He’s well-known in historical fencing circles for his skill with the sword, personality and braided beard. Now Mishaël Lopes Cardozo is about to be known to a bigger audience for his role in the upcoming season of Vikings.
Mishaël Lopes Cardozo, commonly known as just Lopes, is the founder of the Dutch HEMA club AMEK, which has five locations in the Netherlands. He was already famous in his home country and had been seen on TV and in news papers, when he landed a small role as a bouncer in Game of Thrones. His part consisted of a rather memorable conversation with the character Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. Getting a role in Game of Thrones is just one of many things that goes with the larger than life personality which has made him a household name in the Historical fencing community. In fact, there seems to be very little that Lopes hasn’t done – he’s a painter of fine arts, a writer, composer, a musician, a martial artist, an actor and a swordsman. Even his name is an unusual mix. So, who is he? Answering that question is tricky, it seems.
“I’m a Sephardic Jewish, Portuguese Viking who has officially been knighted in a Christian order,” he says with a smile. “When I was a kid I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life. I always feared my life was going to be like a prison, that I would end up doing a job I would hate, stuck in some building staring out the window much like I would do at school. School was a prison and so would my job be. I had no idea what this job would be, but it would pay my bills and I should be grateful to have it. That idea felt like a total waste of my time and would strike fear in my heart. I pondered a lot about this when I was a kid. When adults asked me what I wanted to become I said I wanted to be a good person and if possible a wise one, they actually wanted to know what I would do from 9.00-17.00 to pay my bills. Well, I didn’t have an answer to that question.”
There was nothing he could think of which would be cool enough to do for 8 hours a day. Even thinking about it would freak him out. The restless boy did however get some excellent advice from his drum teacher, Karel: ‘Mish just do as much as you can as well as you can. Acquire as many skillsets as possible so that you are never bored’.
“This was the best advice I ever got! I would ride horses, compose, write poems, play music, paint, illuminate, swing swords, calligraph, do archery, ride vehicles, throw knives, go on survival trips, do lectures, teach self-defence, shoot guns, work out and many more things. It has been an interesting ride. I have been happy, sad, melancholic, cynical, depressed, in love and scared. But my drum teacher was right, I have never been bored.”
From Hildegard von Bingen to a random enounter
He came to the path of the sword when he saw a TV show with a man called Gerard Stegeman who was talking about knighthood in the modern age.
“People sent me this video, because I was already into these things. My house was filled with candles and I was drinking and eating from tin cups and plates, and I was crazy about medieval music. My first album was Hildegard von Bingen, and she really inspired me.”
After watching the recording with Gerard in the talk show, Lopes went out his front door, and stumbled into the actual man himself. Right there on the pavement outside his house. They started talking and by the end of the conversation, he was invited to participate in Gerard’s show celebrating the 750-year anniversary of Haarlem that very day.
“That’s how I got into reenactment, and later on I looked online and found the HACA forum like everyone else, and moved on to HEMA.”
Just as he had made a career in business, music and art, he now became a professional historical martial artist. It’s pretty rare still to be a professional teacher in the historical fencing community, and even rarer back then. This is also one of the reasons he has dedicated himself to improving the image of HEMA.
From sword mysticism to a tool
Just like most historical fencers, the path of the sword began with a romantic idea, but that has changed since he started making a living out of fencing and teaching in 2002, he says. Today it is primarily a tool for him.
“I used to view the sword as a reinforcement of the will. It had all these mythological aspects, and a mystical radiance. For me now it is just a tool, like a carpenter has a hammer. I don’t care how it looks, only how well it’s balanced. I swing it around and if it feels balanced I buy it. I also don’t go to museums. Other historical fencers go to museums and watch arms and armour and it annoys the hell out of me. It’s like a carpenter going to a museum to watch 20 million hammers. I mean what’s the point?” he says with a laugh.
Let death be the grand finale
This rather unusual perspective for most fencers is consistent with someone who refuses to bow down to orthodoxy or follow the beaten path. But Lopes’s straightforward and typically Dutch view on life is mixed with a rare open-mindedness, and although he claims the sword is nothing but a tool, there have been experiences that fall outside of the realm of the ordinary.
