Getting medieval

Terra Nova School of Swords is taking swordsmanship from the history pages to reality.

Phil Swift is the head instructor of the Terra Nova School of Swords. He says sword fighting is suitable for all ages and all fitness levels. Clifton Tam/ Kicker

Clifton Tam

In a simple studio located at 60 O’Leary Ave., something extraordinary unfolds every day.

Wearing fencing jackets and gripping blunted longswords, students at the Terra Nova School of Swords learn how to master an age-old art.

Phil Swift, the head instructor of the Terra Nova School of Swords, has seven years of experience in medieval swordsmanship. He first started the school in the basement of the Cochrane Centre four years ago, bringing back what he learned from a sword master in the U.S.

“My goal mainly when I started this school, was to get people more involved and more active,” said Swift. “We like history, we like video games, but we don’t like working out, so this was a good way to get the best of both worlds.”

As many medieval arts get lost with time, says Swift, people try to revive it from history books.

“It’s very hard to learn a martial art from a book,” said Swift.  “But at the same time, it is the coolest feeling because you’re getting to the source.”

Richard Gough, a student at the Terra Nova School of Swords, says he enjoys the learning environment here.

“Instructors here are very friendly and welcoming,” said Gough.

Everyone has different interpretations, Swift says, and that brings uniqueness and diversity to martial arts.

“When you learn a martial art – I learned from you and you teach someone else – by the time it gets to the fourth person (it) is a different style and a different martial art,” said Swift.

Technically, anyone can be an instructor, says Swift, but a certification from the Historical European Martial Arts helps when it comes to recognition. Swift has that certification.

Unlike other sports, according to Swift, the beauty of martial arts is it accommodates every fitness level no matter your age.

“In sword fighting, all the world champions, a lot of them are in (their) 50s … ” Swift said.

“We have students of all ages, from children who are eight years old to people who are 70,” he said.

Some are experienced martial artists, says Gough, some are video gamers who want to reproduce their fighting in real life, and some are passionate historians of medieval combat.

The fighting styles, says Swift, are varied.

“There are so many different weapons, so many different styles that we teach here,” Swift said. “Trying to find one for you is very difficult until you try it by yourself.”

Having trained in the Italian long sword for more than a year in Ontario, Gough says he found he liked the Polish sabre more.

“I’m most interested in the techniques, I like the martial (arts) aspect of it,” said Gough. “It’s a very effective form of fighting and it’s a very comprehensive system that’s easy to learn.”

In order to give people a taste of medieval sword fighting, Swift holds an open house once a month. He’s hosting the next open house Jan. 27.

During the open house there will be demonstrations of different weapons and swords, says Swift, and students will be fighting to show what sword fighting is and how it’s done safely.

“This a really good way to exercise, but have fun (too), (with) a sport that (has) history and swords together.”

About the Author

About Clifton Tam 16 Articles
Clifton Tam is a student journalist studying at the College of the North Atlantic. He loves sharing stories related to people’ lives.

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