July saw an excellent Symposium in Atlanta, this year following a more HEMA-style focus.
The first SSG Symposium was way back in 2001; we had 134 participants back then, flying instructors in from all over the world. Since 2008 the Symposiums have been smaller, more focused affairs, rotating between SSG groups. Always they feature classes, discussion, individual coaching, and at least one tournament or feat of arms. This year was no exception! Put together on relatively short notice, SSG Atlanta did yeoman's work bringing off an outstanding event.
Held once again at Deer Lick Regional Park in Douglasville, GA, Saturday opened with a fine class by Bernadette Tix, instruttore and study group leader for Anchorage, Alaska, who also came the farthest to attend. BJ's much-anticipated class was on self-defense applications of the SSG's interpretation of Fiore, and she absolutely did not disappoint!
After a short break, Josh Beck offered a talk on the possible effects on fighting technique based on historical clothing, a topic of interest to the SSG and previously, to the Company of Saint George in the 1990s (it's the reason we've long advocated students acquire a historically accurate gambeson and medieval-style shoes, though this has fallen out of fashion in many groups in recent years). Josh's enthusiastic talk provoked lively discussion and might be the basis for much future research.
After lunch and a move down to the other gym, just a few hundred meters away, was the tournament. An innovative format devised by Darren Foley, it leveraged much from current HEMA practice, blended with an element of a feat of arms for the finals.
Combatants fought in two pools, as is customary for HEMA tournaments today. There were two sets of combats in each pool, longsword and sword and buckler. Each was fought as a "bear pit," where every combatant fought every other, one time each, and the total points won determined the first and second place combatants for that weapon form in each pool. There were a few issues with this, though. Combatants could fight either with rebated steel feder-type weapons or with what I'm now calling "weapons of baleen"--synthetics, in this case the nylon Penti-style weapons. I found the switching back and forth between fights a little odd, but workable.
A little more disappointing was the fact that each fight was done to the first hit, and there was a variable point scale depending upon what precisely was struck. This proved a bit confusing for many, which I though distracted a little from the fighting as combatants strove to figure out what just happened in terms of points. Maybe some refinement here--perhaps just using simple strikes to any target. Blows to the back of the head were in theory not allowed, nor were blows below the waist counted, which I also found a little strange. The idea was to encourage better fighting through the points structure, but I don't have a clear view as to whether or not this worked. Personally, I prefer a more free-form system where the focus is on the fighting itself, rather than on complicated point structures - but this was of course much fun nonetheless.
Because the fighting was done to just the first strike, however, there was little time to get to "martially know" one's opponent. I heard wistful comments about this from a number of combatants. Recommend running at least to three good blows, to give enough time for a fight to develop. It was done to one blow for time, which I certainly appreciate - doing it to three blows would have been really tough for the first and second men in the box, who fought the whole rest of the field. Not sure this was precisely fair to those combatants energy-wise, but I didn't hear any complaints!
Out of this came four semi-finalists--two from each pool--who fought to advance to the final four. In longsword, first place went to Sam Sprull; 2nd to Brian R. Price; and 3rds to David Morgan and Bryan Johnson. In sword and buckler, Bryan Johnson took first; Greg Golter took second; with BJ Tix and Cody Martin taking 3rds.
The finals were interesting, if long! Fought with a series of weapons, the idea was to prevail in a grueling test with spears, longsword, sword in one hand, and dagger. Beginning with spear (lanze), and fought to three good blows now instead of one, the winner would take up the next weapon "down" while the one defeated retained the current weapon. Therefore, it was theoretically possible for a combatant to face the lanze with the dagger, if they had won all three bouts. This did provide a very good sense of skill with mismatched and matched weapons, and it required good medieval endurance.
These fights were excellent. I had the pleasure of facing--once again--Sam Sprull; in the fight with spears I barely prevailed 3-2, barely lost with the longsword v. Sam's lanza 2-3, then essentially went out to a TKO really good blow to the side of the mask at 2-2 longsword. While I'm more convinced than ever that reinforced fencing masks aren't a good defense choice for properly kinetic Fiore-style longsword, the fight was fun and there are no hard feelings with Sam delivering a super-good blow to the side/back of the mask as I passed for a strike of my own. Great fight!
In the other semi-final, Bryan Johnson was able to fight Greg Golter, his SCA knight of more than thirty years. This was the first time that the two had fought in a tournament in at least twenty years, so there was something a bit fairy-tale in their meeting in the semi-finals. These fights were also close, with Bryan prevailing and going on to win the finals, with Sam Sprull taking second in what was a superb display of prowess and endurance for all three of my fellow finalists.
That evening, we retired to the home of Ed Wells, where tatami and watermelon had been prepared for an orgy of sharp cutting. No injuries were had, and everyone was able to cut at least one mat. The dinner was catered by Ed's mom, and it was delicious! Everyone eventually retired to their respective lodgings.
On Sunday, I began with a class in the lanza, presenting my punta longa material as a master class to a group of ten, who then sparred. We covered fundamentals of the "common" spear, including fighting spear in a group, near and far distance, and took a sneak peak at Fiore's rebattendo from posta di finestra destra, which seemed to prove intriguing to a number of the students. This leveraged work done in April, where we produced not only four spear modules for review, but also Andrew's spada en arme material. I hope we can get Andrew out to present Spada en Arme next year!
Darren Foley then presented his work on Filippo Vadi. More than forty years after Fiore, Vadi seems to have taken Fiore's approach and modified it for use in the salon. Guards are higher, oriented for speed, with the stances narrow and the footwork less focused on stabilitas and more on movement. After anchoring the fundamentals in Fiore, Vadi represents an excellent way to adapt Fiore for the HEMA environment. This class was very well received.
Bryan Johnson then offered the final class in his Vadi tactics, which applies directly to the HEMA environment. This too was well received. We hope that notes on this will get formally completed so we can add them to our resources for all those who could not attend.
Along the way, three compagni were able to test for their ellefante; Tom and Robert Knighton, from the small group in Albion, GA, and David from Pensacola. Tom and Robert were self-directed, and assisted by Ed Wells (SSG Atlanta); David was trained by Josh Beck, formerly of SSG Honolulu but now in Pensacola. Sunday, Shawn Edwid did an exceptional test for Scolaro Minore (blue), while Bernadette Tix amply demonstrated her abilities in the tournament and in free sparring, combined with her class, to earn the first Primo Scolaro recognized in some time. All the promotions are a credit to their instructors, and to the dedication shown by each of the candidates.
All in all it was a weekend well worth the time. Here are some things heard about the event. As Tom Knighton, Study Group Leader for the Albion, GA study group put it, "It was a great time. I'd like to thank the Atlanta SSG group for putting what seemed to me to be one hell of a Symposium...whoever hosts next year is going to have one hell of a time trying to top it!"