Ednam fencing expert ready to school Borderers in sword skills

Mick Skelly, Ednam sword fighter
Mick Skelly, Ednam sword fighter

“It’s the ability to pick up your pint and take a drink without spilling it, while at the same time having your eye on the blonde at the end of the bar.”

It would stretch most people’s imagination to see the above statement as having any connection with the arcane world of medieval sword-fencing.

But spend some time in the company of the statement’s orginator, Ednam’s Mick Skelly, and the benefits of practising such esoteric arts becomes all too clear.

An assistant instructor with the Hotspur School of Defence (HSD), Mick, who has been practising and teaching for seven years, oversees training sessions at Lanton village hall.

The HSD was founded to pursue the historically accurate study of Europe’s traditional fighting arts, most commonly the use of the sword, between 1300 and 1700.

A native of Barnsley, Mick welcomes visitors to see what the school teaches.

He said: “We’re looking at different weapons and how they’re used and the basic principles underpinning the kind of movement quality when you use swords in particular.”

“The practice weapons we use are wooden swords, called wasters. But we just equip people with basically a stick to start off with, as daft as it sounds.

“They then spend about a year doing drills and training before any combat stuff because, even with a lump of wood, it is still potentially dangerous.”

Mick explained about the huge international movement exploring traditional western martial arts, all based on the study of hundreds of surviving historical treaties detailing methods of combat.

He told us: “In part, it’s a kind of search for our roots. Prior to the 19th century we had a very strong martial arts tradition, but the use of guns and mass armies slowly eroded that.

“So it all had to be relearned from these treatises, the majority of which are German and Italian.”

A former head of physiotherapy and mental health services for Midlothian and East Lothian, he says many people totally misunderstand the concept of exercise.

“I worked primarily with people who were very anxious and not confident. All their movement was very inward and collapsed, heavy on their feet.

“Whereas the whole thing about martial arts is about being centred and grounded, moving from the waist to give us power and better balance.

“I’m obviously not doing this for self-defence reasons am I? Learning to use the sword teaches us how to expand and you notice at the end of a session that people have a real buzz and their quality of movement starts to change.

“It helps develop good appropriate perception, which I used to explain as the ability to pick up your pint up and take a drink without spilling it while still having an eye on the blonde at the end of the bar.

“Appropriate perception allows you know where your limbs are in space without the need to see them.

“But a lot of people with mental health issues don’t know where they are in space. Our culture has disembodied us, teaching that mind and body are separate, which is garbage.

“When you are training the body, you are also training the mind.”