I recall feeling a little betrayed when Ben Michels, my co-organizer for Longpoint, said that Fechtschule New York (FNY) was his favorite HEMA event. Having made it out this year, I get why.
Part of it is the scale. FNY had just over 50 participants, making it less than half the size of Longpoint. You can spend some time with everyone, and you get to meet some new people instead of being vaguely aware of some new people. You get to camp, or at least enjoy the best parts of camping like nature and campfires and stuff. The event is laid back—things don’t start on time, but they’re not expected too, so no one stresses out about it too much. Basically, FNY is a weird sort of hybrid of HEMA event and an outdoors weekend with all your buddies. It’s awesome.
Much has already been said on Facebook and forum praising and thanking Mike and Judy Edelson for their hospitality. Every ounce of it is deserved…and even then it falls short. I had the privilege of being invited up with my family as well for a few days before and after the event; Mike’s land is the perfect place for a little family vacation. His kids got on great with mine, we enjoyed everything his property had to offer, and Judy is one of the best hostesses imaginable. I can’t say enough good things, so I’ll stop there.
In talking about the actual HEMA Event (i.e., classes, competitions, that kind of stuff), I want to set up that this is a regional event with some participation from a few out-of-towners. The event is co-run between Mike’s New York Historical Fencing Association (NYHFA) and its child group Sword Class NYC (under Tristán Zukowski), the Medieval European Martial Arts Guild (MEMAG) under Cory Winslow and Chuck Wyatt, and all three xKDF groups (Maryland, Capital, and New Hampshire)…although it’s all Mike’s baby. The event is also something of a test bed for things that we’ll do later at Longpoint, allowing us to really try out rulesets and new competition formats in an environment that’s both “real” and more forgiving than the monster that is Longpoint.
The attendance was mostly made up of mid/north Atlantic groups, but included fighters/instructors from North Carolina, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. As a result, even for a small event, the caliber of instructor and competitor was and absolute top-notch representation of the US competitive HEMA scene.
Day One: Classes
Classes started officially at 8:00 am, meaning that I first started barking instructions at students around 8:40. Every class was well attended, and we got to see some really innovative stuff. I presented my current theoretical “Common Fencing” construct, which I learned matched the direction that both Mike Chidester and Cory Winslow have been leaning for some time. I don’t actually know what Christian Trosclair’s class was, but all weekend he was showing people some great things for consideration into footwork and biomechanics. Dustin Reagan explored footwork and fencing from the low guards, while Bill Frisbee and James Clark presented armored fencing and Montante, respectively. Betsy Winslow’s class on the Jaegerstock was all the rage (I lost several students to it). Tristán’s (and Mike’s) classes on cutting and sword sharpening we as well attended as anything I’ve seen at larger events. The whole day was a clear success, and both instructors and students really carried the day.
That night Michael Chidester presented his lecture on the width and breadth of the German fechtbucher. Mike’s knowledge on the subject dwarfs anyone else’s that I can think of. I have come to respect his opinion on all such matter tremendously. Anyone who studies our subject and doesn’t bend an ear to hear Mike talk is making a huge mistake.
Day Two: Longsword Tournaments
A few nights before the longsword tournaments started I got an idea for changing the way the judges communicate with the referee under Longpoint rules, which FNY is a self-declared test bed for. So we did some training on that with the volunteer staff at about 8:00 am Saturday and leapt right into the pools, taking the first few fight slow to make sure it worked. Christrian Trosclair has already posted his impressions of the process on Facebook and forum, so I won’t repeat any of that here, except to say that while we’re nowhere near perfect yet, I do think we’ve really come across something that works better than what we had before. Progress is good!
I spent the first half of the morning reffing and judging and enjoyed the process as always. The Open Steel Longsword, despite having only 23 fighters, was tough Tough TOUGH, and many fighters who have waltzed into the eliminations in other venues were stopped in the pools at FNY. All of the major participating clubs have very technique-oriented training programs (mostly Danzig/Ringeck Lichtenauer), and it showed in the performance of almost every fighter. I also had a few really proud moments watching my students and grandstudents take on established HEMA fighters and win using good form and technique.
