Valentina tells us about finding her path to fencing despite a lack of female role models and about sticking to it despite the bruises and the sweat.
For me, the image of a brave woman knight has always been something beautiful and inspiring. It might be because since my early childhood I read fantasy novels, watched movies and played various video games about brave heroes who save the day, fighting villains, traveling the world and discovering new lands. I was surprised about the small amount of female heroes, who fight on par with men ans I wanted to see more fighting girls and I dreamt about this a lot. Despite the lack of female ole models;, I always wanted to do what these heroes do: be it archery, horseback riding or sword fighting.
I tried to practice archery and horseback riding, but saw it just wasn’t for me, as for fencing with swords, I thought that it didn’t exist as a martial art nowadays. Moreover, in childhood my parents would hardly have supported my passion for such an, in their opinion, strange and dangerous sport.
Later when I was grown up, I figured out that there is a HEMA- “Historical European Martial Arts” and that it includes fencing with swords. I really wanted to get to know this sport more but, alas, the club was too far from the place where I lived. Therefore, it was necessary to give up this venture. A year later I moved to another country and, due to the difficulties of relocation, language and assimilation, I completely let go of this dream.
To my surprise, after a year of living in a foreign country, I found out that there was a HEMA club in my small town: “Academia artis dimicatoriae”. Of course, I immediately came to an open lesson and I liked it so much that I decided to stay there and continue training.
At first it was very hard. But at the same time, despite all the bruises and pain in my muscles, my reflex ability and speed were increasing. We started with saber but I quickly realized that it didn’t suit me. It was difficult to do cutting exercises with just one hand. I wanted to go straight to the two-handed sword Federschwert, but I understood that without preliminary training I couldn’t go over and therefore, kept training.* I saw how many of us came on the first day of classes and how these people gradually left. But I wanted to stay, I had dreamed about it for too long. When I finally began practicing with the two-handed sword, my happiness knew no bounds.
Fencing is a difficult and harsh sport, but in spite of it all, it brings me great pleasure and really inspires me to work. After my trainings I often draw and create, it also stimulates in self improvement. Additionally I sincerely love our club: the responsiveness of teachers as well as the positive vibes of our students.
At longsword, we study the German school of fencing by Joachim Meyer, at saber we study the manuscripts of Alfred Hutton, and during training with the rapier and side sword we learn the techniques of the 17th century Italian school. However, our study isn’t limited in this. We constantly go through new punches and blows, improving ourselves, and every year we organize events where masters and students from other countries come to and where we share our knowledge and have fun.
Now I have been fencing for one and a half years, about one year on a two-handed sword and recently I decided to pick up rapier as a second weapon. I would like to continue training, participate in tournaments and improve my technique. I love fencing and I don’t consider a girl fighting on par with men to be something out of a dream anymore. I know it’s real.
*Editor’s note: This is not universally true and varies from club to club. We at the PSV Graz immediately start beginners off on the longsword.
Valentina Mandzhi is an artist and HEMA practitioner currently living in Slovenia, who traces her roots back to Russia. She competed in her first tournament in 2018.
Amongst her other hobbies are geeky things like LARP and gaming.
Follow her on intstagram @valwarr