A Review of SWASH 2011

Last weekend, I attended SWASH, or the Symposium of Western Arts through History. This was my first major HEMA event, as up until SWASH, the only multi-group event I’d been to was the one I organised the week earlier with the GCoD. This meant I’d been looking forward to the event for a while, and luckily, it didn’t disappoint.

I went with another member of the AHA, Gus, and we arrived late on the Friday night. We started off the Saturday with the group warm up, then we went straight into Tactics within I.33, taught by Herbert Schmidt. Herbert was an excellent teacher, explaining everything very clearly, giving us just the right amount of time for drilling each technique, and he came across as a lovely guy. Most importantly though, he really helped to advance my understanding of the I.33. Herbert argued that there were three basic and fundamental defences against an incoming attack: the shield-strike, the thrust-strike, and the overbind, and that which of those you do depends on the range. If the opponent makes a probing attack from distance, you respond with a shield-strike, if they rush in close to attack, you overbind, and if they are between these two ranges, you thrust-strike. I’ve recently started research into the I.33, and so I was aware of these three defences, but I wasn’t sure when you used each. We also looked at using the upper covering against the second guard, using those same three defences. In a way, it was a shame that the techniques were so basic. Herbert asked what people’s experience levels were at the start of the class, and on seeing that many in the class did not have much experience with sword and buckler, he adjusted the class to make it a bit easier to digest. It was obvious he had more material, as at the end, he decided to demonstrate the other techniques that he would have taught had he had more time. So while I’m glad I got a lesson I could more easily keep up with, it seems a shame that he didn’t get to teach everything he planned. Still, he deserves credit for adjusting his class on the fly. Overall, I’d say this was definitely the best class of the event.

Next, I went to Sean Hayes’ lesson on Italian longsword, which began with a nice icebreaker, warm up and footwork practice combination, in which you had to pass around the hall using longsword footwork while giving people you pass high fives. I’ve done this sort of thing quite a few times by now, but it’s always a nice way to start off a class. The rest of the lesson focused on two displacements from the Iron Gate against attacks from above, and counters to these displacements. This lesson was useful in that I rarely use low guards, so it was good that I was forced to use something different for the class, while the very focused nature of the class meant that perhaps I did not learn as much new stuff as I did in the other classes, but I really did improve my ability to fence from the lower guards.

Next there was Entering Strategies with the German Longsword, taken by Jorg Bellinghausen, which was a close second for my favourite class. This lesson focused on chaining together multiple strikes to enter in, such as the Wechselhau, or a combination from Meyer which had you do a false edge Oberhau from the right, instantly followed by a true edge Unterhau from the left, then a true edge Unterhau from the right, finally ended by a true edge Oberhau from the left. Two things really set this class apart. The first was the more advanced nature of the class. Jorg was very clear at the start that if you were a beginner, you were in the wrong class, and he would not teach you how to strike. After two more beginner friendly lessons, it was nice to have that change, and second that he made sure to have people switch partners regularly, as it’s too easy to become complacent when you get used to how your partner moves.

The final class of the day for me was the Close Fight, taken by Rob Lovett. This lesson was a bit of an enigma, as it wasn’t described on the BFHS site, and the class name didn’t really tell me exactly what it was about. It turned out it was about using Fiore dei Liberi’s stretto plays to counter his largo plays. We first drilled the three basic largo plays, with each play corresponding to a different amount of pressure on the bind, then the three basic stretto plays, which again correspond to three different levels of pressure in the bind, then we used the stretto plays against the opponent trying to use a largo play. Rob explained that if an opponent tries to use a largo play, but you close distance, then they will be disordered, and you will be able to use a stretto play on them. The only real difficulty I had in this is one of the stretto plays, which involved pushing the opponent’s sword down, then thrusting up under your own arm. I had massive difficulty with this technique, although luckily Sean Hayes was there to help. I have to give Sean a massive thank you for the help and advice he gave me during this lesson.

