Review of Vanguard 2012

This week, James Taylor has kindly offered to review Vanguard 2012. For context, Vanguard is an event we run every year, geared towards providing beginners with as much to do over a weekend as is humanly possible. This year, we have also introduced the concept of streams, the challenge stream and the regular stream. Both streams took part in the same classes, but the challenge stream additionally took part in various extra challenging activities throughout the weekend.

Vanguard review

If you were to tell me a few years ago that I’d be lying on the floor in a room full of around 40 people at 5:55 on a Saturday morning, anticipating a less than tuneful bagpipe wake up call to start off an entire weekend of intense physical activity, I’d have thought you’d totally lost it. This however, was Vanguard 2012, and what I was waiting for was two whole days of historical European martial arts, a sort of festival of sword swinging with nine different disciplines on offer. For some reason I had decided the best way to jolt my less than athletic self into shape would be choosing the challenging stream of Vanguard, so 7 am saw me and the rest of the “challengers” getting ready to run, roll, crawl, slither, do press-ups and carry team mates in some suspect smelling mud. The challenging stream lived up to its name, and by the time the sun rose over the quad, I was knackered, drenched and covered in leaves, though feeling a sense of accomplishment that I’d never experienced that early in the morning before. Fortunately I had brought spare kit, so a few minutes later I was relatively warm and ready to start the first lesson: marching.

This felt a bit like a game of pac-man, with Aris commanding Azure lance between columns to get to the target, who ended up with three ranks of muskets pointed their way.

Peasant staff (the knobbly stick) was taught by Alex, it drew upon some of the mechanics I had seen in longsword and we soon appreciated the amount of momentum that could be generated this way. Though unfortunately we didn’t have time to get through everything that was planned, I’m looking forward to doing it again in the future, after all it is a weapon that grows on trees.

Next up was Tim Gallagher’s Italian longsword, a little different to the German school that we were used to. Most of the basic mechanics were familiar, but the style was refreshingly different. The different ways of dealing with a bind, not to mention the one handed techniques marked Fiore in my mind as a school I’d like to revisit. One of my favourite lessons.

After a lesson in Page’s broadsword, in which we learnt a disarming technique to look out for in sparring, it was time for lunch and a visit to the Kelvingrove museum. Ben’s tour of arms and armour debunked a great deal of history myths and brought a lot more meaning to the bits of wood we were training with. Armed with our new found historical knowledge, we headed to the last class of the day: broadsword and targe, where Ben cast us back to the battle of Killiecrankie, first as a young Donald McBane on the receiving end of a highland charge, and second as a fearsome highlander, with much shouting and clashing of wood.

The final challenge of the day was a series of drills shared between dagger, longsword, broadsword and peasant staff, but the only thing I really remember was holding hanging guard with the peasant staff for what seemed like an eternity! Afterwards came dinner, kit carrying and writing up diaries, along with a chance to try out some gear and weaponry from Corsair’s Wares. The padded sabers were a big hit and I tried on some fencing jackets, yet it was the wonderfully shaped wooden gladius that raised the most eyebrows!

The next morning, after another bagpipe wakeup call and hour of mud slogging, we had our second marching lesson, learning how to form companies and detachments. Vanguard Company looked quite fearsome at the end, bristling with pikes and muskets and making the rebel yell resonate all around the quads.

We began the second day’s classes with Mark’s lesson on the Bowie knife, a fearsome weapon with twelve cuts and a number of equally lethal defensive plays bringing new meaning to the word overkill. In halfswording we learnt several new ways to use a longsword, many of us especially liked the Mordschlag (I wonder why…).

Before lunch we had an hour to spar freely with longsword, broadsword and broadsword and targe. The challenging stream’s extra challenge was to do as much sparring as possible, which was just about the easiest challenge we could have had, not because it wasn’t challenging but because the sparring was simply that much fun! The clashing of wood and nylon turned a few heads among the passersby, though none of us cared particularly as we tried to put into practise some of the things we’d learnt and exchanged bruises in the process.

Polish sabre felt quite different to the broadsword, the wrist action especially took a bit of getting used to. By the end of the session though we’d got the hang of the circular motion of attack and defense, and learnt to the throw the “hellish Polish cut” with some success.

The quarter staff turned out to be completely different to the peasant staff though just as fun, especially one technique, which involved slamming the staff down on the ground, which we called the “Gandalf move” and had us wanting to shout “You shall not pass!”

Classes finished with Aris’s session on German longsword where we went over the zwerhaw and krumphaw and did some interesting drills, one ending with the much loved Mordschlag.

Here was where Vanguard began to come to an end, and after we had completed one final challenge it was time to head to the bar for the closing ceremony and some sorely needed beers. It had been a hugely enjoyable weekend while posing a serious physical and mental challenge, and I’d never have completed it without the rest of the keen participants and fantastic instructors, most notably the folk who had come down from Dundee. I can’t think how it would be possible to get any more HEMA into a single weekend, and now that the bruises and stiffness are gone I can say it has really improved my ability and confidence in martial arts. I must say I’m really keen to get onto this “camp” people keep mentioning!