Féile na Gaiscígh 2017: A review, part the first.

Wow, what an excellent weekend that was! I was a long and tiring weekend too, but in a good way. In this part of my review I’ll give a bit of an overview and a detailed look at the classes I attended at Ireland’s largest HEMA event.

The Féile was held at a venue in Lucan, Dublin this year and not the wonderful old All Hallows College where it has been for the last couple of years. I wasn’t looking forward to a change of venue initially but when I saw it was just a ten minute bus ride from the friend’s house I’d be staying at I was keen, to say the least. The school itself was well equipped for the classes and tournament; plenty of space to hold pools, spread out the students and for free sparring which can sometimes be overlooked in the allocation of real estate.

The facilities other than the sports hall were a little limited, I missed the big lawns and massive cafeteria of All Hallows College but I have little else to complain about. The food was hot, well prepared and in plentiful supply. Having lunch included on all three days as well as tea and coffee laid on was incredibly good value for money.

On Friday morning I took a class with Anouk Post, from HVN in the Netherlands, covering the basics of Roworth’s broadsword/sabre system. To be honest the system is pretty simple but Anouk presented the material well and made it a lot of fun to learn. I use a different sabre system myself but the material demonstrated will certainly be of some use to me. Running at the same time was a class on the use of the cloak in rapier fencing, taught by Matthew Crane from the Sword of The School. I didn’t get to take the class myself but I did get to see him demonstrate the skill later in the Rapier & Companion competition!

Me  and Alex Bourdas in a classic Red Vs Blue match up.

Friday afternoon was for the Beginners Longsword, Sword and Buckler and Rapier & Companion tournaments. Saturday afternoon saw the Open Longsword competition and the presentation of the medals. I want to go into the competitive side of the event in a bit more detail so I will save discussion of them for a second post later this week.

First thing on Saturday was a Longsword class with Keith Farrell, I’ve had a few classes with him before and there is simply no way you can finish his sessions and not learn what he has to teach. Keith’s structure and presentation is so logically and incrementally assembled that the points he makes simply slot into your brain. Whether or not you are able to apply them is another matter… This session was on body dynamics and maintaining strong upper body structure during sparring, just what I needed! The class was appreciated on two counts, the content and quality of course, but also because it got my mind into ‘Longsword Mode’ ahead of the competition. I’ve discussed the need to focus and be in the correct frame of mind when beginning a tournament so that opportunities for scores/victories in early matches aren’t lost to sloppy mistakes. Keith’s class put me in good stead for the challenges to come.

As the main feature (the Open Longsword) was all wrapped up on Saturday it opened the evening up for the social. Most of the attendees made it to the pub for a bite, a chat and a series of refreshing beverages. This is a really important part of any event and gave us all a chance to get to know one another and open the topics of conversation wider and wider. I chatted about grappling, equipment choice, drilling methods, research and even mounted sword fighting! There were a few sore heads the next day but in general nobody was in too ragged a state.

Sunday was the main day for classes, the variety of subject on offer was impressive with martial skills and more ‘theoretical’ content available. The inverted commas here are to to represent that all the theory was presented within the context of physical application and practice. I opted for another sabre class in the morning, this time with the renowned Ties Kool, again from HVN. As sabre has been getting more and more time at the East Clare Sparring Group recently, I was under considerable social pressure to make this choice. It was billed as an advanced class but as the Dutch system basically consists of three guards and three cuts Ties was worried it wouldn’t seem that advanced. So he focussed the instruction on the need for attention to detail in ones drilling and how even within an ostensibly simple system there is plenty of ways to improve by maintaining an awareness of every small aspect and how they feed into the overall technical quality of your fencing.

Unfortunately, opposite the sabre class was the other class I really wanted to do which was Pete Smallridge’s Grappling for Longsword class. Luckily for me I had had a chance to discuss a few things with him in the pub, it was still a shame to miss out on the workshop itself though.

Ties’ class was very physical, for example as a ‘break from too much arm work’ he had us doing sets of squats, lunges, jumping squats, jumping lunges and jumping swap-leg-positions-and-back-again-whilst-in-mid-air-lunges (phwew). So I opted to sit out the next class session. I missed out on a fitness class on how to avoid injury by Suzi Cantrell but I was in frankly no state to do more much exertion. Instead I got some light sabre sparring and conversation in before lunch. I was really pleasantly surprised to find out how many role-players and tabletop gamers have made HEMA their home. I somehow feel that taking up of the hobby has been validated by the fact I share so many other interests with a lot of other practitioners I meet.

After lunch was the final session of the day and once again I went with Ties Kool, and his Longsword class. He had either won or at least placed in two three of the steel tournaments, I’d be a fool not to take the chance to get some pointers. The class was fairly simple, well presented drills but nothing hugely taxing. It was the end of a very long weekend after all. He focussed on how to develop simple exercises so that they progressively become more stressful and so more like sparring.

Some longsword action.

With a bit more free sparring to tidy off the day that was about all she wrote. The guys from Dublin HEMA put on an excellent event, well organised, varied and interesting, my thanks and appreciation go to them. The attendees were a pleasure to meet and the quality of fencing was spectacular, so lots to learn!

As I mentioned I’ll tackle the competitions in a separate post so that is it from the Wrathful Peasant for now. If you would like to ask any questions feel free to message me on the Facebook page or in the comments below.