The next day, I was exhausted, and ended up not doing any combat. For the first session, I was in weapons handling, and it is always a delight to handle original pieces. They had about 20 weapons out, ranging from early medieval blades, right up to early modern backswords. The collection was impressive, and I fell in love with a complete beast of a longsword. It had an impressive size and weight, and a real presence behind it. I kind of wanted to steal it.

I wasn’t that interested in the next set of classes, so I took the opportunity to wander around the museum. I’d never been to Leeds before, but the armoury was so good that I think that it justified the trip by itself. The collection is huge. Just when I thought surely that must be the end, you turn round a corner, and there’s yet more swords. Beyond the standard swords, they also had some amusing oddities, like a combination pistol, knife and knuckle duster.

Finally, I watched the tournaments. Mostly I was watching the longsword tournament, but I took glances at the backsword tournament in between longsword rounds. I think it’s a real shame that the tournaments where at the same time, as I’d have loved to watch both. The fighting was fantastic, and I’d love to compete in the longsword tournament next year. Congratulations to Tim Gallagher for winning, he fought well, and his timing was excellent. Probably the stand out moment for me though was one of the earlier rounds when one of the competitors (I don’t know who it was) pulled off a perfect Unterhau. Their opponent came in for an Oberhau, and just before it came in to land, they stepped to the side, and threw the Unterhau across the opponent’s stomach. It was an amazing example of fencing.

All in all, it was an excellent event, and I highly recommend it for anyone considering going next year.


  • BFHS – British Federation for Historical Swordplay. The largest umbrella group for HEMA in the UK.
  • GcoD – The Glasgow Company of Duellists
  • Iron Gate – A low guard, found in both the Liechtenauer tradition and in Fiore.
  • Largo – long distance.
  • Oberhau – literally “overstrike”. A strike that comes from above.
  • Shield-strike – a technique in which once you are bound with the opponent’s sword, you strike down onto his sword and buckler with your buckler, so that you may freely strike them to the head with your sword.
  • Stretto – close distance.
  • Thrust-strike – this is similar to the shield-strike, a major difference being it ends with a thrust rather than with a strike.
  • Unterhau – literally “understrike”. A strike that comes from the below.
  • Wechselhau – The change strike. A technique in which you strike in one direction, then instantly strike back in the opposite direction. For example, a true edge oberhau from right to left, followed instantly by a false edge unterhau from left to right would be a wechselhau.

Academy event with the Glasgow Company of Duellists

Last weekend the Academy of Historical Arts organised and ran an event for our members to train with some of the Glasgow Company of Duellists. It seemed quite mad that we all train in the same city, yet really only a few of us had ever trained with each other! Since both groups have begun study of the Highland broadsword recently, we decided to have our event focus on this weapon.

The participants at the event.

The participants at the event.

Everything was organised perfectly, the weekend was all ready to start, and then Alex (the President of the GUCDS in the Academy) went to pick up the keys to the training hall from the Dispenser of Keys at the Location of Training. The Dispenser of Keys told Alex that the appropriate Booking Form (which we had never seen nor heard about!) had not been sent to him, and thus he would not be able to release the keys to us. No matter what Alex suggested to get around this problem, the Dispenser of Keys remained resolute in the face of common sense and refused to budge even an inch to help us.

The three instructors: Alex, Ben and Dave.

The three instructors: Alex, Ben and Dave.

A swift discussion followed between all attending Academy members and Duellists, and one of the Duellists went and phoned up the training hall he normally uses for his weekly martial art teaching. This hall was going to be considerably more expensive, but would be able to accommodate us even at this short notice. We all decided to give this new hall a try, since it was either that or postpone the event. Luckily, we had JUST enough car space for all the equipment and all the people, so we all made our way over to the Caledonian Taekwondo Health and Fitness Centre in Anniesland. It is a superb venue, at a very excellent hourly rate considering the amount of equipment and space that comes with the hall hire.

People practicing dagger.

People practicing dagger.

So we held the event at this Centre instead of our previously intended Location of Training. We began with a gentle warm up, an hour of Anti-Pugilism under Dave Britten, an hour of Broadsword and Targe under Ben Kerr, and then finished with an hour of Medieval Dagger under Alex Bourdas.

