Chidi Peeps Chili

I guess this counts as the disclaimer paragraph when I say that our performance group is its own animal. We use both HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) techniques and SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors) with caution and mix them as best we can for stage acts. When I speak about some bad things it will be about some specific incidents and I don’t want to invoke #NotAllSwordfighters. So if we can all keep our righteous indignation on low flame, you’ll get through this opinion piece.  I’m going to talk about the sword users that work well and work poorly with having a performance sword fighting troupe.

Working with sport fencers and ex-military is not my favorite.  Are they good at what they do? Sure! They win! The score points! They move faster than anyone else!  They are #1!  Which is bad if you are trying to pair them with someone else. And if you are trying to do a cooperative performance it stinks. I get sick of hearing “I can’t help it it’s my military training!” or “I just went with my instinct!” None of those skills apply to choreography. We had one member and we did a *specific* drill with him on telegraphing his next blow. At the end of it my partner had to say “That was a complete failure because he finished with “HAHA I got him!”   I stopped a poleaxe demo in performance with him because-instead of coming down at an off-angle, he was coming straight down on my head, not what we are supposed to do.  Because I could not trust him to work cooperatively with me, I felt defensive and no small amount of concern. Eventually, only the troupe leader would work with him. He thought it was a compliment.  (narrator: it was not a compliment) So if you have to win every fight-working in a performance group is not for you.

This applies to martial artists as well.  And if you have some of the same problems as above, you also have a bad martial artist because they 1) lack self-control 2) may be so aggressive that they miss passive opportunities to defeat their opponent 3) don’t learn well.  We have worked with some terrific martial artists and these folks are great assets to the HEMA community and to our troupe. They understand the historical movement well and understand working with a partner.  As one of my teachers told me
“I am calm because I am confident in my abilities and learning opportunities”
He couldn’t figure out a certain historical throw or why the opponent sacrificed and went down with the aggressor. Our troupe leader, a former bouncer, showed him what happens when a large man lands like a sack of anvils on top of you with intention.  Historical move unlocked!

Stage fighters, good and not good. For our silly pirate shows, they are terrific. But as I know from personal experience, when you swap from gracefully testing just outside of important human bits to “Strike at the important human bit” there is the smell of a mental clutch burning. There is one troupe member who simply couldn’t make that transition from stage to actual mayhem. I explained time and time again that if they withdrew or didn’t target correctly, it would actually make it MORE dangerous for me.  When we targeted correctly we could rely on casting and doing the maneuver evenly.  But after the third time of freaking out and trying to make a cut shallow (and nearly taking my nose with it), they were not making the fight “safer” for me and we moved on to a showier and lighter weapon.

HEMA folks, we get along quite well with these and we freely admit we are not at the top of the physicality game but our historical research, study, and testing *chef’s kiss*

LARPers-as above, a mixed bag. For the most part, we’ve had good luck. We did a bit of an eye-roll at some former members who were chastised by the LARP community for hitting too hard. They blamed it on transitioning from steel swords to boffers. No, they lacked self-control and they hit too hard even when they were with us. The crowds loved their fights but perhaps they sensed the possibility of dismemberment whenever those two went up against one another. The silver lining is that a lot of our LARP members took wards and tricks from the historical plays and made use of them against their boffer opponents with good results.  LARPers are also good about weather and equipment and tend not to be whiners-a trait much appreciated.

Reenactors-many turn their nose up at us and frankly *shrug.*  I love history, love talking about swords but I am not so much about that reenactor lifestyle.  There are two groups I would gladly join if I didn’t have my own troupe because they are run/populated by awesome people. But setting up a camp? We can’t afford that level of energy loss. We try to run with light/small/inflatable/foldable items that make life easier so we can up the wattage during shows. That’s something a lot of reenactors get wrong-their demos are interesting but sometimes if you don’t have the audience hooked, it’s just you faffing about with stuff.  When we do our bigger shows this sets up a stronger dividing line between us and the reenacting crowd.  At one show we get carte blanche to strike our tent early on the last day because we are literally the last people allowed to leave- we are the finale show near the gate. Vendors and others take advantage of that to close up. While they get to drive out, we are cleaning up our stage.  It is often pitch black and we are not a local-a bad combination for a skedaddle.

Have we made it work with these different sword styles? Sometimes yes, sometimes no and with nice folks-absolutely.  I hope that some swordfight aficionados read this before getting involved in a group and realize that it’s not necessarily you, it may be that you just haven’t found your “tribe” yet. And others, that even though the talent may be diverse, you can still make it work if you are willing to treat it like a dance rather than a competition.