Sabrina Anderson, 15, held a wooden sword above her head in a defensive stance, bracing for impact.
Zach Boatman, 15, took a step forward and swung his sword down onto Anderson’s sword, knocking wood against wood.
The two stepped back and withdrew their swords, ready to repeat the routine.
While most classrooms strictly prohibit weapons, this week Augsburg College welcomed six sword-wielding students for Medieval Minnesota, a weeklong summer camp.
From Renaissance dance classes to medieval costuming to classes about old texts, high school students got a taste of life in the Middle Ages.
“We try to introduce them to a way of thinking about the Middle Ages that is not full of stereotypes that they might get from the books or movies that they’re consuming, but that have some sort of basis in history,” said Phil Adamo, director of Medieval Minnesota.
The swordsmanship class teaches students real fighting techniques from 13th and 14th century German longsword manuals — not stage combat.
“If it was the same as your little hacking and slashing that you get when you go outside and play with a stick, it would be very boring,” Anderson said. “But with this, you actually get real techniques and real results from them.”
Middle Ages, not Dark Ages
Anderson was surprised to find that a lot of what she knew from fantasy books and movies was inaccurate — the Middle Ages weren’t just dark times.
It’s an assumption many people make, Adamo said, but studying the period can offer a glimpse into a world of artists, intellectuals and architects.
“If you really study it seriously, you find out that the Middle Ages was a complicated time,” Adamo said.
Medieval times today
Many aspects of culture today come from the Middle Ages, such as the way we think about gender roles, he said.
How people think of war also stems from a Middle Ages theory. The “just war” theory says that it’s OK to kill in some instances if people are attacking you. “But you need to use appropriate force, and not more force than you need to to defeat them,” Adamo said.
It’s seen in movies where warriors will let their opponent pick up a fallen sword to continue fighting. Such chivalrous ideas like not attacking women, children or the poor, come from that time. “The remnants of this are men opening the car door for women,” Adamo said.
Medieval Minnesota has drawn students from all over the country and Canada, with students this year from the Twin Cities, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin. It’s connected to Augsburg College’s medieval studies major, of which Adamo is also director.
Adamo said he doesn’t know of other camps like his. Most are either day camps or for younger children.
He hopes students gain better appreciation of the Middle Ages and overcome stereotypes.
Boatman, who came from Pennsylvania for the second year in a row to attend camp, said he’s learned a lot about the good parts of medieval times.
“It wasn’t just a depressing, disease-filled time,” Boatman said.