17 October 2023

Play 'knights and soldiers' and learn new chops in these medieval fighting skills classes

| Claire Sams
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A group of people in black clothes and protective gear, fencing.

Those watching at the recent Queanbeyan Medieval Fair saw the group training. Photo: Veronica Yvonne.

Many of us have wondered what it would be like to swing a sword, but one man has started a group giving you the chance to do just that.

Jesse Whitfield is the man behind The Valley School of Battle, a group offering classes in historical martial arts in Merimbula, on the NSW South Coast.

Wearing protective equipment and guided by instructors, they study how previous generations would have used the weapons.

“We practise martial arts based on the fifteenth century of medieval Europe,” Mr Whitfield said.

“We train with the weapons used by knights and soldiers of that period – so daggers, swords, spears and axes.

“The techniques we practise are interpreted from manuscripts from the late fourteenth century and throughout the fifteenth century.”

While it might be a new hobby for some, Mr Whitfield’s interest in the sport started when he was young.

“I was surprised to see that this is a thing that people actually do,” he said.

“Growing up a boy, someone who plays video games and things like that, it was always interesting.

“In popular culture in general, swords and knights are everywhere in imagery, so it was a bit of a lifelong fascination.”

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He started with a group in Canberra to hone his skills, and still makes the long trip every few months.

However, digitisation has meant that Mr Whitfield doesn’t need to hop on a plane or travel far to learn more about medieval martial arts.

“It is really cool that people who want to research and learn about this stuff can freely access it,” he said.

Medieval Europe saw rapid changes in not only culture, but technology, Mr Whitfield said.

“From the late fourteenth century until the Renaissance was one of the most intense periods of technological and cultural development that we’ve ever seen,” he said.

“People went from developing armour that can protect you on a battlefield to creating a work of art that encases the body.”

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Mr Whitfield said studying the fighting techniques of a bygone era was a chance for people living now to learn about those who lived before them.

“We don’t expect anyone to become great fighters with the weapons,” he said.

“The main purpose of this is to learn how it was to fight with these weapons and understand the art behind the combat.

“People in the fifteenth century didn’t just practise this for self-defence or for warfare or duels, they also did it for recreation and as a fulfilling activity.”

Mr Whitfield said the success of the recent Queanbeyan Medieval Fair was proof interest in that period of history was growing – and that medieval re-enactment was becoming increasingly popular.

“It was interesting, going along to the Queanbeyan Fair and finding out how many of these re-enactors are interconnected and know each other,” he said.

“Even in a small community like this [on the South Coast], the re-enactment community is still there, and connected to other groups.”

The Valley School of Battle can be contacted by emailing [email protected] or by visiting their Facebook page.

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