Travel diary from visiting Sint Michielsgilde /Hallebardiers - the oldest European Fencing School in Brugge, Belgium

Last week I visited the Hallebardiers/Sint Michielsgilde in Brugge, Belgium having been invited to assist the excellent Kevin Maurer of the Meyer Frei Fechter Guild by teaching the Halbenstangen (quarterstaff) of Joachim Meyer.

Here is a short travel diary from that visit.

Friday 27/4

Up at 04:00 after a night without sleep due to a certain tension before the trip and due to the battery of my alarm clock almost being completely drained... Flight leaves Gothenburg at 06:55 and I arrive in Brussels at 12:50 where the super-friendly Krist Martens picks me up.

Do they really need TWO copies of Meyer's 1570 treatise?

We go straight to the University Library of Leuven to find out what hides in the Corble Collection's 1800 books on fencing. Together with Krist and Kevin Maurer and Jon Ucub of the MFFG we dig out goodies that an enthusiastic and oh so happy to help librarian picks out of their archives by-and-by (a huge thanks to you anynomous librarian!).

Slightly extatic I sit with a 1570 original of Joachim Meyer, a 1612 Jacob Sutor, Sebastian Heüßsler and Thibault in my hands.

Kevin Maurer and Jon Ucub of the MFFG looking at the pocket version of Thibault

Or... Thibault is a wee bit larger than that. More like a Fiat Uno... We make some very interesting finds that puts earlier conclusions regarding Heüßler into new light. Other bits of gold that hide in their collection are, amongst others: Cavalcabo, Marozzo, Thibault, Leküchner, Pascha, Narvaez, Pistofilo, Saviola, Silver, Vigiani, Vizani, Petter, Svetnam, CapoFerro, Fabris, Palavicini, "Egonolph", Auerswald and De Gheyn.  There is even a copy of our first Swedish fencing manual "Palaestra Svecana" from 1693, by Diederich von Porat. Also, there are plenty of previously unknown Italian fencing treatises from the 1500s and a whole bunch of French ones.

 

The research that Kevin Maurer and Chris Vanslambrouch of the MFFG do about Meyer, Fechtschulen, landsknechten and body guards in the HRE during the Religion Wars of 16th century Europe is truly amazing and I look forward to seeing it becoming more public in some form or the other. It is something for all of us to look forward to.

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After this we all go home to Piet & Dominique Pollet's home where everyone is already waiting; Piet, Bert Gevaert, Krist Martens, Francesco Lodà, Hans Jörnlind and cool, old Jack with respective partners and family. The dinner is a formidable bacchanal with a never ending influx of fantastic food, beautiful Belgian beer (Brugse Zot!), wine and tremendous company! A gesture of unbeatable hospitality and generosity that I will never forget. Thanks to all of you!

We return to Bert's house by midnight after having been up for almost 48 hours. A little sleepy but in an incredibly good spirit before tomorrow!

Saturday 28/4

Up at 07:30. Fantastic breakfast with Hans Jörnlind and his girlfriend and Bert, his wife and their cute daughter Irene. Everything is on the breakfast table. Interesting that the Belgians like Nutella and cottage cheese with chocolate flavour on their breakfast sandwich. I've heard that about some European countries, but never actually tried it. It's probably because they have never had the chance to try the smoked roe paste us Swedes have on our breakfast sandwiches. Once you try it, you can never go back...

Bert goes for fruit only though, true fighter that he is. :)

MFFG Instructor Kevin Maurer looking lethal, accompanied by Maarten Kamphuis and Willeke Snijder

10-18:00 Kevin Maurer of the MFFG holds a full day workshop on Meyer longsword assisted by Jon and to some degree by me when needed. The class holds about 40 participants with experience ranging from almost none to many years of training and sparring.

Visiting are people from Sweden, France, Italy, the Netherlands and other Belgian clubs. Several familiar faces, from Swordfish, amongst others, the bearded French guy that I can't remember the name of right now (so sorry!). They are wicked at Winden though. And of course Willeke and swinging Maarten and Alwin Goethals. Great meeting you again!

Alwin Goethals and Jack

The workshop raises some thoughts on similarities between the use of different weapons in Meyer's system and also his concept of three different types of attacks; Reitzen-Nehmen-Treffen (teasing-parrying-hitting). These are not necessarily used in that order though and tie in to his Abzug as well. Also, if our teasing or parrying can be transformed into a hit (like a meisterhauw), then we should do so.  The concept is recognized with the staff and halberd also.

