The Quickening 2017: A Review

Last weekend The Wrathful Peasants held their first event of the year in sunny Feakle, County Clare. The Quickening wasn’t a massive event; it was intended to be a fun gathering to get all the participants back in the HEMA mood after the winter break, and that’s what we got! I am going to give you a quick review of proceedings here.

The calendar of events Ireland is pretty full, there’s an event most months of the year with the IHFL legs spread evenly throughout, the ‘big one’ Feile na Gaiscigh (FnaG from now on) coming up soon enough and other meet-ups, exhibitions, workshops and training days. As we only have modest numbers of fencers on the island we have a bit of an attendance issue. People aren’t able to go to every event, if they did the rest of their lives would suffer, divorce rates would sky rocket, the rain forests would burn and the world would die. Maybe not, but it is difficult for people, myself included to get to everything.

We have to pick and choose, we have to look at what’s on offer to see how it fits in with our wider lifestyles and with what we want to achieve with our Art this year. If someone has decided that 2018 is the year they are finally going to get that small sword and make it their own they’re pretty unlikely to come to a hypothetical montante workshop no matter how good it might look.

Early in the year non-sword pressures are particularly high. Budgets are exhausted and people are partied out too. We knew this before we started planning and decided to make it a feature. We knew we’d only get a dozen fencers down for the weekend, so we structured it based on that fact.

We invited people directly as we knew that ‘floating’ interest would be low given the date and length of the event. We kept the price low, €20 a head for two days is great value. It did mean that there wouldn’t be any big name instructor, which has been a feature of a good number of our recent events.

On the first day we held a steel longsword tournament. It was a field of ten fencers so we went for two pools of five, round robin with a single elimination final. The scoring was based on the Blademaster’s system. Each bout was seven exchanges, five points for a deep target (head, torso, upper thigh), three for a shallow target (everywhere else). Players accumulated points in each bout and the highest two from each pool went on to the elims.

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Ooohh, swords, a skull and some balloons, festive!

The day started late, we all chatted and drank coffee, at some stage someone suggested warming up and stretching broke out sporadically throughout the hall. The Peasants like a little single stick as a warmer, so we cracked out the drain rods with foam playmat hand guards and before you know it people were pretty warm.

I ran through the welcomes and rules and then we got started, honestly I think it was an hour later than we ‘scheduled’ but we had the hall all day and the only thing looming on our collective calendar was dinner and socialising. It really didn’t matter when we started, nor how long we took.

As it happens all those fights took next to no time. We wanted to avoid hand sniping and it was certainly less in evidence than some events we’ve run but not absent completely. It just makes too much intuitive sense to lash out at the closest target and secure a win in an exchange; especially if you are ahead in points and want to deny your opponent an opportunity. I don’t think we will ever eradicate it entirely unless we used a pretty undesirable ‘hands don’t count’ rule which feels too compromised.

Fencing standards were decent, I particularly enjoyed watching Andrzej and Brian from Cork; they’ve both got skills by the boatload and always offer great advice. I also love the way Andrzej gives all his guys tactical and technical advice. I know he has pointed out my failings to my next opponent more than once and they have usually benefited from it.

The tournament went as well as expected, judging was fairly consistent although as the day went on I am sure a couple of points were missed as the ref, who was at it all day single handed, got a little cross eyed with fatigue and concentration. He did amazing work and even came back the next day for more punishment!

After the days fencing we carried on our traditions of big food, a number of refreshing beverages for those who partake and a decent shindig at a local.

Heads were sore the next day and the start was just as lax as Saturday.It didn’t matter though as we only had nine fighters for the scheduled Sabre competition. So, it was to be one big round robin pool, top four go through to an elim which we ran as another round robin. The sabre was actually better all round than the longsword had been. We used a ‘5 Lives’ scoring system, each hit took one of the opponent; all afterblows and doubles taking one off both players. We also based progression to the elimination round by most bouts won rather than points scored.

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Not a huge turnout but it’s quality that counts.

Most fights used the black fencer 1796 style synthetic sabre, just under half the pairs elected to use the Hanwei gymnasium sabre and one notable bout using some heavy Polish/Slav style heavy sabres. To be fair the guys who agreed to use the heavies both knew what they were doing and took it fairly easy. I had visions of shattered forearms and screams for medics!

In hindsight I think we should have weighted the targets slightly, even one extra point for the head would have improved things. The system as it stands allows a player to accept a double if they were leading and their opponent only had one life remaining. Not particularly realistic and not exactly sporting I might add. It didn’t happen often but it did happen. If one target counted for two points the player a player in the lead should be more cautious as a good strike (or two) could rapidly shorten that lead.

I did much better with the Hanwei than I did with the Black Fencer due to the weight and familiarity with that weapon. I didn’t lose all my synthetic bouts but most. I need to practice more with the heavier sabre as it looks to be the sabre of choice for upcoming events. More about them in later posts.

Prizes were amazing I have to say:

First prize for longsword was a freaking laminate longbow donated by Burren Archery, 2nd was a bottle of brandy from Moloneys and Wasted Junky (a local salvage yard) provided T-shirts for 3rd. We also awarded a beautiful canvas sword bag by Bigfoot Yurts in recognition of the highest score overall.

In Sabre we had gave another bottle of Brandy for 1st, a T-shirt for 2nd and a Cold Steel folding knife for 3rd (from Burren Archery, an Irish stockist of the brand).

I know I didn’t really covert the results here but you can click this link and see the event page which will tell you all you need to know.

Whilst I enjoyed the Quickening immensely I have to admit to finding myself a bit jaded on the subject of competitions. They are a valid aspect of HEMA, they do give practitioners a place to face varied opponents, try out their skills at full speed and enjoy the thrill of challenge that this brings. I just think that I spent too much time last year concerning myself with winning, with addressing my fencing to a particular (and artificially imposed) scoring system and not enough time focusing on the weaknesses in my technical skills. I have glaring holes in my repertoire and I have become too reliant on one or two ‘go to’ moves. My tactical and threat awareness (which I would have thought would be improved by full intensity fencing) has certainly not improved over the course of last year. It isn’t that I lack reflexes or fitness but my knowledge of what technique to use in the particular situation is certainly lacking. I think 2018 is going to have to be focused on more technique, drilling and some actual STUDY!

There we are, a few screen inches spent on The Quickening 2017, we will be running an event at around the same time next year if all goes well. If you like the post please share it with all and sundry. You can reach me to discuss anything on a HEMA theme on the Wrathful Peasants page or the comments section below.

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