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Dark Rocks

Armoury Antics and Fortress Fencing: Malta 2023

Each year as the darkness draws in and the trees lose their leaves, there is only one thought flying around the forge: the image of a yellow stone fortress suspended between blue sky and bluer sea, flocks of doves rising like plumes of smoke above a dome-bejewelled cityscape, and the air ringing with the clash of blades. It's time to go to Malta.

Free fencing on the bell tower of Fort St Angelo

Once again we were invited to attend the Malta Historical Fencing Association's esteemed international event, where world-class instruction meets languid free fencing atop Fort St Angelo. This is the one not-to-be-missed fencing event in our calendar, and every year we return to the forge dazed with information, inspiration and fondness for our wonderful worldwide community.

The Balefire Blades stall at Fort St Angelo

As usual, we were kindly permitted a little stall in the fort, where we sold some of our more hold-luggage-friendly wares such as Chris's historical daggers (which we will write more on in the following post), Alicia's gorgets, belts and baldrics, and booklets and stickers galore.

A polearm class taking place at Fort St Angelo

Of particular note this year was the launch of our guide to the battle sword of Jean de Valette, a historical relic that we had the honour of handling last year at the museum of the parish of St Lawrence. We compiled all our measurements, photos and notes on the feel into a 28-page booklet, which we were excited to share with our Maltese hosts. We even had the honour of presenting a copy to Gorg Agius from the Vittoriosa Cultural and Historical Society, who made our handling session possible.

The presentation of our Guide to the Sword of Jean de Valette to curator Gorg Agius

Other highlights of the event included a visit to the Grand Master's Palace Armouries, recently restored to their former glory and ready to open to the public this winter. The experience was magnificent, with a vast range of rapiers on display as well as hangers, armour, polearms, firearms and more. We spent some time sketching hilts from one case, but didn't even scratch the surface of the knowledge we could glean from this collection. We have already started planning a longer research visit next year, courtesy of our kind hosts at the armoury.

Chris fighting a friend from the Sussex Sword Academy against the backdrop of Valletta

They even organised a handling session for the event, with a selection of polearms and a wide variety of rapiers, giving us a sense of what a vast umbrella term "rapier" really is in terms of feel, aesthetic and use. Chris was particularly interested in a specific style of wire-wrapped grip that we saw repeated across the collection, and he's already begun working on some practical experiments to work out why they were made this way.

Chris and Alicia fencing with highland broadswords atop the sea fortress

Back on the fortress, we felt like fantasy heroes crossing blades with our friends against the dramatic background of the Mediterranean. From our vantage point on the bell tower, we saw just about every weather system the island had to offer from blissful blue-skies to gale-force winds and forked lightning. Nothing could drive us down from the tower though, where we found delight in the problem-solving aspect of fencing, from understanding the styles of opponents from other schools and systems to battling the elements themselves.

Alicia fighting a friend from the Noble Science of Defence in the sun

It was particularly exciting to come up against so many swords of Chris's making, some years old and others brand new, and to see them paired against one another. The Maltese event has been a wonderful source of enquiries for us over the years, and it's always a joy to see our creations out in the wild.

Just some of the amazing fencers we get to call our friends at the Malta Historical Fencing Meeting

The trip was not just work for us, but also a wonderful chance to catch up with international friends in one of our favourite places in the world. Our hosts put on a wonderful series of activities and events for us, including a magnificent four-course feast in the courtyard of a historic Maltese farmhouse.

Our wonderful hosts from the Malta Historical Fencing Association at the gala dinner

Once again, the Malta Historical Fencing Association International Event served as a timely reminder of why we do what we do, and what a privilege it is to be part of this real-life fantasy world. Our thanks go out to the MHFA who organised a splendid event, the Vittoriosa Cultural and Historical Society who helped make our Valette Sword booklets possible, and Raymond Howard and Robert Cassar from the Grand Master's Palace Armoury who allowed us a sneak peek of their incredible work.

Taking a traditional wooden luzzu to Fort St Angelo

If you'd like to join us on the fort next year, keep an eye out on the MHFA Facebook page for announcements about the 2024 event!


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