Brad Stapley, 39, is a heavy equipment operator by trade. But he prefers handling a bastard sword over a bulldozer any day.
So twice a week Stapley suits up in medieval garb and proceeds to whack other grown men with foam weapons. He’s the ringleader of the Yukon Swordfighting Company, a medieval reenactment group that formed last autumn. They meet twice a week on the field of Selkirk Elementary School.
This evening he’s just put the finishing touches on his latest weapon, a seven-foot poleaxe, and is using it to clobber four aspiring apprentices over ther heads. They’re decked out in a mishmash of sporting equipment: baseball helmets with faceguards, hockey gloves and motorcycle armour. Each wears a colourful tabert, or sleeveless surcoat, over their gear.
Swords are made from lengths of PVC piping, wrapped in pool noodles and bound with duct-tape. Shields are built from plywood base, coated with camping foam and edged with pipe insulation.
Stapley’s infatuation with the Middle Ages started when, at the age of 14, his parents took him to a medieval festival near Leamington, Ontario. He quickly became hooked, despite acquiring bruises “as big as a football” while sparring, and rose through the ranks: starting as a lowly fighter, up to foot soldier, feudal sergeant and squire before finally becoming a knight.
Along the way he progressed from using padded weapons to wooden ones, and later, dull metal blades. Stapley has a steel and molybdenum bastard – or one-and-a-half – sword that was forged in Quebec.
Right now Stapley doesn’t have anyone to spar against with his metal blade. For now, Whitehorse’s other swordfighters are still working on foam weaponry.
Stapley fights under the pseudonym of Hugo DeBracey. He encourages others to adopt fighting names as well. “It’s like professional wrestling,” he says. “These guys are the rock stars of the medieval ages.”
Lake Pearson, 34, fights under the name of Titus Pullo, a character from the HBO show Rome. He’s a stay-at-home dad, and “after staying at home with the moms all day, this isn’t too bad.” During evenings he’s taken to making a chainmail cowl for himself.
His brother, 27-year-old Land Pearson, goes by Stilgar the Stiff. The first name is borrowed from a character in the sci-fi book and movie, Dune; the second is a nod to the ironic titles awarded to Vikings – the younger Pearson is unusually flexible.
The two brothers take up arms and take to smiting each other. A strike to the leg requires the injured player to kneel for the rest of the match. Arms can be similarly lost. Headshots, needless to say, spell game over. The loser, with dramatic flourish, collapses to the ground.
“I’m not having a good sword-and-shield day,” says Land, following a defeat at the hands of his brother.
Ask 22-year-old Jon McCormick, also known as Alucard, about the appeal of swordfighting and he responds with a blank stare, as if the answer ought to be self evident.
“You get to beat people with swords,” he says.
Various medieval reenactment groups began to spread across the Western world in the 1960s, following the foundation of the Society for Creative Anachronism in Berkeley, California. While some groups hold feasts and other social activities, the Whitehorse organization is strictly about fighting.
“It’s a martial art,” says Stapley. He expresses regret over how the Western world has largely come to ignore its old swordfighting techniques in favour of eastern fighting styles, like karate.
“Everything’s out of Asia,” he said. “My family’s English and French.”
But surely karate is a more practical asset – allowing practitioners to defend themselves without the aid of a sword and shield?
“You’d be surprised,” said Stapley. “I find the reflexes you develop in this can really help you out.”
It’s good exercise, particularly when you’re wearing armour. Stapley says knights in full armour were known to sweat off as much as 10 pounds of weight during a day’s fighting.
While fighting in “live steel” competitions in Ontario, Stapley says “I’ve had the tip of my finger almost cut off, and broken bones.
“When you see the chipped steel, and the chainmail links flying, it gets neat.”
The group has kept a low profile so far. It currently has eight members, seven of which are men. But women medievalists are out there, “and the ones who do come out tend to hit hard,” said Stapley.
Two high school students showed up at this evening’s practice. Stapley equips both with a sword and shield and teaches them some rudimentary drills, and they set to work, taking turns whacking their partner’s shield.
“They can find out who they are in there,” said Stapley. “I’ve seen the geekiest, skinniest ones do this and they totally dominated.”
The group meets at Selkirk Elementary School on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m., rain or shine.
Contact John Thompson at