Best Workshop Ever

For almost ten years I”ve been hearing about the Paddy Crean Workshop, and the cries of “You MUST go!” and “What?! You”ve never been??” grew and grew. Finally, at the FDC Nationals last year, these cries became impossible to ignore as I was told by eight Fight Masters and the rest of the teaching staff that this was no longer a networking and learning opportunity I could afford to miss.

I have been to many workshops, but this one was always held above the others it seemed. It always came at a difficult time of year for me – after Christmas, over New Years. It was also quite a significant financial commitment – not only for the training but the flight to Banff. I wondered at how people returned for every workshop.

I don”t wonder anymore.

This workshop is special.

It began as a workshop to raise money for Paddy Crean. If you don”t know him, I encourage you to learn a bit about him, for example here or here.  A Fencer, an Actor and a Fight Director, Paddy comes from the world of Lawrence Olivier, Alec Guinness and Errol Flynn. As well as being heralded as the kind of gentleman one wishes still existed today (a treasured relic of a more chivalrous time), he is, in many ways, one of the fathers of modern stage combat and fight direction.

His dream was to create a gathering place for artists of all kinds: theatrical fight directors, historical re-creators, stunt performers, dancers, clowns, scholars and fighters. A round table where everyone could come as equals, free from ranking and certification, and share the love of their art form.

I believe the organizers, The International Organization of the Sword and Pen, have achieved this with the Paddy Crean Workshop. And it is a beautiful thing.

This workshop brings together all stage combat organizations from around the world, as well as martial artists, historical martial artists, and more. Everyone is regarded as having something of value to contribute, and the atmosphere is downright joyous. 

As a newly made FDC Fight Director, and a Paddy Crean Newbie, I came simply to learn, meet others who share my love of this diverse and rich art form, and “fill the cup.” I was a bit nervous too – I had not been a stage combat student in a long time, and I wasn”t sure what to expect. When I recieved the class descriptions I was immediately overwhelmed and over-the-moon excited. There are SO MANY classes to take, from so many amazing people I would never have the oppotunity to work with otherwise (without a significant amount of traveling).

You can”t take ALL the classes (there are often eight classes happening simultaneously), and not getting the class you want can be a great source of stress to some. But the truth is, there are no bad classes. So I made a point of meeting as many people as possible, and taking as many diverse classes as I could. I had nothing to be nervous about – everyone was very approachable and welcoming. If I couldn”t take their class I would ask them about it – and I had some truly fabulous discussions.

I started with a class I knew – Smallsword with Ian Rose. Smallsword is a great love of mine, and Ian”s blend of casino history and athleticism is always delicious. I thought it would be a good way to throw myself back into my fighting form – nothing is more exhilarating than the lighting quick specificity of advanced smallsword. And I was not disappointed.

The room itself took my breath away: a full wall of windows looking out on a vista of snowy mountains. I cannot think of a better place to learn anything than the Banff Centre – nestled in a National Park in the Rockies – nothing but trees and mountains and sky wherever you look. If you”ve never been – go! Or at least check out their website here.

From then on every single class held nuggets of gold that inspired me as a teacher, as a fight director, as a performer or just as someone who loves learning cool stuff. I went from Tactical Knife, to Flexible Weapons, to historical Spanish Rapier, to Motion Capture each taught by a passionate and knowledgeable instructor – sometimes two! The days were punctuated by the Banff Centre”s Buffet: food as diverse and plentiful as the classes.

It was like Hogwarts for Actor Combatants.

It”s just what Paddy dreamed about: all kinds of scholars and fighters meeting as equals, and sharing their love of their art form. And the result is a palpable expansion – a special alchemy – as each participant goes back to their part of the world, their minds more open, their creativity sparked. This workshop cannot help but deepen and improve the art of stage combat the world over.

I have only been once, but I have met new role models, collaborators and fight partners that have changed some of the ways I want to approach teaching and performing.

My cup runneth over.

I hope to be at the next one!

(As Anyone who has seen a Mountain and is not a photographer probably knows – it”s impossible to fully capture the awesomeness of a mountain view with an iPhone – but I figure you”ll get a bit of an appreciation this way).

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