Duel school: Saturday in City Park with swords, a stern TV star and pretend mayhem | Entertainment/Life

The clacking of wooden swords rang out under the Peristyle pavilion in City Park on Saturday morning, as a charming 1990s celebrity led a dozen enthusiasts in stylized, samurai-esque combat.

Participants had assembled for “The Sword Experience,” a traveling workshop that combines everything from cosplay to martial arts, to the filming of a mini action movie. The swashbuckling students had paid between $215 and $375 for the six-hour adventure, which included their own trusty blades.

Actor Adrian Paul, best known for his role as the immortal, sword-wielding Scotsman Duncan MacLeod on the popular television show “Highlander: The Series,” looked fabulous for a sexagenarian, as he taught his acolytes the basics of faux stabbing, slicing, and decapitating opponents. His enchanting British accent paired with swordplay as perfectly as lemon curd pairs with afternoon scones.

Paul, who established the self-styled duel school in 2016, took a no-nonsense approach as he coached students to keep their distances from one another as they warmed up with their weapons.

The object, he deadpanned, was to “keep your eyes in their sockets.”

The aspiring knights, ninjas, and musketeers exhibited various levels of expertise as they practiced sweeping their blades toward imaginary victims with an economy of motion that Paul equated with an expert golf swing.

“Sword fighting is not about strength,” he intoned.

Aiming for the bellybutton

Paul taught the “on guard” gesture in which the swordspersons pointed their wooden Excaliburs at the throats of invisible enemies, and the jutting Number 11, in which the swordsmen are “aiming for the bellybutton” of a make-believe opponent. Most importantly, the leading man demonstrated the “triangle of life,” a defensive gesture that is meant to prevent laceration and impalement.

Pricilla Manriquez seemed to know her sword-handling moves better than most. Which is no surprise since the 43-year-old electronic technician from Austin had previously attended 50 Sword Experience classes. The attraction, she said, is the exercise, learning about acting and learning about videography. Plus, The Sword Experience, she said, has provided her with a circle of like-minded friends.

Participants practice moves during the Sword Experience Elite at City Park’s Peristyle in New Orleans, Saturday, June 4, 2022. Actor Adrian Paul started the Sword Experience in 2016 to travel and teach people film swordplay techniques. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

First-timers James and Ilea Watson of Walker, Louisiana had driven to New Orleans on a father-daughter adventure celebrating Ilea’s graduation from high school. James, 52, who works in the telecommunications industry, was a little self-conscious about his, shall we say, modest sword fighting skills. Ilea, who’d done a little boxing in the past and some high school theater, was more relaxed.

“I’m doing OK,” Ilea said, though “I don’t think I could go out and fight anyone.”

Silas Davis, a fit, 51-year-old software engineer, had traveled all the way from Portland, Oregon for the activity. Davis said he had practiced the imaginative sport for more than two years. Davis said he’d always been a “Highlander” fan and to meet Paul in person was part of the fun.

Bloodthirsty choreography

For his part, Paul said that the romance of sword fighting helps compel some participants to stay in shape. “It’s about daily life,” he said, “about getting you mobile, so you can pick your kid up off the floor, and pick up the groceries.”

Also, he said, the activity helps participants hold their own in social situations, when verbal thrusting and parrying is called for. In Paul’s view, aggression isn’t the most important aspect of theatrical swordsmanship. The important part is the cooperation between partners, who are engaged in choreography that only seems bloodthirsty.

Speaking of which, just across the street from the Peristyle, the Roux La La Carnival dance troupe was conducting auditions. The group of young women, dancing with abandon to disco music, lent a subtle surreal quality to the nearby sword fighting. This being New Orleans, a brass band led a gaggle of umbrella-wielding second-liners in the distance, probably leading to a wedding at the botanical garden. And a bunch of teens noisily scrambled after a soccer ball in a nearby meadow.

You’re going to kill them

The clattering sword fighting, which had begun in the morning, reached a crescendo at roughly 3:30 p.m., as the students engaged in a chaotic melee. A few had donned Roman legionnaire costumes for the moment, befitting the architecture of the neoclassical Peristyle.

Paul barked out cinematographic directions as he recorded the action with a hand-held video camera. When his squad of warriors seemed to become a bit blasé, he called out: “When I say ‘move,’ you’re going to kill them (the opposition), you’re not going for a stroll!”

Happily, in the end, no one had been eviscerated, though one poor warrior had possibly sprained an ankle, and everyone would probably be reaching for the Advil bottle by nightfall. Those nicked-up wooden swords probably got plenty heavy after a couple of hours of swishing and stabbing. But the panting pretend warriors seemed to be having a blast.

Based on their performances, the short video that Paul was producing promised to have the authenticity of a 1960s Hercules drive-in movie. And who among us wouldn’t want to be part of a 1960s Hercules drive-in movie? 

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