International - Longsword Seminar Report
San Francisco, May 2001
Reviews and Comments:
"SFI Longsword Seminar - SMASHING SUCCESS!"
Wow! What an incredible day! People from all over the San Francisco
Bay Area converged on the SFI Longsword Seminar, and it was huge success and smashing hit!
Normally you may hear about 6, 12, 15, 20, 22, 25 people attending a seminar in a
particular area. At the SFI Seminar, 42-44 people showed up! The attendees represented
perhaps the largest turnout at an event solely featuring guest instructor John Clements
(Director of The Historical Armed Combat Association - http://www.thearma.org/)
The attendees were all of different backgrounds (ranging from Japanese arts like kenjutsu,
kendo, Iaido and Karate to European style stage combat), each at varying levels of skill.
John's dynamic presentation was met with the same high energy level from the participants
and before long people were able to paired off and perform historical martially-sound
attacks, safely and at full speed.
John delved into a fusion of German and Italian methodologies, unfolding an extremely rich
European martial heritage, showing moves seldom seen in today's entertainment industry. As
SFI's hybrid seminars are geared to both the serious martial artist as well as the
professional fight choreographer, the fighting methods were not only well emulated by the
participants but the plethora of attacks, counter attacks, guards, etc. could greatly
enhance any choreographed fight sequence, bringing logical fight flow, increased realism,
authenticity and dramatic value to the big screen.
He brought the audience through various manuals of the period fencing masters,
cross-referencing them among each other, including the change with the span of time. This
created a comprehensive an authentic backdrop to each marital move and concept.
The feedback from the attendees were overwhelmingly positive. The participants were
extremely nice, and each had such a high level of enthusiasm that it could be felt as one
entered the facilities and seeing such a diversity among the people who all had the same
love, vision and interest. Though we had only scratched the surface with our first seminar
ever, the response was extremely favorable to both followup Medieval Longsword Seminars as
well as our upcoming SFI Chinsese Swordsmanship Seminar with Scott Rodell (for those
interested in learning more about the actual arts behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
and SFI Samurai Battlefield Combat Seminar with Dale Seago.
I had never seen John in person, and I must say that the books are only a small drop in
the bucket compared with John himself. With mirth and humor in his delivery, I could see
that people were very drawn in to both historical knowledge and practicality behind the
martial art. As John pointed out that these techniques were directly derived from manuals
versus reflecting techniques adapted from modern sport saber or small sword as much of
stage combat is today, those attendees from a choreography background who may have been
new to many of the martial fighting concepts were able to perform them extremely well
under John's expert instruction. The Seminar felt like a 300 mph bullet-train ride with
all exhiliration and more. Eyes were truly opened seeing and understanding that the
Medieval Longsword martial arts is both an art and a science.
Dale Seago was very delighted with the seminars and said that it was exactly what he hoped
for, an opportunity to embrace our true European martial heritage. (I said
"our." Sorry. I forget sometimes that I'm Chinese! But I own a kilt, does that
Dale and I shared many private comments back and forth - some of the advanced concepts in
Samurai feudal-era battlefield fighting bears many similarities to what John was teaching.
Though John didn't necessarily verbally cover these concepts today, his movements conveyed
a highly effective practical understanding; his technique was extremely refined - and this
gives me extreme hope that European martial arts is not crude or cumbersome as sometimes
depicted in movies, nor is it necessarily flowery and showy, but that European
swordsmanship does not play second fiddle to any Asian sword art.. In fact, we noticed
similarities to some ancient Chinese straight longsword techniques of 900 A.D.
demonstrated on a video entitled "Ken, Tachi, Katana" by Masaaki Hatsumi (where
the sword - or "ken" - has a straight blade and a wheel pommel but the
crossguard isn't as long as a European sword's). It was evident from John's presentation
that the European masters were fully capable of fluidity and precision and devastating
speed, scientific, yet an art.
All of Christian Darce's wooden swords (Purpleheart Armoury - http://www.woodensword.com)
sold. Christian could not make it to the SFI Seminar so mailed them ahead (cool, now I get
to keep these nice long boxes for myself!). Christian's workmanship in these swords were
excellent, and handled the many blows I received from John Clements in demoing opposite
him extremely well. Very durable, great balance, and we will definitely be recomending
Purpleheart Armoury as our preferred supplier for our future SFI Longsword Seminars.
We also sold a bunch of SFI t-shirt and longsleeved sweatshirts. Swordsmen were never
smarter looking after the attendees put them on! John has an SFI shirt (you know the Grid
Logo one in our Online Store) and I have a red HACA shirt. Now I'm afraid that if I wear
it, some Klingon will "waporize" me! (Just kidding, HACA!)
Doug Lanza, the Vice President of WYSIWYG Filmworks spoke in place of Richard Gazowsky
(President of WYSWIG Filmworks and Director of "Guardians"). Doug spoke on
having a vision and dream and having that nurtured, especially when people in life often
times step over you or try to crush your dream. SFI has definitely been a vision I've
cradled through difficulty for three years. This tremendously successful seminar was its
firstfruits. So thanks to all of you who attended. If you attendees are reading this, we'd
really like to get your feedback and comments, as we are going to speak to John to return
to the San Francisco Bay Area for follow-up Seminars. We have only barely skimmed the
surface, and there is a tremendous depth we have not begun a deep-sea dive for!
Also special thanks to Matt Crawford for an excellent job at putting the Seminar together,
answering phone inquiries and coordinating and tailoring to everyone's needs. I had
originally wondered if we could even get 20, and we've got more than double that!
