The Quickening: There can be only a few of us!

This weekend sees the first event of the year (as far as I am aware) in the Irish HEMA calendar and it just so happens to be one we are organising. The Quickening: “There can be only a few of us…” is a two-day event in the rural heart of County Clare. We’re going to have a steel Longsword competition and a Sabre competition on Sunday.

For the last couple of weeks we have been hashing out the structure of the event and it has occupied a lot of our swordy-time. Even the sparring bouts have been used as test beds for score systems, ring sizes, timings and bout structures. I thought I’d use this opportunity to discuss what we’ve been thinking and give you all some insight into how we organise an event.

Our main areas of ‘concern’ revolve around the following:

  • Attendance

  • Making sure everyone goes home saying what an excellent time they’ve had

  • How to structure the tournaments to maximise fairness and chances to fence

  • Scoring systems (as a major part of the preceding point)

To be fair these all twist and tangle with each other until there is no way of addressing them one at a time so I’ll just dive in…

As I am sure I’ve mentioned before, HEMA is a very small community in Ireland, so we are always going to have cosy, intimate (small) events compared to our over-populated island neighbours or our continental cousins with the amazing transport links to more people than you can shake a federalist stick at. We’re never going to get a massive turn out as there are only so many weekends in the year, people still insist on having non-sword based activities on these weekends and it seems very difficult to persuade most urban HEMAists to leave the glow of the streetlights for a weekend.

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You can plan well in advance, you can fly in established HEMA talent, you can print the best lanyards and handouts in the world, you can even offer half-price beer (as we did at the last event) but attendance barely gets into the twenties. It’s not ideal it’s just the way it is…

For the Quickening we decided not to stress it, we know we won’t get much more than a dozen entrants so we have structured along those lines. We made direct invites to clubs we know are likely to support us and have enjoyed our past events. Promotion on FB and so on was just tacked on to make sure any floating interest wasn’t wasted. By the time we did that we already knew who was likely to come along.

We will be having two big pools; meaning a long slog for the audience, scorekeepers and judges but lots of fights. Nobody wants to travel two or three hours for just two fights. So large pools is a good answer. If we get the 12 fighters we expect we’ll have 60 fights in the pools stage. So we looked at how long the fights will take which influences the scoring system and structure.

We’ll be using a version of the Cork Blademaster’s system. I really like the simplicity and intuitive sense the system made (see my round up of the 2017 IHFL events for some further thoughts on that). Deep targets (head, torso and upper legs) count for five points. Everything else is three. Doubles and ‘afterblows’ count for nothing. We want to promote quality fencing, not hit-and-hope tactics. However, every exchange counts against your total of seven opportunities.

We tried out numerous structures over the last couple of sessions and came up with the following. If we give each longsword bout seven exchanges, and the players are both balanced in their approach (not too cautious, not too aggressive but just right), then the fights should last about 2.5 minutes, call it 3 for safety sake. So that’s three hours of fighting. Add in some faffing around time, call it 3.5 hours for the lot. Means we can start at 10.30am, break for an hour lunch at 12.30, finish the pools in an hour or so and be ready to start the elims and finals by 14.30.

Now, no matter how important the finals feel there’s still only an extra four fights when you have two pools. So let’s say we go to nine exchanges to challenge them a bit that’s still only gonna be about 4, maybe 5 minutes per bout. Add in the faff and we should be wrapped up by 15.00 may be quarter past. Then its back home in time for tea and medals! There are no medals…

In our case, we won’t be going home for tea. One of the lovely club spouses has arranged a massive venison curry (vegetarian option available) with side dishes, which will be served to the attendants for €10. We’ll also be sharing out the 48 free bottles of Siege beer (not on a wall) that our generous sponsors Western Herd has provided and we will have the evening off to a fine start.

It’s really important to us that we provide not just a smoothly organised fencing event with fairness and quality fencing for all, but also an event that was a pleasure to attend. We are very lucky that the village of Feakle is so accommodating and suited to our events but we want to push the boat out even more.

Another sponsor, Maloney’s Bar (you may have spotted a pattern here), have not only provided bottles of brandy as prizes and let us hang a perpetual trophy over their fireplace, they have booked a band for the evening! This all means that we can have a great fun night out here in the sticks.

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The Sabre competition on Sunday may well have even fewer entrants so we are going for a ‘lives’ based scoring system. Each player has some (probably five) lives and each hit they receive knocks one off. Doubles and ‘afterblow’ hits knock one off each player.

We know that there are lots of different sabre types out there so we want to let people play with whichever type they like. Most are familiar with Black Fencer synthetic sabres so we have a load of different models, on loan from the generous ISHC, and a couple of steel Hutton gymnasium sabres. A few people have some really heavyweight Polish or Slovak pieces they are keen to try out. We are going to allow each pair of players to use whichever sword they can agree on as long as they are matched. If they can’t agree then the default will be a Black Fencer of one type or another.

We want to support the development of Sabre fencing at events in Ireland and we see this as an opportunity for people to try their hands with a variety of weapons and possibly styles.

You can check out the full details of the event including all the other sponsors who have donated prizes for the winners on the Quickening’s event page.

WOW! When I write it all out like that it seems like a lot of work but in reality, it’s more fun than labour. I am sure it won’t all go to plan but at least we have a plan, to begin with. I want to get across to anyone thinking about running an event that it isn’t as scary as you might think. Sure, you have to do some work but it’s worth it in the end.

I’ll post next week on how it all went so until then you can reach me on the comments section below or through the Wrathful Peasants page on Facebook. I would like to hear your thoughts on our plans, our systems and if you can suggest any ideas I’d love to hear them.

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