My passion for fencing started when I was a kid. My dad had a collection of swords as did my grandfather. There were a few films in particular that I used to watch on repeat: Highlander (The first one, of course. There can be only one……Highlander joke), Conan the Barbarian, Disney’s Robin Hood, and Star Wars.
I remember one day, my dad made me a wooden sword (like Conan’s). It was a heavy lump of wood he had planed down, whittled, wrapped in silver tape and inscribed with runes. It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever owned. All the other kids my age (5 maybe?) had cheap hollow plastic swords which bent and broke when I swung my mighty wooden blade. I got into a lot of trouble one evening while ‘training’ (copying moves from the aforementioned 80’s flicks) out the back of my Aunt’s house. My cousin came out to challenge me with a Japanese Shinto. I don’t remember much of our fight. I just remember him walking back into the house holding his fingers.
As I grew older, I got into fencing. My father was my first teacher having practised in the RAF. He was pretty severe, using a sharpened point on the end of a wooden stave. Every error meant one more welt, one more strip of skin gone. He was a good teacher.
Later, I would try kendo. I didn’t enjoy it as much I had hoped, my expectations perhaps being coloured my anime. German Longsword was next, but HEMA was in its infancy and the classes lacked much structure. I spent the next few years studying Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Aikido and Boxing.
I eventually joined a re-enactment society. I was worried at first that it would turn out to be LARPing, which was likewise new on the scene and didn’t interest me in the least. I had seen a sort of documentary about it starring Dara O’Brien, an Irish comedian. Despite the fact that I was into nerdy things, and had a nerdy sense of humour….and was indeed a nerd if I’m honest with myself, I’d always despised the company of nerds. The last thing I’d wanted was to spend a weekend with some dork in a pair of leather underpants with a foam version of the Buster sword proclaiming himself to be Grignack the Untenable or whatever. My girlfriend at the time was extremely persuasive, however, and I ended up going to a Viking re-enactment event at Corfe Castle in Dorset in the South of England.
When I got to the castle (If you haven’t had occasion to visit Corfe, think Minas Tirith), it was one of the most amazing places I had ever been. I remember seeing its silhouette against the skyline. We slept in the ruins that night. The next morning, I was given a suite of chain, a heavy helmet, a splintered shield and a broad battle-axe.
“These aren’t foam,” I declared with some astonishment. I was met with nonplussed gazes from the people arming up around me.
From then on I was hooked. The large battles, the competitive single combat and the camaraderie were unlike anything I’d encountered in clubs or classes. It gave me not only a renewed love of sword play, but I found a passion for history hitherto undiscovered. I felt as though the years in which I had not been taking part in re-enactment battles had been wasted!
When I eventually returned to HEMA, it had gathered a great deal of traction. It’s something of a secret world. Once you know it’s out there, you realise how big it actually is with so many aspects of training, study and research.
I’ve been accused by a number of my closest friends of being too ‘in my head’. I overthink things and stress the unimportant stuff. When I’m fencing though, I feel a sense of clarity that I don’t get anywhere else. The world itself ends at the borders of the arena.
Since this whole thing began, I have travelled all over Britain, been given masterclasses by Italian longsword maestros in a fort overlooking Rome and clashed with some of the best fighter in the world in forests in Moesgaard, Denmark. I truly hope that more people find their way into this ‘underground’ world and discover for themselves what a unique and wonderful art the study of the sword can be.
Jordan Mock, Marshal of the Academy of Steel