I don’t tend to blog a lot about my sword fighting.  The main reason is that one of my instructors is a writer and often goes to conventions to demonstrate and give talks.  Sword fighting is her thing and it feels like I would be muscling in should I make it some ‘writer USP’ (Unique Selling Point) and start writing about it regularly.  Plus, she’d kick my arse.
But it’s something I’ve very much enjoyed since I took it up some 18 months ago.  Whilst I’m sure I could train harder, I do work hard at it and over those 18 months have seen considerable progress in both Sword & Buckler and Rapier.  I’m lucky that I’ve found a world-reknowned school and whilst I don’t consider myself particularly brilliant, that’s when I measuring myself against people who have won championships all over the world.  I do pretty decently and for the most part I’m happy with that.  What I lack in natural talent I make up for with dedication.

Just over a year ago, I passed my safety test meaning that the school was now happy for me to start sparring with people.  If learning how to swing a sword around had been fun, being competent with cuts, thrusts and guards to such an extent that I could actually hit people with them took it to a new level.  People are often surprised when they find out that we spar with steel weapons.  Yes they are sated (like a butter knife vs a steak knife) but they can still do some serious damage even if you are heavily padded up.
Around the time I passed my safety test, most of senior members of the school disappeared off to Fightcamp, so it’s perhaps natural that once I accomplished my goal of being able to spar that I set my next goal to enter tournaments at the following year’s event.
Fightcamp is an annual HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) event held near Coventry each year.  It’s probably the closest there is to a national championship and people travel to it from all round the world.  As well as a number of different tournaments there’s a large number of beginners classes on various weapons.  Seriously, if there was ever a place where the zombie apocalypse didn’t want to happen… it’s there!
Despite some last minute training interruptions such as dental issues and rewrites, I’ve been training steadily toward Fightcamp and approached the prospect of entering my first tournaments with nervousness and trepidation.
The way it worked this year was that there were a number of pools where only the top scorer would go through.  I had realistic aims for my first tournament.  All I wanted was not to disgrace myself.
The pools got announced a week before the competition and I found that I had some tough pools.  My rapier pool only had three people but one of them was another of my instructors and arguably one of the best fencers in the world currently.  Obviously I wanted him to win the pool, but I didn’t want to go down without a fight.  So I made it my aim to try and give him a very difficult fight.  This is very hard to do when just a couple of hours before the pools were announced you went through every one of your weaknesses (as if they didn’t already know them).
So for the week leading up to Fightcamp.  I dived into the books, trying to find something new to bring to the table if only to give him reason to pause and think.  He’s a left-handed opponent and that gives him a bit of an advantage, but I knew I had to not be tempted by easy openings that were strategically weak and instead really aggressively target the outside.  I focused so much on the left-handed fight, that I did little mental prep for fighting my other opponent.  I went down 10-5 which whilst I wish I’d done better (they hadn’t done a lot of rapier) I still didn’t disgrace myself.
The fight against my instructor was great.  I was mentally prepared for it and whilst I’m naturally a defensive fighter, I felt I really brought the fight to him ignoring the openings to the inside and focusing on the outside.  There were a few doubles (where both hit each other at the same time) which is something I wanted to avoid but I got points in and the fight ended up 5-4  (or it might have been 4-3, there was only a point in it).
Thankfully my doubles didn’t cost him enough points to stop him going through and he went on to win silver.  Whilst I still don’t feel natural with the rapier yet, I do love the elegance of the fight and I was pleased with the attitude I brought to the bouts even if I think my technique could be a lot better.
My second tournament was for something called the Eggleton Cup.  This is basically a mix weapons competition although using synthetic blades made of nylon rather than steel.  Just as well because I was up against longsworders who have a longer reach than my sword and buckler and can hit hard (you should see the bruise I have from one of them; it’s not so much purple as jet black).
My main focus has been on rapier these past 6 months but I do try to keep a bit of sword and buckler going during sparring sessions.  As a result, some practise sparring the day before had me going into the competition feeling very good about my technique.  I’d also practised fighting against longsworders and felt confident going in.
It was a big pool, with another two from the school in it.  It also proved to be a very technical pool.  Everyone did some great swordfighting.  As a result, what should have taken us 20-40 minutes, ended up taking us 2 hours!  We were out in a field in blazing sun wearing heavy gear.  I went through a lot of water and got very, very sunburnt.
I was very pleased how I fought.  There was only one fight where I was disappointed, which was against a relatively inexperienced longsworder, who just seemed to walk at me and score points.  All credit to them though.  One of our group (the person who eventually won the pool) was a backsworder and very defensive.  They told me afterwards that their strategy was to tire me out, with some of our bouts lasting what felt like a good 5 minutes (they normally last under a minute).
I could have done better if I felt a little less concerned about stabbing people who fell over, but I ended up middle of the table and felt very, very pleased to do so in such a technically competent pool.
Of course, aside from the tournaments where were the usual shenanigans.  One of the reasons I really love the school I’m in (and one of the reason I think it does so well) is that there is zero ego and all the members are the sort of people you enjoy spending time with.  As a result, just hanging out at the campsite, shading against the fantastic weather under the gazebo, was an enjoyable experience.
I had a great time at Fightcamp and have come away energised and determined to practise harder and improve my skills.  There are a couple of events next year that I’m already looking forward to and intend to enter.