Keith Ducklin, Royal Armoruies Workshop with ARMA
March 11, 2000, Houston, Texas

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kd21jpg.jpg (20862 bytes)On Saturday, March 11, 2000, Houston ARMA (at the time "HACA")  sponsored a special one-day seminar featuring Keith Ducklin, Senior Fight Interpreter of the Royal Armories in Leeds, England. Mr. Ducklin gave a rare workshop on the John Waller Method of Historical Fencing. This unique event focused on unarmored Great-Sword followed by Armored Great-Sword, and then basic rapier & dagger. This was one of only two unique workshops Mr. Ducklin, recently featured on The History Channel’s Arms in Action series, gave in America during the year 2000 (his first trip to the US). It was an unprecedented opportunity to see first hand the Royal Armouries’ method and receive hands-on instruction in person.

p0003184.jpg (26050 bytes)Among the 62 attendees the variety present was noticeable. Many attendees were from Texas and Louisiana, but a few came from as far as Arizona and Nevada. The workshop brought together western martial artists, historical reenactors, and fight directors to witness one of the expertise of the Royal Armouries Fight Interpretation Team. The seminar validated the importance of combining the academic research into those manuals with the physical application of those techniques in free-play sparring and training exercises as the only means of truly understanding the historical masters’ intent. Mr. Ducklin distinguished between historical fencing and arranged performance fighting, and also emphasized that it is possible to perform an entertaining and exciting theatrical combat presentation while still adhering and displaying the proper effective techniques detailed by manuals and the actual handling qualities of real weapons. He first covered general principles of the Waller method as used at the Armouries, then provided demonstrations and instruction on techniques. This was followed by a safe, fluid, and yet arranged combat routine based upon them.

kdandgt.jpg (30884 bytes)The event opened with John Clements, Director of ARMA offering a welcome to everyone and an overview of the Royal Armouries and their Fight Interpretation program, and then on the ARMA’s own premise and methodology. After his opening remarks, Dr. Michael Lacy of Postern Tours gave a short introduction on European arms & armor travel tours and his research. Michael regularly volunteers at the Wallace Collection Museum in England. After this, Christian Darce gave a quick introduction to Purpleheart Armouries wooden swords and wasters and described their advantage for sword and dagger training. An additional merchant or two was on hand to sell books and blades. A special video of the Royal Armories fight interpretation team was then shown followed by Mr. Ducklin’s arrival.

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p0003186.jpg (26343 bytes)Mr. Ducklin began with some rather flattering remarks on how impressed he was with the ARMA study approach and with ARMA free-play (sparring) in particular. He then gave a brief introduction to the Waller Method of Combat. Due to the size of the group and the limitations of the room, the group was split into two sections. One went outside in an adjacent field to practice great-sword techniques with Mr. Ducklin and the other group stayed inside for an introduction to the ARMA approach to Rapier from Mr. Clements. It was a beautiful sunny and cool Houston day outside, and Mr. Ducklin began by stating the base of four main concepts that much of their swordplay is designed around: Always maintain eye contact; Balance - always attack with the sword then with the body; At the beginning and end of each move both feet should be firmly planted on the floor (not on the balls of your feet); Intent - Know your intent and your opponents intent in order to coordinate techniques. Mr. Ducklin’s basic great-sword sequence consisted of:

Attacker (A) - Start with sword in shoulder, left foot forward, pass forward and attack partners rear leg.

Counter Attacker (CA) - Passing traverse Hanging Block.
CA - Pass forward and attack rear leg.
A - Passing traverse Hanging Block.
A - Pass forward and cut straight down at head.
CA - Passing traverse with a slopping parry on the flat.
CA - Pass forward and horizontal cheek cut.
A - Pass back and high opposition parry with the edge of the ricasso.
A - Gleisarde and then thrust.
CA - Pass back and circular parry from above.
CA - Pass forward and cut straight down at head.
A - Pass back and high guard.
A - Pass forward, beat with guard and pommel strike to face.

kdsem3.jpg (34753 bytes)These actions were executed in order to keep most of the action circular and allow the students to coordinate each of their attacks. Each attack was to be done at a specific target in order for the opponent to counter it. Some attacks were intentionally thrown slightly off-target for the sake of safety. At each of those movements, Mr. Ducklin would first show the correct and proper target if fighting other than for staged display –usually a little over or short of the person’s body.

kdsem1.jpg (27388 bytes)While Mr. Ducklin did his work, in the ballroom, Mr. Clements held a brief introduction to the ARMA Rapier System, covering how the work of the Royal Armouries and ARMA complimented one other. Going over the history, legends, and myths of the weapon, as well as its geometry, he lectured on how a rapier really works, why was it designed the way it was, and how it was employed in its particular context. He then went over some of the basic techniques and some Gioco Stretto (close-play) and disarms. Matt Hauser of Houston-ARMA got twisted up in a few knots helping in the demos and it all went over very well. The distinct approach ARMA has toward the rapier as an urban "fighting weapon" rather than just a aristocratic dueling tool was conveyed. The traditionally ignored close-in techniques of rapier street-fighting, much pioneered by ARMA, were emphasized. After the demo and discussions, since some members of the SCA as well and others had as well as the ARMA had equipment, there was some brief time to cross swords in free-play sparring.

kd3.jpg (46954 bytes)An open-invitation lunch was held at a nearby BBQ restaurant. Returning afterwards, Mr. Ducklin came inside to begin his Rapier lesson while Mr. Clements went outside to do ARMA long-sword demonstrations. The Waller rapier program had a similar number of steps to the great-sword involved that required that involved both the attacker and defender to do the proper sequence of moves. Since the room was not quite large enough, about 8 pairs of students each practiced a few steps of the routine before swapping off with the others. Some of these techniques involved some fancy footwork, but most of the fighting was significantly more linear. A few harassing cuts were made while a crossed sword and dagger parry counters that move. A kick to the legs was even done at one time. In one encounter, an inexperienced student pierced another straight through the finger with a just purchased sharp pointed rapier!

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p0003146.jpg (15374 bytes)Outside, to a group of about 15 attendees John Clements went over some of the long-sword guards, cuts, thrusts, and counters as expressed in period manuals. He then instructed in basic close-in Schwertnemen (sword-taking) techniques which made a big impression on the students, demonstrating incorrect balance and at one point managed to remove a persons shoe with a throw and then "attack" his "unarmored" foot! The classes continued until about 4:30 pm and were followed by about 25 attendees went to a local Mexican restaurant for discussions on swords, armour, and more swords with Mr. Ducklin, who at one point retrieved a balloon sword and swung it around with a passion.

p0003189.jpg (16591 bytes)This was a rare chance to meet Mr. Ducklin and experience his knowledge and expertise, witnessed the ARMA method taught by John Clements, as well as gather and play with fellow historical swordplay enthusiasts. The event was a popular success and will be followed up by future ARMA-Royal Armoruies collaboration.

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