I fought in the second round of pools, and had no easy matches. Brad Rangell has come a really long way since I first fenced him in early 2012, as a fighter and a coach (his student won the Beginner’s Nylon and had an honorable mention for technique). David Rowe is a gifted fencer who trains under one of the best teachers in the US, and I basically had to throw him around to beat him. Pat O’Neil is probably 90 feet tall and managed to whoop up on me for the first minute of our 90-second round, forcing me to really up my game to catch and finally beat him. Casper Anderson is fast, highly technical, and a lefty, so I had to play really smart to prevail there. Peter Concannon is a newcomer to the tournament scene, and despite his frustration with competition moved quickly, hit with authority, and kept a cool head. I worried going into every round.
Moving into the eliminations my first bout was against one of the few fencers I really feel I can take some credit for as a teacher, Kiana Shurkin. Kiana was nervous as hell going in to face her teacher in “tournament mode,” something she’d never had to fight before (I can’t fake it, unfortunately). I don’t think she believed me, but I was nervous going into that fight as well—we had fenced each other in class just four days earlier and she beat me cleanly. I knew better than to play to her strengths, and I walked in knowing that losing to one’s student in competition is an honor, so I probably had calmer nerves than she did. She won’t let me by so easy next time.
My second elim bout was with Tim Kauffman, one of Tristán’s students and a guy who impressed me all weekend. Not only does he fence well but he’s a hell of a cutter. I was actually really grateful to Tim for taking Pat O’Neil out one match earlier, as I didn’t feel so sure I could beat Pat twice in a row.
Then came Dustin Reagan. Dustin and I sorta flip coins on who wins tournament bouts. I’ve beaten him at sword and buckler, he took me down at Shortpoint in longsword just a few months ago, and so on. He’s one of the most gifted fencers in the world and left-handed to boot. I think he out-fenced me in our match—I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around his left handed vom tag this time around (it comes and goes with me) and I wasn’t confident enough to wind with him. I really beat him because we went to grips at one point and I managed to roll him out of the ring while we were both on the ground. If not for that, he would have had me cleanly.
My final match was with Ben Strickling. Ben has been on a steady rise since his first tournament performance (that I know of) at Longpoint 2011. He was fast and aggressive and something of a bruiser back then. In the years since he’s worked very, very hard at refining his technique and focusing his considerable explosive energy. We’ve sparred at a few past Longpoints and he’s improved noticeably every year, so much that in 2012 I felt he had the better part of our matches. Ben had waltzed through his pools and was sandwiched between Dustin and me in terms of highest indicator scores (wins plus points-per-strike landed). In particular, Ben’s got a super-wicked absetzen thrust from left ochs against a right oberhau.
So my only real strategy with Ben was not to throw a right side oberhau at him…ever. That was tough, by the way. I like right oberhaue.
I won the first match (finals are best of three one-minute rounds) pretty cleanly, relying on sprechfenster and oben abgenomen. He began to catch on during the second match, and we ended the minute tied two-two. That round went into overtime, which finally went my way largely by chance (as is usually the case in overtime). Ben is a hell of a fencer and I never felt secure against him. I anticipate he’ll be winning more and more throughout the US scene in the coming years.
Beginners’ and Women’s Longsword
I reffed and judged throughout the Beginners’ Synthetic Longsword. I saw some nice potential, and while Tristán’s Sword Class NYC were the dominant presence, the most technical fighter (and winner) of the Beginners’ tournament was Bradley Beck, of Long Island Historical Fencing Society. Brad didn’t always use the techniques at the right time or in the right range, but he was always using the techniques. Many of the observers commented that the beginners this year look like the mid-to-high level fencers four years ago. Absolutely true.
