Reflections on the Second Borealis Swordplay Symposium

Last year I attended the first-ever Borealis Swordplay Symposium in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. It was my first multi-day, immersive experience in the Western Martial Arts. Then, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had about a year’s worth of sporatic classical fencing lessons already under my belt, and I knew I enjoyed it. When I left the symposium, I knew WMA was something I wanted to be a part of, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I wrote about the experience here.

Borealis 2014
Swords everywhere!

2014’s Borealis was extended from a two-day to a three-day experience, with two days devoted to classes in the western martial arts and the third day devoted to a tournament, the Pas du Solstice (an ‘un-tournament’ as called by some, because it’s more in the spirit of learning and fun than toward ‘winning’).

Borealis 2014
The arms of several of the participants of the Pas d’Arms

I left the 2014 Borealis eager to plow ahead. Now with two years of lessons in fencing and a few individual lessons with the longsword, I had a much better sense of what I could handle. I had already started buying better equipment, even purchasing a training longsword to use at Borealis (which sadly arrived the week after I returned from Canada).

Seriously, the way this photo was taken, the sword looks huge. It's long, but not that long.
Seriously, the way this photo was taken, the sword looks huge. It’s long, but not that long.

Let me give you the highlights, the differences from last year, and my goals for next year.

One of the biggest differences for me from last year to this is that I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people that I met last year through social media. I friended the smiling faces after Borealis last year and enjoyed interacting with them in the year since. Arriving at Borealis this year meant catching up with (new) old friends, and having someone to hang out with. Since many of these new friends were also instructors, I didn’t feel nearly so self conscious about my unskilled bumbling during the classes. It makes a huge difference.

This year I also didn’t get sick. Apparently last year I was really sick. Like, everyone could tell sick, sick. I have little memory of last year, sick. This year, I did have to sit out of parts of a couple of classes because I got exhausted, but I never got sick. Whew! Maybe I’ll remember something.

I made some new friends this year as well, and look forward to getting to know them through social media over the next year and seeing them again at the next Borealis. I was delighted to also meet a longsword instructor who is located not ten minutes from where I work!

Like last year, I chose not to participate in the Pas du Solstice. I just don’t feel adequately prepared to compete, even in such a friendly tournament. I also realized that I am not adequately equipped to compete, and am in need of properly fitted steel gauntlets, better elbow protection, and a mask that fits just a tad better.

Borealis 2014
This mask will do…

Next year, though. Next year everything will be different.

One of my new-found friends talked me out to spar briefly with longsword during lunch one day. This was a whole new experience for me, but one I needed. I borrowed some gauntlets – which was good ’cause I got my knuckles raked a few times. I didn’t have elbow protection and did get hit. That bruise still aches a week on.

Nevertheless, I loved the experience of free-fencing. I needed to do it. This is the next step before I can jump into the lists. This little sparring was what I needed to prove to myself that I wouldn’t die if I tried to compete – though I probably would get bruised.

It was a rush, but a very technically demanding rush. It was very satisfying. I only wish it could have gone on longer.

Next year. Next year.

So it’s time to prepare. I have a year. The things that I need to buy, I can buy over the next months. I’ll continue with my instruction with the foil and smallsword as I have been doing all along, but adding some specific longsword instruction as well.

As with the last two years, at next year’s Borealis I don’t expect to win anything, only to learn… and enjoy the company of my brothers and sisters of the sword. But this time, I’ll join the lists… with a little encouragement from my friends.

I can’t wait!

Borealis 2014
Next year, I’ll be in the middle of it!


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