This has been one of the most rewarding projects, next to seeing a successful launch of
our new forums. I am extremely enthused about future SFI Longsword Seminars, and the SFI
Chinese Swordsmanship ("Mi Chuan") Seminar, and also the SFI Samurai Battlefield
Anna Budd, an attendee, said this about the Seminar: "Life-changing!"
"Another point of worthy mention" [re: GaryG]
I've mentioned in my own post that European sword martial arts does
not in any way play second fiddle to Japanese or Asian swordsmanship. The unfortunate
thing is that European swordsmanship has the reputation of being brute-force, clumsy,
crude and unscientific, and this has been reinforced by Hollywood as much as the
hocus-pocus vanishing ninja is by Japan's movie-making industry.
It was exhilarating see John wield longswords, bastard swords and war swords with
tremendous ease and fluency and accuracy of motion, employing body physics and geometry of
movement. There is a concept sometimes touted by those who prefer Japanese arts that the
Japanese are the most refined, and if the public were to keep an open mind about their own
European heritage, they would see that the European sword arts were absolutely refined and
scientific, and yet were artistic, efficient and deadly. After all, if you consider the
minds that arose in the Renaissance period, think of the science and technology that
emerged as a result. And the frequency of wars drove the best minds to create the best
systems they possibly could to preserve their lives as well as their comrades and
families. And that's what made the seminar so enriching: the revelation that European
swordsmanship bears all these qualities, and we've only touched on the surface.
"Observations From the SFI Longsword Seminar"
Adrian or Genise will issue a
more comprehensive report later, but I wanted to go ahead and get some impressions out
while they're still fresh in my mind.
Nearly 45 people were in attendance, and it turned out that there was enough space for
those who wished to do so to "upgrade" to hands-on participation. This was my
first training session in any form of Western swordsmanship, and it certainly will not be
Hatsumi sensei emphasizes the ability to adapt one's taijutsu to any weapon used --
whether blades, flexible weapons, staff & polearms, or firearms -- to create the best
"match" maximizing the capabilities of both the weapon and the user. John
Clements is a superb martial artist and exemplifies this in his use of the longsword.
The seminar was everything I expected, and I felt very much at home. Certainly there are
differences between use of the longsword and use of Japanese swords, but these came across
to me as inevitable and logical given the nature of the weapons themselves. What really
struck me was that *everything* John showed -- postures, techniques, and fundamental
movement -- has a close analogue in Bujinkan kenjutsu. This applies even to back-cuts with
the secondary edge, which of course the katana or tachi does not have: the same movement,
including his use of the legs and spine, is used by us in deflecting and striking with the
mune. Even his transitions to striking & grappling, his use of the sword's guard in
moving the opponent's weapon and in disarms, etc., correspond to things we do. It all
points to a sort of "universality of what works" in combat.
John's use of distance and positioning, spatial relationships, timing, etc. are excellent
from a martial-effectiveness standpoint. He does not "waste" movement, either,
everything he does with his arms being well integrated with the movement of his entire
body for maximum efficiency. Were I to tell an onlooker from the Bujinkan that John has
studied the Bujinkan arts (which he has not) and ask him to guess which ryuha he'd focused
on based solely on his movement, use of body weight, legs & spine, etc., an
experienced practitioner would guess Kukishin and Gikan ryu. . .and would of course be
John also mentioned that the old manuals still extant contain at least as much material on
unarmed combat and use of other weapons (dagger work, polearms, etc.) as on swordsmanship
-- in other words, they depict completely integrated combat systems just as ours are --
and that HACA and others have barely scratched the surface of this material in terms of
translation and application. This REALLY has my mouth watering. Without having seen any
more, it is clear to me that Western medieval martial arts were, in their day, every bit
as sophisticated as the arts developed in Japan.
I'll close this by simply saying that anyone who wants to explore Western martial skills
should take any possible opportunity to train with John Clements.
Slainte agus saorsa,
JSA Forum Moderator
Author of -The Weapons and
Fighting Methods of the Highland Scots- SFMO Fall 1999 Issue
"The night before the SFI Longsword Seminar"
First we had a wonderful Chinese dinner, and then I had John Clements
over to check out some swords. He loved the Bob Engnath katana that I have and did some
incredible cuts in the air, and then we practiced for about 15 minutes since I'm going to
be his demo partner (i.e. whooping boy) tomorrow. Fortunately, when unbalanced or thrown,
I know how to roll out of them.
This is my first time face to face with John, though we've spoken at length over the
phone. I must say that in the 15 minute rundown on 18 different counterattacks to a
vertical or diagonal cut, I've learned more from him than I could imagine. His moves were
extremely precise and well executed; he had moved to a completely safe position for him -
and detrimental for me - before I had even blinked.
I had known that Medieval swordsmanship was an art but not such an incredible lively
science. These were the techniques that kept men on the battlefield alive and are thus a
far cry from etiquette swordplay or gentlemanly dueling. In less than a second, as
accurate as my cut might have been, I was either immobilized or my attack rendered
completely useless. His stance made him completely safe from my blade, and though I still
held it, I had no control over it any more. Some of the sword grappling and disarming
methods are different than what I've studied in old-style kenjutsu but frighteningly
effective. Now I have a new love (i.e. Medieval Longsword... er, not John himself!)
All in all, I can say that I gained more knowledge and excitement about the Medieval
Longsword than I have watching various choreographed stage combat routines. The many moves
we covered were are only the tip of the iceberg, and yet I can see how they can enhance
any choreography and bring any stage combatant up to the next level because these moves to
my memory have not yet been introduced to the big screen..
So give me a few days... I think Genise will be writing up the SFI Longsword seminar. And
John may post something on HACA's website (www.thearma.org) and then we'll REALLY see if
he REALLY liked the Chinese restaurants I took to!