Suburban sword fighting relives the age of Spanish Renaissance

Jon CoghillFencer

Tevi Romanin has undergone an interesting transition since she accepted an invitation to attend Caboolture’s Abbey Medieval Festival in 2010.

The 25-year-old has gone from attending the festival dressed as a princess for the day, to becoming a ‘gentleman’ sword fighter with the Prima Spada School of Fence, a Spanish and French-style renaissance sword fighting club.

“I started as a guest of the festival and I went as a renaissance princess,” Romanin says.

“I saw Prima Spada [perform at the festival] and I joined, and now I’m a ‘gentleman’,” she says.

Romanin trains twice a week as a sword fighter, dressed in the garb of the men of the Spanish aristocracy.

But she says the term gentleman is simply used to respect the era this style of sword fighting began in.

“We’re called gentlemen because women weren’t allowed to [sword] fight back in the renaissance,” Romanin says.

For three hours every Monday and Thursday night Prima Spada classes take over the Ashgrove Bowls club, filling the air with the sound of the shuffle of people in tights, shouts of ‘en garde’, and the clash of steel on steel.

The club boasts 50 members ranging in age from 14 to 60.

Like a martial arts club, they are separated into groups according to their skill level – beginner, novice, scholar, free scholar, provost, swordsman and master swordsman.

Romanin says training with Prima Spada is no walk in the park.

“Fighting is tiring, you have to think as you’re doing it and you have to attack or you’ll be defending non-stop,” she says.

“You’re tired, but you’re super energetic afterwards.”

Jasmyne Tidey, 21, trains with Prima Spada as a ‘scholar’.

“We don’t let guys have all the fun.[Spanish sword fighting] is reliant on technique and not just brute strength,” she says.

“That’s why the girls can enjoy it as well.”

Veteran swordsman Michael Barnes says the club is unique in its ability to attract both sexes and is probably the largest club of its kind in Australia.

He says Prima Spada has a different style than most sword fighting clubs.

“We come from a sporting perspective,” Barnes says.

“We take away the aggression that you may see in other sword fighting clubs and we allow for the finesse to come through.

“The training system is designed to take people who have never held a sword before… and step-by-step take you up to the skills you can fight with,” Barnes says.

Learning to fight with finesse is a feat that is much harder than it appears  m– all while holding a 3kg sword for an entire five-minute bout.

But it isn’t only their technique that gives them flair.

In true Shakespearian fashion, Prima Spada members dress in white linen puffy-sleeve shirts, leather gloves, black pantaloons, black tights and black doublet jackets.

They must wear gloves for protection, sturdy shoes for the complex drills and a cape or a velvet hat, both of which can be used in defence.

Keith Charles Beattie, the school’s Maestro, founder and chief instructor, tirelessly teaches and espouses his love of the ancient art.

He knows how a gentlemen of the renaissance would conduct himself and what weapons he would use.

“The rapier is reserved for the aristocracy, [while] bucklers were for the everyday man. You wouldn’t go down the street without your velvet hat, cape, rapier and dagger.”

Beattie says to become a sword fighter new students face many unusual tests, and being attacked with a sword is not the only one.

“Putting on the tights is a challenge for the students.

“If they pass that they can continue,” he jokes.

Jasmyne Tidey is one student who has become more than comfortable in her tights and pantaloons.

“We forget we’re wearing them so we walk down the street and buy petrol, and have coffee [in them],” she says.

“So I reckon they’re going to be a new trend.”

Perhaps pantaloons and tights won’t take off, but Prima Spada sword fighting may be about to in Brisbane.

Since the Abbey Medieval Festival in July this year, it has had its biggest influx of beginners yet.

Tidey says she believes there are a few reasons for the club’s growing popularity.

“The romanticism around it, there’s something beautiful about learning how to fence with a sword,” she says.

“Maybe because of all the movies that include sword fighting, too.”

Tim Davissen, 23, was attracted to Prima Spada a little differently.

“I’m just a huge fan of ancient history and medieval history, and I have an ancient history degree,” he says.

Like Tevi Romanin, Davissen saw the group’s demonstration at the medieval festival.

“I’m also a Lord of the Rings fan,” he says.

A member for three years and at ‘provost’ level, his six-foot-plus frame wields a rapier like a lethal windmill.

For Romanin, the transformation from princess to Prima Spada gentlemen and renaissance fan is all but complete.

Not only is she a ‘free scholar’ who handles the rapier with the finesse of a Shakespearian actor, but she also works with the medieval-themed Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology as marketing assistant.

She says she has one wish for next year’s medieval festival, however.

“I wish I could go as a princess once again, but I must go as a gentlemen with Prima Spada.

“I want to be a lady; I wish they had skirts here,” she says.

It might be the next step for Prima Spada School of Fence.

She only has Maestro Beattie and 400 years of tradition to fight against.

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