Training at Castle Tintagel

2008-05-26

Training at Castle Tintagel
Training at Castle Tintagel

Jay Noyes is the chief combat instructor and cofounder of Castle Tintagel which opened in Tokyo's Mejiro in March. The Castle offers an array of activities and courses including Western medieval martial arts - a rarity in Japan and abroad. Noyes took up these arts in 1993, as a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in his native Bloomfield, Missouri before moving to Tokyo. In addition to teaching them, the former university instructor has also been instrumental in helping authenticate images in books, manga and video games that seek to emulate such forgotten but - if he and others like him can help it - no-longer lost Western fighting arts.

What exactly is Castle Tintagel and what is its purpose?

Castle Tintagel is, in descending order of emphasis, a school, an event space, a clubhouse, a store and a coffee shop. What I hear the most is that it is a place for learning about topics people didn't even know they were interested in. A romantic nature, a love of history and lost skills, and a sense of humor will go a long way to make you a part of the Tintagel community.

First and foremost, though, we are a school. Downstairs we have the salle for studying martial arts, dance, and other physical activities. Upstairs is the community room where we attempt to exercise our minds. Today's schedule is a fine example: Downstairs, people are sparring with padded broadswords; upstairs a group of people are experimenting with 12-man morris, a board game that went out of fashion centuries ago. Soon there will be a class on Western calligraphy and I will teach 15th century German two-handed sword downstairs.

What Western medieval martial arts you study and practice and where do they come from?

My interests are in the martial arts of medieval Europe from approximately the 13th to the 16th century, including sword and buckler, long sword (or two-handed sword), dagger, wrestling, messer, poleaxe and spear. I study both armored and unarmored styles. The major schools of study of that time were German and Italian; my own area of interest is in the field of German medieval arts with some forays into English broadsword and French poleaxe styles.

These styles I derive from the martial arts texts of the times. In Germany, they were known as "fechtbuchs", or fighting books, and they were, perhaps surprisingly to some, quite prevalent during the middle ages. People these days tend to think of the medieval Europeans as approaching war and combat as sort of enthusiastic amateurs, swinging wildly and depending on strength and brute force to prevail. In their minds, only Asia had organized schools for studying martial arts. This is ridiculous, of course. In such war-like times, societies and individuals that did not study combat in an organized manner were soon overcome by those who did.

What kinds of physical training do you offer there and how physically demanding is it?

Currently, I teach four martial arts courses:
- Light training German long sword; this is a class for people who do not want to be challenged physically but only want to learn authentic movement for their art. This is mostly of interest to comic book designers and computer programmers.
- Beginner training in German long sword; this class is for people who eventually intend to bout and spar. They can expect bodyweight training exercises and flexibility training in addition to intensive longs word training in the basic skills.
- Advanced long sword training is similar to the beginner's course but more intensive. The curriculum also includes close-fighting, sword-wrestling and disarming techniques. This training will provide strength training, flexibility, a cardiovascular workout, and improved coordination.
- I also teach a half-sword class devoted to the skill of using a long sword against someone in full armor. It is open to all skill levels because it is so different from other fencing courses. Because cutting armor is ineffective, the sword is grasped in the middle of the blade and is used as a spear and a wrestling tool. It's perhaps the oddest martial art in Tokyo.

Of course, those are only the classes that I teach myself. Other Tintagel staff members teach such courses as theatrical rapier, Italian long sword and quarterstaff. For non-combatants, we have two instructors of Renaissance dance. For those of a less medieval mindset we also offer yoga and belly dancing. Finally, although these are not courses, Castle Tintagel offers space to (SCA-affiliated) Avalon members and those interested in Avalon for Avalon-style sparring. Three times a week, you can see fighters sparring with wooden weapons in full medieval armor. It is full contact, good fun and great exercise.

How similar or different is this from what one might expect from Eastern martial arts?

One of largest differences is the spirit of openness and cooperation between the various scholars. Western martial arts practitioners are trying to resurrect styles that have been dead for almost two centuries. They are working from texts that are often written in an archaic form using drawings by artists who were untrained at depicting movement. The result is that scholars of Western martial arts share work and are more open to mutual criticism than any martial arts group I have ever encountered. It is common for a teacher to post videos of himself (on the Internet) for other teachers to criticize. (Because of this), new interpretations of various techniques are quickly disseminated throughout the community.

Another difference in the schools is the avoidance of school hierarchy. Unlike many (but not all) Eastern martial arts, belts and similar rank markers are unheard of and some schools only use two or three ranks corresponding roughly to beginner, advanced and expert.

What are the SCA and Avalon and how have they influenced what you do at Castle Tintagel?

The Society for Creative Anachronisms is a U.S. based group devoted to the study of the middle ages. The joke is that they study the middle ages as they "should have been" - without say, the plague. It is an organizing of medieval romantics who study the arts, crafts, clothing and combat of Europe's knightly period. It is quite a large organization with tens of thousands of members worldwide.

Avalon is a sister organization of the SCA in Japan. Most members are dual members and often coordinate with the SCA on (U.S.) military bases to create fun events. At the events, there are combats in full armor and authentic food. Everyone is in costume and studying some aspect of the time period. It is good fun.

The SCA and Avalon have had quite an effect on Castle Tintagel. Although Tintagel is a private business it is very Avalon friendly, so tournaments and practices often take place here. Many of the members study martial arts with us and they often rent rooms to give special lectures on topics of interest. In fact, when we were building Tintagel many Avalon members donated their time and sweat to help us build the interior.

How has the castle and similar phenomena caught on in Japan and what kinds of people tend to show an interest?

Although we have some martial artists, the majority of our members are people who have never previously enjoyed sports of any sort. Hence the reason many of our courses spend extra time teaching people how to exercise and overcome their dislike for an activity that they previously had avoided. Our members tend to be graphic artists, computer programmers, teachers and writers. We are constantly amazed at the creative talent that visits us on a daily basis. It makes our activities quite fresh and lively.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

If you were thrilled about stories of knights in armor as a child, if you often find yourself perusing the science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore or if you simply want to study a truly unique are scarcely known martial art, please drop by Castle Tintagel.

Learn more about Castle Tintagel at: http://castletintagel.com or e-mail Jay Noyes at: jnoyes@castletintagel.com. Find out more about Avalon at: http://avalon.tsukaeru.jp. Info on the SCA in Japan is at: http://www.farwestbarony.com.



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