The idea: Adrian Paul, star of the ‘90s fantasy TV spin-off Highlander: The Series, now travels the globe training fans in the art of stage combat. I expected the gathering to be attended exclusively by middle-aged men called Gareth. In reality, it was far more varied, with a more or less even split of men and women, ranging from their 20s to 60s. Only one of them was wearing a Highlander T-shirt, only one was wearing a kilt, and only one brought his own golf bag full of wooden samurai swords. As the movie quote goes: there can be only one.
Where: I attended the “London” event, which is actually situated somewhere east of Stansted, in the heart of darkest Essex. The location, Cressing Temple, is a place of rustic splendour, one of the earliest and largest Knight Templar estates in England, and it includes two large medieval barns, one of which is the oldest timber-framed barn in the world. Looking up at its 800-year-old rafters definitely elevated proceedings.
Location is important to the Sword Experience. Paul explained that he was taught by the legendary sword master Bob Anderson, who worked on Star Wars and The Princess Bride, and told him, “You don’t take a sword-fight and put it into a location. You take a location and build a fight.” The next event, in Stuttgart this Friday, will take place in a music hall.
All About: Sword-fighting. Those hoping for a Highlander Q&A should go to a sci-fi convention, because the focus here is very much on blade-to-blade combat. After a brief warm-up – jumping over a sword, standing like you’re riding a horse – things progress quickly into learning the moves of the fight from season 1 of Game of Thrones, where *SPOILER ALERT* Ned Stark throws down with the Kingslayer.
Paul is a great teacher; precise, encouraging, effortlessly charming. Advice ranged from the practical – “Respect your weapon, for two reasons: One, it will make you a lot of money. Two, it will save your life” – to the inadvertently profound – “Your feet go where you want to go.”
By the end of the session, everyone was bashing away at each other. If you want to learn serious stage combat, you’re probably better off doing a longer course, but if you want to dabble in the basics and hang out with Adrian Paul, this is a great day out. My fact of the day is that when you’re cutting upwards to cleave someone through the groin, it’s the same motion you’d use for a golf swing.
And After That: I snapped a #medievalbarnselfie and had a quick snoop around the walled garden and granary before leaping into a taxi for the first leg of my homeward journey. People with more time, and their own means transport, might have enjoyed a cuppa and a scone at the large, unobtrusively modern onsite tearooms, or sallied forth to find a country pub and whiled away the warm summer evening sipping real ale in a beer garden. If you attend the Stuttgart Sword Experience you should probably stick around for Comic Con Germany on the Saturday and Sunday; make a long weekend of it.
Need to Know: The Stuttgart event takes place on Friday and costs $250 including hire of a “bokken” (wooden sword). Other events this year will be taking place in the US: Pensacola, Florida on 19 August; Manchester, New Hampshire on 17 September, and Minneapolis, Minnesota on 15 and 16 October – tickest from $185. For more information and to book your tickets, go to swordexperience.nbblticketing.com.