Alex practicing broadsword and targe with Dave.

Alex practicing broadsword and targe with Dave.

The three hours passed quickly, and it was a fun afternoon. From my point of view as an instructor within the Academy, it was excellent to have the chance to practice with people other than my students for a change. Not that I don’t like my students (definitely not what I am saying!) but rather that it is good for my own development to train with people who look at me as an equal rather than as an instructor. I think everyone in the Academy benefitted from having this chance to practice with new people, and I think the skills we have been teaching in the Academy over the last semester were helpful for our students to be able to absorb this new information quickly and understand the hows and whys of the practices. I hope the Duellists enjoyed themselves as much as we did!

Some of the Duellists playing.

Some of the Duellists playing.

We in the Academy would like to take part in more of this type of joint training event with other groups. Unfortunately most of these events happen down south in England, or even in other countries, so it looks like we will have to start running a few such events up here in Scotland to make our lives easier!

Dave is pretty good at stabbing people!

Dave is pretty good at stabbing people!

For more information on the groups who took part in this event, please have a look at the following websites:

Academy of Historical Arts
Glasgow Company of Duellists

So, discussion topic: if we were to run an event in Glasgow for HEMA practitioners, bearing in mind our access to resources like the Kelvingrove Museum and the other libraries/museums of Glasgow, what sort of topics/themes/practices would people be interested in seeing us run?

Welcome to Encased in Steel!

Hello, and welcome to Encased in Steel, the new blog that is hosted, authored and maintained by the Academy of Historical Arts. Our purpose is to write interesting and thought provoking essays and articles about European history, sometimes concentrating on the martial aspects of our history, sometimes concentrating on general history, and sometimes concentrating on the traditional handcrafts from past centuries. Hopefully this blog will be of interest to members of the HEMA community, to members of the historical re-enactment community, to teachers and students, and to anyone with a passing interest in history.

We will be publishing a new article every Friday afternoon, and will hold to this weekly submission. Our contributors have built up a queue of articles ready for posting, so that we should be able to keep posting without dry spells. Our goal is to be one of the most interesting and most professional history and HEMA blogs currently active!

So who is the Academy of Historical Arts, and what do we do? The Academy of Historical Arts follows this mission statement:?“Our purpose is to promote and further the study of European history through the historical, martial and creative arts.”

To this end, the Academy is part of the Triquetra Services (Scotland) charitable organisation (registration number SC042086) and is the educational division within the charity. The Academy runs a number of educational programmes that are designed to benefit different areas of society and to promote the study of European history in different ways.

Our longest running programme within the Academy is the Chivalric Dream Society programme, where we run groups that practice historical European martial arts and various forms of traditional handcrafts. We are looking to expand this programme throughout Scotland, giving more and more people the opportunity to learn skills that they would otherwise not have the chance to learn.

We also run such programmes as our Past Professor scheme, where members of the Academy go into local schools and present on aspects of European history to support the national Curriculum for Excellence. This has been well received so far, and more and more schools are beginning to book visits as part of this programme.

To help support the activities of the Academy (which can become very expensive very quickly!), we have a commercial division called Corsair’s Wares which aims to supply the historical hobbyist market with everything that could possibly be needed to take part in any of the historical hobbies. Although we only have a few shops online at the moment, we have some amazing plans for expansion, and expect to become leaders in the market in short order.

All of this organisation requires some fairly heavy IT infrastructure, so Triquetra Services boasts a third division that handles the IT side of things. Chivalric Systems is in charge of maintaining our servers, our websites and our domain names, and undertakes further development of our online presence. Furthermore, since we have all of the skills and resources at hand anyway, Chivalric Systems offers fairly priced website development and hosting services, and would like to help improve the online presence of the historical hobbyist community as a whole.

For more information about the different parts of our organisation, please see our websites:

Triquetra Services (Scotland) which comprises:
– Corsair’s Wares
– Chivalric Systems
– Academy of Historical Arts which includes:
— Past Professor Programme
— Chivalric Dream Society
— Historical Hiltwork