Thursday, August 28, 2008

First Performance

My father-in-law, Ron, and I decided we would take what little we know about sword fighting and present ourselves at Men’s Game and Hobby Night at my church. Our hobby is to dress up as post-Crusader knights (we’ve taken a few liberties, but we’re fairly authentic), a time before full plate armor was employed, when those who could afford it wore mail along with assorted armor pieces, such as greaves, pauldrons, gauntlets and helmets. Actually, this was our hobby about a year ago. Since we haven’t had heart attacks from wearing 40-50 pounds of armor yet, we thought we’d see if we could use swords without injury as well.

We initially began the evening in our full outfits just to look our best. After dinner, we got rid of the helmets, gauntlets, capes and decorative shields and changed surcoats so that I would be the black knight and Ron would be the red knight. (We didn’t want to get our “dress blues” dirty for our fight.)

Ron and I practice fighting with either wooden wasters (so named because you end up wasting them) or blunted steel, and we wear Kevlar gloves along with fencing masks. That’s plenty of protection for us given what little we do, so we decided that for the fight, we would stick with the Kevlar gloves but wear our helms instead of fencing masks. At the last minute, we found that the helmets just weren’t fitting well, so we opted to just wear our mail coifs and try not to hit each other in the head.

We had choreographed our fight in two stages: a series of exchanges with sword and shield that would end with Ron “injuring” me. Then we would move to longswords, and after four exchanges, I would “kill” Ron. When we began the fight for the crowd, Ron and I took turns whacking each other’s shields as hard as we could while backing me up. On Ron’s second or third hit, his waster broke in two just above the handle.

Ron ran back for his longsword, so I traded up as well, thinking we would go to stage two of the fight. My father-in-law thought we hadn’t given a good show, so he went unscripted for a while, and I took a glancing blow to the head (the mail protected me well enough). Eventually, we settled back into the routine, and Ron met his untimely demise.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad performance. The crowd applauded, and we felt pretty cool. For me, it’s about taking my interest in medieval history to the next level. There’s nothing quite like wearing armor and fighting someone, even if the weapons are wooden. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Black Gate 12

I finished reading the latest issue of Black Gate, so I thought I’d post a review of some of the content as a way of drawing further attention to my favorite magazine. By the way, if you’d like to read this issue of Black Gate, it is available for a limited time as a FREE DOWNLOAD.

“Oblivion is the Sweetest Wine” by John R. Fultz is well told, arguably the best tale of the issue. The protagonist is an experienced thief with lofty plans of retirement, and I found myself hoping he would succeed. I didn’t know exactly where the story was going, so I was a bit shocked by the turn of events.

“Payment in Full” by James Enge is the latest tale of Morlock the Maker, continuing with many of the same characters from “The Lawless Hours,” published in Issue 11. I liked the voice of the female narrator, demonstrating Enge’s extending range as a writer. It was an enjoyable read, and I have but one critique. Just as Christopher Walken’s character in a Saturday Night Live sketch needed more cowbell from Blue Öyster Cult, I needed more Morlock from this story. Too many other characters were crowding him out. Not that they were bad characters, but I don’t like to see Morlock’s spotlight stolen for too long.

Martha Wells contributed another piece with Ilias and Giliead in “Houses of the Dead.” I know she has a lot of published material with these two characters, but I like that she didn’t expect the readers to know all of it. I’m sure there were some points of interest for those who have read much more than me, but I was given enough structure to understand this world and the two characters without needing to read Wells’ other volumes. “Houses of the Dead” pulled me in quickly by presenting a mystery that Ilias and Giliead needed to solve with their limited experience. I hope to see more tales with these characters in future issues.

I wish I had more time to review the other stories. I enjoyed all of them (although I skipped out on the Tumithak story) and recommend reading the entire issue. Download a copy while you still can!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Swordfight in Detroit

My father-in-law and I went to Detroit for several days to the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention. While attending, I focused most of my time on longsword sessions.

Watching someone fight with a sword and actually fighting with a sword are vastly different experiences. I’ve come to realize how much skill is involved in expertly wielding such weapons. Each series of moves is like a dance, and I’m not talented in that area. It takes a lot of concentration to do things right.

Every instructor spoke in terms of killing the opponent. Rather than "slice with an upwards cut," the instruction was to “slice through his throat.” To strike out was to “strike him in the skull.” There was no mincing of words, and even if the occasional comment was intended to be humorous, the vast majority simply pointed out the fact that we were being trained to use a tool that had been designed to kill people.

I also took a class on using the poleaxe, and I struggled to remember all of the
moves we were taught. I had no idea there were so many combinations that could be achieved with such a weapon, and I had a new appreciation for what someone armed with a poleaxe could accomplish on the battlefield.

It was an enjoyable trip, and I’ve come away with a lot of knowledge that will seep into future fantasy stories. For anyone interested in being trained to use swords, I highly recommend ISMAC. The instructors are knowledgeable and patient. I plan on returning next year.