Backhuas, right, works with Elan Graupe, 12, at Sword
Camp in Jackson, Wisc. The camp teaches basics of
historical fencing and sword play
Wis. — Think of it as Viking aerobics.
there are other ways to get a nice cardio workout, but none
that involves brandishing a long sword like a marauding
partly what drew folks to a daylong sword camp sponsored by
the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association last week. For
first-timers, it was curiosity and the chance to learn how to
wield a long sword — think Hagar the Horrible’s sidearm.
And for those experienced in Historical European Martial Arts,
it was a chance to practice, exercise and hang out with others
who know their way around a sword.
it is, it’s not what’s seen in films, said sword camp
instructor Jeremiah Backhaus.
faster than what you see in movies. In Robin Hood movies, they’re
talking when they’re fighting. There’s actually no time
for that. It’s extremely sophisticated," Backhaus said.
for an unusual way to spend the morning, Menachem Graupe
signed up his four kids ranging in age from 7 to 12.
thought it’d be a fun thing to do on vacation. They’ve
never done anything like this before. It’s a little bit of
action and a little bit of learning," said Graupe, of
Mequon, Wis., as he snapped photos of his 7-year-old daughter
Maya practicing with a white plastic sword at The Target Range
in Jackson, Wis.
European Martial Arts is the martial system developed in
Europe centuries ago, when men would brandish long swords.
be honest. The world back then was ‘conquer or be conquered.’
You had to be able to defend yourself as efficiently as
possible," said Backhaus. "As metallurgy developed,
they came up with swords to more efficiently defend
Historical European Martial Arts enthusiasts are attracted by
the history while others like to do it for exercise or because
they enjoy learning martial arts, Backhaus said. He trains
with a police officer whose historical fencing expertise saved
his life when someone lunged at him with a knife while he was
frigid cold day last week at The Target Range in Jackson,
Wis., newcomers paired up while veterans practiced against
each other amid the sound of clanking swords.
explaining how to safely wield the three-pound steel swords,
and for the smaller kids, much lighter plastic swords,
Backhaus showed them different positions called guards and
cuts. Most have German names. Ochs, which means ox, is holding
the blade horizontally at shoulder height. Pflug, or plow, is
a crouching stance while holding the sword near the hip. High
Vom Tag is holding the sword horizontally overhead.
end of the session, Backhaus drilled his students. Showing
them how to stand and hold the sword, he demonstrated an
"X" cut, slashing the air in the shape of the
letter. Holding his sword at his shoulder he asked them the
name of the position and Maya Graupe yelled: "Ochs!"
were great. A lot of people think medieval fencing is only for
big guys," said Backhaus, who is a big guy —
6-feet-1-inch tall and 270 pounds. But nodding at tiny Maya,
he said: "It’s a lot more finesse. Someone her size can
Goetz traveled to Jackson from her home in Davenport, Iowa,
with two friends. She knows Backhaus from the Historical
European Martial Arts Alliance and got involved in historical
fencing seven years ago through a school friend. She and her
friends practice Saturdays when the weather is nice at a park
also travel to events like this week’s sword school in
be a bit pricey to get started. A really nice, sharp sword
will set enthusiasts back $1,500 to $3,000 while fencing masks
can range from $40 to $200. Goetz also owns two nice steel
practice swords at $500 a pop. She buys her swords from New
Glarus, Wis.-based sword manufacturing company Albion Swords.
So does Backhaus, who is also a blacksmith.
people are swinging at each other with swords, historical
fencing is generally safe as long as both competitors abide by
the rules, said Goetz. She has suffered only one serious
injury in seven years, a smashed pinkie finger that required
noticed a huge change in my self-confidence," said Goetz.
"Plus, it’s awesome. How many people do you know who
can fight with a sword?"