“I am not a religious person, I’m a spiritual guy who believes in particles and quantum physics and that sort of thing. But when I listened to Hildegard von Bingen for the first time I smelled something weird in my whole house and I didn’t know what that was, it was only when I years later started with horseback riding that I realized it was horse sweat. So that was weird as hell. But I’m not a religious person and I don’t know what comes after this life, all I can do is make sure I’m going to party and adventure hard in this life and let death be the grand finale at the end,” he says with a smile.
Another experience that affected him is more directly related to the sword. His Cicerone into the world of medieval European sword arts, Gerard, was knighted in the order Company Chivalresque du Verseau. He in turn knighted Lopes in 2008 in the Castle Wijk bij Duurstede for his contribution to reconstructing and promoting our Martial heritage in the Netherlands.
“It had an impact because the whole ceremony was damn impressive. And I felt I was given an amazing opportunity. It has helped me a lot in my search of my own identity.”
The importance of historical fencing
We speak about the importance of identity and historical fencing, and what a path of the sword means and why it becomes so important to many young people. Lopes still trains with beginners, although he himself is merited with a lot of longsword medals and has trained some of the best fencers on the scene. He is himself possibly one of the premier wrestling and dagger guys.
“I’m not like one of those guys who only wants to work with the elite. I love teaching beginners who have never swung a sword before. I like it when I see the glow in people’s eyes when they figure out a technique or suddenly make a connection with their own martial heritage. That’s what I like. And I’m a business guy who likes to sell historical martial arts, my primary goal is that when I am laying on my death bed I want [the fencing masters] Ringeck, Danzig and Dobringer to be proud of me. To think that I did a good job promoting the Art.”
For Lopes, historical fencing is like a lost language which is being rediscovered. It’s an essential part of our cultural heritage, and he wonders why people would train Asian martial arts, when this is the art has been handed down to us by our own ancestors.
Become an American action hero. Let’s see if I can do that.
“It’s [Historical fencing] a missing link and forgotten art that deserves to be investigated and researched. When introducing an ancient art it is mandatory that if one aspires to make this a viable martial arts again to reach a point of critical mass. I believe HEMA as a martial art, or sport, provides a practitioner with an amazing opportunity to delve deep in the martial roots of our forbearers. Apart from the fact that knowledge of this art has practical uses it provides a window to our past and it gives focus to our future.”
Acting started with a bet
Another way of looking at history, is of course through the silver screen. Although neither Game of Thrones nor Vikings do a particularly good job at showing off fencing as a martial art, there are of course things that tie them naturally to the path of the sword. It’s hard to imagine a better fit to either show than Lopes. But how did he get into acting?
“I used the same mindset as when I got into music, art and fighting. You could say today I live an easy life, I’m not super rich when it comes down to money, because I have spent it all on bullshit, but I am rich in experiences. Still, I wanted to raise the bar, set myself a new challenge and do something that would be almost impossible; to become an American action hero. Let’s see if I can do that.”
Because he had no acting experience nor an agent his clubmates didn’t think he could do it, so he made them a bet. He said that in two years he would either be in Star Wars, Vikings or Game of Thrones. If he would pull it off they would all owe him 10€ each, if not, he owed them. Well, he’s going to have to pay up even though he ended up in two out of three, because it took him six months too long to achieve it
What was it like to meet the people in Game of Thrones?
”It was nice to meet everyone on Game of Thrones. I shared a trailer with Conleth Hill who plays Varys and later with Carice van Houten. I met Peter [Dinklage] and his mom and we were all hanging out. I gave all the lead actors a cap of the ILHG [a tournament organized by Lopes]. Most of them were wearing them. I met Kit Harington and was in make-up with Sophie Turner who plays Sansa Stark. Had a great talk with her. All-in-all, it was a great experience.”
Now he is in the next season of Vikings, but he can’t say much about his role or what he does. I ask him if we’ll see some fencing, but he keeps his cards close to his chest.
“I cannot disclose that. It’s all very secret.”
Regardless, a lot of fencers will be thrilled to see one of our own in the upcoming season, which will be airing sometime February or March next year on Netflix. We are pretty sure we’ll also get to see him in the next episode of Star Wars, we just need to inform the director of the fact.
Don’t forget to visit Lopes’s website at www.amek.org