This blog post has been written after the Astolat 2017 event.
I’ve been ‘doing’ ‘Longsword for around 6 years after accidentally discovering the club whilst cycling through the local park whilst I was hungover, and they were training. It’s taken some time to get around to do my first tournament for a number of reasons, but first why did I even wish to compete?
This is quite an interesting question and also an emotive one for some in the world of Historical European Martial Arts. Whilst I wont go into the nuances of “Academic Martial Art” vs “Historical Tournament Sport”, for me it is because I am naturally competitive.
Whilst recognising my limitations in skill and speed, I still like to test my limits and benchmark them against others; not only in technical ability (little) but also a pressured scoring environment. Most importantly: for fun!
And so in 2016 I applied for a spot in the open Longsword at Astolat (hema-open.co.uk) and then cancelled as my daughter was born. Then in 2017, determined not to miss out again (and no babies pending this time) I grabbed a spot in this years competition.
Once confirmation had come through that I had a place, I began to work out what I needed to do:
- Did I have compliant and acceptable kit, in good condition? (Yes)
- Was my fitness up to spec.? (Not award winning but good cardio)
- Was my technical ability acceptable? (No)
- Did I have somewhere to stay over? (No)
The last point was sorted after fellow TLA member and Astolat first-timer Adam had contacted a load of places and we decided the most cost effective solution was to drag my trailer tent up the A303 for us, and our seconds to camp in.
Technical ability is harder to remedy quickly, but fortunately the TLA has an excellent head coach and the syllabus we were working through was addressing this short-fall rapidly. Regrettably, two small children and a busy work life prevented further training and whether I was ready or not, Astolat was happening!
I set myself some objectives to judge myself, and my enjoyment of the whole experience:
- It is fine to come last, but I will score at least one point against an opponent
- I will soak up and report back the experience for others to learn from
- I will talk to people and find out about what other clubs are doing
- I will not embarrass my club (!)
The drive up from the West-country was in monsoon conditions and the trailer tent went up in only marginally drier weather by the time we arrived at the venue. Still, we had a pub to get to and a meet-and-greet to attend.
First lesson: do not let the excitement of camaraderie, meeting new people, and very pleasant beer end up giving you a late night! Needless to say it was a great night and one benefit of having a large trailer tent when others have small plastic ones is that if the light is on, some music playing, and conversation is lively; it is an open invitation to others to come on in and have a few more drinks. Thoroughly enjoyable!
Saturday morning arrived rather quickly, no hangover, but a desperate requirement for electrolytes and hydration. The morning warm-up was done by moving mats and tables/chairs and generally help set up things. Registration was a breeze, and the tea/coffee and fruit a life saver.
The pools were drawn up and posted with all eager to see what time and whom was in which pools. Adam and I were in different pools with Adam stepping into the ring at about 11am. I was not on until 12.15 or so, and hydration continued.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur of combat and conversation, but the fights were well organised and announcements as to whom was up next (and then after that) meant that fighters were not having to get hot kit on too soon, nor panicking with too little notice. Everyone knew where and when they had to be.
Needless to say, I didn’t make it out of the pool stages (nor did Adam, unfortunately) but we both lost two matches and won 1 so the objective of not coming away with a complete whitewash was accomplished. 🙂
Naturally, the whole weekend was well organised and despite the inevitable time over-runs, the whole weekend was superbly managed and organised by the Astolat Team.
Reflections and lessons learned:
- The social side of competitions is superb, even if you don’t compete!
- I know it takes me three fights to warm-up and tune in to the required physical and mental zone to perform at [my perspective] an adequate level. Despite having time, Adam (or other willing volunteer) and spaces to do so, I did not do any warm-up fights. A HUGE mistake.
- Scoring: the afterblow rule is a cruel mistress for those not used to it. If a clean hit is delivered yet not controlling or negating the opponents blade, it is often a zero point score. This means that if you are quick enough, you can play to the afterblow and ensure any hit received is countered by a cynical counter-scoring strike. Whilst the afterblow is absolutely required for more realism and for encouraging self-defense, there must be a way so that the afterblow scores less than the original strike.
- Pre-training: make time at regular club sessions for tournament attendees to train specifically for the tournament, even if they are not part of the regular class. This will also include using the tournament rule-set to acclimatise to it.
- Its very basic but have a game plan: know the strikes and their parries so at least three sets of parry-ripostes/counters can be worked through. The mental aspect of having a clear, uncomplicated plan can make all the difference when there are just 5 bouts per match to score more than your opponent.
- Learn from other fighters: critically analyse what you did right and wrong, and what they did wrong and right.
- Talk to other club members: at Astolat this has directly resulted in two things: GIVE A GIRL A SWORD (see other blog articles here, here, and here. We blame Chloe from Bristol for this (in a very good way)! We also managed to find a supplier of club insurance that has significantly upgraded our current offering, somthing we have struggled with for a couple of years. Additionally, as a bit of a bonus, the “Wessex league” was launched and resulted in a decent contingent from TLA immediately signing up! You never know where your next conversation will take you!
So, all in all, every single of my objectives were met at Astolat 2017, and more besides. I’m sure I’ve missed some additional aspects of the weekend, so if I have; apologies – contact me for more information.
Name: Kieran (aka “Sir K”)
Member of TLA since: about 2010 or 2011
Secretary of TLA since 2013