Review of the International Rapier Seminar, Delft 5-6 April 2014

The IRS has been over for more than two weeks already, and finally I have some time to look back on what turned out to be a great event.

29 participants, 4 instructors, 2 first-aiders and one organiser (i.e. me) gathered in Delft to explore 5 different styles of rapier fencing, through 10 workshops (5 at a basic level and 5 at an advanced level), and to fight in a Champion's tournament based on the historical rules for fencing tournaments held in the Low Countries.

The event kicked off on Saturday morning with a wide introduction into rapier fencing for the beginners, given by yours truly, and an experienced class in Marcelli's rapier system taught by Francesco Lodà. My first class was geared especially to those participants who had no experience in rapier fencing at all, in order to get them up to speed with the terminology of rapier fencing and the most basic ideas and principles, of course using Bruchius as my base, but not excluding the work of other important fencing masters.

Francesco Lodà (I have been told) taught a very well-structured class giving a good overview of the various aspects of Roman fencing as taught by Marcelli.

After this first round, the event continued with a basic class on Dancie by Thibault Ghesquière, in which he explored this practically-oriented French system.

In the meantime, Dave Rawlings picked up the experienced participants for a very systematic and thorough class on the rather unique fencing system of Cavendish.

After a relaxing lunch break, it was time for the rapier tournament. We decided to make one change relative to the published rules. We had two judges in the ring; one judge watching each fighter to see if that fighter received a valid hit. This, combined with the rules, made the task for the judges much simpler than at most other tournaments, where judges have to watch hits on both fighters, and analyse the sequence of events after a hit was seen to come to their judgement. Here - if one fighter received a valid hit, that fighter lost. If both fighters received a hit, the Challenger lost (either there was an afterblow, or a double hit - both had the same effect). At the start of the tournament, we had a small hiccup in our software. After that was solved (by ditching the software) it all went smoothly. Mike Prendergast held the position of Champion against many.

He was only defeated by Maarten Kaiser, and later (after having become Champion again) by his own student Phil McFadden, who was the final challenger, and went on to win the tournament (for which he had to defeat Mike again, though this time Mike was the challenger). The technical level of fencing was perhaps not as high as I had originally hoped, but the tournament definitely had its moments. Clearly, all participants were trying to win that Danelli sword.

In order to pick a winner for the best technical fencer award, a final two minute bout was fought between Phil and Massimiliano Moscatelli, after which Max took the sword.

This left us with a little time to free fence, pack, and get back for a shower before a typical Dutch dinner in the centre of Delft.

The next morning we started at the same time at the same place. First up, Dave Rawlings took the beginners through Cavendish's system, while I got the experienced participants to do some grappling. In most rapier treatises, the various disarms and throws do not take an important place. However, these techniques are a great starting point to look at how to use your body effectively and efficiently - something that I think is important in all fighting. And they are fun!

Next up, Thibault Ghesquière held an experienced class on Dancie.

Ton Puey started his basic Destreza class. The grace with which Ton, almost dancing, brought the seemingly complex principles of Destreza to life impressed many of the students, and left them asking (me) for more.

After the lunch break, during which it was time to say goodbye to Dave who had to go home, the final classes where Ton's experienced Destreza class, which continued on the basis of his basic class, and Francesco's repeat performance on Marcelli's rapier system, now for the beginners. The schedule then left us with about an hour of free time for some sparring and to clear out the hall.

Overall, the weekend went very smoothly, and a little too fast. Though I was rather apprehensive during the first day, once the tournament was over (a tournament always has the largest chance of things going wrong), and I saw all the happy faces, I relaxed more, and got to enjoy the event better. I was very happy with my choice in instructors, bringing together some of the finest rapierists there are, and I think the format of having each instructor teach a basic and an experienced class on the same subject worked out very well, as it allowed both beginners and experienced rapierists to enjoy the same classes geared to their level. The only change I might make here in the future is to make a clearer distinction between beginner and experienced. One reason for choosing the tournament format used was that it required less organisation and fewer people to run it. This worked out great, and I think it was the best choice for this event. Though I was initially disappointed in the number of participants which was somewhat lower than I had hoped for (also due to some last-minute cancellations), several participants, and the instructors told me the number was great as it allowed the instructors to pay personal attention to each student. In the end, the first International Rapier Seminar in Delft was a great event. All people involved were very happy and had a great time.

Towards the end, I was asked several times if there would be a second IRS. All I can say is, that we will look into that. Below you will find some reviews of the IRS written by some of the participants.