The Women’s steel longsword tournament followed, and was excellent. I had four xKDF fighters in the mix (Kiana Shurkin, Emma Graf, Susanna Pyatkowskaya, and Jess Rozek), two of which I have coached personally and for whom I got to coach during their fights. Emma is one of my most junior fencers and she did admirably, making it to 4th or 5th place against more seasoned fencers. Jess Rozek, who trained for years under Charles Murdock, performed beautifully and demonstrated good meyerite form throughout. Susanna…Susanna Susanna Susanna…Susanna is the terror of the women’s longsword circuit and really needs to be exported to go bash on some Europeans as soon as we can get her there. For third year in a row, though, my coach’s pride is almost entirely in Kiana Shurkin, MKDF Weyfel and Longpoint 2013 Women’s Champion. Despite being half the size of many of her opponents, and not being particularly strong, she has fantastic instincts, beautiful form, and is almost completely fearless. She figured out Susanna’s strategy and picked it apart in the second round, but Susanna got the better of her in the third. It was one of the most exciting finals I’ve watched. I was even more pleased to see Kiana recognized by the collected judges with a runner up award for technical excellence.
Day Three: Cutting, Wrestling, and Technique Competitions
As I mentioned earlier, FNY is something of a testing bed for competition formats that end up at Longpoint a few months later. Mike Edelson had some ideas for the “best cutting tournament ever” that he needed to test out, and I was lucky enough to be one of the contestants.
The contest was BYOS (Bring Your Own Sword), which somewhat limited the number of fencers to participate, but this was a good thing. I’ve competed in a few of these, but this is the first time with my own sword. It really changed the way I look at my own weapon, and fostered a desire to have an even better one as soon as I can afford it. And to learn to sharpen it better.
The cutting competition was divided into four rounds. Each round eliminated a few contestants. The first round was a series of basic cuts without a maximum time limit—two oberhaue and two unterhaue, from opposing sides. No one blew it and the judging to decide which fencers were cut had to be difficult. Three of us—Dustin, Tristán, and I—finished the first round tied with only a minor penalty for angle.
The second round was very difficult. Two mats plus a fragment on the top of the right side mat. The patter was a Schielhau to the fragment, then right and left krumphaue to the right mat, then left and right krumphau to the left mat, then right oberhau to the right mat and left oberhau to the left mat, then two mittelhaue (from each side) on each mat. We were given the pattern immediately before the round. Some folks did quite well, but I flubbed pretty badly. My krumphaue were beautiful, but my targeting was poor and I ate up the entire mat with those two strikes, leaving no room for good oberhaue or mittelhaue. I progressed to the next round, mostly on the merit of my previous round and because two fencers had knocked the stands over on their attempts. I was lucky, as my performance was really quite poor.
The third round was more in my wheelhouse. First was a double-cut against the mat to the right, then a lightening cut to the mat in the center, and then four zwerchhaue (alternating sides) to the mat on the left. Like everyone that morning, I missed the double cut. The lightening cut went fine, though my blade was hit by a falling piece from the first cut which messed up my second cut a little—I got some slack because I hit the falling piece, though. The four zwerchs were perfectly clean, and seem to support the mechanics I’m working on for zwerchhau right now (which is always nice).
I just barely made the cut by 3.7%, I think, edging out Charles Murdock who was doing very well. Tristán, Dustin, and Tyler “Ott the Redneck” Sullivan were 1st-3rd, with me coming in at 4th as we walked into the finals. Our slates were then wiped clean, and scoring began anew. Lucky for me!
The finals comprised four cutting feats, some of which have never (as far as we know) been done before in a cutting competition. The first feat was to get as many successful cuts as possible through a single mat on wheels, zig-zagging across the floor toward the judges’ table. The other three contestants managed four cuts each (every one of them also had a fifth unsuccessful cut which wasn’t counted). I went last (because I was in last place) and smoked it with six cuts plus a seventh incomplete cut. My strategy—use all cuts from one side on an axis—was born of years of doing drills where we flourysh or shadow-box while chasing after a moving, weaving partner. The other three then did a tie breaker by cutting while on the retreat. I finished the first feat in first place.
