Last week I attended a couple hours of this day long event in Towson, MD at the historic Hampton House, a National Park Service site. There’s nothing like the thrill of sunny day filled with martial arts at a historic mansion.
The instructors as well as a surprising number of participants were also sporting their best period threads. I assume some of the participants must have been from the Mid-Atlantic Society for Historical Swordsmanship (MASHS). The turn out was steady and enough to hold informal classes, but not too heavy that everyone couldn’t participate if they wanted.
I only had a two hour window, but it worked out well- I arrived as what looked like a cudgel/singlestick class was finishing up and had a chance to chat with Park Ranger and organizer Victor Markland about the event and the Hampton House grounds. In a handy tie-in, Charles Ridgely Jr. (aka the Captain) the builder of Hampton House, and his nephew, the Governor of Maryland, were supposedly well-known for prize fighting with fist and cudgel. A bit surprising, really, as prize fighting didn’t gain much popularity in America until the latter half of the 19th century, whereas the Captain was living there a century earlier.
There was an exhibition hall which displayed a number of western swords, canes, sticks, knives, and manuals. It was a large display that covered quite a few tables, helping to give an overview of the periods covered by the exhibition.
Steve Huff and Mark P. Donnelly taught an hour of bata (Irish stick) that looked consistent with what Ken Pfrenger teaches in the Cumann Bhata and that shown in Donald Walker’s Defensive Exercises (see illustrations left and right). Basically attacks high and low, along with blocks high and low with both ends of the bata (stick).
They mentioned in passing a two-handed style, which I assume was a reference to Glen Doyle’s family style. Some of the hardwood sticks given out a little heavy for getting the movement down, but Huff and Donnelly both were able to demonstrate the fluidity of the bata as well as point out places where strikes could be inserted into typical attacks and counters.
Bartitsu followed in the next hour and covered a lot of ground. It was a tough crowd, with lots of small kids present, so much of what was taught may have been decided on the fly based on the participants. Donnelly still managed to get in an interesting discussion on the 19th century garroting fad, along with physical and technological approaches to defending from marauding garroters.
Rather than showing just segments from the Bartitsu canon (techniques as demonstrated by Barton-Wright), the demo was more period techniques which would have been common for the bartitsu practitioner at that time. He was able to give an effective demonstration of using a cane to escape a crowd (see right), and I noticed he taught a quick come along afterwards to one of the spectators (see left).
Donnelly did cover two of the primary bartitsu/Vigny guards with the cane, as well as emphasize the la canne style of swinging with the hips when striking and passing back and forth and changing guards.
Mark Donnelly was obviously a very experienced instructor who was as well-versed in the historical details as he was the physical techniques and the mix of canonical techniques with general period self-defense with ongoing lecture made for an active and informative demo.
I wasn’t able to catch any of the fencing or other pointy sessions, but I’m confident it was just as well presented as the more bludgeonly classes I saw.
Are you interested in an ongoing study group in Maryland? If he can get enough interest, Victor Markland will organize a regular local study group drawing in Mark P. Donnelly (PA) and Steve Huff (southern MD) to meet somewhere in the Baltimore area. Shoot me an email [jasoncouch AT martialhistory.com] or click the Contact page at the top and I’ll pass it along to Victor. All I have is his work email and I don’t want to post it online for the spammers to grab.