Alexander Makarov and Piermarco Terminiello Interview

After their amazingly close rapier and dagger final we got Alexander Makarov (Sasha) and Piermarco Terminiello (Pim) together to talk us through it.

AB: Hi guys, thank you for this. Can we start with a little background into your fencing and tournament experience?

Pim: I started HEMA with School of the Sword in 2010, being taught by Caroline Stewart, the school’s founder, and Phil Marshall, who was my main rapier instructor. Unlike a lot of people I had zero sports fencing or martial arts experience before HEMA, and hadn’t practised any sport since rugby at school. I knew HEMA was a thing from seeing some Schola guys at a Medieval festival near my home, and I’d always liked the idea of practising a martial art, and been fascinated by history and languages. HEMA promised to satisfy all these interests in one, but it was only sometime later that on a whim I googled “swordfighting” to see if there were groups in my area. I was lucky celebrities wearing love cartier bracelet
to find a good school, and it happened that Caroline and Phil were active in organising the nascent international tournament scene, so tournament fencing was always on my radar. Phil then won the first rapier and dagger tournament at Swordfish in 2010, which only added further inspiration. Naturally in my first year my fencing ability was very limited, but I quickly became obsessed with my new hobby. Aside from staying up into the night looking up equipment, I channelled my enthusiasm into browsing old forum posts, and crucially reading every 16th and 17th century Italian treatise I could get my hands on. Absorbing that much theoretical, technical, and tactical knowledge, even before I was able to apply it, for me is one of the reasons I became a competent fencer in a relatively short space of time. I did better than expected in my second tournament in 2011, reaching the quarterfinals, and by 2012 I was still very raw, but competitive. I won my third tournament in 2012 in rapier and dagger at the Martial Arts Show in the UK, followed shortly by my first international victories, gold in both rapier and dagger, and sword and buckler at the World Wide Open Championships 2012 in Germany. Further medals followed that year, including bronze at Swordfish in rapier and dagger, as well as the technical award in sword and buckler. Since then I’ve been fortunate to enjoy further tournament success, the definite highlights being winning the rapier and dagger at Swordfish in 2014 and 2015. I “only” got bronze in 2016, but am quite proud to be the only competitor to feature on the livestream for five years in a row, every year it’s been broadcast since 2012. If that sounds terribly like boasting all I can say is all credit to my instructors and training partners, to the people I’ve crossed swords with at tournaments and events, and of course to the original masters for handing their advice down through the centuries.

Sasha: I started historical fencing at 2007 as part of my LARP club activities, but I didn’t know what HEMA was until 2013, when I moved to the UK. The first weapon I studied was sabre based on Hutton, but it applied not only to sabre, but to any single hand sword. Quite shortly I switched my attention to rapier and it became my main fencing passion. I trained with many instructors during these 9 year, but in 2015 I officially joined School of the Sword and Pim officially became my coach. But he started coaching me much earlier as we spared every Saturday at Waterloo Sparring Group. I started competing in 2008 and was quite active on Russian competitive scene, but I wasn’t very successful, probably due to lack of good coaching and structured trainings. My first proper medal (i.e. not on a novice tournament) happen at SWASH 2014  in single rapier competition. Surprisingly, it was final against Pim, which I lost in sudden death and got my silver medal. Some major highlights of my tournament career include gold in single rapier on TaurHEMAchia 2015 (another final against Piermarco), silver on the same tournament in sidesword and gold in sidesword and buckler at Astolat 2016. Easy to see, that my tournament fencing experienced significantly grew after I joined School of the Sword.

Pim: I should add that Sasha has been my main sparring partner since he came to the UK. In particular, in 2013/2014 the School of the Sword was going through a rebuilding phase, and he was practically my only consistent training partner for rapier and dagger. I can confidently say I wouldn’t have had my success in that period without him. I can pinpoint a moment in my mind, two weeks before Swordfish 2014, when I wasn’t getting through in training with my regular game, so I starting experimenting with a particular Fabris stance, which I used in a tight quarterfinal against Francesco Lodà, and again in the final.

AB: That’s a lot of experience between you and it’s clear that you’ve both helped each other excel.

So was this your first experience with the NHFL? What are your thoughts about the organisation and how well it was run?

Sasha: For me it was third NHFL event. I attended Copenhagen Open and Orebro Open in 2015. Organisation was definitely on a good level, all stages were started on time, each arena had enough staff, there was a cafe. Probably, just two things to improve: it would be easier, if both tournaments were in the same venue and longsword tournament, probably, require more referees. Ties and Kristofer were very tired at the evening.

Pim: This was my first Nordic League event. It was well organised, the Nordics have been leading the way with the competitive scene and are well practised by now. In particular, I was impressed by how Carl Ryberg’s tournament software managed things, producing instant seedings for the next round.

AB: And what about the rule set and the judging?

