by Meg Floyd
Today I am excited to bring you an interview from Ken Dietiker, one of the organizers of PNW HEMA Gathering 2014, a large tournament held every year among a group of clubs in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, to get some inside info on what makes this year’s PNW more exciting than ever before.
HN: First off, can you give me a little bit of information about your background in HEMA and any other martial arts, as well as your club?
DIETIKER: My first ever foray into Martial Art was in Asian forms, obviously way before anything like HEMA ever existed. I have been a practitioner of Kempo, Hapkido, Tai-Chi and Praying Mantis Fung Fu. I also studied a bit of hand-to-hand and bayonet while serving in the military. I am, for those who don’t know, a 20 year veteran, having served 4 years in the US Coast Guard and the remaining 16 years in the US Army. I have had positions from electronics, to Infantry, to Imagery Intelligence, just to name a few. I was never one to settle down into one discipline my entire career. To those remember what it was, I am also a veteran of the Gulf War. I am 30% disabled due to an injury to my left foot that never fully recovered.
I first discovered HEMA in 1998, started practicing in 2000 (though mostly solo for the first few years) and was a member of the ARMA for time, switching to the HEMA Alliance when it first became the new thing. My passion in scholarship revolves around Fiore dei Liberi as my primary source, and Liechtenauer’s KDF as my secondary, always concentrating on the earlier medieval manuals and sources. I have been teaching my unique understanding of HEMA for the past five years, and decided to open a brick-and-mortar school just recently: The Seven Swords Academy in Tacoma, Washington. We just opened up our doors two months ago.
HN: What clubs are involved in hosting PNW this year?
DIETIKER: The same clubs that are involved every year (though since its beginnings, we’ve added a couple of groups), which is one of the things that makes the PNW HEMA Gathering unique compared to other events. I think that’s one of the misconception about what the PNW Gathering is about and how it works. The Gathering has always been exactly what its title suggests, a gathering of regional HEMA/WMA clubs and practitioners from the Pacific Northwest. All of the groups involved are within the borders of the Pacific Northwest, which also makes it sort of a requirement for representation, and all members take ownership of the event, paying the dues suggested, even the senior members and instructors. Guest Instructors come from outside the Pacific Northwest region. The misconception about PNW is that it is, like in most other events in the USA, run and operated by a single club. Getting the message out that our event is run by all the clubs in the entire region, everyone sharing some responsibility of organization and running the show, has been a bit difficult.
The clubs represented at this year’s Gathering are:
There is, however, an indication of expansion in the region, with two new groups starting up in Portland this year, one a branch off of Drei Wunder (Indes WMA) and the up-coming Sword Guild Portland, with several other head poking up. Next year is looking at another increase in represented clubs.
HN: What goals are you hoping to achieve for PNW this year? Is there anything new and special you have prepared for attendees?
DIETIKER: The PNW Gathering has a few different goals, some long-term and some immediate. The general goals have not shifted too much this year from our original manifesto though, the most important of which is to provide an event that is both educational and challenging, centering on helping make both the martial aspects of HEMA and individual fighting skills better.
A couple of new goals are being met this year, however, and we’re pretty excited about them. This year we are finally bringing Guest Instructors from Europe. PNW has essentially always been “International” in intent, though in the past we kind of cheated on that by claiming folks from Canada and Mexico are “International”. LOL! Last year was the first time we actually had an internationally respected Guest Instructor from outside North America, Mr. Paul Wagner from Australia and, as a first, it was awesome to have him at the Gathering. This year we’ve raised the bar even higher with three top-notch, internationally respected instructors from Europe agreeing to come and both teach workshops for the event and fight in out tournaments. It has been something we’ve wanted to do since the beginning of this venture five years ago, and finally achieving that is a serious accomplishment for us. It is our pleasure to introduce to the PNW Gathering the following Guest Instructors:
Another is creating and implementing our own cutting tournament, based on guidance and example given by Mike Edelson when he was our guest in 2012. This year’s Cutting Tournament will have a slight PNW flavor, but is otherwise what anyone serious about the triangulation offered by this previously neglected part of HEMA would hope for, and is being run by the renowned Sean (Zeusquatch) Franklin.
