The Glengarry Highland games in Maxville, Ontario are one of the largest outside of Scotland. Founded in 1948, the attendance over the weekend can draw up to 50,000. If there is a place more Scottish than Scotland, this might be it. This year, they added a new special event called An Cruinneachadn featuring seminars on Highland Broadsword, Smallsword and a Singlestick tournament. Without question, this has been one of the highlights of any fencing experience since I began my journey into the art of Highland Swordsmanship some 10 years ago.
Drummond Fraser, a retired Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, organised the event. He has his roots in Maxville, On, a place steeped in the traditions of the highlanders. His children are involved in highland dance, Olympic fencing, re-enactment and historical swordsmanship. He is a long time martial artist, judoka, boxer and like many of us has dabbled in many others. A perfect intersection of many of his interests (including history, his undergraduate major) is Highland Broadsword, especially Roworth. Drummond is opening up a school this fall in the Maxville area and will be teaching Broadsword and Smallsword. Drummond is an outstanding organiser and leader. He was able to get broadsword into the games, which are very prestigious and traditional. He assembled a great team of experts- with Kevin Cote leading the Smallsword classes, Philippe Gauthier and his crew from Companie Medievale staffing the tounrament, Abu-Isa Webb as head judge and leading the staff training, myself teaching a broadsword seminar to prepare participants, and Drummond leading the seminar for beginners and youth.
The seminars were excellent, participants were focused on learning and absorbing all that they could.
That night, Kevin, David (who now runs the smallsword program at Escrime Montreal) and myself did a steel demo at the gala of both broadsword and smallsword. I was shocked by how much honor we were given by the wealthy looking crowd in full formal attire while Drummond narrated for us. They were so clearly impressed by the sharp movements and disarms and the air was electric. The fights were crisp and clean, as you can expect from such skilled opponents. I think we did our old masters of long ago a real honor in presenting their knowledge, resurrected and I believe very close to how it was.
The tournament was amazing. Very rarely do you hear of judging in HEMA or fencing that is positive. There were no complaints, and only praises. The judging was decisive, clear and they also explained to the crowd as they went, making it a great spectator sport. The tournament rules were to 6 points, all targets being equal. Doubles were punished, 8 making the match a draw, and in case of a tie in ranking, the person with the lowest doubles would be chosen to continue forward.
The participants had among the best behaviour I’ve witnessed. They called blows against (although there are always ones you can’t feel due to protective gear). They maintained the utmost respect, we were even coaching each other between rounds, helping our opponents who had missed the workshop the day before on details like stance, guards and gripping the sword to better the performance.
I was honoured to have made it as the top competitor through the pools, having won all my matches and even more importantly having the least amount of double hits by a significant margin. The competitors were cared for by the staff and Drummond who brought us water constantly, performed thorough gear checks between each match, kept the matches flowing by having fighters prepared and waiting, and by switching off head judges and sticklers regularly so that their focus and attention was undivided and they didn’t get fatigued.
A crowd of maybe 100 people was watching us for the first portion, many have never seen broadsword fencing before, some were family members.
After eliminations we went to a much larger stage for the semi-finals and finals. The crowd was a couple to a few hundred. There was a buzz around it like I had never witnessed before in our art. They were enthusiastic, many kilted. Philippe and Abu-Isa as head judges now had a microphone and beautifully explained and announced who the fighters were, and each call that was made.
The ring was much larger now, so it changed the pace of the fight from quick exchanges in the pools and eliminations, to a careful pace with more distance being used. As I had been undefeated previously I had a by during the eliminations if my opponents agreed. They did not, a good decision, and I had to earn my place forward in combat in front of the crowd. We got many oooh’s and ahh’s for clean hits, and bad reactions for doubles. It was amazing to see the crowd understand the clear rule set and participate. This was amplified by the drone of the bagpipes in the background and the intense energy of the Games.
I was humbled to have won the first place medal representing Manitoba and the beautiful prize of a Castille Highland Broadsword . Second place going to Phil Charlebois from Quebec and Third to Callum Carmichael from Ontario.
The crowd cheered for us all and reacted to the human component as I kissed my wife and held my baby in arms with the prizes.
After the win, I was approached by many people who had witnessed the bouts. They said “Broadsword belongs at the Glengarry Highland Games”. And that they had never seen anything like this before. The energy was amazing. Not just in the fights, but also in participation from the crowd. It felt like a performance where I was getting to showcase my art. As historical fencers, we so very rarely get the recognition and legitimacy of other sports and martial arts. I can without question say this is where our art belongs, as it did historically at the Highland Games. It isn’t something new, but a return to the old ways. The martial culture is so alive and present, but it’s time to bring back the martial art that won the Highlander’s so much fame and glory.
As the broadsword master of the Black Watch Regiment said: ” My countrymen, the Highlanders, have, from time immemorial, evinced the utility of the Broad Sword; and, by their skillful management of it in the day of battle, have gained immortal honour. Such has been the effect of their dexterity and knowledge of this weapon, that undisciplined crowds have made a stand against, nay, and have defeated a regular army.”
There is nothing like the pride of having a kilt flowing, pipes droning, and broadswords clashing. This is the one event I want to be sure to attend each year as it grows, and it’s already motivated us to do something similar back home. It won’t have the glory or size of the Glengarry games, but we hope to contribute more fighters and participants next year.
Report by Jay Maas (BAM)
You can see the playlist with all of Jay´s bouts in the BAM channel.
Congratulations, Jay for this great success 🙂