Class crashers: Sword Play
If I had to rank my childhood obsessions, Mulan would be somewhere near the top of the list. And there’s no doubt that some leftover admiration for the kick-ass Disney heroine fuelled my desire to attend a sword dancing class at Gymbox. Taught by movie stuntman Vitas Libas, Sword Play offers attendees the chance to learn a sequence of Wushu-style sword dancing moves set to music. Cue my internal rendition of ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’.
Although I’m slightly worried that my clumsiness might pose a risk to life and limb of the other attendees, Vitas has helped train FKA twigs for her sword-dancing stage routines, so I know I’m in safe hands. And as we enter the studio and Vitas opens a bag of wooden swords for us to use, my anxiety eases. I pull one out of the bag and try some practice swooshes, but soon realise it’s actually quite heavy. ‘There are two sizes of sword,’ explains Vitas. ‘If you want a real workout, go for the larger one.’ I scuttle back to the front of the class and swap for a smaller weapon.
Now for technique: Vitas explains that if we hold our sword out horizontally in front of us, we should have our right hand against the hilt of the sword, facing upwards and the left at the bottom of the handle, facing downwards, with our pinky finger resting at the end. It’s obvious that not everyone in the class is a first-timer, as one girl confidently swings her sword through the air.
We start in what Vitas calls the Kill Bill position, which involves a wide stance, lunging right, with our sword pointed upwards. Vitas demonstrates a swooshing motion in which we bring the sword through the air towards the upper left corner, transferring weight to the other leg. Next it’s a chop backwards and downwards so our wrists are crossed, followed by a diagonal slice to the top right. Copying Vitas seems easy enough – I think I’m getting the hang of this.
When it’s time to try it with music, I’m less confident. At a slow speed, I can still follow Vitas, but when we try it double-time, I’m immediately lost. We slow down and practise the movements a few more times until we’ve got them nailed (we think) before Vitas moves on. Next come overhead swooshes, followed by figure-of-eight sword swings. At this point, a tall woman nearly smacks a light fitting clean off the ceiling with her sword.
As we pick up the pace and combine the two sequences, I’m confused, but when in doubt, I return to my starting Kill Bill stance – Uma Thurman, eat your heart out. The last moves we learn are a deadly stab, before swiping our swords through our inner elbows to ‘wipe away our enemy’s blood’ – a description which is a little graphic for my liking, but I suppose helps us get into character.
Now it’s time to put all of the moves together into one killer sequence and I think I’ve finally got it! I swing, swoosh and chop in time with the music as we move on every fourth beat. To my delight, I can still keep up when we try it double-time, but when Vitas steps up the tempo again, I’m lost. I start to swing my sword with gay abandon, hoping it looks vaguely like what we were taught.
By the end of the session, there’s a dull ache in my right arm and I can see why it would provide a proper workout if you weren’t wimpy like me and had opted for a larger sword. I’d definitely try it again, as the class was fun, but I think it would take a fair few sessions to make a Mulan out of me.
For more information, or to book a class, visit gymbox.com.