A one-on-one session with Academy of Steel – a Historical European Martial Arts school in Cardiff.

The skies above Cardiff threatened a downpour as I rocked up in my ill-fitting Iron Maiden T-shirt, black joggers and trainers that really shouldn’t have been out in wet weather.

Commitment to exercise is something that always alludes me. Apart from an in-built sense of laziness, a large chunk of this is due to not having a decent enough reason to stick to any particular fitness regime. It needs to push my nerdy buttons to get any chance of success.

So when Jordan from Cardiff’s Academy of Steel got in touch, I knew this was the motivation I needed.

Combat straight from history

Academy of Steel is a Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) school opening in Cardiff this September.

The academy focuses on a number of historically-accurate weapon and fighting styles, but the main one – and the one I was shown – is Italian Longsword.

Academy of Steel’s Marshal and founder Jordan has over 10 years’ experience in historical martial arts, having recently spent a number of years teaching swordplay in Italy.

The Italian Longsword technique that the academy focuses on is taken from medieval Italian manuscripts from the late 1300s.

Not like you see on TV

Our one-on-one session was a whistlestop rundown of the basic techniques that Academy of Steel teaches in their first classes.

After some warmup exercises I donned my combat gloves, mask and training sword. I was ready to fight. Or so I thought.

During one of the first strikes, Jordan deliberately didn’t block when I attacked, and I froze – my sword hovering just above his head. I was so used to the ‘clashing blades’ style of swordplay I’d seen in TV and film that I wasn’t prepared to actually hit someone.

A few moments of making deliberate strikes at eachother’s heads put that fear to rest as I could then strike with the certainty of what the impact felt like.

I’m left-handed, but Jordan had me hold the sword in my right hand. This was a little jarring at first, but as he guided me through the different poste (guard positions), holding the sword right-handed felt just fine.

Lessons in combat, bladecraft and history

We ran through several basic poste to begin with:

  • Posta breve (short guard)
  • Dente di zenghiaro (boar’s tusk)
  • Posta di Donna (woman’s guard)
  • Tutta porta di ferro (full iron gate)
Image belongs to Academy of Steel. Used with permission.

My Italian isn’t so good, and I’d forgotten most of the words as soon as he’d said them. Luckily there wasn’t a quiz at the end.

As you’d expect to see with fencing, we fought back-and-forth on a line drawn in the ground to maintain form. 

Jordan also briefly showed me the anatomy of the blade, and how much stronger the base of the sword was compared to the tip. I could hold off an advance from his sword with hardly any effort, all due to the position of the sword.

We then moved onto close-plays, where we were too close to one another to make any particular sword strike effective.

So instead, he’d come in with an attack, I’d knock his blade out of harm’s way, then pivot myself off the line and smash the pommel of my sword into his face before stepping back and slicing down onto his head as I made my exit.

It was all quite safe, though the sight of a sword pommel coming at your face makes for one hell of a dramatic view. We did several takes of that particular move for good measure. It’s pretty badass.

Thoroughly enjoyable

As well as the lessons in swordplay, Jordan also talked to me about the intricacies of the blade itself, the words used to describe each form and the historical context behind the techniques.

I walked into that training circle expecting to learn a few cool moves. What I got was a full-body workout as well as solid lessons in swordplay, bladecraft, language and medieval history. I also got to learn the cool moves, so it ticked all the boxes.

The one-on-one session lasted around an hour and a half, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. If you’re looking for a fun way to get fit, or if you’re interested in historical martial arts, I’d definitely recommend giving Academy of Steel a go.

The academy opens officially in September and will have sessions between 8-10pm at YMCA Plas, Plasnewydd, Cardiff. You can get more info  on membership at www.academyofsteel.com

Academy of Steel is running taster sessions in swordplay during early September for £2 per person. Check out the events on their Facebook page for more info.

Author: Jamie

An 80s kid trapped in the body of a 90s kid, Jamie is fond of hyperbole and tends to get excited about things. Whovian, Ravenclaw, and proud Welsh geek.