The event was held in an old garden centre that had been converted into an indoor archery range, boxing club and tabletop wargaming venue (the latter two available to us but that didn’t stop various fencers pressing their noses up against the glass that separated them from the 40K tables). It sounds a lot less appealing than it actually was. In truth there was a lot of space for classes, accommodation and socialising. It did get a bit warm on the sunny Saturday, inside a fencing jacket, inside what is essentially a green house but more of that later.
The facilities and practical provisions laid on by the MCG were far more than adequate, plenty of breakfast and lunch buffet food, hot showers and refreshing beverages made available in generous quantity. In particular one of the MCG members Kelly was on hand (at all times of the day it seemed) to help out with everything. Thanks Kelly you were an absolute star!
Friday was a long drive for us Peasants and we arrived about 7pm, no state for fencing so we bought some event merch, cracked open a can and sat down to enjoy a boardgames. Games around the fencing was a bit of a motif of the event, there was always a group playing something when there was no fencing. I brought along a dice a Yahtzee set and was kindly informed that I was old before my time. Well, we enjoy our dice so your opinion can go hang! I didn’t get stuck into the more elaborate games but there was a good atmosphere generated and there does seem to be some sort of link between HMA*-ists and gamers (of electronic and tabletop variety) so it worked extremely well.
Over the course of the evening more friends from all over Ireland rolled in and the craic was mighty. It has to be said that multi-day events that focus on the non-competitive side of HMA* have a totally different vibe than purely competitive ones. There is a networking and socially explorative side that I really enjoy. You get to find out who people are when they aren’t adopting a stoney 1000 yard stare in an effort to seem like a legendary warrior of old. I heard more about people’s motivations, their HMA* history and experiences than I ever have at a league event.
I won’t re-hash too much but enjoying both these aspects of the activity is what makes it special as far as I’m concerned. We shouldn’t need to develop a division between competitive and scholarly endeavours, we should enjoy both but respect those who’s focus is drawn to one or the other as a priority. We are in a wide and diverse world and HMA* should reflect that.
The accommodation was ‘indoor camping’, which in my mind at least was just a roll mat and sleeping bag on the floor. Almost everyone else went for brining a tent for privacy meaning I had all the privacy I needed as one of the few without a tent.
Saturday was the main event, the other peasants and I were there for the all day longsword workshop with Martin Fabian. There were other classes on that seemed to be well attended and liked but I wanted to get some tips from an instructor who’s videos I’ve been enjoying for a while now. There is no other way to describe Martin than as an athlete and he obviously trains as one! The beginning of the class, where others would have a ‘warm-up’, was an intense workout: wind sprints, planking, various torturous animal based exercises and it went on for a while too!
Martin identifies the fitness as being the hardest and most important aspect of successful fencing and whilst I don’t disagree I was very nearly finished off. It was hard work but sure, he could have taken it a bit easier on us but then we wouldn’t have been experiencing the embodiment of his philosophy as we had paid and travelled to do. A few people did drop out during the rest of the day and that’s a shame as the rest of the content, whilst not particularly complex, did carry some very insightful principles that will no doubt improve my fencing.
The physical ‘beasting’ was followed by the the second most important aspect; footwork. In particular we looked at developing explosive attacks and stepping offline. The class stayed very physically demanding throughout with lots of back and forth repetition. Also looked at a nice escalating drill to improve our ability to read incoming attacks and react correctly to them, again lots and lots of repetition of simple, yet useful actions. This was intentional, not to destroy us but to build muscle memory or as Martin says “to train the Lizard Brain”. A key belief of his seems to be that in a stressful, fast paced setting (such as a longsword bout) if you take time to think you will be handing huge opportunity to your opponent. If you don’t think then you rely on your reflexes to keep you safe and to execute effective attacks. The aim, therefore, is to drill and repeat your moves when you have time to think about them. Give your hind-brain chance to learn them by rote so that when you haven’t time to think your ‘Lizard Brain’ is able to take quality actions.
After lunch we had a ‘gentle’ warm up…. over 500 calf raises interspersed with sets of 10 push-ups! Jesus, after about 5 sets of 20 calf raises I was looking forward to push-ups so I could take a bit of a rest! We carried on the class with an examination of Ochs, what to use it for, how to counter it and how to counter the counters! It is an underused guard but after that class and the simple principles it covered I am far more confident that I can use Ochs safely and to good effect. This was the part of the day that did finish many people off. The jackets went on and the sun came out, a perfect storm. There was a lot of sweat and it was very intense. I think that from a starting group of 30 only 15 or so of us managed the whole day. It was tough but very satisfying.
Sunday was another class or two and fectschule for each of the disciplines taught over the weekend. Unfortunately the Peasants had to be home and we missed the ‘schule’. It was a shame not to spar with the other fencers there but sometimes life gets in the way. The non-competitive nature of fechtschule really helped to reinforce the community spirit but alas it was not to be…
Bladeworks was a great event, lots on, lots of excellent fencing, lots of great people. In spirit of balance I think the only downside was that the Fabian class was on at the same time as the others making it an either or situation. I would have liked to do some other stuff but as it was a full day session this was impossible. I personally loved having such an intense, in depth session but did miss out on variety. I don’t have any idea how it could have been done better and I am sure the MCG guys weighed the options carefully and made the best decision they could.
I wil be booking in for the next one and I would recommend the event to everyone.
As ever feel free to get in touch in the comments below or via the Wrathful Peasants page. I know there are typos a-plenty and if you can go to the trouble of pointing them out I’ll correct ’em for ya!
*I am trying out dropping the “European” for political reasons.