Entertainment » Vol. 4

Higgins Armory Sword Guild

By Jack Neary

So, you’re a community theatre planning a musical stage version of BRAVEHEART. You’ve got the director, the composer, the lyricist, and you’ve just held auditions and found yourself a dashing Mel Gibson look-alike who not only has the proper hairstyle, but also sings a mean baritone. Everything is falling into place…Except…

Where do you go to get help authenticating the battle scenes? Where will you find advice that will lead you to locate the correct period broadsword? Who in town is going to show you how to swing a battleaxe while warbling the eleven o’clock number?

If your theatre is in Central MA, your best bet is to call the staff at the Higgins Armory Sword Guild. Not only will they be able to answer all your questions, they’ll also be able to instruct your cast members in the fundamentals of historical combat, which in fact is a course offered by the Guild.

And the Guild can guide you in combat methodology about periods and people well beyond William Wallace’s thirteenth century Scotsmen.

“We have Romans, Vikings, and folks studying weapons forms all the way up through the US Civil War ~ not just the Middle Ages and Renaissance anymore!” says Kent Sullivan-Wiley, a local psychologist and Guild member who also serves as a demonstrator for the Higgins Museum.

According to its web site, the Guild’s principal period of concentration was initially based upon the medieval and Renaissance combat manuals its members studied, covering from 1300 to 1570, which is just a little later than when Mel Gibson’s historical Oscar winner takes place. But these days it’s a good bet that the Guild can help you with whatever era of combat you’re looking to replicate.

The Fundamentals of Historical Combat course is described as a “hands-on workshop consisting of four 2-hour sessions…designed to teach the basic concepts, techniques, and training for the cut-and-thrust rapier as used in the late 16th and early 17th centuries…This course is recommended as preparation for participating in Higgins Armory Sword Guild activities. Companion study materials will be provided.”
Also provided are weapons. So there’s no need to scour eBay to purchase your own.

Local author Resa Nelson, whose recent novel, The Dragonslayer’s Sword is a “…dark fairy tale for adults,” took advantage of the Guild’s expertise as she prepared her book.

“I love doing research. Because my main character makes swords for dragonslayers, I decided I needed to learn as much as I could about medieval weapons. I wanted to base the dragonslayer’s sword on a real sword. I read tons of books about medieval weapons, but I felt something was missing. I wanted hands-on experience. I figured there had to be something available in the Boston area, did an online search, and discovered the Higgins Armory Museum and the courses they offer in weapons use. I’d never heard of the museum, but their courses were exactly what I needed. I took the fundamentals course in 2002 and loved it. That experience strongly shaped me, my main character, and the novel. I then took a few more courses (German longsword, Italian rapier and dagger, and a workshop that gave me exposure to a variety of other weapons) and joined the Sword Guild because I was having so much fun.”

Sullivan-Wiley elaborates on the Guild’s genesis, and its place in the community.

“The Sword Guild started a few years ago, initially as a group of people who had similar interests in Medieval and Renaissance European arms, armor, and history in general. It then developed into a resource for the public, by demonstrating and teaching about actual combat and related elements of culture from that period. The scholarship continues, with ongoing research into a variety of very old texts, in explorations of the written words, and in the physical interpretation of what is translated, and in the sharing and challenging of each other’s ideas and theories, too. What makes the Guild so enjoyable is its combination of expertise and scholarship, along with the good humor and camaraderie of like-minded folks involved in a shared passion.”

So go forward with your BRAVEHEART musical with confidence. The Higgins Armory Sword Guild can’t help you with your singing, dancing or acting, but for the big battle you’re planning for the end of Act Two—they’ve got all the expertise and scholarship you need. Or if you’ve always been curious about what it would have been like to participate in ancient hand-to-hand (or rather, sword to sword) combat, find out for yourself.

The Sword Guild is based at the Higgins Armory Museum (www.higgins.org), 100 Barber Avenue in Worcester. More information about the Guild, its classes, instructors, and membership can be found directly at http://www.higginssword.org/. For additional information about the Guild, please contact Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng at (508) 853-6015 x17 or jforgeng@higgins.org.

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