Thibault Ghesquière (instructor):
A specialised event like this one really enable people to get better, imo.
Having Mr Rawlings, Puey and Lodà all teaching at this small event was a brillant thing, and I'm sure all the fencers who were there did bring some interestings thoughts at home thanks to them.
To do two whole workshops in english was also a new experience, and not an easy one. I hope I managed to get some fencers interested.
Overall, the event was a blast, too short for sure, but brillant.

Delia Hamwood (participant):
Huge shout-out and thank you to Reinier van Noort for running such a wonderful event at the weekend. We had a fabulous time at the first ever International Rapier Seminar Delft - if there is another one we will definitely go again, and if not, we will make sure that everyone who didn't go realises how much fun they missed!

Marcos Arinho (participant):
I'm usually not a massive fan of heart-felt gushing reviews of past HEMA gatherings, but as the only semi-dedicated longsword fencer (afaik) at the first International Rapier Seminar (IRS) in Delft last weekend I feel obliged to make an exception and write an overly enthusiastic review of my own. There will be some name dropping and the usual signs of emerging man crushes etc to keep this HEMA event review as nauseatingly standard and formulaic as possible.

The IRS event organised by Reinier van Noort this past weekend in Delft was just fantastic. It was a cozy yet very finely organised event which covered a range of national historical rapier fencing styles grouped by levels of expertise, an outstanding introduction to later sword methodologies and approaches for anyone who, like myself, is studying the earlier German Lichty stuff, and a great chance to cross swords in a more elegant and relaxed manner to what I'm usually accustomed to.

After attending the dynamic beginners introduction to Bruchius by the always consistently enthusiastic Reinier and then the basic intro to François Dancie and fencing with a few of the students on day one I began to think that hey rapier fencing wasn't so difficult after all, and maybe I could even become rather good at it with relative ease. In fact, I would probably recommend that 'no-nonsense' Dancie class by the very suave Thibault Ghesquière as a solid introduction to rapier to get anyone started in this weapon. I even joined the tournament later that day on the strength alone of those few basic principles. I think I managed to land one single good thrust on Massimiliano Moscatelli during the entire competition, but hey, it's a start. He later on went to win the technical fencer award, while Mike Prendergast had the most exchanges won and Phil Mc won the tournament prize itself - I will post videos of that possibly later today.

That feeling of cautious optimism and self-indulgent euphoria was brought to an abrupt end on the second day once I realised how fluidly and effortlessly Ton Puey could poke holes into my best efforts of defending myself while politely dancing around me during his fascinating introduction to La Verdadera Destreza class and after the sixth or seventh effortless disarm by Manuel Valle Ortiz while I did my best to thrust, cut, kick or punch him anywhere in vain. Bloody academic scholars! Maybe I should have paid better attention to the lessons learnt from Cavendish on how to deal with the pesky Spanish diestros, but I was perhaps too distracted by David Rawlings manly calves and hirsute beard at the time. I left both classes with a strong sense that there was so much yet for me to explore as these were just glances into very complex systems.

My only regret is that since I wanted to learn about as many pieces of the Destreza puzzle as possible, I missed out on the Francesco Antonio Marcelli class, but I did at least see Francesco Lodà in action doing the proper fancy Italian stuff during free-play, which was a treat (some of which I have on video). I also wish I would have had the chance to spar a bit more with some of the other French, Italian, English, Belgian, Irish, Greek, German and Dutch fencers in attendance, but by the end of Sunday my right arm was becoming oddly unresponsive for some reason.

To somewhat mitigate the homoerotic undertones included in the review so far (I didn't even describe the floppy 'simulators' warm up with Mark Kloeg), I will mention some of the other personal weekend highlights such as the delightful distance management dancing warm-up with the disarmingly endearing Katja Schindler and several unsuccessful attempts to not to get systematically stabbed by the very murderous yet petite assassin Marguerite Lacroix, all of which was very perfectly pleasant and cordial.

Any HEMA practitioner in the area that didn't make it because "it's not my weapon of choice" really missed out. This is directed mainly to longsword students in NL of course though I also assume that any rapierist within driving/flying distance ought to be green with envy and flap their limp embroidered wrists in anguish and despair as they cry all over their puffy blouses over this missed opportunity. A big thanks to everyone involved.

The International Rapier Seminar 2014 was sponsored by Danelli Armouries and by Darkwood Armory.

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