Thoughts about Meyer thrusting with the longsword again resurfaces and result in an article that is already on this site: Doing what we are told or what we are taught

Krist Martens and Jerôme Vandenbeurge

I also think a bit about the MFFG maybe not having quite the same foundation in the older fencing treatises and their terminology. This is an important topic since it can help us gain a broader perspective on Meyer.

His connections to Syber, Leküchner, Ringeck, Paurnfeindt and Mair are very interesting and one can even see ties going as far back as the Ms I.33 treatise on sword & buckler. Lots of research still to be done here.

Later a debate on Meyer's longsword thrusting leads to clues that might teach us that the thrusting wasn't commonly used by the Germans, in Meyer's time, neither in the fechtschule (which we already knew), but also not on the battlefield against the countrymen, and yet Meyer appears to seek to reintroduce it.

Kevin Maurer and Jon Ucub on the right, Jerôme on the left in the background

After the workshop we take a quick shower and then we all gather in a cool restaurant near Bert's place. Insanely good food again and wonderful company. I talk a lot to Jon and the very entertaining French guys. They really do love eating frogs. Kevin apparently has eaten lots of alligator in his days.  :)

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Bedtime at midnight again. A bit concerned about tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how things will turn out with 40 people in a gym hall, swinging two-meter staffs.

I am also slightly concerned about what kind of wood the staffs are made of since we broke three laminated oak staffs at Swordfish. (Later I learn that they were made out of ash and the held up perfectly). Thank you Jack for choosing wisely!

Sunday 29/4

Since we have so many things to go through today, both dussack and staff, we decide to cut the lunch a bit shorter.

10-12:30 Kev holds his excellent workshop on the dussacken. Again I see so many ties in interpretations of Meyer's Art  and I realise that I can cut away quite a bit from my workshop since I can refer to things that have already been gone through with the longsword and dussack. I will be needing all the time I can scratch together if I am to be able to give a half-decent view of Meyer's Halben Stangen.

While preparing for the class it is great fun to watch people fencing with the Dussack. There is something about that weapon that really puts a smile on people's faces.

Francesco Lodà spars with Hans Jörnlind both with amazing control of distance. Bert Gevaert whacks away with great agility and power and lands several thundering hits. Alwin Goethals moves with impressive agility and athleticism and fights really well! A good show!

13-16:00 I start my workshop by first giving strict regulations about the staffs being sharp weapons that must be handled with great respect so that no one gets injured. Our protection is simply not good enough to hold up to the power of the Meyer staff at full or even intermediate contact.

Showing the Überschiessen, Gesperren and Streich

I realise that I have started in a little bit too high tempo considering that most have never held a staff before and I therefore go back a few steps focusing more on the basics.

Kreutzhauw cutting through the corner guards in a flow

Primary focus is on body mechanics, weapon mechanics and footwork, which we practice extensively. This naturally gives us all the guards that we then practice specifically on. After this we turn to thrusting and striking combining them with the guards and parries in flowing, dynamic movements.

Time literally flies since a lot of personal coaching is needed for the staff-inexperienced students but they quickly catch the basics which is amazing to see. Great job all! We finish with some techniques working from a bind, for example Schnappen/Zucken/Umbzucken, Rucken, Trücken, and Winden/Uberschiessen.

Staffs crossed in the "first bind". Stances MUCH to high

People are tired from having worked hard for two full days though and unfortunately it is time to finish although I still have about as many binden techniques left that I wish I could go through... I realize that I will have to rethink my my plans for the workshop at SKUNKS in Poland where I will have only half the time on me.

The whole gang of hooligans

I was very pleased to see that several students were very enthusiastic and interested in the staff, not least Jon, Piet, Bert, Krist, Francesco and Alwin, just to mention a few. It was extremely satisfying to see how quickly many student's caught on the basics of the staff. Maybe another time we will have more time for the thrusting and bind techniques. :)

The training facitilities inside the Kruispoort

Afterwards we gather in the training facilities of the Hallebardiers/Sint Michielsgilde. The guild was founded some time before 1444AD and as history passed the guild eventually came to be a modern sports fencing club, but some years ago a division for HEMA was founded, and Piet Pollet eventually assumed leadership over the HEMA-division. Hallebardiers of course take their name from the fact that the halberd was their weapon. Apart from this guild, the city of Brugge had four more armed guilds, one for the longbow (Saint Sebastian), two for the crossbow (Saint George) and one for the arquebus (Saint Barbara).