Finally we are very excited to be able to hold a Women’s Longsword tournament, something we’ve attempted in the past but just didn’t have the numbers for. At the time of this writing, we currently have 10 female participants signed up to compete in the Gathering’s first Women’s Longsword Tournament, and that will truly be serious highlight for us. Some of those same women will be competing in the Open Longsword competition as well, such as the indomitable Amanda Trail of Iron Crown KDF. All of the clubs here are obviously very strong supporters of Esfinges and its goals.
I’m sure there a few other, smaller goals we are meeting this year that I am forgetting to mention at the moment, but those three are the ones the personally have me jazzed the most.
HN: Do you have any special workshops or instructors this year?
DIETIKER: We always have classes, or workshops, in conjunction with the general ideal of tournament that is part of the PNW Gathering. In the early days, we just taught each other our own applications of material, and eventually that progressed to inviting others from outside the PNW to teach their version of things. However, and I think this is significant to the rapid growth of the event and the skills of the local clubs, we’ve tried to get away from having classes that are introductions to the newest weapon, or manual interpretation, and bring the focus towards conceptual material with the goal of improving individual understanding of the art itself. So, as an example, instead of teaching Fiore’s Short Spear as an intro to the basic techniques of the weapon, I would now teach the same weapon but with the focus on how it relates to the Longsword and to grappling, and how proper study of the sources can reveal the subtleties and systemic applications within concepts like “Breaking Thrust”.
However, the PNW is a little week in certain weapons types since most of the schools concentrate on the Basic Medieval class weapons, and so to get more people involved in something new to them as a whole, this year’s PNW Gathering’s theme is Sword and Buckler. We will be providing not only a tournament in S&B for those who are ready, we will also be providing important S&B workshops in three different S&B traditions; Lignitzer, Bolognese, and I:33.
I’ve already mentioned the awesome international instructors from Europe we have this year, and they will be teaching two workshops each. In addition to those three, we are including four young guest instructors from around the United States that I like to think of as “up-and-coming” HEMA instructors, a sort of HEMA outreach program. Inviting them to our event gives them the rare opportunity to work with practitioners from the PNW region, as well as demonstrate their knowledge and skill, sometimes for the very first time outside their own clubs (though each has a unique and inspiring story), and provide them a much needed platform to make a name for themselves. This, I feel, is a new and otherwise unique feature of this year’s PNW, where other major events focus on providing classes and workshops from already established instructors in the HEMA community. Here we allow those young scholars, with the skills and understanding to be instructors, a chance that the “old boys” can get in the way of. At the same time we get to learn something new, or see something from a new perspective, while ensuring the new kids don’t get left behind, knowing we will receive a quality class. These four up-and-coming in HEMA instructors are:
- Briston Lowry – Glima
- Kyle (Cimmerian) Griswold – S&B vs. mixed weapons, and closing
- RJ McKeehan – 2 messer specific classes
- Rebecca Boyd – Blind Fuhlen training techniques
Not to mention we have a few of our own local instructors teaching some of their signature methods and classes. Such as Stewart Feil’s S&B class on I:33 S&B, stressing the fight in Longpoint.
Rather than give all of the details here, I’ll let you read about more about our great Instructors, and their classes, on our event website at: www.pnwhemag.com
HN: What kind of experiences have PNW staff prepared for attendees this year?
DIETIKER: Besides this year’s theme centered around Sword and Buckler, we will be producing the Gathering’s first Live Stream of the finals on Sunday afternoon. That’s a first for us, so hopefully everything goes off without a hitch. But, generally speaking, the task of the staff is always the same; to provide an enriching, educational and challenging event while being nearly invisible. The rest of what the event staff provides is detailed below.
HN: What tournaments will you be hosting, and under what rule sets?
