As decreed by Time Out readers, Kate Hutchinson must face an ordeal by cold steel.
As a proud modern-day feminist, I like to think I’ve got most man-skills nailed. Unblocking a toilet? No sweat. Sinking six pints? Piece of cake! Sword fighting? Ah, that’s something that very few of us, no matter what bits we’ve got, can do. Fencing aside, it pretty much died out a century ago but there are places in London dedicated to keeping the spirit of the flashing blade alive.
I encounter the London Longsword Academy on a Monday night at City YMCA. Their motto promises that ‘one day the bullets will run out’, and when they do, the beefy men attending this class of four will be the equivalent of cruise missiles. Two of them could crush me with a glance and while the other one looks gentle, I’m guessing he has the nimbleness of Legolas from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Thankfully, the medieval longswords that we are using are blunt, but they’re still Thor-hammer-heavy. ‘I am Brienne of Tarth!’ I think, as I almost drop the thing on my foot.
We launch straight into sparring, without a warm-up, so I soon get used to the feel of holding a sword two-handed. But what I can’t adjust to is the class’s pace. I’ve barely figured out how to advance before I’m swinging the three-foot blade above my head like a granny wielding a walking stick.
‘This is the plow, the food, the ox and day,’ says instructor Dave Rawlins, pointing his sword in different positions as I try to keep up. ‘Now we’re going to do a wrath strike from the right, turning into a feint, with an attack to the ear.’ I’ve no clue what’s going on. Now I must face the bitter realisation that my knowledge of pointy things you can stick into people extends only as far as the workings of the fork.
The next feat we try is even less straightforward, though Rawlins makes it look like ballet with blades. ‘Sorry if this hurts,’ I apologise, as I’m told to strike Legolas, then put my hand on the flat of the sword and push it into his neck, forcing himto the ground. Fortunately for him, I stagger around clumsily like a knight who’s quaffed too much mead. It’s a shame, really. Done properly, that move would kick some serious butt.
Soon our 90 minutes are up. I’m reassured that I did well, but I feel more like the Black Knight from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ than Uma Thurman in ‘Kill Bill’. For those with more combat savvy, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place for sword practice. The next time I want to get my medieval kicks, though, maybe I’ll try live-action role-play.
Where: Location varies.
When: Six nights a week (not Sat).
How much: £14 per session.
For info, see londonlongsword.com