News / Ottawa

Swordfighting school takes martial arts medieval

Secret sword fighting techniques passed down for 200 years in a poem by students of a German sword master will make getting medieval on your foes a whole lot easier when you learn them from Craig Shackleton.

"I like nothing better than when my students can hit me with a technique that I have taught them," said Shackleton, an amateur historian, who this Sunday will open Ottawa Swordplay, the city's first historical European martial arts school. "I really want to open this up to everybody. Kids and adults alike, anyone who has an interest in swordplay."

From 2 to 5 p.m., Jan. 20, the curious can drop by to try on reproduction armour, demonstrations of armored combat and to handle training swords and get a sense of what it was like to be a medieval warrior.

Based on the teachings of 14th century German fencing master Johannes Liechtenauer, whose students compiled his teachings into a poem they would memorize, Shackleton is adamant of pairing learning about the context of the history of the techniques with the moves themselves. "I love going through the manuscripts," he said. "This was secret knowledge for noblemen that you had to hire someone to teach you. You couldn't just learn it from a book."

Shackleton runs three classes on evenings through the week and one on Saturday afternoons and has lessons for adults and children six and up in his Young Knights and Warrior Princesses classes.

Students are taught how to wield the long-sword popular from 1350 to 1550, the basic principles of fighting and after four or five lessons are ready to start sparring with a blunt-edged steel replica. Children, of course, are given weighted foam replicas that feel like the real thing.

Shackleton's collection of replica swords are based on the designs of real artifacts from north and western Europe. "Plates like this one were found in Sweden," he said, taping the metal-backed studded leather breastplate of a full suit of armor he has collected. "Many of my pieces come from discussion groups online."

"It's interesting to teach people about a time when a legal dispute could lead to an armored duel,' Shackleton said, adding that classes run from $30 for a two hour introduction to $250 for a 20 class punch card trainees can cash in at anytime.

"It's an ongoing program," he said. "People can move up through the rank structure, but there is no beginning and no end to learning."

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