Step inside Gunning Scout Hall on the right night and you may think you’ve been transported back in time to the middle of a Napoleonic battle.
Meet Daniel Wise, Gunning’s constable who trains the local sword fighter club.
The group’s six active members and three casuals are part of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community and learn from a 1798 sword fighting manual.
They meet at least twice a month, fight with real swords from their favourite period and have a whole lot of fun.
“I was a student of the Stoccata School of Defence in Sydney before I moved to Gunning for work,” says Daniel. “There are clubs in Canberra, but it was difficult to get to their training while working shifts, and they don’t specialise in the era I’m interested in: 1700-1900.
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“So I found a local chef who had a similar interest and shift patterns. We trained every week for a year and the club grew from there.”
Chris Morgan has always been interested in military weapons, and he joined the Gunning District Sword Fighters six months ago after seeing an advert in the local newsletter. However, he didn’t think he would be able to fight.
He says he’s suffered from autoimmune disorders, nerve and brain damage, and fatigue since receiving a vaccine during a routine army medical in 2012. However, Daniel told him they would just take it day by day.
Now Chris is evidently a worthy opponent as he wields his sword with grace.
“I think this has great potential for people like me,” he says.
“It’s good therapy physically, socially and for the brain. It gets you practising fine motor skills, gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination – all the stuff I was having to do in physical therapy, but this is more fun.”
While these sword fighters are eager to replicate historical fighting styles, they’re sensible enough to wear modern-day gear.
The swords are adjusted with protective tips, and fighters wear heavily padded gear, which is apparently a bonus while fighting in a small hall in winter, but not so much in summer.
Simon Fowler says it’s hard to find another activity that’s as fun as sword fighting.
He enjoyed fencing at university in Darwin, but couldn’t find another group to continue the sport until he met the Gunning District Sword Fighters years later.
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Likewise, the group’s longest member, Tom Keevers, says sword fighting “encourages you to exercise and is a good way to meet people”.
“After the COVID-19 lockdowns, I wanted to find something physically active and different,” he says.
“While I don’t have a specific interest in swords, I do have an interest in history. The historic focus adds to the experience.”
Gunning is set to host a Sword Symposium during the June long weekend, comprising about 40 local, Sydney and Canberra HEMA members.
The symposium will include a series of workshops on weapons and at least two hours of dedicated fighting per day, which members of the public can watch.
The Gunning Sword Symposium 2021 will be held at Gunning Shire Hall on 12-13 June from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.