Every month in SFX we feature a page with your pen pal requests, fanzine details and club shout-outs. In the latest issue (SFX 164, on sale from Wednesday 21 November) we hear from the European Historical Combat Guild ( www.ehcg.net ). Ever wondered how you might learn to fight with a sword and shield, or staff? With groups near Liverpool, Leeds and throughout Europe, the EHCG can help you get started. We spoke to organiser Duncan McEvoy about why you might want to join a group near you, and while some of his advice made it into the magazine, for reasons of space the rest of our Q&A is here:
What's the group all about?
Duncan McEvoy: "The group hopes to bring back to life Europe's lost martial arts. Almost all other cultures have a long tradition of teaching and learning martial arts, and yet despite the movies' obsession with medieval sword-fighting, most of Europe's martial arts were lost a long time ago. So we tend to concentrate on the medieval period as we actually have some historical evidence for it all. Also we grew up watching King Arthur and Robin Hood films, and reading Lord of the Rings, so most people tend to look to this era. Even most role playing games, PC and console games use the styling and weapons from this era as a starting point. Almost every person I have met during my time studying combat knows this quote by heart: 'Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…'"
Who's involved, and how long have you been running groups?
DM: "It was formed in 2000 by three people: John Waller, who has over 40 years experience as a fight choreographer for TV and theatre, plus, until recently, he was the head of the interpretation department of the Royal Armouries; his son Jonathan Waller who also works in film, plus teaches at theatre schools; and Steve Tappin, a man with a lifetime's experience of real combat and fighting, plus great knowledge of martial arts."
"They had one thing in common: a love of old European weapons and all the films and book we grew up with. They decided it was time people actually understood European historical combat and formed a group that was dedicated to studying how it was actually done. And so the Guild was born as a place were people would have the chance to exchange knowledge and ideas - it would also encourage discussion between academics and the practitioners of the physical skills associated with historical combat, in order to facilitate an overall improvement in the understanding of the subject."
What inspired you personally to start, and what did you hope to achieve?
DM: "Since I was a kid watching Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, even El Cid, I have always wanted to know how you fight with a sword and shield - but there was no were I could go to learn it. I was never interested in fencing as a sport. I got into role playing games and computer games, but also the history relating to it. In 2000 I went with some friends to the Royal Armouries in Leeds to look around. As we entered the building we heard a noise coming from a hall just off from the main entrance way. We had a look in and it was a hall filled with people fighting - like a medieval version of the room Bond often walks into with lots people training! I was hooked - I found out who they were and joined up on the spot."
How many members do you have?
DM: "We have nine full members, but the Guild as a whole has about 80 full members in chapters all over Europe. We have three chapters in the UK (at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, mine in Liverpool, and one in Jersey), plus Jonathan in London teaches on an ad-hoc basis. We will also have another soon in Conwy in Wales and one in Northern Ireland."
What could a new member expect to experience during their first meeting with you guys?
DM: "With any new member I have a quick conversation to find out who they are, what they want from the Guild and any experience they have. I would then teach them some very simple footwork while explaining the principles of fighting with a weapon. I will then get a sword in their hands as soon as possible. After all, that's what we are all there for! As a minimum I will teach them a basic attack and defence, then get them paired with someone who they can then train with, performing basic attacks and defence."
You're mostly about historical combat - will fantasy fans feel out of place?
DM: "We concentrate on historical combat as we are investigating how to actually use these weapons in combat. Fantasy fans will feel right at home for a few reasons: firstly, we all have at least some background in fantasy fiction, as we all have that frustrated kid inside us waving a stick around trying to be a Jedi or a knight! Also, two of our founders are from an entertainment background so we often reference these areas. Sometimes as examples of what not to do, but sometimes to point out that good stage fighting has all the basic principles of real combat, just with a few bells and whistles added to make it look good for an audience! Thirdly, many live action role-playing or re-enactors train with us."
What sort of equipment does a new member need and will it cost them a lot of money to take part?
DM: "As a new member, all a person needs is something comfortable to train in. All the weapons are provided by us. If they carry on the training we advise people buy their own weapons but this can be done much later on. We have links to many manufactures and sellers and can get good discounts for members. We will also advise on which are the better weapons to train with."
Thanks Duncan! Check out their web site ( www.ehcg.net ) or e-mail Duncan at email@example.com for more information. They have groups near Liverpool, Leeds, and throughout Europe. And don't forget, if you run a club and want to recruit new members, we'll tell people about it in the mag.