December is synonymous with Christmas, January with New Year, and February brings us the English Sidesword Open! Having established itself as a leading event in the sidesword discipline, the English Sidesword Open (ESO) brings together some of the world’s foremost experts, combining more than ten hours of workshops and lectures with multiple competitive tournament categories to draw in athletes from all corners of the world. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attend one of the HEMA (Historic European Martial Arts) calendar’s peak occasions.
Most people have seen conventional fencing; opponents dressed in white, fighting along a line, electronic equipment marking hits. It is highly skilled, and can be quite entertaining to watch, but in order to gain enjoyment from this form of fencing as a spectator sport, the onlooker also needs skill and experience. Without it, there is little understanding of the tactics and of the reasons for success or failure, and the spectacle, whilst being appreciated by experts, lacks true drama.
Now, we also have HEMA, Historic European Martial Arts, which is fencing taken back to its roots, the duel. Using the printed or even hand written accounts of long dead fencing masters, HEMA has recreated the original arts of defence. There is no electronic equipment, and the fight takes place, not in a straight line, but in an open square. It demands every bit as much skill as conventional fencing, but it carries drama, as well as technique. The blades flash, steel sings against steel, the two competitors could almost be engaged in a dance, but one that seems to carry an undertone of deadly purpose. There is a glamour about this form of sword fighting that appeals, not only to those who have expertise, but also to the spectator. The applause at the end of a contest can be loud and exuberant, rather than the polite hand-clapping that expresses approval in the quieter form of fencing. When the two contestants remove their masks and clap each other on the shoulder, there is usually real friendship in the embrace.
The English Sidesword Open brings together some of the worlds best athletes, trained in historic combat methods of the period. One of the most successful British HEMA (Historic European Martial Arts) tournaments to date with the largest amount of sponsorship ever accrued for a competitive HEMA event, this shall be expanded for 2020 to include seminars and workshops with world leading authorities; such as Ton Puey or Rob Jones.
Stage fighting when Shakespeare was writing his plays in London needed to be convincing. Duelling was commonplace, although outlawed, and the audience expected the fights to be realistic. Many of those sitting or standing within missile-throwing range were experts, and had no hesitation in making their disapproval clear. Today, with viewers, spectators and other audiences demanding more realism, actors and fight directors involved in film, theatre and television are taking an ever-closer interest in the techniques involved in historic swordplay.
‘Tibbles’, the beloved ESO mascot, is based on Tybalt from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Since this form of combat was largely developed during the Elizabethan era, Tibbles in his duelling outfit is a very appropriate symbol.
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