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In the 15th Century Knights started writing down the martial arts that they practiced. We work from these manuals to teach and train Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). This tradition continued for centuries and many historical martial arts have flourished and passed on. Welcome to Athena School of Arms.

*A quick note on terminology. What we do is usually referred to have Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). It is also called historical fencing or Western Martial Arts (WMA). These terms have different connotations but generally mean the same thing.*

Jack Nickelz: So can you tell us how the Athena School of Arms came about?

Steven Mercutio: I’ve always loved swords. I was obsessive about the topic by age 6. I played D&D when I was a teenager. I played with sticks in the woods. Swords were just the coolest thing in the world.  10620671_10152600203941768_5978969309031825228_n

In college I got a chance to take a modern fencing class. It was cool and fun. But it wasn’t real swords and sword fighting (no offense). A little bit later I did some LARP stuff – same result: it was fun but it wasn’t real.

Then I went to Arisia in 2005. There I saw the Higgins Armory Museum present on swords, real combat and historical sources on sword fighting. This was it. This was what I had been looking for all my life. I was hooked.

The next year I started classes at the Higgins. And then I found a group closer to home to train with – Forte Swordplay in Burlington, MA. I trained with them for a few years.

In 2010 I went off to form my own school. I wanted to train differently than Forte did. I’m still friends with those guys and study with them when I can.

Originally, the group was called Kunstbruder Fechtschule – German for Brotherhood of the Art Fight School. We studied German long sword and other weapons from the Lichtenauer tradition. This is a late medieval series of manuals based around a two-handed sword.

In 2013 we changed the name to Athena School of Arms, because we had added non-German material. Specifically, Scottish Broadsword from the 18th century. This program looks at single-handed, basket-hilted swords called broadswords, as well as saber and the small sword.

This is a work of love. I make little money from this but I love it.

Jack Nickelz: Now the forms you teach at the school, were those always the forms you wanted to teach or did some get added as you were around?

Steven Mercutio: Initially we focused on just one weapon the Long sword. After 7 years of studying that I decided to branch out into the single-handed, later period category.

Jack Nickelz: Can you tell us a bit about the staff you have at the school and why you hired them?

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Steven Mercutio: I have one employee, Andrew Kilgore. He runs my Long sword program these days. Developing the curriculum and teaching the class. He is the most enthusiastic student I’ve ever had. And he’s good. He beats me in a long sword fight – which is a great feeling for a coach. (But I can still beat him in the broadsword and small sword). He’s won several medals in a variety of disciplines: long sword, cutting, grappling, dagger and artful fighting.

He started off getting free classes in exchange for helping me teach. Eventually, I asked him to take over the long sword program entirely, because I had started grad school and couldn’t do both.

Several other members also function as assistant instructors when needed: Nathan Weston and Julie Costantino being the most solid. When we are at events then just about everybody chips in to make it all work. But these folks are all students who volunteer. They usually get free admission to the con or faire and at best I feed them.

Jack Nickelz: So how does one go about joining the school?

Steven Mercutio: Email me at athena.school.of.arms@gmail.com

Jack Nickelz: What level of classes do you offer?

Steven Mercutio: Beginner, intermediate and advanced study groups.

The beginner classes include all equipment and no experience is required. A beginner class takes a while – at least 2 months and depends on how fast a person learns and their previous experience, before they move up the intermediate level curriculum.  230193_10150174644896768_7934025_n

Most students are in the intermediate level of classes where some grappling material is added after the basic sword work is developed.

A small number of members take part in the advanced study group classes. This is where I get to actually train.

Jack Nickelz: What are things some should know before enrolling in the school?

Steven Mercutio: The class I run is physically demanding. And I run a competitive program. This isn’t for everybody and that’s fine. In the Boston area we are lucky that several schools exist with different kinds of program. CHEMAS, Boston Armizare, and Forte Swordplay, each have different levels of physicality and program focus.

Jack Nickelz: What are the more popular classes that people tend to take?

Steven Mercutio: Long sword, by about a 3 to 1 margin. I call this the ‘Lord of the Rings Effect’ because people see the long swords and they associate them with the movies.

Jack Nickelz: For those who don’t know, could you tell us what Floating Swords are all about?

Steven Mercutio: Ha! Okay this is just a silly joke. There are some beautiful action shots from various bouts, of swords in mid-air. Especially involving Richard Marsden. And then this got discussed on the Alliance forum, and some examples of the same were found in various historical sources.

For the action shots they have to deal with the fact that a sword fight can become a grappling match in an instant. This will frequently create the situation where ditching your sword is the right course of action. Or your opponent has just disarmed you.

Jack Nickelz: Will you be adding any other art forms any time soon?

Steven Mercutio: Both me and my head instructor started grad school last year, so no. We’d both love to. And we each have little side projects. But neither of us has the time. Further, there is also a market saturation issue – I don’t think any added programming right now would get enough unique customers.

Jack Nickelz: What are some of the events and conventions that people can see you at?

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Steven Mercutio: Arisia, which I just got home from. It’s a blast and is also our most significant event of the year.

Also, Connecticon, another big and fun event for us. Normally we also have the Midsummer Renaissance Fantasy Faire, however, several of our members are getting married during that show so we won’t be working their this year.

We also do HEMA specific events, such as symposiums and tournaments. The Iron Gate Exhibition is in Danvers in September. The Tournaments on Saturday are open to the public so folks can come watch the fighting. Iron Gate is the biggest HEMA event in the Northeast and attracts fighters and teachers from all over the world. As a local event pretty much my entire team goes to IGX. And to be blunt, we do well there, normally bringing home more medals than any other club.

Jack Nickelz: What can we expect to see from your school as we enter 2015?

Steven Mercutio: We are moving! Specifically we are moving to Bay State Fencers in Somerville, this location will improve our training space and exposure.

We are also working on a small event of our own focusing on some of the odd aspects of HEMA. We’ll be looking at unfair fights, such as unequal weapons and multiple attackers.

Jack Nickelz: Well thank you for doing this interview. Is there anything else you would like to say to the fans and readers?

Steven Mercutio: SWORDS ARE FUN! – School motto

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about this. I really love what I do.

For more on the school, check out:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Athena-School-of-Arms/181512911767

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