We had a chat with Dennis Ljungqvist—three time Swordfish longsword champion—about why the historical fencing event Swordfish is so important and what it means to him.
“We aren’t here to to test ourselves. We’re here to test you”. The words came from a Polish fencer at Swordfish, the premier historical fencing event in the world, and they capture a spirit of martial competitiveness that is at the very heart of Swordfish.
The modern historical fencing movement is something extraordinary. It has grown immensely and at the forefront are always those who are willing to challenge everyone else, their own knowledge and their skills. There is one event which has been the battleground in this development for fourteen years, and that’s Swordfish, in Sweden.
The competitions at Swordfish are rightfully considered the toughest in the HEMA scene, where the best come to test their mettle. Over the years they’ve been like a wave rolling back and forth between the nations that have put their mark on the event. For a few years the match stood between the Poles and the Swedes. And some Belgians and Dutch. Then the Italians. And, most recently, the Russians have swept the HEMA scene and cut through the competition like a hot knife through butter.
Dennis Ljungqvist is ranked first in the world
One of the constants at Swordfish is Dennis Ljungqvist. He is ranked number one in the world according to HEMA Ratings and he holds twelve Swordfish medals in total, and three longsword golds.
“These are some of the victories that has meant most to me. That is why the top shelf of my price cabinet is reserved for Swordfish and the Swedish Nationals. Swordfish was also the first HEMA event I visited and I’ve been there almost every year since; seeing it growing, meeting old friends and getting new ones is amazing to me,” Dennis says.
More than just competitions
Swordfish is more than just competitions. It also has a wide selection of workshops. The workshops are often overlooked because they are not featured in the livestream, but they are an incredibly important aspect for most participants as it creates a place where you not only get to fence with the best fencers, but also learn from them and prominent teachers.
“Even being a modern fencing event it still has an old school touch. You can live at the event site and this creates a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The evenings are simply fantastic. I tend to focus a lot on the competitions, but after all that is done it is time to just relax. Also, during the finals it feels like going to a rock concert. The bleachers are full with a roaring crowd, people are having a beer while looking at fights with some of the best fencers there is. It’s awesome,” he says.
Swordfish was the first event to have a professional livestream, broadcasting the finals on the internet as they unfold. Over the years the quality has improved and hundreds of thousands of people have watched the fights during and after the event. For the people attending, it is something out of the ordinary which cannot be experienced through the livestream. The saunas, the late night shenanigans, the friendliness and the excitement of participating and watching fights, all make Swordfish something out of the ordinary.
“It’s an event for everyone, from a newcomer to experienced event fox and the competition elite. I would probably not recommend someone to do this as their first tournament—depending a bit on weapon system—but when you have done a few it’s not that different. That said, the event has a lot of workshops and lectures that are open for anyone with instructors from all over the world. And that’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss. Then there a lot of other stuff happening and always spontaneous activities. And all who have been there knows what happens after midnight…”, Dennis says with a wry smile.
The need for a premier event
The reason for Swordfish’s fame has to do with setting the bar high, but also about a need for a community to have a focal point. Swordfish may not be an official world cup. It is more like the unofficial version, just like Wimbledon is the heart of Tennis, Dennis says.
“For me Swordfish is the tournament of the year. All others are preparation for it. You often hear people calling Swordfish a World Championship, but I always compare it to Wimbledon. Since it´s yearly, gets more attention than any other event and always is on the same place and time,“ Dennis explains.
The importance of Swordfish for Historical fencing is that it’s an arena where the best meet to test their skills, and where up-and-comers can get a shot at proving themselves. While at the same time there are excellent workshops and a really friendly atmosphere. This is invaluable to a budding movement like historical fencing. We need a tournament and workshop event that pushes the limit of what’s possible. And we all know that if you can make it at Swordfish, then you are truly part of the top tier of fencers.
Looking to participate? Here’s some info.
Date: 31 Oct – 3 November, 2019
Registration: Registration is open for all at https://swordfish.ghfs.se/registration/
Location: The sporthall Aktiviteten, in Mölndal, Sweden