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Sword-play enthusiasts to be in Bemidji for tournament

Bemidji Swashbuckler Jeremiah Liend and line judge Kirk Karstens discuss the upcoming Equinox Duello during a rehearsal. Pioneer Photo/ Patt Rall

Sword-play enthusiasts are coming to Bemidji for the first known dueling tournament in this area.

The Equinox Duello of the Bemidji Swashbucklers Guild, a secret fraternal organization, will occur at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16, at Wild Rose Theater, 501 Bemidji Ave. N. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased in advance in the Fleur De Lis Gallery located in the Wild Rose Theater or at the door.

The Code Duella, which comes from the 15th Century Flos Duellatorium of Italy, is an example of a prescribed code of behavior during a duel, although the sport dates back to early Rome in the 7th Century B.C. There are records of Norse sagas about Viking holmganga, but it was the Europeans who set the rules for judicial duels to settle an argument or tournament rules for play.

Actually, it is quite simple: An aggrieved person would issue a challenge to his aggressor for something he did or said to offend the challenger. The challenged person would accept the place and time of the duel. The field of honor would be chosen, usually out of the way from normal pedestrian traffic, the two combatants would show up with their seconds and doctor. The seconds would attempt reconciliation between the challenger and challenged, and, if that failed, the duel began.

The two men would fight to the finish or when one of the doctors would call the duel to a halt.

Although most of the duels ended before the death of one of the combatants, many wounds led to the death of one or both of them.

This form of martial arts has been around for a long time. It is not to be confused with the classical style of dueling known as sport fencing.

"The Bemidji Swashbucklers Guild was formed in 2003 and officially incorporated with the Minnesota Secretary of State in 2006 as a nonprofit devoted to education and information about historical sword fighting," said Jeremiah Liend. "It has been operating in and around the area as a secret fraternal brotherhood of sword-fighting enthusiasts, and this is our first public duel. This will be the first time that we will be showing exactly what we do."

Samples of Liend's ability to coach novice swordsmen were seen in various theater productions throughout the area. The swordplay between the actors in "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)" at Long Lake Theater in Hubbard is a good example. The actors even asked the audience, after hearing the wows, "Good, huh?"

A couple of years ago, Liend traveled to Thailand to teach swordplay for a theater production. He also coached fighting techniques for last year's production of "Camelot" at Bemidji High School.

Liend promises a two-day session wherein sets of swordsmen will spar to the finish with one winner emerging.

And this is where Kirk Karstens, the local fencing coach for Bemidji Community Education, comes in. Karstens said his background in fencing (foil, epee and saber) dates back to Chicago and his days studying under Maestro Kierkegaard at the Windy City Sword Club. He continued studying the art under Rich Jacobson at the University of Minnesota. As a fencing instructor for the last eight years here in Bemidji, Karstens has also lent his expertise to many productions in and around the Bemidji area, most recently in Bemidji Community Theater's "Pirates of Penzance."

As line judge for the Duella, Karstens will watch the action carefully and award points based upon the complicated rules of the game. The combatants will use their own version of protection gear ranging from a long black leather coat for Liend to breastplates made of heavy cotton for others. And, although it is a "secret society," the names of the players will be given on the nights of the duel; people will be surprised to see that they range in age from young men to seniors.

Both Liend and Karstens are proponents of this aerobic sport and hope that there will be more people interested in joining their ranks after watching the duella.

Information on how to join the Bemidji Swashbucklers Guild will be supplied at the event. Bemidji Community Education offers courses in fencing with Karstens each semester and the information is online and in the brochure.