Besides all the chatting, free sparring, eating lunch and taking classes there were also a few competitive opportunities at the Féile na Gaiscígh 2017. I won’t be able to offer much in the way of commentary for most of the bouts, but I will give you an overview of what happened to me in the tournaments.
I entered the Sword & Buckler and Open Longsword competitions, there was also Rapier & Companion but not knowing what to do with a rapier I gave it a miss. The S&B did finish a bit early so I got to watch the finals of the Rapier and the dynamism and sheer technical complexity of what the guys were doing was very impressive. I have been a little put off rapier in the past by the fiddliness of the discipline. That impression has come from watching drills and exercises and frankly they didn’t capture the energy and speed that shows up in competition. I still don’t think it is for me though, and anyway my card is full with the other weapons I am attempting to master.
Sword & Buckler took place in the main hall on Friday afternoon. The field had doubled in size since last years Féile; fifteen entrants making three pools of five this time around. I was in the third pool and volunteered to line judge pool one. I also acted as ref for a few of the matches so that Neil from Dublin HEMA could take a break. Judging always gives you a better than spectator’s view of the action but there is a bit of pressure not to just sit back and enjoy the show.
The quality of the fighting was very good, people seemed to be divided into two styles. There were the ‘windy-bindy‘ types who were attempting to stay close to their opponent, control the centre-line and exploit openings or create them by controlling with their buckler. Paul Reck and Wayne Power of Goat’s Heat Historical Fencing epitomise this approach for me. Watching the two of them sharp sparring with S&B over the weekend was a real pleasure and instructional in itself.
The other camp was less obviously technical, I fit into this group and I called them the ‘Whacky-fencers‘ (in my head, until now that is). They used a more direct means of scoring points, waiting for openings and attacking them directly when they became available; although I am sure that there are nuances to individual fighter’s approaches that I missed due to the speed of the exchanges. Whilst I don’t have any actual figures to back this up I got the general impression that when two fencers from opposing styles met it was usually the Whacky-fencer who secured the win. The Windy-bindy approach seemed less able to account for the speed and aggression.
I did fairly well in my pool, I won three out of four fights. Not by huge margins but solidly enough. My final fight was against Suzy Cantrell of Dublin HEMA and it seemed that we had the exact same idea on each exchange, it was simply a race to see who managed to get the point in first. As it happened, Suzy managed it more often than me and won our bout. I had done enough to secure a place in the eliminations however and went through.
The eliminations for me was a good chance to get in more competitive fighting. I didn’t win in the end, being eliminated in my first bout of the round. I have observed before that there is a marked difference in the nature of competitive fighting, it’s not so much a difference of quality but one of intensity. If I was to be all poetic then I would say that competition is a crucible, in which ones best performance is required lest you be burnt away. Non-poetically I think people just “bring it” to competition. I may only have got one extra competitive fight but the focus that requires forced me to deliver the best I could. Not good enough as it happens and I was out fenced by Sean Jauss, no regrets he was simply the better fighter on the day.
The Longsword Open on Saturday was the main event as per usual. There were twenty eight entrants after several drop-outs and substitutions, making for slightly uneven pool sizes. Using the magic of Math however the organiser assured us that it would all be kept fair. I was in the first pool so got to fight straight away. We were in one of the small pools, so only three fights each for us. I managed one victory, one loss and one draw. My intentions were to be slightly keener on the attack as in sparring it’s been observed that I’m more cautious than people who have scored more highly. I did my best but our pool turned out to be the lowest scoring of the whole competition. Only seven points separated top and bottom of the pool and I came second with twenty three two.
As with S&B I took my turn as line judge and main ref to let others keep from going cross-eyed with concentration. Judging is an important aspect of HEMA and I’ll be looking at it in more detail in a later post.
To get a decent size eliminations round the organisers put the winners of each of the five pools through and then the next eleven highest scores, making sixteen. I was the second lowest qualifier which meant that my first bout was to be against Ties Kool. I was so pleased to be getting to fight him as we had been in separate pools. I wanted the chance to test myself against the best at the event. Lots of people came up to me before the fight with advise and it proved valuable. “He’s very fast.” they said. “He likes to rapidly change from a centre-line attack, around to the outside.” they said. As it turns out they were right. I went into the fight saying that in lieu of winning (yeah, right) I would set myself the goal of defending myself from that swift change as well as possible.
During the fight he did indeed use that move and I was able, more often than not, to swap into a hanging guard and catch the blow before it landed. If I had been quicker I should have attempted to get a riposte in but Ties still out fenced me and had more in his repertoire than just the strike I had been warned about. You can check out the video on The Wrathful Peasants Facebook page. The fourth exchange was my best as I managed to score a point and did by best defensive work. The conclusion of the match was no real surprise however, Ties knocked me out. He did go on to win gold overall and so in some ways, I sort of came second…?(cough, cough)
Doesn’t matter though, I fought one of the top fencers in the world (HEMA Ratings has him down as sixth overall for Men’s Steel Longsword), defended myself well, scored a point and had a good time of it into the bargain. This, for me, is what competition is about, learning how the best do it, having fun and coming away an improved fencer.
The rest of the eliminations and finals proceeded with an excellent high level of skill on display. Michael and Andrej from the Cork Blademasters placed alongside Ties. The speed and intensity of the final between Andrej and Ties was a great spectacle and for me could be held up as an aspiration of how I would like to perform.
There we are, all done and dusted. My apologies to the Rapier competitors and the Beginners Longsword entrant for not being able to include any better coverage but I heard that the quality continued to shine across all the events. As always you can contact me on the comment section below or on the Wrathful Peasants Facebook page. If you like reading my Blog please share it with anyone you feel might enjoy it.