Swordplay students get the point

SANTA CLARA — A character on a widely-watched, medieval-themed fantasy television series knowingly remarked:

“If you would play the game of thrones, you must play to win.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you swing a mean long sword, either – and that’s where Steaphen Fick comes in.

Fick, who founded the Davenriche European Martial Arts School, or DEMAS, in Santa Clara in 2000, told SFBay:

“The thing I get asked all the time is whether there’s an interest in sword fighting. The answer is that there’s enough interest from Hollywood that they’ll spend money on making at least five movies a year that involve sword fighting of some type.”

Movie trilogy Lord of the Rings and television series Game of Thrones have swelled the ranks of people interested in learning how to properly fight using a long sword, a technique first introduced in the early 1400s.

For safety and practicality, the long swords used in Fick’s training sessions are made of wood. He said that myth and movies make the weapon seem extraordinarily heavy, but the real long sword weighs only 3-4 pounds:

“The long sword is only actually a little sharper than a butter knife. If the weapon was razor-sharp, it would have very thin edges and would easily break on the battlefield. It’s not a hacking weapon; it’s more of a precision cutting tool.”

DEMAS also teaches students how to defend themselves using rapiers, daggers and even the quarterstaff.  Fick said that when most people here the terms “martial arts,” they typically think of the Asian martial arts such as karate, kung fu or judo.

Fick said the term martial arts originated in England during the Renaissance and added:

“Unfortunately, popular media portrayals have reduced European martial arts to the myth that combatants merely crudely bludgeoned, hacked and slashed savagely at their opponents. But really, we integrate footwork, avoidance and the ability to use timing and distance to exploit and enhance the sword’s inherent cutting and thrusting capabilities. It’s a lot of the same principles you see being used in other forms of martial arts.”

Fick said he has worked with the Society for Creative Anachronism, an global organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe, and that he and others will compete in the Battle of the Nations, the international Olympics of medieval combat.

Jordan Kahler, 23, has been practicing with the long sword at DEMAS for several months. After a friend of his in Canada told him of Western martial arts, he sought out DEMAS after moving to the Bay Area:

“Knights and the medieval world have always captured my imagination.  I get to learn martial principles from my history and cultural milieu – it’s not fantasy anymore.”

Another school teaches Western martial arts in the Bay Area, the Tosetti Institute in Redwood City, but Fick’s is the only academy that also offers a course titled “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Class.”

Fick said the class teaches students how to face rampaging zombies — or, more likely — any sort of natural disaster:

“I show participants how to defend against others using farming and gardening implements.  I just use zombies as an example, but imagine an earthquake or some other disaster – the best and worst in people comes out and sometimes you have to use the weapons at hand to survive.  These techniques work equally well on the living and the living dead.”