Sasha: Longsword rule set was standard Swordfish one, which was proved as efficient, from my point of view. Regarding R&D, I still think, that good trust should be awarded with 3 points, instead of two. It would provide incentives for better and more technical fencing.

Pim: The ruleset was fine. I also prefer three points for thrusts to deep targets rather than two, but it was ok. One thing that threw me initially was that the tempo given for the afterblow was shorter than at some other events, but that’s just something a competitor must pick up on and adapt to. Also, the ring in the group stage was rather small, which inhibited me a little bit I think since I play a lot with measure and footwork, but a historical fencer should be able to adapt to a variety of circumstances. The judging was ok, within the normal parameters for HEMA competitions as it stands.

Sasha: I prefer not to discuss judging publicly. I have a bit different view on judging system as general and we discussed it with Carl. If someone want to look at it, please come to Astolat

Pim: Yeah, I must say I prefer Sasha’s system – haha!

AB: So can you talk us through your experience in the pools?

Pim: It was a Swiss fake cartier bracelet system, so people with similar scores were matched in the subsequent round. Sasha and I both won our first match 8-0 at the points cap, so met each other in the second round, and Sasha took the victory, I then won another fight 8-0, but lost a close final fight against Kristopher Stanson. I thought only four people were going through so I was quite down in the dumps, but it turned out it was eight, so then I won my next fight, and avenged myself against Kristopher in another close fight in the semis.

AB: Splitting the matches hermes bracelets with Kristopher shows how close the competition was. Is there something about his style that works well against you or does he have a great all round game?

Pim: Stanson is an extremely experienced and capable fencer, and is particularly good in the middle distance, where the small ring played in his favour. In the semi-final I had Sasha in my corner shouting “distance” at me, and when I eventually listened I got final touch that was needed.

AB: That shows how good cornering can help in a close match. Is it something that may be overlooked by some people?

Pim: It depends, sometimes cornering can even be a distraction, but it works if the corner really understands the fencer’s game. The advice while the bout is in progress has to be really short and succinct – one or two syllables at most.

Sometimes a corner is simply moral support for the fencer in a stressful situation, and sometimes the best thing a corner can do is just to temper the fencer’s mood if they’re getting caught up in the moment. Also, some people are just better at reading a fight tactically, so are more useful to have in your corner.

We think of fencing as an individual sport, but I will say that team spirit can really help with staying in the right frame of mind over the course of an event. It was great to travel in Helsinki in a team of five from the UK, under the banner of Waterloo Sparring Group. WSG currently sit second in the Nordic League group table for longsword, if the rapier and dagger scores were included we’d be smashing it.

Sasha: Swiss system was actually quite beneficial for me, as I won against Pim in second round and was lucky enough to fence against all  the top fencers who came to the tournament. In the semi-finals I met Andreas Isaksson for second time on the day and that was very tough fight, as he changed cartier bracelet his game after pool stage.

AB: What was the change in Andreas’ game? How did you have to adapt?

Sasha: Actually, I don’t remember very well. Need to review the fight, after the videos have been published.

AB: So now we get to the final. The opinion was that it was too close to call, and we predicted (wrongly) a 1 point win by Pim. How did you find it, especially since you fence so much together?

Pim: Well it couldn’t have been closer really. Sasha was very tired after fencing longsword that day while I chilled out, and I won the first round, then I had the lead in the second round with 10 seconds to go but Sasha got the point he needed to draw, he won the third round which took it to sudden death, which took about another minute of fencing before Sasha got the touch. Of course, we know each other’s game inside out, and in some ways, it wasn’t too different to what we do every Saturday, when it’s always very close. Sometimes in a competition things can feel rushed, under pressure you can snatch at half-chances you wouldn’t normally go for in sparring, but this felt more measured, like we were fencing more intelligently, trying to construct openings and think tactically.

Sasha: I can add not too much to Pim, only actual time of sudden death was near 3 minutes, as one round

AB: So can we expect a rematch at the next NHFL?

Sasha: We will see.

Pim: I don’t like to make predictions, but I hope we both medal again. There are lots of good fencer who will be trying to stop us though.

Sasha: Pim said what I assumed

AB: Anything else you’d like to add or say?

Pim: Yeah, the UK scene is large and varied with some good fencers, but I’d love to see more fencers travelling overseas to compete and face the best the rest of the world has to offer.

AB: We agree it would be great to see more British fighters testing themselves against the rest of the world.

Thank you so much for your time, and well done to both of you for your medals, I’m sure this won’t be the last time you face off against each other in a final.

You can watch the epic final here, thanks to the team at NHFL for making it available.

The next NHFL event is..

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Author: Chris Bear

Chris got into HEMA in 2015 when he joined School of the Sword Reading. The main focuses of his training are sidesword and rapier, but he also enjoys fighting with sabres. One day he will take the plunge and start training in longsword.

Chris is the owner and editor of AfterBlow which makes it all his fault.

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