West Devon Swords is featured in the January/February edition of Oke Links magazine, the lifestyle/what’s on/general interest publication for the Okehampton area. Turn to page 13 for a sports feature on our HEMA activities. Keep reading for the article text.
The School of the Sword
Created in 2014, West Devon Swords began as an Olympic-style sports fencing club, with white jackets and breeches, fencing foils and fancy salutes. And while that continues in schools and activity schemes, it has moved more and more toward the study of the ‘lost’ Historical Western Martial Arts (HEMA), which coach and founder Robin Catling likens to ‘combat archaeology’. “Our members soon realise that if you try to fight like Game of Thrones, you wouldn’t last a minute against the historical masters.”
Taking the surviving manuals from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the club sets about reconstructing the fighting techniques of those times using weapons such as the longsword, sword and buckler, rapier and dagger.
HEMA stands apart from the choreographed routines of stage fighting, the theatrical show-fighting of historical re-enactors, or the fantasy orcs-and-elves world of Live Action Role Play (LARP).
Instead, HEMA attempts to recreate these deadly arts of combat in a safe and controlled way. After the formal study sessions, hotly debated interpretations of old texts and illustrations are put to the test in sparring, or free play. Even using blunt steel or synthetic weapons, the risk of injury remains real, so this is done wearing substantial safety gear. The club is affiliated to, and insured by, the British Federation of Historical Swordplay, taking part in national and international study groups as well as local events for English Heritage and the National Trust.
Not restricted by race, age or gender, West Devon Swords has some latterday Shield Maidens among its membership, drawn from all walks of life.
This January will see another beginners course in Medieval longsword for those curious to try their hand at real sword play.
West Devon Swords meets at Okehampton College Gym on Thursdays at 8pm and you can find more information online at westdevonswords.info.