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Notes from A Salty HEMA Instructor: An Amusing Cautionary Tale

Happy New Year, all! As we finish our holiday-taking and merrymaking, I thought I might regale you with a simultaneous amusing anecdote and cautionary tale. Back when I was a wee junior student in January 2019, I attended a Viking Combat class focused on training with dane axes. These are like regular axes, but like, longer. It was a pretty good class, largely uneventful. Went well until I fought a student who was even newer than I was.

He was figuratively applying his foot parts to my butt parts, but we were still having a good ol’ time. Or at least we were, until it happened: Dude threw a one-handed sweeping cut towards my right leg and landed a solid hit. This was a source of three ouches for two reasons:

  1. The hit landed just beyond my shin guards on the juicy virgin flesh of my outer leg just above the ankle. That’s one ouch.

  2. I wasn’t hit with the relatively soft synthetic ax “blade,” but with the much less forgiving wooden haft (or handle in layman's terms). That’s two more ouches.

Honestly it didn’t feel like a big deal. It kind of hurt to essentially get a baseball bat to the leg, but I just thought “ouch (ouch ouch)” and finished the fight. Even fought again later and finished class with naught but a limp. I drove home, kissed my wife goodnight, and went to bed figuring I wouldn’t have more than a bruise and a limp for a couple of days. So, that was the end of that…..or was it?

Now, you’ve probably figured out that 2019-me was a little bit wrong (by which I mean a lot bit), and that three ouches was just too many. I couldn’t put weight on my right leg when I got out of bed to pee, and had to butt-scoot down the stairs to get ready for work a few hours later. Then I had to stand on one leg to take a shower and hop around the house to get dressed. Still, I was a spry lad and managed to get ready for work well enough. All I needed were shoes, which sat by the bed where my wife slept.

Accounts vary as to how I entered the room: My wife thought I limped in with a wooden staff as a crutch. I thought I crawled in on all fours, which is far less dignified. Either way, my entrance aroused my wife’s suspicion. “What are you doing?” said she. “I can’t put any weight on the leg where I got hit last night, so I’m having to move differently to get ready for work” said I, matter-of-factly. I told her work should still go fine, and I probably wouldn’t have any issues navigating my workplace. Where I lead tours. Through a two-story historic house. My wife was unconvinced. “No, you’re going to the doctor. Call in to work then call the doctor’s office” she promptly replied. I protested but realized I was being silly and relented.

Fast forward to the doctor’s office and x-rays revealed my fibula (the small bone on the outside of the lower leg) cannot handle 3 whole ouchies and thus was broken. The upside was the bone had not displaced so I just had to wear a boot for six weeks. The downside was I couldn’t drive since the boot was on my right leg.

The literal trouble in my foot parts was a pain in my figurative butt parts, but I did at least get a consolation prize. My wife and I were in a Target parking lot when we saw a mother telling her young son to put his shoes on, what with walking around a store shoeless being frowned upon and all. I saw the kid look at me, look at my boot, then look back up. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I didn’t put my shoes on.” Then I left.

The boot I had to wear.

So, dear reader, you may be wondering what the moral of these stories is besides “it was fun to scare children with my broken leg.” There are actually three:

  1. Make sure you’re wearing proper protective gear at all times when sparring, since you never know when the odd hit will land where you are unprotected. If you’re wondering if you should wear extra protective gear, you probably should.

  2. Be mindful of your immediate reaction to getting hit. If you’re already limping after a hit, adrenaline may be keeping you from experiencing serious pain. This delays treatment and can lead to worsening your injury, unbeknownst to both you and your instructor. Your instructor can only do so much to prevent injury, so if you tell them you’re fine then they have no reason to believe otherwise. Pain even with adrenaline is a sign that you have been injured, and need to seek treatment as soon as possible.

  3. Don’t do one-handed leg-sweeps with any weapon, especially two-handed weapons. It’s widely considered a jerk move and banned in many tournaments for good reason. True, it is a valid martial technique for catching your opponent off-guard with a cut to their extremities. However, by nature it is difficult to control and therefore hard to land without posing legitimate danger to your opponent. After all, we’re not actually trying to kill each other (yet).

Thankfully no permanent damage was done. The breaker of my leg was very apologetic and gave me rides to & from class until I could drive on my own. He also received private training to be sure this wasn’t a repeat issue. We’re still great friends today and have both improved considerably as fighters. I learned later that my injury apparently scared the poo-poos out of all the instructors at the time, as I was apparently WoA’s first student injury. So if nothing else, dear reader, if you can’t resist injury for your own sake, please resist for the sake of the instructors. They have enough to worry about as it is.

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