Belfast Bladeworks 2016 Review

Me fencing against Andrzej Rozycki. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.

Me fencing against Andrzej Rozycki. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.


On the 3rd and 4th of December, I participated in Belfast Bladeworks 2016, which was, as the locals would have said, good craic. Belfast Bladeworks was an open longsword tournament, and was the fourth tournament of the Irish Historical Fencing League 2016.

I hadn’t been to any of the previous league events, so I didn’t have the chance to rank high in the league, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions so far with the Irish HEMA community, and wanted to get a chance to fence with some of them again.

The original plan for the event didn’t quite work, as numbers were lower than expected, possibly due to how close the event was to Christmas. The Saturday had meant to be taken up by the tournament, to be followed by a Fechtschule on the Sunday, although the lower turnout meant these activities didn’t take as long as the time allotted to them.

There were 14 people participating in the tournament, and I understand the previous events in the I.H.F.L.  had a much higher turnout. The venue was on the smaller side though, so I think the number of participants was about right for the amount of space available.

The quality of the fencing was high through-out. In several of the pool fights I had to remind myself after the first exchange to keep focussed and not to under-estimate my opponents. I was very proud of my fencing overall though and ultimately won all but one of my pool fights, and so advanced to the eliminations stage.

I was then taken out in the first round of the eliminations by Andrzej Rozycki, instructor at Cork Blademasters. I had previously beaten Andrzej in the pools, so I felt I had a good chance of beating him again. He had however watched me fight and worked out the best strategy for how to beat me, as he himself told me after our fight.

Our fight can be seen at the link below. As can be seen, Andrzej made excellent use of offline movement, especially when I was already committed to moving forwards, so he definitely beat me soundly.

The remaining fights in the quarter eliminations, semi-finals and final can also all be seen on the Cork Blademaster’s channel.

The final match was fought between Andrzej and Matthew Malcom of the Medieval Combat Group, with Matthew ultimately taking the gold. I had been impressed for the whole tournament by Matthew’s fluidity of movement, clever use of positioning and his liberal use of the Schillhaw, so again that was a well deserved victory.

The judging also deserves mention as being of high quality. I didn’t see any noticeable issues and most importantly as a fencer, I didn’t walk away from a bout thinking that my hits weren’t being seen and counted.

Some judges were maybe a little more discerning than others when in the role as senior referee, rejecting hits of insufficient quality, and explaining the thought process behind those calls. This was excellent, and something I’d really like to see happen more at events. I might have wished that all the judges did this, but even when it was not being done, the judging was still of a good quality.

The only issue I have with the running of the tournament was the handling of the technical prize. At the end, each competitor was given a ballot, made to form a line, and in order, we stepped out of line to place our ballot in the mask of whoever we thought deserved the prize.

I can appreciate the idea behind this, and it was a good way to publically show respect to your fellow fencers, but I was concerned that peer pressure could affect how people would give away their ballot, and that this could easily become a popularity contest. There were certainly several people to whom the technical prize could have been given, with some of those people getting many ballots and others getting none. While I am happy that the fencer I gave my ballot to did deserve recognition, in retrospect I wish I had chosen a less popular choice, to give recognition to someone who deserved a ballot but hadn’t received one, rather than going with a conventional choice and re-confirming what several people before me had chosen.

The tournament ended early, so we finished up with a king of the hill Fechtschule, which was a nice way to round off the day, although the addition of a Fechtschule on the Saturday made Sunday’s Fechtschule seem less special and unique.

The Sunday was a significantly slower day. Several of Saturday’s attendees could not stay for the Sunday, so there weren’t many fencers around. On top of that, the Medieval Combat Group were also taking the opportunity to run instructor certifications, which kept many of the fencers who could have otherwise available busy.

The organisers decided to run the Fechtschule later in the day due to the low numbers, which meant the rest of us had to amuse ourselves. It was bizarrely warm in the venue, and I was also recovering from a bad case of flu, so I didn’t have much energy and was quite happy to hang out and do some minimal gear sparring, which I very much enjoyed.

The instructor certifications ended up longer than expected, so the Fechtschule also started late, and then was cut short because we had to leave the venue in time. The Fechtschule was fought quite intensely, with full kit, although after most of the day was spent doing minimal gear sparring, the shorter amount of time spent doing higher intensity fighting actually felt tacked on, even though it had been meant to be the main focus of the day.

Obviously the low numbers were unfortunate, and that was not something the organisers expected, although running the instructor certifications that day did make the problems worse. I think probably the biggest lesson would be trying to be adaptable in the face of a problem, and trying to keep the fencers busy.

In short, the tournament on Saturday was well run, with high quality fighting and judging. The Sunday was a little problematic, although I recognise there was a limit to what the organisers could have done. For next year, things that I would suggest thinking about would moving the event to a different date, and coming up with a back-up plan for if the original plan doesn’t quite work for whatever reason.

Either way, I do intend to go back again next year, and hopefully to some of the other I.H.F.L. events.

Academy of Historical Arts member Ken Kot doing something dramatic. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.

Academy of Historical Arts member Ken Kot doing something dramatic. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.


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