork plays a huge part, which I did not expect. I assumed it was ad-hoc, just put your feet wherever in order to get the best stance for the defense or offense.
I am terrible at footwork, for the record, but that is ok.
I also discovered that being left-handed is quite the thing when swordfighting. It can mess with your sparring partner, it can mean differences in how you perform strikes, and you rarely mirror your opponent. Basically it can be a *$#^@ until you figure it out. One fellow in class mentioned that in competitions, fighting a leftie is akin to the worst frustration possible. Thankfully, as we progressed through lessons, John was able to partner with me and fight both right and left-handed to help me get the movements. A Godsend. After one lesson that I had partnered with him, and we had drilled and drilled and I was a sweaty mess at the end. Awesome.
Sometimes, I was quite confused and would lose track of where I was in my strike progression, or my feet would not go where I thought they went. My regular partner, Shannon, was patient, and we had a lot of fun figuring it out, getting completely tangled, and of course, ensuring we used sound effects when booping each other in the face with the points of our swords.
I’m not sure, but we may have been the giggliest of adult students in attendance ever. The other ladies, Jay and Tracey, were quite giggly too. We were having fun.
But that was the point, to enjoy this! To stretch and learn! And I did. I would end every lesson mentally exhausted.
I learned that I don’t think as quickly on my feet as I thought I did, and that I have a tendency to slouch. (ok, just straightened up in my chair writing that heh…). I was reminded of my lack of hand-eye co-ordination when I would look down and find my hands not where I thought they were. We did one lesson with some grappling techniques, and it was an eye-opener to see just how much you can do with you hands and body position to neutralize or disarm your opponent. it isn’t all about the sword! I decided that doing footwork drills with different guards can be very calming and meditative. I liked that part (even though they were difficult for me to “get”).
I learned that I have an arthritic joint in my left index finger that throbbed after every lesson, and every week, I would forget to tape it. Doh!
I learned to put my mask on slowly, as the close confines of the cage would make me a bit dizzy for the first minute or so. It was nothing like paintball masks, which are light and flexible. These masks keep your partner from poking your eye out with a Zornhau, or knock you out with a Sheitelhau (see what I did there? I did retain something!) and are quite necessary, since most of the time, you are using a real, metal sword! My preferred sword was named the Punisher, since it was supposed to be the heaviest sword in the school’s collection. I found the grip narrow enough for my tiny mitts, and really, it wasn’t that heavy… But I don’t have much of a reference, so *shrug*. Leave it to me to pick a sword with a name, eh?
Now, of course, the swords are not sharpened, and some have foam tips taped on. Also, for any drills that involved body strikes or hand work, we used gloves, and dense foam swords. Super-duper safe. There are quite a number of swords to choose from too, so everyone gets one they are comfortable with. the school also teaches some different types of swordplay with different swords other than the longsword, how to use a buckler (shield), and grappling when engaged with your opponent.
So what did I take away from this experience? That I am capable of learning something new that is completely foreign to me, and that it is ok to suck at it for the first little bit. That I am more confident when I try new things with friends, and should employ this technique when attempting my next adventure.
I also now know more than just swear words in German. I can call my husband an Ochs when he frustrates me. Of course, now that I have said that, he can look it up. Love you, darling!
I encourage you to check out the school. http://ottawaswordplay.com/. It is inviting, friendly, relaxed and a really interesting activity to do. Craig and John are top notch and explaining concepts, and patient when you mess up your Oben Abgenomen for the fiftieth time. They make it look easy, but not unattainable. Apparently they also do birthday parties for youngsters (not sure on the bottom age, 9+ I am going to say?) and Warrior Princess classes for young ladies.
Will I go back? I would love to. Cost, time, a full plate with two small kids, and current training goals means there is no time left in the itinerary right now. Maybe come winter, if we can afford it, and husband is amenable, I will take another block of lessons.
Anyone want to come with me?