by Abby E
On May 19, 2015, I had a badly degenerated hip replaced with a titanium prosthetic. On September 20,2015, I picked up a sword for the first time in my life.
I had been looking forward to learning Viking combat for months, but I was still worried that I wasn’t yetstrong enough to handle any form of martial art whatsoever. Nonetheless, I decided I would go and see what I could manage. I was pleasantly surprised.
About ten or twelve people came and went that afternoon. Some were members of Torvik, others were prospective members, including me. One of the more experienced fighters, K, handed me a metal helmet and a sword and another loaned me a pair of homemade leather gauntlets to protect my hands.
The whole thing felt so weird, but I got used to it very quickly.
K grabbed a bearded axe and led me a little way from the clusters of Viking enthusiasts who were still chatting and asked me to hold the sword in whatever way felt comfortable. I seemed to prefer holding it perpendicular to the ground, which is primarily a defensive way to hold a weapon. He then gave me the basics on where to hit – and where not to hit – how to strike, and how to block. I managed all of the blocks relatively easily, but for some reason, when he came in for a straight body-blow, I continually misjudged and used the wrong blocking method. In sparring, too, I failed to block just about every body blow, which suggests that had I been a real Viking, I probably would have been gutted in battle.
However, as my second trainer, J, taught me, sometimes the best defense is to just be out of reach, andI got better at dodging blows I couldn’t block. I still lost more arms than I could count (probably because I didn’t have any fingers left to count them on). I also learned how to use a shield and how to get around an opponent’s shield. The Torvik members constructed their own circular shields from wood, metal, and leather. Each shield was twelve to fifteen pounds each but could take a hard blow from a weapon and absorb almost all of the force. However, they are designed to be gripped by a single handle located smack in the centre, so if you struck theshield on one side, it would tilt. This could provide an opening for a strike, but the shields were huge and I was not particularly fast, so it was tough to get past my opponent’s shield and weapon combined. Additionally, it’s pretty easy to hide your weapon behind the shield so that your opponent can’t see what you’re doing. Sneaky.
When I was holding the shield, I realized I was not strong enough to hold it up for more than a few minutes. The protection it offered was impressive, but I soon became fixated on not dropping the shield and wasn’t able to either attack or defend myself properly, so those exercises didn’t last long. I did manage to get in a few attempted strikes when my opponents used their axes to pull the shield away from my body. In both cases, my trainers were only using one weapon at a time, so while their weapons were occupied, I had the opportunity to attack, although I’m sure I still would have been disemboweled had my opponent carried two blades. I really gotta work on that not getting killed thing.
All told, this was incredibly fun and challenging, and I had no trouble with my hip. My calves hurt from all the shuffling and, Odin’s beard, my arms hurt, but the new joint did its job beautifully. I’m going to have to do this again. And next time, I’m going to make sure my opponent spills his guts, instead. Or maybe the time after that.
Whatever. Shut the fuck up, doubtful inner voice.
Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She isnot a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.