DIETIKER: This year, we will be hosting the following tournaments:
- Invitational Sword & Buckler
- Steel Longsword (by application)
- Open Synthetic Longsword
- Women’s Longsword
- Single stick
The sword-specific competition rule sets at PNW are not unusual in any particular way, and those who have been to other HEMA events will not find anything unfamiliar. For instance, we absolutely use the Aferblow rule, however instead of scoring it as a single point, or weighted points, we use it in negation. We have found this AB rule to help prevent sacrificial strikes, which is important. One change we made this year, though is the addition of a cutting requirement to enter the Steel Longsword tournament. It’s a very basic cutting test, however we felt that this would provide a nice requirement to demonstrate knowledge and skill in edge alignment, a true requisite for any sword fighting, but much more important in steel competition since we feel that (unlike synthetic swords) a demonstration of more advanced skills is needed.
All of the general information for our tournament rules, as well as safety equipment requirements, can be found here: http://www.pnwhemag.com/tournaments/
The most unique thing that we have at PNW is the Ringen Tournament, which anyone interested in competing in Ringen should know that they cannot find its like anywhere else, yet. Here is a short video explaining how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdoYVvmG-Mk
Finally, as mentioned above, we are happy to announce that this year we finally will be able to field enough women for a Women’s Longsword tournament. At last count, we have no less than ten registered competitors!! They will be competing under the same rule set as the Open.
HN: Is there anything unique or special about PNW compared to other HEMA events?
DIETIKER: The low-key atmosphere, no super-prize finals, the multi-club approach, the venue, Ringen tournament!
The most unique thing about the PNW Gathering is that, because it is run by five different groups/schools in the region, the atmosphere is very low key and low pressure. Once the general schedule is posted, we sort of the let the event run itself.
We also don’t provide large and expensive tournament prizes, intentionally, as many other events do. True, there is something to be said for winning a completion and receiving a high value item as a prize for the effort, but we generally feel that competitors can also appreciate the fact that they are there to prove their skill above al else, and the focus should never be on competing for the sake or medals and fancy equipment. Having said that, we do give prizes to the top winners in each category, however a competitor shouldn’t come to PNW because they seek material goods, We’re all about the glory!!
Another unique aspect of the PNW Gathering has to always attempt to provide the best quality event at the lowest prices. There’s something of a balancing act involved in this, and the last two years we think we’ve hit on a solution. Events are now run from a University gym, large enough for our needs, and the participants are housed in the university’s dorms, and eat at their cafeteria (it’s usually pretty good food, too). In this way we can provide a reasonable price for the three day event and the participant does not have to worry about large additional costs for Hotels and meals that are generally not provided as part of the registration fee at other events. For the most part, what you pay for includes most of what you need for the full three days, so your only concerns are transportation to and from the event, and extras not listed, such as beer.
And finally, did I mention we’re the only event in the USA to have a true Ringen tournament?
HN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DIETIKER: I would only like to add one thing, to help dispel any still on-going misconceptions of what the PNW Gathering is about. What a lot of people who have never had the privilege of coming to PNW seem to still be unaware of, is that the event is not run by a majority of a main school or group like most other events, but by five independent groups and schools spread out over two states and a province in the Pacific Northwest of North America. No senior member of one school is boss over the others, or holds a primary position over the others, and the events are always run as a concerted effort. It is true that up until now the largest school involved is Blood and Irion out of British Columbia, and so present the illusion of ownership due to their larger number of students who turn out for the event, but the illusion is just that, and the reality is something only attendees will ever be able to experience for themselves. All of the members of the PNW, including senior instructors and staff, pay their way into the event on an equal basis and take ownership for the event. And, this is soon to change with several senior members of the PNW community finally getting away from the “study group” method and opening brick-an-mortar schools, the reason for Blood and Iron’s larger numbers, and including m own school we have three new such schools opening this year. Numbers everywhere in the PNW will be increasing shortly at a very fast rate.
Watch for us! In the next few years, if you don’t come to PNW to fight us, we will be coming to your events to take away your medals and prizes!