By Luke Johnson | LSU Student
For an hour and a half on Tuesday nights in September and October, combatants wielding medieval long sword replicas engage in hand-to-hand combat, circling each other slowly, waiting for the precise moment to strike with their blades, which are made of 21st century plastic, fortunately.
Rather than being clad in impenetrable body armor, these warriors come clad in gym shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
It might not be the real thing, but it suffices for Eric Wiggins and his beginner's level long sword leisure class held on LSU's campus.
Wiggins, who is a Digital Media Analyst for the LSU High Performance Computing Group by day, preaches sword fighting basics to those who show up, but the foundation is far from basic.
In the first five sessions, his pupils needed to understand the rudimentary elements of a centuries-old technique before the class culminated in a full-bore sparring class.
Showing the depth of his proficiency and passion for the archaic fighting style, Wiggins listed the syllabus in a rapid-fire tone.
"We teach you the parts of the sword, what they're for, how to hold the sword, your stance, how you hold your body, how you need to step, how to cut with the sword, the basic positions and guards for defending and attacking, distance and timing. These are things that are general and across the board for almost any weapon fighting you'll do."
It doesn't hurt his reputation that he sports a lengthy beard fine enough for a Viking, but Wiggins can claim to have primary source knowledge on how to teach the subject.
After first being drawn to sword fighting at a Renaissance festival in Hammond, Wiggins associated with a friend in New Orleans involved with Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and became fully engrossed. "We studied manuals and manuscripts from the 15th, 16th and 17th century that were essentially how-to books written by people back when they actually used these weapons."
While reading the manuals, it occurred to him to use his now extensive knowledge to teach others. Wiggins advertised the class in a leisure course catalog and immediately drew interest.
A various number of participants show up for his class, some simply stopping by and participating out of curiosity, Wiggins figures the motivation to take his course is varied.
"Anytime you say swords, everybody's, like, ‘cool!' So it ranges from the ‘swords are cool' crowd to the actual previous martial artists (who) are interested in getting into it and even potentially competing down the line."
At least one student is a novelist who Wiggins presumed wanted to gain a more clear understanding of his subject matter.
For others, the class provided an opportunity to live out something that has captivated them since childhood.
Chuck Hustmyre, a Baton Rouge screenwriter and former federal law enforcement agent, said he had been fascinated with sword fighting ever since he was a child. He figured he' would satisfy that fascination with fencing.
A leisure class teacher himself, Hustmyre subscribed to the class catalog. When he saw the ad depicting long sword fighting, Hustmyre remembered thinking, ‘Oh my god, that's perfect. I've been looking for that my whole life.'
Wade McManus also had a childhood interest in the topic. His interest was spawned by movies portraying knights in armor.
"Excalibur," "The 13th Warrior" and "The Viking," starring a young Kirk Douglas served as the impetus behind McManus' decision to try the class, but he soon learned sword fights aren't as easy as the movies make out.
"It doesn't seem like much, but the very first week we were all sweating. It was dripping off us."
Ted Williams, who joined the class at Hustmyre's urging, discovered the same lesson quickly.
"It's not like on TV," Williams said. "It's not ‘Star Wars.' These aren't light sabers."