To participate in freeplay at Ottawa Swordplay, you must agree to abide by this safety policy.
Ottawa Swordplay’s salute words are: “The Tower’s Vigilance, The Gate’s Defence, The Ox’s Endurance and the Boar’s Advance.” These words carry important meanings for swordplay and form the foundation of our Freeplay Safety policy and Code of Conduct..
Vigilance: Stay focused. Be aware of your surroundings and the people in them. Look for what you can do to make things better.
Defence: Make our activities safe for everyone, martially, emotionally and socially.
Endurance: Improvement in swordplay does not come overnight. Neither does our growth as people. Keep trying, be patient, learn from your mistakes.
Advance: With vigilance, defence and endurance comes advancement. The lessons that help us become better swords people, also help us become better people.
At Ottawa Swordplay our number one priority is the safety of our students. We believe wholeheartedly that those who love to play with swords will want to continue playing with swords for many years. This can only happen when we all choose to play safe.
Safety in swordplay is dependent on our behaviour and our equipment. Of these, behaviour is the most important. Two vigilant practitioners can fence with minimal gear at a high intensity and walk away safely having had a remarkable experience and a tonne of fun, because of the attention they pay to keeping themselves and their partner safe. Two negligent practitioners can be wearing “state of the art” protection and both walk away injured and unable to fence for days, weeks, months or even years. Lists of acceptable protective gear are available (see Freeplay Gear Requirements). This document will focus on attitude and behaviours.
Styles of Freeplay
Ottawa Swordplay recognizes 5 styles of freeplay: Low Gear Slow, Face and Forearms (Restricted Targets), Full Gear Controlled, Low Gear Controlled and Full Gear Tournament. The training exercise labelled stop-motion freeplay is considered equivalent to other training drills and as such is not covered in this document.
Low Gear Slow freeplay is characterized by slow, smooth actions without sudden changes of speed or percussive strikes and can be done with reduced protective equipment.
Face and Forearms (Restricted Targets) freeplay is characterized by changes of pace during the exchange, an increased intensity in the delivery of attacks but limited to only three targets: front of the mask (face) and forearm protectors.
Full Gear Controlled is characterized by changes of pace during the exchange, an increased intensity in the delivery of attacks including percussive blows and must be done wearing significant protective gear. The increased intensity involved in this style of freeplay does not preclude us from utilizing the control defined below.
Low Gear Controlled is characterized by a level of intensity and pace that allows the fencers to always ensure they will not strike their partner with excessive force even when wearing reduced protective gear. At Ottawa Swordplay, we consider the ability to fence with Low Gear and maximum control to be the epitome of fencing skill and the best demonstration of use of the art in a modern context.
Full Gear Tournament freeplay may not be for everyone. The broader HEMA tournament community has accepted a level of impact to their blows that carries an extra risk of injury. For those who would like to train for tournaments outside of Points North Tournament and Workshops, we will make time and space available for training at this intensity outside of normal class times. This freeplay tends to be characterized by rapid, forceful exchanges with a modest attempt at controlling the impact of blows. As such, maximum gear protection is required with no compromises. Judges must be present to score exchanges and to provide a safety monitor. Both parties must agree to this level of intensity explicitly. We discourage fencing at this intensity on a regular basis due to the increased risk of injury. We consider Full Gear Tournament freeplay to include related but separate skills from those that we consider vital to the art.
We will never pressure anyone to participate in a level of freeplay that they do not feel prepared to engage in or at a time when they do not want to.
Each student who agrees to participate in freeplay agrees to take responsibility not only for their own safety but also for their partner’s safety. That means you are responsible for a number of items.
- Ensuring you have a safety monitor to observe your bout.
You must fence in a manner that reduces risk to your partner by fencing with “control” and listening to the concerns of your partner.
- Control your speed. You must be moving at a speed that allows you to change or pull your attack at the last minute.
- Control your force. You must be able to “pull” your hit. Demonstrable signs of not controlling your force include hitting the floor with your sword at the end of a swing, both feet leaving the ground when you launch an attack, or your partner tells you you are swinging with a force they are not comfortable with.
- Other signals that you may not be as in control as you think are double hits, signs of fatigue (red in the face, excessively out of breath, arms pulled in close to the body etc.), not responding to the instruction of safety monitors/judges, obvious signs of excessive frustration, hitting yourself with your own sword (you laugh, but we’ve seen it!)
- Calibrate your force with your partner. Throughout an exchange,you should be providing feedback to your partner on the level of impact. Examples include: “Lovely” would imply you are totally comfortable with the impact of the force. “Firm” would imply acceptable but reaching the upper limit. “Hard” would imply they’ve reached the upper limit. “Too hard” is a clear statement that they’ve exceeded the limit of your comfort. Just as we can provide feedback on the receiving end of a blow, we should request feedback after giving a blow. If you have any concerns about how hard you hit your partner, Ask “Was that too hard?”. Let them know that you want them to be safe and are open to feedback. If you feel you are in control but your partner or any observer has any concerns over the level of control or force you appear to utilize, please be responsive to their feedback and adjust your fencing accordingly.
- You must ensure that your partner has been approved to fence at the level of freeplay that has been agreed upon. Each student must be approved to move from one level of freeplay to the next through a structured test administered by approved testers. If you have not been approved to move to the next level of freeplay, do not engage in that level.
- You must ensure your partner is wearing appropriate protective gear for the level of freeplay you have agreed to engage in. We encourage the habit of explicitly stating the level of freeplay you are about to engage in so that each participant can ensure they have the appropriate gear. When each student develops this habit, we create a safer school.
- You must ensure your partner is in an appropriate state of mind to fence and not angry, agitated or in any way behaving aggressively. (Notwithstanding that fencing is a great way to “let off steam” after a long week!)
Approved safety monitors have the authority to implement the following corrective actions.
If the safety monitors observe an exchange that is pushing the boundaries of acceptance for the level of free play agreed to, verbal reminders of safety protocols and a reminder to remain within those parameters will be given.
First warning. A first warning will be given if a student requires frequent and successive reminders in a single event to remain controlled. A first warning will include a review of this document with specific concerns being provided to the fencer by the safety monitors. That fencer’s privilege to fence at that level of freeplay will be retracted. For example if a fencer who has been approved for Full Gear Controlled freeplay receives a first warning, they will lose the privilege of participating in Full Gear Controlled freeplay. They may continue to train through Low Gear slow freeplay for a time as determined by the Hauptmann or safety monitors or until they demonstrate the ability to safely fence at that level of intensity by completing the appropriate safety test. If they have been involved in an engagement that results in their partner being injured, they will lose the privilege of fencing until their partner is recovered.
Second warning. If a student requires a second warning, they will lose the privilege of participating in freeplay in any form until they have undergone remedial control training at the discretion of the Hauptmann or Directors
Third warning. If a student requires a third warning, they will no longer be welcome to train at Ottawa Swordplay or to participate in any events hosted by Ottawa Swordplay.
Students who have received a warning may appeal that warning to the Directors of Ottawa Swordplay.
If any student demonstrates egregious lack of control or fences in an aggressive manner that appears to be intended to cause injury, they will immediately be removed from the activity they are participating in and receive a lifetime ban from training at Ottawa Swordplay or participating in any events hosted by Ottawa Swordplay.