, Salem, MA


September 19, 2013

Getting medieval in Danvers

Historic martial arts come to life at local tournaments, clinics

The romantic image of a knight in shining armor is a constant in Western culture, from King Arthur to “Star Wars.”

A number of people will explore the reality behind that image this weekend, when they gather at the Danvers Indoor Sports Arena to battle with longswords.

Iron Gate Exhibition 2013, which includes a free tournament for spectators that will also feature combat with daggers and spears, will be held Friday through Sunday, Sept. 20 to 22. In addition, on Monday, scholarly presentations on historical European martial arts will be held at the Higgins Armory in Worcester.

“It’s been growing very rapidly,” said Jeff Tsay of North Reading, one of the hosts for the event. “Ten years ago, we would have been shocked to see the explosion and proliferation of schools and events, and the sources that have become available.”

Originally known as the Boston Sword Gathering, the event now draws people from around the country, leading organizers to change its name.

“Last year, we had maybe 40 to 50 people participating, and this year, we’re almost double that,” Tsay said.

The explosive growth in interest is remarkable given that, unlike Eastern martial arts like karate, the forms of combat at Iron Gate have mostly died out. Enthusiasts of historic European martial arts have turned to illustrations in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts for information about how weapons were used and how fights were conducted.

Tsay compares the situation to the movie “Jurassic Park,” in which dinosaurs were recreated from DNA that was preserved in amber.

“We’re doing the same thing from historical sources written down centuries ago,” he said.

While an enormous number of manuscripts and illustrations have been uncovered, there is still a great deal that isn’t clear about how people originally fought with swords, spears and daggers.

“Oftentimes, it’s like, ‘Why are they doing it this way?’” Tsay said. “When you aggregate all these rules, a lot of practitioners say it’s very artificial; it seems not what you would expect from people living and dying by the sword.”

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