It is standard operating procedure to write up an event review in the few days following, and blast it across the socialz. Indeed, after the awesome SwordSquatch I attended at the beginning of September, my various feeds were filled to bursting with just such posts. I was tempted to jump in then and there, but refrained because I hadn’t processed it all yet, and also on the grounds that if it’s worth writing, or worth reading, then it will still be so weeks later. There are very few fields (political commentary being one) where getting it written and published right now is essential, and being even a day late can make your writing pointless.
The event was lovely, as one would expect. There were many interesting instructors, including some I hadn’t met before (such as Maija Soderholm- with whom I actually had a short conversation in Finnish! And much longer conversations about duelling culture) and I think every attendee got their time and money’s worth, and then some. So much, so not much different to many other events out there. So let me focus on the things that made this special.
Firstly, it is far and away the most inclusive event I’ve ever been to. Not just in terms of being explicitly inclusive regarding identity (race, gender, sexuality, etc.), but also in terms of instructors, their backgrounds and experience. They have created a slot explicitly for inexperienced instructors to get some experience at event teaching under their belts. This produced some of the most interesting classes of the weekend. By far the most Renaissance thing I saw was Isaiah Baden-Payne teaching a class on Fabris’ footwork in high heels. This makes perfect sense, because duels would have been fought shod, and those shoes would usually have some pretty chunky heels on them.
A historical perfectionist might note that Isaiah wasn’t wearing early 17th century-type heels, they were wearing snazzy modern stilettos. But the point they were making was abundantly clear- footwear affects footwork, and here’s the takeaway: Fabris’s weird guard position works well, better even, in heels. And it’s easy to get hold of modern heels, much harder to get decent period gear.
I was also thrilled to see the results of a conversation I had at last year’s Squatch with Rebecca Glass, when she told me she was memorising Liechtenauer’s zettel (mnemonic verses, the foundation of German longsword, to the point that the sources people are basing their interpretations on are almost exclusively glosses on those verses) and I got all excited about the medievalness of doing that. This year, she performed the entire thing. Sadly I was teaching a dagger class at the time, but she kindly did a preview performance for me when I was free. Memorising the zettel has to be the most medieval thing I saw all weekend. And it’s a testament to the organisers of the event that they make space for that kind of thing in the schedule, and more to the point, are themselves so approachable that Isaiah and Rebecca felt comfortable putting themselves forward and applying to run such unusual sessions.
At this event there is none of the respect for hierarchy (or even clicqeuyness) that can lead to the instructors being set apart as an exclusive club. As I’ve usually been a member of that club I’ve tended to take it for granted that that’s the way things are done, and when you’re on the inside, it’s nice. But this is better, for several reasons:
Firstly, there is a lot more interaction between groups that would not normally mix. Everyone fenced everyone, as far as I could see, and there were people crossing swords pretty much all day every day. This is good for training, good for socialisation, good for inspiration.
Secondly, it prevents the instructors getting precious. Not that we ever would, oh no.
Thirdly, it creates a clear and transparent path for anyone who wants to teach to get started. If all the instructors have decades of experience and multiple publications, etc. etc., then it sets an expectation of ‘that’s what you need to have done to be worthy of teaching’. But it obscures the fact that those of us who have been working in HMA from the beginning were also beginners once, and when we first taught at an international event, we had probably less experience and lower skills than many of the up-and-coming young instructors. And much of what we taught back then was crap. State-of-the-art at the time, we hope, but crap by modern standards. Beginners are the future of the art- but only if there is a path for them to pursue the art along. And this goes double for those learning to teach.
I should also mention it’s the one event offering flaming tetherball as an after-hours activity, which is awesome good fun, and only looks dangerous.
Plus, Mike Lerner set up spear-throwing battleships. I cannot possibly do justice to his introduction to the game, nor the sheer exuberance with which he kept a whole lot of somewhat drunk swordspeople safe while throwing spears at targets. Yes, weapons and alcohol shouldn’t usually mix, but he did an amazing job of setting up and running the game in such a way that it really was safe. Plus, it turns out I’m quite good at throwing spears. I even won a beer!
No wonder this is the only event I’ve ever bought special underwear for. Really. These from MeUndies encapsulate the Squatch experience.
Rainbow unicorns and stars- but also, really comfortable.
As last year, the organisers gave themselves permission to reward the sorts of behaviour they want to see more of, and during the closing ceremonies they handed out a lot of prizes, for all sorts of things. One student got a beautiful sharp sword made by Gus Trim. One of the volunteers did too. And one instructor. Me. I’m not sure why, but clearly I’ve been doing something right.
The last time I was in Seattle, in April this year, Gus came by to visit and show me some of his latest creations. I played with them all, and he asked me which was my favourite. The slashiest, wickedest messer was the stand-out choice for me. With no less than three martles on the blade (the bit where the back edge widens out in a spur, to add mass to that bit of the cutting edge). It was gorgeous. And it was the one they gave me during the closing ceremonies. Oh my. Words failed me then, and they continue to fail me nearly a month later. It even came with a group hug. This moment was one of the highlights of my career.
So if you’re thinking about going next year, don’t think, just do it. And if you have an idea for a class, pitch it to them through their online form (all the instructors have to do that- it’s the only way to get on the roster). They won’t bite, and you’re guaranteed a supportive, welcoming, environment whether this is your first event, or your fiftieth, and whether you’re teaching, training, just watching, or all three. See you there!