The Forbidden Art of Umbrella Fencing

When you are a child and you find long pointy things and decide to play sword fights with them, usually a parent or other adult notices and hastily takes them away, warning against the perils of poking your eyes out. “Don’t run with scissors,” they say. “Don’t fight with sticks.” But apparently they forgot to include “Don’t fence with umbrellas,” although perhaps it wouldn’t have done any good. When you’re an adult running a convention attended by hundreds of people dressed up in silly costumes, then when you suggest something like umbrella fencing there really isn’t anyone more responsible than you to point out that this might be a terrible idea.

Umbrella Fencing from the 2012 Symposium . . . don't try this at home!

Umbrella Fencing from the 2012 Symposium . . . don’t try this at home! (Photo: Patrick A Lusher)

Umbrella fencing was originally introduced at the very first symposium games in 2012. It was an event of bloody mayhem; disastrous enough that the convention organizers swore they would never do it again. The decision held for an amazing three years, until the opportunity to reintroduce it presented itself in a manner too tempting to resist.

Unbreakable Umbrella 300x300Meet the unbreakable umbrella, the sponsors of this year’s umbrella fencing contest, and the excuse for bringing back the most dangerous sport ever seen at a steampunk convention. The Unbreakable Umbrella is designed as a non-lethal self-defense weapon, but if that’s what people were using them for on the upper terrace this year than the Symposium has found an entirely new definition of “defense” that we were not previously aware of.

“The umbrella is not a sabre,” said Thomas Willeford, the fencing master, as he explained the rules to the audience. “It is not a broadsword. It is a foil.” Only direct thrusts counted as hits, not misses, or strikes with the side of the umbrella. Any hits to the face, intentional or otherwise, resulted in immediate disqualification. Hitting your own face, however, was permissible.

Umbrella Fencing Class 680

Thomas Willeford gives fencing instruction during the mandatory workshop prior to the contest. (Photo: Richard Carneval)

Contestants were required to wear padded vests, and eye protection. For once, steampunks were encouraged to use their goggles for their intended purpose, instead of sticking them up on their heads like elaborate ornamentation. Waivers were signed, divesting the Symposium and the Unbreakable Umbrella company of any responsibility in case injuries were sustained. Multiple warnings were issued regarding the danger of poking at each other with something as long and unwieldy as an umbrella. Nevertheless, the umbrella fencing was one of the most popular games of the weekend, with over a dozen participants, and multiple rounds.

The umbrella sponsorship was just a convenient excuse, of course. The real reason for bringing back the contest is that steampunks are a rather bloodthirsty crowd who don’t consider their entertainment complete without a little bit of violence . . . and they were satisfied! Even with the extra precaution this year, Anastasia Legowsky, one of the contestants sustained a blow to the neck, and an intermission was announced to give her time to recover. Undaunted, she proceeded to best all comers and win the tournament! Despite her graze, Legowsky, who also participated in the 2012 Symposium Games Umbrella Fencing, expressed great joy that her favorite Steampunk sport was back at the Symposium. She was extra thrilled to find that her victory earned her an Unbreakable Umbrella of her own.

2015 saw the additions of goggles, ballistic chest armor, and legal waivers to Umbrella Fencing! (Photo: Burch Root Studios)

2015 Symposium Games Umbrella Fencing Champion Anastasia Legowsky determined to vanquish her foe with her brolly. (Photo: Burch Root Studios)

Next year even more precautions will be implemented, including full face guards and proper fencing gear (with neck protection), provided by Ohio State Champion fencing master Colonel Octavius Fogg (aka Larry Brown) who will also provide the mandatory fencing instruction prior to the duels. Serious airship members planning to compete next year might find benefit in taking fencing lessons in advance. Already knowing the basics will give you an edge over the other participants, and greatly enhance your chances of surviving.


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