If you go to multiple conventions a year, they start to look the same. However, even if the basics are similar, you can almost always find something fresh to see or have a new experience. Why yes, I do have an example.
I recently attended Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas. I scanned the convention’s programming, not expecting any panels to jump out at me, but then I saw the phrase “Water Dancing.” I raised an eyebrow, paused, and then flailed as I read the description. Miltos Yerolemou, the actor who portrayed Syrio Forel on Game of Thrones, was not only at the convention, he was teaching sword fighting classes. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to learn from the First Sword of Braavos.
Appropriately, getting to the class was somewhat of a quest. The two hour sessions were held throughout the weekend, and after the first class, Yerolemou requested to be moved to a different and better area. Unfortunately, the convention staff didn’t communicate with each other or update their programming app. Myself and two other determined students walked from one location to another all over the three floors of the convention center for 40 minutes; we were misdirected by staff at every turn until we eventually tortured a volunteer for correct information. And by torture, I mean we looked sad and tired and frustrated. He pitied us and found the right location.
Finally, we heard the sounds of wooden sticks striking against each other. Success! Though Syrio Forel would have scolded Arya Stark for being late, we were welcomed. Yerolemou apologized for our troubles, complimented my map of Westeros tights, and another instructor brought us wooden sticks. Dakao Do of Sword to Sword and an assistant worked with us to bring us up to speed with the remainder of the class. Approximately 20-25 students were learning the basics of water dancing, a fighting style focused on quick movements, balance, and using the sword as an extension of an arm. It has some similarities to fencing and incorporates Tai Chi as well as Japanese disciplines.
We were shown four basic moves, and we practiced attacking our opponent and defending ourselves. It wasn’t the exact style Arya Stark and Syrio Forel practiced, but it was close enough. Yerolemou observed his students and flitted about energetically while offering advice. He approached my partner and I and explained the importance of intent. He emphasized that even if you’re only practicing, it’s vital to swing your weapon as if you were striking a real blow. He didn’t necessarily mean I should put all my weight behind it and be forceful, but that if a move is meant to cut my opponent’s neck, then I should keep eye contact with my opponent and aim my wooden stick precisely towards that area.
I listened. I absorbed every word Yerolemou said. On the inside though, I was squealing over and over in my head because Syrio Forel was giving me advice about sword fighting.
After practicing the four moves, we started to string them together in varying order. You call out the numbers of the moves, you fight according to those numbers, and so on. I’m not the most coordinated of people, and I moved slow because I constantly had to think about what my hands and feet were doing. The instructors and Yerolemou were patient with everyone and pushed gently, but mostly let students work at their own pace.
We were encouraged to use what we’d learned to build a longer fight, complete with a dramatic death scene. A few pairs showed off for the class, and when they were done, we all gathered in a circle around Yerolemou. He opened the floor to questions, and sitting on the floor with my legs crossed, I felt like I was back in kindergarten story time again.
A student asked Yerolemou about how capable Maisie Williams was with a sword. Yerolemou said their initial scene was one of the first times Williams was in front of a camera, and it was the first scene filmed for the entire show. He mentioned she only got better over time.
The class was over all too soon. It was a one of a kind experience that I highly recommend to anyone – especially fans of Game of Thrones. Yerolemou teaches the classes at conventions, and the best way to keep up with his schedule is following his Facebook page.
My only regret? I didn’t find a way to drop the phrase “not today” during the class.