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Ottawa Swordplay club opens dedicated gym to meet the popular demand for lessons

By Bruce Burwell on September 25, 2019

When I was young, my friends and I would get together in a wooded area near our houses and play ‘Robin Hood’. This meant that we would find a stick and whack each other around the head and shoulders with it while pretending to be Little John or Friar Tuck. Today those who play with swords are more likely to be Game of Thrones devotees. But now they can take formal classes to learn the proper technique for skewering an opponent.

Ottawa Swordplay is one place to learn the requisite skills. They recently held an open house celebrating their move to a new location on St. Laurent. They teach medieval swordplay six days a week and offer classes at different levels of skill as well as separate classes for women.

Apt613 interviewed Ottawa Swordplay owner Craig Shackleton. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Apt613: Can you tell me a little bit about what goes on here at Swordplay?

Craig Shackleton: We teach a medieval system of sword fighting. The system was developed by a German sword master who lived at the end of the 14th century. His students wrote detailed notes about his system and how he taught it. Mostly we teach for the longsword, which is the sword you hold with two hands. There’s also unarmed combat, which is like wrestling, and we do that as well. But most people come in for the swords.

Do you find that people are looking for a form of exercise, or are they just attracted by the swords, or are they big Game of Thrones fans?

We definitely get a lot of Game of Thrones fans. I know a lot of fans were really disappointed with the ending of Game of Thrones but I’m hoping that it doesn’t lead to a downturn in interest in sword fighting. But yes it’s mostly about the swords and the exercise becomes a side benefit.

Image: Game of Thrones

“Most people come in for the swords.”

I did a bit of Googling and was shocked to find out that there are quite a few similar sorts of clubs in Ottawa.

I did a count, there were actually 13 different organizations teaching some sort of sword fighting in Ottawa. Now some of them aren’t working with historical sources at all. They’re just doing their own kind of thing.

This seems like something that men would want to do more than women. What’s the ratio between men and women overall?

I think we probably get about 80% men. And yes we’d like to see more of a balance there. There are women’s classes available but a lot of women that do come just take the regular classes with everybody else. It’s not a men’s only class. But with any martial art, sometimes for women it’s a little bit more comfortable if they can start out in an environment where they feel safer.

If you’d like to smite your friends (or enemies) with a mighty longsword you can find Ottawa Swordplay at 1760B St Laurent Blvd. Classes are offered at lunchtime and evenings on weekdays and at various times on weekends.