When your passion becomes your profession, drawing the line between work and play gets increasingly hard. Take fencing events, for example. As artisans we’re keen to see our creations in action, meet our clients in person, and get some new ones on the books. As fencers, however, we can’t resist the opportunity to challenge ourselves, improve our own fencing, and cross blades with our international friends.
Taking our growing orders list into account, we’ve appeared at relatively few events this year. There was, however, one event that we couldn’t possibly pass up – our annual pilgrimage to Fort St Angelo in Malta, where the Malta Historical Fencing Association hold a long weekend of workshops, lectures, friendly sparring and camaraderie.
The MHFA kindly allowed us to run a stall this year, where attendees could handle the Angelo Broadsword, as well as purchase gorgets, frogs and baldrics. Thanks to the team’s laid-back professionalism, we were also able to spend plenty of time atop the fortress, fighting our friends in truly unforgettable surroundings.
While we were careful not to talk shop all weekend, the trip yielded business gems aplenty. For starters, we were reunited with swords and blades from across our two-year history, and heard many a tale of what they’d achieved. This was a wonderful insight into our swords’ stories beyond the workshop, and a great assurance as to the handling and durability we pride ourselves on.
We also enjoyed putting my new range of sword belts, frogs and baldrics through their paces, swanning up and down Fort St Angelo’s impressive flights of stairs with our swords at our sides. Not only did we feel like epic heroes of old, we also benefitted from free hands (which were soon filled with extra swords). Our stock swiftly sold out, but thanks to much positive feedback, I’m preparing to make baldrics the new black in 2020.
While fencing martial artists from around the world was a wonderful primer in the styles and treatises that are currently trending, the real R&D was done after sundown, in a cobbled street outside the appropriately named Pub, with a local beer in hand. Here, international instructors candidly discussed what’s new, what they’d like to see more of, and which weapons are on their wishlists. Our work may well be wreathed in history, but it’s no less exciting to look to the future stay get ahead of the game.
A sword maker’s trip to Malta would hardly be complete without a visit to the Oratory of St Joseph, home to all manner of historical ephemera – the prize of which is undoubtably the De Valette sidesword. Alleged to be the same sword that Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette laid down on the altar at the end of the Great Siege, it is of great symbolic importance to Malta – and not least to the Malta Historical Fencing Association.
With a replica of the sword on our books, we thought it only right to pay our respects. We were greeted by a contagiously enthusiastic guide, and ushered through to the side chapel where the sword resides. Seeing such a significant piece of history in person is always disquieting – particularly noting the notches in the blade, made in battle centuries ago. We were also taken by how slender the bars of the hilt are – a detail which we’re keen to recreate in high carbon steel.
Most poignantly for us, the MHFA event is a living reminder of what our work’s all about. We discovered the world of historical fencing as keen amateurs, heads swimming with storybook visions of heroes, castles and legendary blades. Thanks to Chris’s hard work and determination, that world soon became our everyday, along with the ins and outs of running a small business.
Once a year in Malta, however, we step back into the dream – the historic fortified citadel, the clash of a hundred blades, the larger than life characters, the bonds of brotherhood. To see the part we play in weaving that world is an unfathomable reward, and one that inspires us every year to forge on and constantly improve our craft.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to the MHFA team for their hard work every year, and to every fencer we fought with, learned from, and shared a Cisk with. We’ll be back!