The ‘knight’ of Nichols Hall: Professor fights to preserve medieval martial arts

Driving their sword underneath the helmet of their opponent, a student at the Broken Arm Academy of Swordsmanship ends a practice sparring match. Every Sunday, the academy meets at the Combative Sports Center to practice the fighting techniques of 14th century Italian knight Fiore dei Liberi. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Among the brick walls and battlements of Nichols Hall, a remnant from the Middle Ages lives on: Daniel Ireton, associate professor and academic services librarian at Hale Library.

It may seem odd to call Ireton a medieval “remnant” since he can often be seen around the Kansas State campus wearing colorful suspenders and a bow tie with his long hair and unusual beard, but make no mistake — when Ireton isn’t teaching or working on research, he takes on a different persona.

“You could ask me about the sword fighting, which is a thing,” Ireton said.

This self-described “thing” of Ireton’s is his involvement in the Broken Arm Academy of Swordsmanship.

Academy members spar in full armor at the Combative Sports Center in Manhattan. Holding a sword with two hands at both the hilt and the blade allows for increased mobility and higher accuracy when pinpointing weaknesses in armor. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

When he isn’t reading fantasy novels, playing board games or watching television, Ireton said he studies the teachings of Fiore dei Liberi, a 14th century knight, fencer and martial artist from Italy who wrote the Armizare (in English, the Art of Arms) manual titled “The Flower of Battle.”

Only four original versions of this manuscript remain, but the Broken Arm Academy and Ireton study copies that focus on the combat techniques for longswords, daggers, spears and poleaxes both in and out of armor.

Ireton said he became involved in the academy in 2014. Previously, he had studied fencing, and he said it seemed like a natural combination with his literary interests.

Unlike live action role-playing or the Society for Creative Anachronism, Ireton said the goal of the Broken Arm Academy is to try and reconstruct both the equipment and combat techniques of medieval sword fighting as accurately as possible.

“This falls broadly under something called historical European martial arts,” Ireton said.

The Broken Arm Academy is one of six historical European martial arts, or HEMA, organizations in eastern Kansas, with others in Lawrence and the Kansas City area.

During matches, combatants face off against each other using blunt weapons with rubber caps to prevent any stabbings or slashings from taking place. Matches can be divided into categories based on armor types and skill levels.

Using the HEMA ruleset, members of the academy compete to score points by pinpointing weaknesses in their opponents’ armor. Ireton said most of the matches at the Broken Arm Academy aren’t terribly serious, and most participants are honest about when they get hit by an opponent.

“There is is a competitive nature which isn’t diminished, but it’s more about sharing a rare hobby with friends,” Ireton said.

Ireton said winning a match is not paramount for him. Generally, he is focused on trying to improve his own understanding of the art of sword fighting.

Ireton added that his usual opponents at the academy are people who he’ll shake hands with, share a hug with and grab a drink with later.

“The camaraderie that has grown out of it, it’s been surprising,” Ireton said.

The Broken Arm Academy practices on Sundays at 3 p.m. in the Combative Sports Center in Manhattan. Those who are interested in the Broken Arm Academy can find more information on their Facebook page.

There is plenty of extra equipment and interested parties are welcome to come down and learn some techniques, Ireton said.