One of my big hobbies is HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts. I focus on Italian styles of rapier, side sword and their companion weapons. I’ve also done a little bit of German and Dutch stuff too.
This weekend just gone I attended my first international tournament. My first tournament full stop. After a few years of training I stood up and decided it was time to compete. There were instructors and attendees from the Netherlands, Ireland, the UK, Germany, Italy, Greece, Norway, France and Canada. As well as Russians, Aussies and more who now call the UK their home (at least for the time being!).
On a whim, and partly because of my friend Adrian Faulkner’s urging, I signed up for the rapier and dagger competition. And I won the silver medal. Which was amazing, not because I did well but because, frankly, I haven’t been that hyped up on adrenaline for a long time. So much so that it was burning in my chest and I had narrowed vision.
The stress of big deals at work can leave me feeling like that but the release is always much less satisfying – I hardly ever (read never) get to stab someone in the face and have people applaud me for it!
Yet this post is about more than simply fighting other people, or me popping my tournament cherry. It’s about honour. Almost every single person I fought over the weekend (and I fought at least thirty five times) stood up when they were hit – regardless of whether judges had seen it.
The example that typifies the type of person at the event is from the semi-finals when I fought another member of my school – Josh Davis. He is new to the sport but makes up for that with being a quick study, being young and coming to each fight with a desire to see what he can do.
The exchange was the first to three clean hits and I was 2:1 up. I stabbed Josh good and proper to the shoulder but the judges couldn’t quite see what had happened. Josh, knowing he’d lose the chance to progress to the finals if they scored against him, stood up and said: he hit me fair and square. That, for me, is sportsmanship, honour and about a dozen other characteristics I admire in the people I train with.
The other example is the person I fought in the final who beat me to win the gold, George. After the fight he made sure to find me and hand me a patch from his own school in Greece to say I’d always be welcome. Both events left me touched and humbled, that people who could have behaved differently without anyone judging them harshly were so giving and considerate – in an atmosphere of deliberate aggression and competition.
It may feel a little bit like a naive faery tale and in some ways it kind of is. Yet these are grown men and women competing for medals at an international standard and still they find that the idea of treating others as their peers was the most important characteristic they could adhere to.
It was a good weekend.
As a sign off, I’d like to direct you to this article that appeared in the Indy newspaper today and written by my friend Kate Townshend: