This past weekend the Florida Steampunk Exhibition East was held in Daytona Beach, Florida, which is only an hour or so away from me as the crow flies, so I had to go. I feel like I don’t spend enough time here talking about how much I love steampunk. I talk some about how I’m writing in the genre, but I don’t give it the same breathless space and time here as I do in other places around the internet. So just to catch you up to speed: I LOVE STEAMPUNK.
I love it as a genre and an artform and a dress sense. I love the endless possibility and the optimistic daring do of the people involved and the characters that they write or portray. I’m just as fascinated with the darkly tinged not-so-nice-history parts of it as I am with the bright, shiny leather and brass parts. And as you might imagine, this all lays very neatly over my general appreciation for Wacky Victorians anyway, so it’s a perfect fit for a person such as myself who loves reading and writing in the science fiction genre.
Even more specific to my urge to attend the convention than my love of steampunk in general, I had seen that there was going to be a three hour panel/class called Victorian Self-Defense. I had thought that it would be about bartitsu (which is an interesting subject in itself), so you can imagine my jaw dropping surprise when Alli and I showed up and found two gentlemen standing at the head of the room with rapiers.
We both sat down and immediately began taking furious notes. Two of our characters are kind of swords-for-the-cause in employ of the main gentleman driving our revolution, and while I had done research into sword fighting with both fencing foils (and epees) and sabers, there is little internet or book research that can compare to having two people in front of you actually explaining things like footwork and posture and timing. We spent a good thirty minutes taking pictures and scribbling diagrams and whispering back and forth to each other about how cool this all was…and then the instructors* asked if anyone wanted some hands-on instruction.
Alli jumped at the chance, and I followed. There were about seven to ten of us at the time. Each one of us was handed a bamboo rod shown how to stand and we were off. The two instructors would explain and demonstrate what they wanted us to do–things like forcing your opponent’s sword offline or giving and avoiding a beat–and then have each of us perform the action against them. The two gentlemen running the class were professional and patient and seemed to enjoy being able to have the interaction, and that made the whole thing all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.
Then came the tipping point in Alli and my’s mutual giddiness about rapier instruction in general. They acted out a throw and then had each one of us practice and perform it against one of them using the rapier. I know that logistically they had to give us the rapiers, because bamboo rods don’t have hilts with which to hold down another person’s blade, but I honestly felt a bit like I’d been handed Auryn** in that moment. The sword was a little heavier than I thought it would be and the basket fits around your hand in a way that makes you part of the sword and just. It was an awesome moment and I really want to thank the two of them for it, as well as the organizers of the event for inviting them and setting up an experience like that in the first place.
The rest of the day was kind of spent in the hazy glow of ‘oh god they let me hold a sword!’ I was extra pleased as well that Alli noted during the class that most of the sword fight scenes I’d written between our characters were actually pretty solid, technically. Not that they’ll end up in the novel because I just wrote them as character pieces, but it’s extra nice to know that I wasn’t completely off base. (Though I am going to have to make Edmund spend a bit more time with foil or rapier when he’s teaching William, even while he prefers saber himself.)
We were still buzzing from the rush of it all when we got home in the evening, so right now we’re looking into fencing clubs here in Orlando. You never know, it could be a fun way to get in more exercise and learn a new skill. It is definitely a way to have a few more of All Of The Experiences and would give me even more things to blog about.
Now for the informative part of the post!
- If you would like to learn more about steampunk, there have been a whole slew of excellent articles written, but Tor does a Steampunk Week that always has articles of interest for people who are new to the concept or find it all to be old hat. The links from 2011 can be found here.
- The instructors of the class gave me several resources for reading about swordsmanship and style with different types of weapons. Those are:
- Chivalry Bookshelf – who publishes many out of print texts on all sorts of things, including swordplay.
- HEMA – The website for Historical European Martial Arts.
- The Western Martial Arts Coalition.
- And the works (if I can find them) of William Wilson, Achille Marozzo, Fiore dei Liberi, and George Silver.
* I didn’t catch their names! It’s not in the program or on the site or readily available in any search done by me in the last ten minutes! If anyone knows, please share so I can add them to the write up and also love them from afar.
** Auryn, for those of you not into 80s movies, is the serpent pendant from The Neverending Story that guides Atreyu on his quest.