I Didn’t Even Know They Were There!

Thirty years ago, I gave up fencing.

two fencers goin at it

This wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the experience, because I most certainly did.  There was just something about a martial art that dominated the battlefield for thousands of years, building or toppling empires and changing the very course of human history, that spoke to me ALL IN CAPS!

There was a problem in that I was interested in fencing as a martial art, while just about everyone else was dedicated to making it a non-violent sport.  Electric jackets and swords with extension cords.  Brush the tip across the garment and make a buzzer sound.  Hey, you won!  Never mind that there wasn’t enough force behind the attack to pop a soap bubble, the buzzer doesn’t lie!  All hail the buzzer!

Oh, there were a few people around who claimed that they were recreating historical combat techniques, but the extreme use of padded rattan and duct tape in the construction of their gear clearly showed that such claims were tenuous at best.

sca armor with broad gaps in the breastplate and hocky gloves

That armor has some pretty serious gaps!  Even so, it is perfectly suited to stop blows from wooden rods that were about an inch thick.

sca swords made from rattan and duct tape

Not very martial artsy, is it?  Still, it was the only game in town.  So I dabbled in it until I grew weary of the dissonance, and then drifted away.  I thought that Columbus, Ohio would forever be an empty and yawning void so far as Western martial arts were concerned.

Boy, was I wrong!

the instructors demonstrate a move

A comment left on this blog led me to the Royal Arts Fencing Academy on Wednesday evening.  This is a place that specializes in traditional sport fencing.  You know, the stuff that left me cold three decades ago.

sport fencing in the background

But the owners are not at all adverse to allowing others to use their facilities, even if those others are dedicated to the preservation of the warrior arts.

sword and buckler used in tandem

going stabby in the chest

The solidly built gentleman on the left is Frank Zamary, one of the instructors.  The luckless fellow getting his shirt poked is Jaron Bernstein, another instructor.  After talking to them, I can attest that they really know their stuff!

1467 illustration of an underarm bind using a sword and buckler

An illustration of an underarm bind from 1467.  It is no accident that it looks similar to the previous picture, as both Jaron and Frank are meticulous when it comes to researching time-proven techniques.

They were both extremely welcoming, and very kind.  I had mentioned an interest in the use of sword and buckler some months ago, and when they heard I was coming they decided to have a class on the use of those very weapons.

a collection of bucklers

sword and buckler used in tandem

The swords used are blunt training versions, edgeless and dull yet still weighted and balanced like the real thing.  Nylon swords are available in case someone has a problem with the clash of metal blades, no matter how dulled they may be.

some of the swords used for training

nylon swords next to a blunt practice blade

I was extremely impressed with the way that Jaron and Frank conducted themselves.  They are delighted by the interest shown by others in their art, and are dedicated to helping others realize their potential.

face punch with buckler

Unlike other martial arts dojos I have visited, the focus is on the development of skills instead of stroking egos.  In fact, I am certain that they will be puzzled that I even brought this subject up.  (“What does he mean by that?  There can be no ego when one practices this art!“)

The class meets at 5770 Westbourne Ave., Columbus, Ohio every Wednesday, 6:30 – 8:30 PM.  The exterior is somewhat less than impressive, as it is located in the back row of a cinderblock strip mall.

outside the royal arts academy

outside the royal arts academy 2

outside the royal arts academy 3

But don’t let the drab facade fool you, as there is a well equipped salle d’armes to be found inside.

Neither Jaron nor Frank accept money for their efforts, but the owners of the Royal Arts Academy charge each attendee $50.00 USD per month for the use of their facilities.  Equipment is provided in case you don’t have any personal gear.  If this sounds at all appealing to you, and you live in the Columbus, Ohio area, the first step would be to show up wearing exercise clothes and see if it aligns with your interests.  Tell them Rummel sent you!

Does that mean I will be there?  Wish that I could, but my job keeps me away.  Hopefully something else will come along to pay the bills with a more amenable schedule.

12 thoughts on “I Didn’t Even Know They Were There!

  1. Look up Battle of the Nations on Youtube–national teams have at it in full armor and real weapons. The Russians use the halberd to great effect–opponents go down like they’d been, well, poleaxed.

    There is a US team, looks like fun, with lots of blood, brusing, etc.:


    Great vid on the front page at that site.

  2. I did the fencing thing 40+ years back. Mostly we worked without the electrics because I was learning and eventually teaching at the local PAL facility.
    We were lucky in that several former Olympic/world class fencers lived in the area at the time and would come down occasionally to help out – as did several of the local college teams as well.
    I remember watching a 60+ y/o Italian dude beating the snot out of one of the college guys in a demo. He never moved from where he took his stance while letting the college guy do all the work. Later he showed us a few of the books he had written on fencing, saber, and epee, heh, heh, heh.

  3. I managed to fence some worthy opponents in foil and sabre, and I got plenty of pokes and whacks. Still, as you say, it is sometimes more an art form than a martial art. And clearly, what you do on a fencing strip could get you killed if the blades were real–sharp and pointy

    That was the first thing I learned: Don’t Do This In Real Life; that’ll be my blood flowing from my body on the ground.

  4. What I found especially interesting was that much later when I was playing around with escrima(stick fighting), many of the blocks and moves in that form mirrored those used in fencing/saber/epee.

  5. Hope you enjoy it, James! Sounds like fun.

    I did kendo for a number of years, and would still practice if there was a dojo within 80 miles, but it too is an art based on fencing rather than mortal wounds. However, it is pretty darn intense combat and a vigorous workout.

  6. Did it 33-some years ago in College under US Silver medalist the late Charles Selberg (RIP) and it taught a lot, the rule of right-of-way is never forgotten. Had a lot of red spots after each bout, we didn’t have any electrical equipment – or Charles never thought we were that worthy.

    • I stared sport fencing in earnest (having mucked about a a bit beforehand at school) in Scotland in 1989. It was a year or two before electric equipment started to turn up in sabre competitions, and I think it very much spoiled things. Not only was it unreliable, causing much time to be wasted, but it allowed all manner of dodgy technique to be used. Therefore, you probably benefitted from missing it.

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