The start of June saw our biggest Bladeworks ever, with sixty fencers and instructors from around Ireland and the UK descending upon Bangor for a weekend of fencing and socializing. As last year’s venue was unavailable, we shifted Bladeworks 2019 to EliteArchery NI’s range just outside Bangor. The old garden centre complex gave us more space than last year that was a bit better in terms of separation of areas.
As arrivals on Friday were spread throughout the evening, we decided to keep things social – some conversation, some drinks, and some gaming – and give people time to get set up and settled in. We may revisit this next year and offer a workshop an some sparring games on the Friday evening to get everyone moving into the spirit of the event.
Saturday morning kicked off with two workshops, Martin Fabian’s full day of longsword, and Paul Reck’s dussack. Space was a little tighter than we expected, but the weather was lovely outside, so dussack became an outdoors workshop rather than our contingency plan of disrupting the social area. The longsword workshop got off to a (almost literally) flying start, with Martin’s warm-up being… strenuous 😊 The remainder of the longsword content drilled down into the successful use of core techniques, approaching the matter from several different angles to give a well-rounded understanding of the tactics and applications.
Following the dussack came Fiore’s dagger, excellently taught by Tom Gorman of The Exiles Galway, and as expected included much stabbing and some lovely locks. This was followed by a lovely workshop on Naval Cutlass by Eanna Watters of the 1595 Club Ireland (who had a wonderfully pirate-y flag marking their portion of the camping area). Alongside all of this our own instructor, Ross, supervised test cutting throughout the weekend. It was excellent to see so many from a diverse range of clubs trying some test cutting, some for the first time.
Saturday evening inevitably led to more socializing, involving yet more board games, and more drinks. Bladeworks 2019 was supplied with a copy of the Highlander Board Game by River Horse Games, and since both Matthew and Ross owned their own copies, it seemed a fitting game for a weekend of fencing. Lulled by the sofas and comfortable seating of Elite’s social area, the conversation about games, fencing, and general nonsense continued into the small hours.
Sunday morning saw brave early risers getting to grips with Giganti’s rapier taught by Mike Prendergast, and as lunch brought more fencers back to life (some from the night before, some from the longsword work out the day before), things geared up for the first of the tournaments.
The four tournaments at Bladeworks used an alternative tournament system – the ‘Fechtschule’ format. Marshalled by the hosting instructors, the fencers fought against all opponents, one to one.
In the Fechtschule format there are no line judges or referees, the marshals only stepping in to ensure adequate control is maintained and keep the flow of matches proceeding. The fights are to a single exchange and the outcome quickly agreed by the two fighters – if an agreement can’t be quickly reached, the marshal moves both off. Defeat means temporary withdrawal – in a Fechtschule the fighters are fed in from a line-up and on defeat are returned to that line. Winning fencers choose their next opponent from the line.
At the end of the allotted time for the Fechtschule, each fencer casts a vote for the opponent they felt was the most skilled fencer present. The fencer with the most votes, who has won the most respect from their peers for their skill and conduct, wins the prize. In this sense, uncontrolled fencing, failure to acknowledge significant strikes, or continually selecting a single ‘easy’ opponent rather than fencing as many as possible, becomes inherently limiting behaviour.
Congratulations to Paul Reck for taking the prize for longsword, Oísin Newport of Goat’s Head Historical Fencing for taking the prize in Sabre, Matt O’Connor of Gray School of Arms for taking the prize in rapier, Aaron Meehan of Medieval Combat Group for taking the prize in langes messer, and to Jurg Gassmann of Goat’s Head Historical Fencing for taking the discretionary technical prize awarded by the hosting MCG instructors. Also to Martin Buckley of Cork Blademasters for being voted the best training partner of the weekend!
The Fechtschulen contained some exceptional fencing, not just by the fencers who took the prizes, but by all concerned. We saw some lovely techniques straight from the period sources popping up again and again. We were also very pleased with the general levels of control we saw throughout – everyone was taking care of themselves and each other, and fencing well and skillfully, and it was absolutely lovely to watch.
We’re exceptionally proud of how much of a success the event was, and the absolutely glowing feedback we’ve received in the aftermath. Here’s to making Bladeworks 2020 bigger and better again!