OK, so imagine you could go on vacation with a bunch of your best friends, all of whom are either (a) science fiction fans, (b) software geeks, (c) advanced martial artists, or (d) usually, some combination of the above. Now imagine that you get to spend a solid week with these people learning stuff like how to fight with a sword, military tactical hand signals, pistolcraft, stealthy movement in wooded country, emergency field medicine, and how to improvise an incendiary mortar with soda cans and gasoline-soaked tennis balls.
I don’t have to imagine this, because I get to live it. It’s Sword Camp 2008, my fourth, the morning of Day One. I am still happily digesting the marinated steak that Sal Sanfratello, the founder/head of the school grilled for all of us late last night over a campfire. That was probably one of my better ideas; Sal had turned his ankle a few days previous and when I suggested that some red meat would be good for accelerating the healing process his lovely and buxom lady Heather (also Chief Instructor) seized upon the plan with glee.and alacrity.
Doug the Death Turtle, instructor and…ineffably strange person…is already here. Jordan Malokowski (aka “Captain Oblivious”) and his wife Karen and their precocious kid Cat materialized for the barbeque; as Karen did bellydance moves by the campfire light, Jordan and I plotted to set up some strategy gaming later in the week. Rob Landley (yes, the Busybox maintainer who’s been a principal in all those GPL lawsuits recently) and his wife Fade-the-Cat are expected but not due until early Saturday morning.
Right at the moment we’re in our friend Scott Kennedy’s kitchen. He and his wife Diane live six miles from the site and generally lend us a place to stay. Scott is happily showing off his new swordfighting shirt, a tight black sleeveless number that is in the best assassin-chic tradition of Sword-Camp fashion. “It makes you look badass,” my wife Cathy acknowledges.
Diane snorts. “I know him for real,” she says. Scott, grinning, says “Hey, I can be badass and still be afraid of you.” Which is very true; Scott is a fast, sneaky, and ruthless fighter, as I have cause to know.
I myself am wearing a new pair of fighting pants I got from SWAT-gear catalogue. Black, of course. The special loops and pockets they carry for pistol gear are well adapted for carrying swords and daggers as well; I haven’t installed the kneepads yet. And yes, kneepads are functional; in this fighting style, if you take a lower-leg hit you’re expected to continue fighting from your knees.
The school teaches a system that’s based on Sicilian cut-and-thrust swordfighting from c.1500 and incorporates several substyles including sword and shield, single-sword, sword and main gauche, two-sword Florentine, great-sword, and various polearms. But we’re not exactly just historical fencers. Sal is former military and more interested in teaching good combat reflexes than re-enactment, so our training incorporates the jujitsu he learned, and firearms, and various other bits and pieces from Asian martial arts.
A few of those bits and pieces are mine. I’m the school’s only guest instructor; in previous years I’ve taught units on escrima (Philippine stick-fighting) and board-breaking, and this year I’m doing one on “Japanese Sword For Western Swordsmen”. That should be fun.
Everyone is praying the weather holds. Michigan is extremely hot and wet in the summer; last year’s camp came perilously close to being shut down by brutal humidity, but we might get a break this year; it’s only supposed to hit the eighties Fahrenheit.
Yeah. I’m ready. It’s time to fight.