The second feat was perhaps the most difficult. PVC poles were set into a stand on either side of a single mat, with about 12 or 18 inches from pole to mat. We had to start our cut up against one pole, and complete a cut from each side without breaking the pole on the other side. If you completed your two initial cuts you could attempt further “bonus” cuts. I managed to pull off my first two cuts without even touching the far pole—a feat which surprised me greatly. The third cut got stuck in the mat, as did every other attempt at bonus cuts later in the competition. Dustin also managed to cut through the mat twice, although he struck the poles in the process. Tristán and Ott got stuck in the mat on all attempts, with Tristán cutting deeper of the two. I finished round two still in first place.
The third feat was a downward blow against a seven-mat tatami roll covered in 15 layers of unbleached linen. There is significant risk in bending your sword in something like this, so I approached it cautiously, thinking that there was no way to make it through the cloth. The strike went deep and felt easier than I expected, leaving me feeling sure I should have struck it much harder than I did. My blow went through all 15 layers and then two inches into the roll. (As an aside—I tried this again with Dustin’s sword the next day, and hit it quite a bit harder, ultimately penetrating more than halfway through the roll.) Dustin’s sharper Brescia Spadona, used at a slightly diagonal angle, cut deeper at three inches. Tristán made it 7/8ths of an inch and Ott penetrated 12 layers of linen only. Dustin took this round, with me following in second.
The final feat was to strike down through four double-rolls of tatami. This particular feat was taken directly from JSA cutting competitions, and has a reputation for bending swords. I decided to go all out and aim for the wooden base under the eight mats. I used a hard downward blow with a squat (like I saw some JSA guys do once), since the mats were relatively low to the ground.
…There is a moment of supreme focus when you prepare to perform something like this. A time where you breathe, concentrate, and wait for a special moment to come, as if signaled by the gods that now! Now is the time to strike! At that moment your consciousness rushes from your mind and there is a moment of emptiness where your body acts but you do not think, and you are not entirely aware. It is only after the act that you return to your senses.
I experienced that rare moment then, before those four double rolls. I cut with no-mind and only came to at the base of the fourth mat, which I could have severed if I only could have squatted down lower. I believe I went about halfway through the last mat, having cleanly and perfectly severed the others. Dustin followed and cut through two and into the third, and Tristán and Ott both managed to cut about two. I finished the third round in first place again, and had secured the gold for the cutting tournament.
Dustin and I later discussed a bit how intense the experience was. In many ways the cutting tournament was much, much more intense than the sparring tournaments that both of us have become rather accustomed to at this point. The pressure was higher, the stress was greater, and our desire to do well—to show that we can cut what we hit, not just tag what we hit—weighed on us greatly. I am very proud of this particular accomplishment, and I feel incredibly lucky that, despite my lackluster performance in the second round, I was allowed to continue on to the round four feats.
Wrestling at the Sword
The wrestling at the sword tournament is unique to FNY. Only a handful competed but, having watched it, I would honestly consider competing in it next year—it looked like a complete blast. Ott dominated the heavyweight pools, with Tim Kauffman taking second and MKDF’s Josh Yeager pulling in at third. The lightweight pools saw Dustin Reagan take first, Tristán second, and MKDF’s Kiana Shurkin in third.
This was the second paired technique competition (the first was at Shortpoint 2014), and the format had been tweaked a little bit but generally felt the same. Contestants were given a list of passages from Pseudo von Danzig about a week before the competition, then demonstrated those techniques before judges who used a rubric to score each performance based on how closely it held to the sources, how cleanly it was performed, and so on. Mike Edelson was my partner for the exercise, and our competition included MKDF’s Josh Yeager & John Crum (who had placed 2nd in the Shortpoint technique competition) and MEMAG’s Betsy Winslow & Josh Hawley (who placed first at Shortpoint).
