On Sunday, a group of men wielding long swords, some of them clad in very distinctive regalia resembling perhaps the knights or squires of medieval Europe, gathers in South Lakes Park in Denton.
Although Halloween is less than 24 hours away, these are not trick-or-treaters — they’re members of Denton’s chapter of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, or ARMA.
A study group meant to delve headfirst into the age-old tradition of swordsmanship and sizzling prizefighting, ARMA is unique in its ability to blend practical application with verifiable study of the topic.
“It is the study of the fighting arts of the Renaissance and late medieval Europe,” said study group leader and UNT graduate Ben Morgan. “We aren’t a live-action role-play group or a cult — we have materials that we study and techniques that we develop.”
The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship, a textbook of sorts, is according to Morgan the oldest complete manual showcasing the skills of age-old knights.
“It was likely a very expensive undertaking to compile all of this together,” he said, flipping through the pages to point out various positions a budding swordfighter might encounter.
Patrick Grigg, a 19-year-old NCTC student, remembers the first time he was exposed to the world of ARMA.
“I was in eighth grade and saw them practicing at a gym,” he said, pausing from the drills he was performing with another member of the group. “I thought it was fencing at first.”
Growing up, Griggs was fascinated with the world of knights and swords, and to see them practice the techniques in a historical capacity fit his interests perfectly.
“If you look at Japan, the katana [sword used by samurai] and the culture surrounding it is very well preserved,” he said. “The exciting part about [ARMA] is that it is still being discovered from historical texts — and seeing them practice legitimate techniques is awesome.”
The edges and points of the metal swords used by ARMA have been dulled for the safety of members and any possible bystanders, though the capacity for injury still remains.
Morgan demonstrates elements of the combative stances, holding his tools as he would in preparation for a sparring match — in one hand a sword, and in the other a small shield known as a “buckler.”
“Most of the time, when people think of a shield, they think of this big frame for blocking,” he said. “A buckler is meant to be used as a weapon as well — it’s really just a big metal fist.”
Curtis Rochelle of Little Elm, who’s also a UNT graduate, is another of the senior members of the group.
“Death, in [the] world [of knights], was more accepted,” Rochelle said. “The term prizefighting stems from fencing in those days.”
“You would have all these fighters come together, and at the end they might celebrate, but there was also the idea that someone might have died in the process,” Morgan said.
Group members meet every two years in Houston for their ARMA International conference, where members from around the globe come together to appreciate the history and the romantic culture behind an art form largely lost to time.
“The last one was in July 2015,” Morgan said. “So the upcoming event should be at that time in 2017.”
Morgan added that the group does its utmost to stick with the same methods and tactics that were used hundreds of years ago, though it does alter certain aspects of the martial art.
“The only real deviation is the head and facial protection that we use,” he said. “Even the swords that we use are exact replicas of the ones used in that time, weight and everything.”
HARRISON LONG can be reached at 940-566-6897 and via Twitter at @HarrisonGLong.
ON THE WEB
For more information about the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, find ARMA Denton’s page on Facebook or visit www.thearma.org.