by Meg Floyd
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Ben Michels, one of the organizers behind Longpoint 2013, to get a closer look at what’s going on behind the scenes of this year’s event.
HN: First off, can you give me a little bit of info about your background in HEMA and martial arts?
MICHELS: Besides a few weeks of karate when I was much younger, HEMA is my first martial arts endeavor. I started about six years ago, attending ARMA D.C. an hour and forty-five minutes away from home every Saturday. After a few years there, Jake Norwood and I started up Maryland KDF in Baltimore, MD, focusing on early German longsword sources. Since then I’ve founded Wiktenauer, attended events in both the US and Europe, and am one of the key organizers of Longpoint.
HN: What about MKDF? Could you tell me a little bit about your club, such as where you’re based and what manuals/traditions do you focus on?
MICHELS: Maryland KDF is based in Columbia, MD, right outside of Baltimore. We rent space from a local Krav Maga gym that treats us really well. Although we’ll dabble in all the German manuals, we tend to focus on Ringeck and Goliath (and their ilk), with some supplemental material from Wallerstein. We have spent a great majority of our time with longsword over the past three years, but Jake Norwood’s background in messer and Evil Ben Jarashow’s background in wrestling means we stray into those every so often. Like most groups, I think, we will occasionally pull out other weapons for a change of pace.
HN: Let’s talk about Longpoint. It began in 2011 as a small regional tournament held at a local recreation complex. Since then it’s exploded. How many people are attending this year?
MICHELS: As you said, Longpoint as we know it today started in 2011, but this year’s event is actually the fourth event for us. In 2010 we started the ball rolling with an extremely local event that had even less people. Including the staff we have so far, which is still expanding, we have almost 100 people registered. We know that there are other people who plan to come that have not registered yet, so I’m confident we will break 100.
HN: That’s awesome. I think that puts you forward as the largest competitive American HEMA event this year. Could you tell me what you hope to achieve with Longpoint? What kind of event do you intend it to be?
MICHELS: Honestly, and I’m speaking for myself here rather than for the group of us, I want it to feel like Swordfish. I pushed hard for the current venue because it offers the training and sleeping space all in one building, which is a huge benefit for the event environment emotionally and physically. Overall, though, we want the event to both fuel competitiveness and encourage people to train harder or better. Two of our overarching events this year are the Triathlon, which rewards people who do well in fighting and cutting with the longsword, and wrestling, and the Team event, which uses a similar scoring method to recognize the school or club that makes the best showing across all of the tournaments. Additionally, although we’ve kept some of the historically interesting types of classes, we’ve focused our workshops and classes on training methodology and personal growth.
HN: It’s interesting that you mention Swordfish. I know I myself have begun to think of Longpoint as “the American Swordfish” a little bit. And speaking of Swordfish, another similarity I’d like to point out is the news about having a livestream for Longpoint this year. What made you decide to include a livestream as part of the tournament offering?
MICHELS: We originally were not going to attempt a livestream simply due to the work required on top of all of the other tasks on our plate. Fortunately, Jeff Tsay of the newly created Forte Productions offered their services to us after the successful streaming of Fechtschule America. Livestreams allow HEMA as a whole to benefit through easily accessible viewing by people outside of it. Swordfish 2011’s livestream on Youtube has over 17,000 views and, judging by the comments, a lot of them are from people totally outside of HEMA. Providing a livestream is simply an easy decision once the option is on the table.
HN: So is there anything new this year for people to look forward to?
MICHELS: I think the biggest new item this year, looking at the registration numbers, is the Open Steel Longsword tournament. It will be the first time a large tournament in the US has been run completely with blunt steel swords. Right behind it, by only a few people, is the Ringen im Grueblein tournament, which is an asymmetrical wrestling game that encourages the type of ringen a lot of us associate with our practice. As Auerswald says, “Much art comes of this and it is funny to see.”
HN: Speaking of tournaments, I see you have an open steel women’s longsword tournament. I believe it’s the largest women’s longsword tournament in U.S. history.
MICHELS: We do! There are currently 12 women in the Women’s Steel Longsword tournament, which includes people from Canada, England, Finland, Sweden, and all over the U.S.
HN: Could you share with us who’s sponsoring the event this year?
MICHELS: We have a wide array of sponsors already, including Purpleheart, Albion Swords, Sparring Gloves, Fuhlen Designs, SPES, Absolute Force, Szymon Chlebowski Swords, Iron Gate Exhibition, and Mandy Michels Photography. A few more are in the works.
HN: Thanks so much. Is there anything you’d like to add as a final note?
MICHELS: Yes. I want to thank everyone for supporting the event, whether through attending, sponsoring it, watching the livestream, or spreading news about it. Longpoint is still a non-profit event, and we took a pretty significant gamble to make this year’s event a transition into a sure-bet landmark for HEMA. It feels great to have it succeed so well, and we still have a couple months before it actually happens.