The opening round was brutal with even a single error across four techniques generally leading to elimination. The techniques got more challenging as the rounds went on, with even smaller errors meaning the difference between progressing and being eliminated. Mike and I went into the finals in first place, but came out in the wash second against Betsy & Josh, with NYHFA/SwordclassNYC’s Tristán Zukowski and Sarah Oakhill pulling third.
Like the cutting tournament, the technique competition was wildly intense in the way that only something requiring you to perform perfectly in public can be. Kudos to Cory Winslow for creating such a demanding format.
Was It All Good?
xKDF Awards at Fechtschule New York 2014
- Gold, Triathlon (Event Champion) – Jake Norwood, CKDF
- Gold, Open Longsword – Jake Norwood, CKDF
- Gold, Cutting – Jake Norwood, CKDF
- Silver, Paired Technique – Jake Norwood, CKDF (with Mike Edelson, NYHFA)
- Gold, Women's Longsword – Susanna Pyatkovskaya, NHKDF
- Silver, Women's Longsword – Kiana Shurkinm, MKDF
- Bronze, Ringen am Schwert (Heavyweight) – Josh Yeager, CKDF/MKDF
- Bronze, Ringen am Schwert (Lightweight) – Kiana Shurkin, MKDF
- Technical Excellence Runner-up – Jake Norwood, CKDF
- Technical Excellence Runner-up – Kiana Shurkin, MKDF
For me, honestly, it was. I had a great time, I performed above my own expectations, and I brought home more medals and trophies and ego-stroking knickknacks than I have in a single event before. More than that, I won the triathlon (something I never thought Tristán would let me do), got a sweet Szymon Chlebowski feder (for the Triathlon) and (for the Open Longsword) a SPES jacket, and was honored by the judges with a runner-up award for Technical Excellence (the main award went to Dustin Reagan, unsurprisingly, with the other runner-up award going to the fully deserving Kiana Shurkin). That technical excellence award actually means more to me than perhaps any of my other medals, odd as that may seem. I hadn’t expected it and was genuinely flattered that so many of my peers and judges had thought to nominate me. I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it.
Now, that’s not to say that it was perfect. Classes started late. Every tournament went overtime by hours. Stuff was disorganized all over the place. Technical difficulties during the technique competition dragged out the space between the first and second rounds to something like an hour. And a lot of people left a lot more trash on Mike’s land than they had promised to. But…really…the event really was just about perfect. It was fun, full of great socializing and camaraderie, packed with in-depth discussions of techniques, manuals, scholarship, and hare-brained theories. Every member of the staff was a participant at some point, and almost every participant was a member of the staff at some point. It was a true community event.
I need to shout out to a few people here. First and foremost, to Mike and Judy Edelson for hosting, organizing, and putting up with everything. Mike is one of my best friends in the whole world and I would have come up to spend a week with him for no reason at all—to get a HEMA weekend and a bunch of competitions out of the deal was incredible. Also to Lea Edelson for spending so much time with my son. Second to my family, Earta, Ily, and Arlind, who followed me out on this crazy adventure in the name of “vacation.” Third to Ben Michels, Chuck Wyatt, Cory Winslow, Pat O’Neil, Emma Graf, Tristán Zukowski, Christian Trosclair, Michael Chidester, and anyone else who functioned more as staff than as participant throughout the weekend. I have more HEMA friends than I can count, but the yet-unmentioned Charles Murdock, Dustin Reagan, and Ben Strickling hold a special place of honor for me as great people and incredible fencers. Finally the entire xKDF crew in attendance: Bill Frisbee (NHKDF Hauptmann), Susanna Pyatkowskaya (NHKDF Weyfel), Sarah Hamilton (NHKDF), Ben Michels (MKDF), Kiana Shurkin (MKDF Weyfel), John Crum (MKDF), Jess Rozek (MKDF), Josh Yeager (MKDF/CKDF), James Clark (CKDF Weyfel), and Emma Graf (CKDF). You all made me unbelievably proud. Your hard work and training are paying off.