Over the weekend of august 6-7 I went down to Harlem, Holland to visit my good friend Mishael Lopes Cardozo, who runs AMEK, the largest Historical European Martial Arts organization in the Netherlands, with clubs in several cities. Lopes had invited Lee Smith of Blood and Iron Martial Arts (Ca) to teach a weekend seminar on the Dussack. Since dussack is somewhat dear to me, and since both Lee and Lopes are good friends and pretty funny guys to be around, I found a cheap flight to Holland to join in. Also present was Alwin Goethals, instructor in SWARTA of Belgium and a great guy, quick as a viper with a weapon in hand. Sadly missing was the elusive Matt Galas ;).
Now, as to dussack, it is a fairly recent addition to the modern HEMA scene. Even though a few clubs here and there have studied it for years, it has only reached its current popularity in the last two or so years, alot of it thanks to exposure through international dussack competitions at Fechtschule America and Swordfish. As with most things HEMA, a proper tool is needed in order to train and the dussack trainer produced by Purpleheart armory has also done alot to introduce the dussack to a wider audience. Many clubs have quickly realized the dussacks potential as a teaching tool, not only in its own right but also as a help to train skills vital to other weapons, such as fluidity of movement, proper use of guard change, the importance of power generation, the use of the “three stances” och paulus hector mair (high, medium, low) and to use dynamic and powerful footwork, something alot of longsword fighters forget. The dussack is also a cheap and safe weapon, making it ideal for introducing beginners to fencing and sparring.
The dussack being so new leaves alot of room for research, interpretation and development of drills and skillsets. Most people who use the dussack today have little or no formal training with it ( illustrated for example by the fact that I won the dussack tournament at Fechtschule America 2010 without more than a few days of sparring and drilling with the weapon behind me). This fact, together with the huge potential for the dussack to be a staple weapon in many HEMA schools, to go to Harlem and see Lee, who is one of the few who is actively researching and teaching dussack on a regular basis, was an opportunity I did not want to miss.
Lee ran two full days of dussack drilling, together with some 20 of Lopes students. We went through some basic cuts and guards, aswell as some flowdrills. There were also sessions of coached sparring and evaluation, where each student stepped up to fight all the other students in turn to a “first to one hit” bout, while Lee observed and afterwards handed out a scorecard with scores for “technical skill”, “Agressiveness”, “timing” etc, together with immidiate feedback. Below you can see one of my evaluation rounds:
One of the thing I found very interesting was that Lee has come up with several drills that are almost identical to my own in order to learn different skills. Some of them are pretty standard for most HEMA training, such as slow motion sparring, “hengen-oberhau”-flows and different variations thereof, others were more dussack specific. In some ways we also differ, which is just as interesting. I favour to use one of Meyers advices in his Rappier section in my dussack game, to keep your shoulder at the same level as your intended target, resulting in a pretty athletic dussack style when you for example target the knee or shin of your opponent. Lee in his turn as large focus on specifics in cutting mechanics, something I have omitted.
When interpreting dussack there is (as always) also the context factor to take into account. We today when we spar and also in most tournaments, tend to see the whole body as a legitimate target. This would seem reasonable but it is not necessarily the whole story. Meyer for example introduces the dussack as a tool that teaches you to fight with all kinds of single hand weapons, which would indicate its use both as a tournament tool which might indicate a limited target are, and also to teach self defense and duelling, where the whole body would likely be a target. As it is I have no good answer. There are many references to tournaments being fought to the “red rose”, that is, until one of the fighters score a bleeding headwound on the opponent.
Today HEMA fighters in general also tend to halt the action after a hit and an afterblow and reset the fight. If the fighters of old did the same we don’t know, but if they only targeted the head that might indicate that they did not halt the action for hits on any other part of the body (sometimes i get the idea Meyer is talking about this sort of fight in his book, though Im not sure). Modern practitioners, as always, have to make their own descision on how much they want to adopt to either old or modern conditions. It would be interesting to see dussack tournaments using the historical “Franco/Belgian” rulesets that exists for longsword.
When we were not fighting, Lopes and his guys were excellent hosts, showing me, Alwin and Lee around Amsterdam and Harlem, and treating us to some of the best beer I’ve had. Usually the nights ended up at Lopes HUGE house, an ancient three story building. The upper two floors are left empty by Lopes, and we ran around up there long into the night waging wars and training room clearing (led by SWARTA instructor Alwin Goethals who is also a police officer) using nerf guns.
I also had some very rewarding discussions with both Lee, Lopes, Alwin and Ties during the weekend, about fencing and life in general. This, that i get to meet so many interesting people from all over the world, and become friends with them, is probably one of the biggest reasons I love HEMA so much. Having access to so many interesting persons with various backgrounds, skills and ideas, is invaluable, and extremely enriching for me as a person.
Lopes students deserve special a special recognition, I have met several of them at earlier larger events and tournaments, and I already knew that Ties Kool, Sverre, Rory and Arnault were very competent fighters, and they did not dissapoint, but Lopes other students who i had not met earlier also showed a very high skill level across the board, giving good credits to their teacher and his method.
Hopefully I will be able to get down to Holland again this fall, if I do I’ll type down a more detailed description of AMEK aswell.