The facilities that the guild uses is small but amazing. They have been given one of the citites original nine city gates right outside of what used to be the city's moat, Kruispoort, from 1297AD which looked like this not too long ago:

The guild has had the facilities for quite some time already and they will likely have it for as long as they wish. And they of course have a wicked, fully equiped pub where you can sip some of the gods' nectar; Belgian Beer after your training. The social aspects of running a club are considered to be very important. On the walls hang several arms, including rapiers and some nice glaives providing a great backdrop.

Piet, Kevin and I are all three interviewed about HEMA for a documentary made by an American friend of Bert's. We are given quite interesting questions to discuss which will be interesting to see collated later.

After this we go straight to Piet's & Dominique's house and are blessed with the tastiest and most tender chicken I have ever had. (I can't wait to have the recipé Dominique!)

Late night.

Monday 30/4

We start at 10 and gather at the Kruispoort to be guided by last year's Swordish finalist Bert Gevaert. He is a teacher of latin and a licensed city guide with great knowledge of history. We visit streets, churches, market places and see a city more or less preserved, or restored in medieval and renaissance architecture.

The Jeruzalemkerk completed in 1470

A flower shop close to the old arms maker street

Probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, completely without neon, crappy light boxes, littering or fat McDonalds signs.

The stories Bert shared were both highly interesting and entertaining. The history of the city is quite complex and especially the history of the guilds is interesting in comparison to what we know of the German guilds and the fencing guilds; Marxbrüder and Freyfechter von der Feder.

Manna from Heaven

 

Lunch at a small pub with a bible thick beer catalog. Cheese, meats to pick and beer that makes your palate explode. The Belgians are really picky about their beer glasses. Each beer has its own glass with a particular shape and curvature. Impressive.

After the tour we go to Piet's and Dominique's again, where we all try on Piet's slick, custom-made armour. My calves do not quite fit and neither does my chest. :) Kevin with his long hair looks like born in armour, as does Jon.  Me I feel like spam in a can. :)

Sebastiaan with a can opener size XL

Together with Bert and Krist we discuss interpretations in general and also Meyer in particular.

Piet's son Sebastiaan, who is one of Sint Michielsgilde's top fencers, shows us some specific agility exercises as we discuss Meyer's low base stances. His agility in these exercises is unbelieavable and he bounces in a crazy way almost half a meter above the ground with his knees at 90 degrees, loaded like a spring.

I consider adding them to our Halben Stangen training, but I also realise that he is 25 years younger and we are half as light... We would do well even lifting from the ground doing the same exercises. :)

Their Strumpfhau is also a cool exercise but rough for us with quirky knees.

Kevin and Bert doing some free fencing

Kev and Bert do some freefencing without protection. We also test the Meyer-based Wechselhauw Vor/Nach-exercises that some of us in GHFS have been working on lately.

A short trip to town to buy Belgian chocolate for my wife and my mother-in-law. Jon will have to pay for extra weight on the flight, considering how much chocolate he buys for family and friends... ;)

Tuesday 1/5

Up at  06:30 for journey home, sad to leave. Krist again drives all of us to the airport! Huge thanks for that Krist!

I receive the "small terrorist treatment" by the Belgian SAS-staff at the airport who calls for armed guard that asks to check my swords in a special room on the other side of the terminal, despite me repeatedly explaining that they are not sharp swords, but training swords for sport. No problem once they see them though.

Crazy high and enthusiastic after an amazing week. I am already longing to go back. Have to go back.

Piet's, Krist's and Bert's hospitality and generosity have been beyond all bounds and I am eternally indebted and grateful to them for it. I hope to see you soon again, if nothing else at Swordfish, all three of you and the rest of the Hallebardiers!

Thanks to Kev (and Chris and Mike) for your amazing support and great conversations about Meyer and his Art! Your kind compliments on my interpretations I consider a huge honour and I so much look forward to meeting you in Illinois next year!

Jon, it was really cool meeting you! Your thoughts and questions were really interesting and I loved your enthusiasm!

Huge thanks also to the GHFS and the polearms group in particular without who's help and support nothing would have been possible!

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