It’s time for a new episode of Interviews with Fencers.
My next guest is Daniel Pope, founder of a fantastic HEMA group Scholar Victoria.
»There’s life outside HEMA?« – that’s the question he asked us during the interview haha.
Daniel is an amazing guy, teacher, fencer, and more than anything, he’s proud of his HEMA group Scholar Victora and his family.
Let’s enjoy in his story.
Table of Contents
- When did you begin studying Historical European martial arts and how old were you then?
- Who was your first teacher
- What made you want to do HEMA and not Olympic fencing or any other martial art? Were there any special circumstances surrounding your discovery of HEMA?
- What are your thoughts on fitness and how do you stay in shape?
- What is your favorite strike and why? If it’s not a secret.
- What is your favorite fencing manual and why?
- What is your greatest achievement? Tell us about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
- What is the one piece of equipment you can’t live without?
- Has practicing HEMA benefited you in everyday life as well?
- What do you do when you are not practicing HEMA?
- Who’s your idol, someone that gives you motivation?
- As a professional, what advice would you give to a beginner interested in HEMA?
- Final thoughts
When did you begin studying Historical European martial arts and how old were you then?
My first encounter with HEMA was around 2005 through authors like Sydney Anglo and J. Cristoph Amberger. It was only in 2009 that I finally found groups actively practicing HEMA and by this stage I was already in my early thirties.
Who was your first teacher
My very first instructor was Matthew Hoffman. His group had a genuine feeling of cameraderie which is something I’ve always tried to encourage in my own club.
However, it was my second instructor, Bill Carew, that truly brought me to the Liechtenauer tradition. He set me on my path of deconstructing the sources, examining them, then re-integrating them into practical fencing practice. This focus on the mechanics and pedagogy of fencing remains a core focus of my fencing and Bill continues to be my go-to person for sharing ideas to this day.(Swordfish 2017 Longsword Eliminations: Daniel Pope vs Matthys Kool)
What made you want to do HEMA and not Olympic fencing or any other martial art? Were there any special circumstances surrounding your discovery of HEMA?
I began practicing Eastern martial arts at age 15. Since then I’ve been in full contact events, practiced performance wushu, and worked my way to black belt level in japanese jujutsu & kenjutsu.
None of them provided the same combination of historical passion, practical problem solving, and physicality, that HEMA embodies. As historical fencers we are constantly challenging our own ideas about how to perform techniques and to become better at what we do, and testing the results against others. It’s quite unique.
What are your thoughts on fitness and how do you stay in shape?
Fitness is incredibly important to fencing and improving your fitness is one of the easiest ways to become a better fencer without even picking up a sword.
It’s especially important for me: 5 years ago I sustained a spinal injury which left me in constant pain and with weakness in one of my legs, so maintaining fitness to counteract this is a priority for me.
Usually, I do some form of cardio at least 4 times a week, with additional bodyweight, core, and resistance exercises, as well as fencing of course. This, as well as lots of bike riding, is enough to keep me in more or less fencing shape.
What is your favorite strike and why? If it’s not a secret.
Just hit ’em!
Honestly, though, I don’t really have a favourite strike and prefer to focus on the fundamentals of timing and distance (though it’s always incredibly satisfying to land a perfect thrust on someone).
What is your favorite fencing manual and why?
My favourite fencing manual is (controversially) Meyer’s Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens (1570).
What it describes is likely not the best or most effective system, and its pedagogy is surpassed by other texts. However, to me, it represents a fascinating period in history where we see the influences of different ideas and eras coming together during a time of enormous historical and cultural change. In a way, that clash of old and new is a metaphor for HEMA itself.
…That and it was the first treatise I owned nearly 15 years ago, so I have a special affection for it.
What is your greatest achievement? Tell us about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
My greatest sense of achievement came from starting my own HEMA group, Scholar Victoria.
Despite having been an instructor with other clubs over the years there is nothing quite like creating your own space for HEMA and seeing it fill with faces, some familiar, and some new to the fencing world.
Nothing makes me happier or more proud than watching the people in my club grow and improve as fencers. Knowing that I’ve been a part of that makes me feel very fortunate indeed.
What is the one piece of equipment you can’t live without?
The simplest answer here would be a sword!
My HEMA friends are sometimes a little confused that I don’t care more about dimensions and specifics of the swords I own, but I see them as a tool that lets me fence. I prefer to focus on the practice rather than worrying too much about the tool itself.
Certainly, there are some wonderful swords out there, but even a mediocre sword is enough to enjoy fencing.
Has practicing HEMA benefited you in everyday life as well?
HEMA has become a huge part of my life and other than my day-job, HEMA related activies really do take up the largest part of my time.
Practicing HEMA has taken me around Australia and the world. It has led to me meeting some incredible people and making some amazing friends.
More than that, though, HEMA has given me a way of coping with the things that life throws at me. In a very real way it has kept me going through some hard times, and as such has literally become one of the cornerstones of my life..
What do you do when you are not practicing HEMA?
There’s life outside HEMA?
Actually aside from HEMA, I’m an Artificial Intelligence researcher and software developer, though in my spare time I read lots of science fiction, do archery, and watch far too many terrible movies. I also spend time with my family, traveling and continuously try to convince my daughter that HEMA is really cool and she should try it… so far without success.
Who’s your idol, someone that gives you motivation?
Idol may be a strong word, but there are so many people in HEMA who motivate me; practically everyone who I have met on my HEMA travels has their part to play. Notably, though, Arne Koets for his passion in maintaining the art, Arto Fama for his analytical approach to fencing, and Martin Fabian for his clear pragmatism.
I would also add my brother Ben to this list; he started HEMA at the same time as me, and practicing with him brought us together after a long time apart. Even though these days we live thousands of kilometers away from each other, sparring with him always rekindles the happiness of those early days.
As a professional, what advice would you give to a beginner interested in HEMA?
My advice would be this: work hard, and do what makes you happy.
If you want to compete, then strive for that.
If you want to reconstruct a piece of history, then go for it.
If you just want to find a new way to meet people, then that’s cool too.
There is no right way to do HEMA, if it’s bringing you joy, then you’re doing it right, no matter what anyone says.
That’s it! We’re delighted that Daniel decided to do an interview with us. His story is amazing, and I think we all need to appreciate the work he is putting into studying, promoting, and teaching historical fencing arts. Many Thanks, Daniel for this fantastic interview, and we wish you good luck with your Scholar Victoria group.
We’ll be back next Sunday, with a new interview!
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