This year I will once again be going to Michigan for summer sword training. I wrote about this back in 2008 in a series of posts beginning with “And So, It Begins…”. Should you make the opportunity for it, this is an amazing summer adventure vacation that will teach you much and probably leave you with lifelong friendships. I’m posting a heads-up because I think many of my regulars would find it interesting.
Since 2008 the school I used to train with has fissioned. There are now two schools descended from it; Sal Sanfratello runs one and his former chief instructor Heather Fish the other. Sal kept the Aegis name, Heather the training facility and most of the senior instructors. There are people who train and hang out with both groups; my wife and I are among them.
Heather’s group, Polaris Fellowship of Weapons Study, will be running their Summer Weapons Retreat June 23rd to June 27nd. Sal’s, Aegis proper, is running their Sword Camp in July; I’ve forgotten the exact date and it’s not on their Sword Camp page, but I’ll post it in an update as soon as I dig it up.
My wife Cathy and I will be at the Polaris event, as I was last year. I wanted to do Sal’s this year, but I discovered I had a schedule conflict that week when Sal first announced his date.
I’m not going to recommend one over the other, if only because I have good relations with both schools and want to keep it that way. But even if I were willing to risk alienating one of two good friends, I’d be hard put to say which is “better”. Sal and Heather are both superb instructors, they’re teaching the same basic curriculum, and the schools haven’t had time to evolve very far apart yet. (I know this because while I missed Sal’s last camp I hang out at Aegis demos – I wore the Aegis staff shirt and helped Sal run a panel on duelling at Penguicon last weekend).
The differences are at this point still largely stylistic. Sal, and his training, have a bit more of a masculine military edge, while Heather is moving her group towards being a bit more like a conventional martial-arts school attractive to health-and-wellness types (including designing a belt-rank system, though that hasn’t been fielded yet). It is unlikely that Heather’s group will teach classes on improvised munitions or advanced firearms…on the other hand, she has more depth on the instructors’ bench and kept the physical site that did a lot to make previous Sword Camps memorable.
Either way, you will train intensively for a solid week in combat skills with sword and shield. The training weapon is a boffer that simulates a cut-and-thrust transitional sword from around 1500; the base style is southern Italian. Shields are 24″-to-26″-diameter and round, with an active parrying technique. Swordplay and weapons quite like these were central to European combat for a thousand years, from the late Iron Age to the end of the Renaissance. You will have some opportunity to learn other related styles as well: notably single sword without shield and close fighting with short blades. This is a battlefield style, not a stylized dueling form; you will fight in the round, and both schools do a lot with formation tactics and fighting in groups.
I’m recommending either one. They both have slots for Basic training still open, though that may not be true for long; more than about four Basic-level students each is not really feasible with the headcount of instructors either school has available. The (overlapping) student populations are not a bad reason to show up in themselves, as they are (a) selected for intelligence, (b) serious, self-motivated martial artists, and (c) usually science-fiction fans, and/or SCA types, and/or neopagans, and/or gamer-geeks. Seldom have I known a more interesting group of folks to hang with.
As both schools are selective, you must apply and provide character references. Contact addresses are on the websites previously referenced. Previous martial-arts background is helpful but not necessary. You must be able to handle an instructional style that is both information-dense and relatively nondirective and self-paced – the physical exercises may resemble boot camp but the intellectual level is more like a college seminar.
Physically and mentally challenging? Oh yes…you’ll work hard, you’ll play hard, you’ll have a helluva good time, and you’ll leave walking just a bit taller than you came in.