Updated 11 hours ago
On a Saturday afternoon, when most folks are running errands or shuttling children to events, a warrior wearing a black fencing mask raises his blade high above his head, assuming a fighting stance once known as “vom Tag.”
His opponent responds, extending her sword straight forward at chest level and shifting into “long point.”
This is far from a gentleman’s fencing game as these warriors use real swords, heavy, made of steel, over three-feet long with tip protectors.
They’re not on a battlefield either. They’re in East Deer.
The students practice at Broken Plow Western Martial Arts, a swordsmanship academy dedicated to the lost art of western sword fighting.
The man in “vom Tag” brings his arms down. His sword, its momentum aided by gravity and its own weight, sweeps towards his opponent’s head. But she steps aside, dodging his strike, and lunges forward, burying the tip of her sword into the man’s midsection.
They both laugh at the results.
“We’re working to resurrect once dead styles of armed and unarmed combat used in western Europe,” Broken Plow Lead Instructor Scotty Barb said.
Eastern martial arts such as karate and kendo feature forms and styles, which have been long studied.
But in Europe, many styles of armed combat disappeared after the discovery of gunpowder and firearms, according to Barb.
What’s left of European sword fighting is mostly written or drawn with little explanation.
Broken Plow uses the German school of Longsword, popular in Medieval times.
Indeed, Broken Plow’s studio space is in a former church, open and airy, much like the atrium of a castle where knights took up duels.
Practitioners from Broken Plow and other schools teaching German Longsword study historical texts of the practice and piece together exactly what works and what doesn’t, according to Barb.
Who resurrects a lost martial art? Martial artists of course. Broken Plow owner Josh Parise, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said that after his military service he wanted to find a contact martial art to practice.
“I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 6. I started with Tae Kwon Do, went to boxing, got bored, joined the Marine Corps,” he said. “When I came back to Pittsburgh from (Camp) Pendleton and saw the idea that this sort of thing was real, I jumped right in.”
That was six years ago, and Parise said interest in the sport has been growing steadily with more than 58,000 people now participating nationwide.
“It’s been fantastic, actually. There has been a pretty good resurgence of people wanting to get in and see if they can do this.”
Jamie Kikilidis, 22, of Oakmont, drove twice a week from Oakmont to Broken Plow classes since 2015.
Now an instructor, Kikilidis remains interested and active in the sword-fighting martial art.
“It’s something that is different and a little out of the ordinary,” she said.