By Karla Kelly
A man clad in riveted mail charged his opponent, swinging his sword high and hard. The opponent countered the strike and the two blades met with a resounding clash of metal.
A group of 120 Digby Regional High School students leaned forward in their seats to watch as the knight advanced to dispatch his opponent with a thrust, only to have it blocked and the sword trapped on the floor.
As the knight yielded in defeat, the students applauded.
The very real-looking sword fight was all part of a presentation by the Academy of Medieval Martial Arts at DRHS.
David Cvet, founder and president of the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts, along with local chapter members Mark Amirault and Jurgen Griegoschewski, explained and demonstrated the medieval combat system and the art of personal self-defence.
Cvet said the purpose of the presentation was to educate the students about medieval history and to make them aware that a medieval form of martial arts still exists today.
“There is a perception that martial arts are predominately oriental, but the art of fighting and self-defence is worldwide,” said Cvet. “Human beings are inherently violent and every culture has some sort of fighting system.”
Cvet told the students that this particular method of martial arts trains in offence and defence using medieval armour and weapons, as well as hand-to-hand combat.
“The goal of AEMMA is to achieve a state which would be consistent with that of a mediaeval combatant in both technology and ideal,” he said.
Amirault and Griegoschewski demonstrated grappling or hand-to-hand combat, and while the school is weapons-orientated, this is the first thing students learn.
The two combatants also fought in a mock battle with daggers while Cvet demonstrated the use of the pollaxe and spear or queue.
Cvet identified the arsenal of reproduced armour and weaponry brought in for the presentation and told the student body that the art of building medieval weaponry is becoming a big industry throughout many parts of the world, including Canada.
Cvet said this discipline encourages compassion, understanding, sportsmanship and respect, where students develop a good rapport for each other as they develop their skills in the areas of unarmoured and armoured combat.
“Classes are structured in which all levels of students train together, and new students are welcomed to join training at any time. New students are integrated into the regular training regimen as quickly as possible.”
Amirault said he joined the chapter for exercise, socialization, his love of history and just plain fun.
“Being in the school has been excellent,” said Amirault. “It inspired me to get into shape and I am in better physical condition than I was 10 years ago. It has served as a means of physical rehabilitation after my bout with cancer.”
Although fighters are clad in the protective medieval armour, Amirault said it is not ‘if’ you get hurt, but ‘when’.
“This is a physical fighting art form and there is no pretending,” Amirault said.
Amirault was a stunt man in the docu-drama on the Battle of Bannockburn 1314, which he said was a tremendous experience, in spite of the cold, wet and miserable weather.
“There were over a dozen medieval martial artists from Canada, five of which were from our school and 13 from Scotland, who filled the roles as fighters or stuntmen in the film project,” he said. “The battle scenes were filmed at a horse farm near Hammonds Plains and we formed a nice bond of brothers during the 10 days on the set.”
Cvet, who has a deep interest in medieval European history, founded the AEMMA in Toronto in 1998 as a way to close the gap between academic medieval studies and a living fighting medieval martial arts system.
“A training system was set up involving individuals interested in pursuing medieval martial arts, and when it evolved into a training school, the AEMMA was born,” Cvet said.
The Nova Scotia chapter of the AEMMA was founded in 2008 and members have been involved in medieval martial arts documentaries as well as the recent Battle of Bannockburn 1314 film project.
“The AEMMA in Nova Scotia is small, but the idea is to put more energy into expanding and building the school,” Cvet said. He encouraged any interested students to come to Digby Elementary School on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. to give it a try.