My house is currently a mess of swords and leather, with scattered books and fiber to balance it all out. The house I share with Courtney is a constant storm of creativity, and it’s a rare night when we aren’t both working away on something and seeing midnight creep up on us and give us a fright. Some projects might never get done, but they add to the rich loam of inspiration we seem to relish.
This morning I’m topping that off with bright January sun and some welcome warmth. I’ve got a mix of Irish and Scottish music playing, which seems a little weird. Countries that my ancestors came from, countries that I will never see. The only legacy I have from them seems to be a taste for the music and the booze. But even that is hard to prove…Vancouver is a city where all the cultures of the world come to plant a little bit of themselves. Cantonese and Punjabi were the languages of my childhood, and French was always an African language that my grandparents could, somehow, speak. I took up playing bagpipes because it was the background sound to so many important events in my life. Irish trad music awoke childhood memories that weren’t, as far as I could tell, real.
Which might be why I don’t really feel any need to teach my art as a European one. I know it’s origins, and I know my origins…but I am a product of this land, and this city. My art has roots, but it grew up in this soil. I teach modern swordplay. If anything, it’s a Canadian martial art. Of course, as a Canadian, saying such thing makes me blush. I feel shame for the ego of declaring anything Canadian. And it also seems like I’m belittling what I’m doing at the same time.
It seems like someone can move to the US, and as soon as the paperwork is done they declare “I am an American!” In Canada, it’s a little different. Our favourite way to get to know a new friend is to ask them about their heritage. It’s something we tend to be intensely curious about. The usual answer is “Well, my dad’s dad was from Scotland, he married a french woman. My mom’s parents are from Norway and Newfoundland…before that from Quebec and Pennsylvania, dutch before that…and some Cree fits in there too. I guess…I guess…I suppose…that makes me Canadian?” As kids, we feel an intense envy of anyone that could claim a single origin. They always seem so exotic. There are probably kids being born now in Vancouver who can claim a genetic heritage from every continent except Antarctica.
Since I lack a formal education, I’m not about to even try to claim any sort of ability to reconstruct historical arts. I try to avoid even using historical terms for swordplay online, because it’s the quickest way to get some pedantic asshole spamming you with unending details of how wrong you are. My lack of desire to argue and explain myself doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. It doesn’t mean I haven’t studied the manuals deeply, and sweated blood to try and make my interpretations work against any opponent. I used to really enjoy the online community, but since the scholars turned it into their own litterbox of the worst aspects of academia, I’ve lost the taste.
Which, in my case, has turned out to be a good thing. Once I dropped my interest in trying to justify my art and approach, I was free to start extending my art. Suddenly it felt okay for me to study modern olympic training methods, and to start incorporating things from other martial arts. Stealing movement paradigms allowed my teaching to blossom, and I’m seeing things in students now I wouldn’t have dreamed of years ago.
The Valkyrie WMA Assembly students and myself are creating a new Vancouver martial art. It’s strange and exciting and a lot of fun, and I have no idea where it will go. I like to think it’s an art that would have stood up to a real Renaissance fencer, but that doesn’t matter as much as it being a premier modern art. Seeded, like everyone here, from all over the world, and from a rich history.