I’ve never been into fantasy novels, Robin Hood or Pirates of the Caribbean and I’ve only just started to watch Game of Thrones – no spoilers please.
But the few times I noticed a small group of people mucking about with swords in Rutledge Park, I thought to myself, “that looks fun.”
When I saw that UVic’s Blood and Iron club had gained such a following that it was opening as a business in Esquimalt, I was excited to call and give it a try.
Blood and Iron Martial Arts is the brainchild of Lee Smith, a Vancouver man who has had a lifelong interest in history and swordsmanship and his wife Nicole, one of the world’s top female Historical European Martial Arts practitioners.
Erik Bailey, a student of Smith, is the founder of Victoria Blood and Iron, and it’s Bailey who gives me the lowdown on each weapon and its use.
“We teach the dussack, longsword and dagger and when you get a bit more experienced you can move on to the rapier and my favourite, the single stick.”
Bailey is one of the top single stick fighters in North America, placing second in his first Pacific Northwest Historical European Martial Arts Gathering in 2013.
We start the class with a good warm up, sprinting around the classroom space in Esquimalt’s industrial area. The pushups, situps, squats and lunges continue until the class is puffing – or maybe that’s just me.
We begin training with the dussack, a practice weapon that represents a short, single-edged knife. The dussack is light and fairly easy to wield. Bailey shows me how to stand, right foot forward, knee bent, step forward as you take a swipe at your opponent … I’m sure swipe’s not the technical term, but I’m going on memory and there’s much to remember.
It’s like a slow motion dance: position; step; advance; blade comes down and around; retreat.
Bailey has been studying a variety of martial arts since he was eight years old. He found Blood and Iron after he returned from living in Japan for a number of years.
“When I came back, I just wanted to try something different. I was walking in antique alley (in New Westminster) and saw the sign,” he says. He began training with Blood and Iron in 2010 and began teaching in 2013.
The art is growing. The draw, says Bailey, is fitness, self-defense and “people who are into swords.”
The practice session is organized and relaxed, the students, who are dressed in workout gear and t-shirts, many with bare feet, go through their moves and gently spar with one another while Bailey shows me the ropes.
We move onto the dagger, this one is made of heavy-duty nylon. He shows me how to stand, how to hold the weapon, how to move the blade, how to block.
I just feel like I’m just getting the hang of it when he adds the other hand. Now I have to remember to block and step and not “cut” my own leg off, let alone allow him to get a poke at me. I don’t and he does.
The last weapon I try is the longsword. This one, also made of a nylon material, is held in both hands, arms up over your head. The long blade is tricky to maneuver and although it only weighs some two pounds, after an hour of training, my arms are feeling the weight.
When we finish, a few of Bailey’s students suit up in protective gear to demonstrate what they’ve learned with the dussack. Even those who have just had a few months of lessons are quick and sure with their movements – Jack Sparrow wouldn’t stand a chance.
IT’S NO GAME OF THRONES:
HEMA competitors treat sword fighting as an organized sport. Matches have complex rules and use a scoring system based on ancient dueling regulations. Fighters wear modern protective equipment, which looks like a hybrid of fencing gear and body armor. They use steel swords with unsharpened blades and blunt tips.