Defense Training Volunteers

Forest of Dean

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5 Ways To Prepare Yourself For The Weekend’s Activity

Preparation is key in the Art of War.

sun-tzuThis upcoming weekend we’ll be filling the Forest of Dean to the rafters with cunning rogues, light-footed cutthroats and dastardly mercenaries. They’ll all be patrolling, camping and idling around in amongst the trees and rivers, unaware that they’re about to be set upon by two teams of well-trained assassins. 

Although I’ve tried my best to prepare both teams of assassins and the various target volunteers for the weekend ahead, I thought I’d collect a few more thoughts just to help everyone make the most of the time we have.

Here are 5 ways any of you can prepare yourselves for the upcoming battle, with a little help from Sun Tzu:


‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.’


It’s imperative that you keep your basic skills up to scratch. The rules remain the same whether you are an assassin or a target. At some point you will be forced into a 1-on-1 or possibly 2-on-1 fight scenario, so you’ll need to be ready to deflect, parry and attack as quickly as possible. There’s no point in spending the best part of 6 hours tracking your quarry, only to be bested by them in the battle proper. This leads us onto my next tip…


“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”


The missions that I’ve set the teams aren’t simply assassination based. Each set of targets, as well as some roving bandits, will be carrying their own supply of resources as well as some intelligence on where and when the other target groups will be. These supply crates will be clearly labelled and boxed up in timber packing cases, kindly lent to us by a friend of Kevan’s. You’ll need to plan your attack and stalk your prey thoroughly before diving into the thick of it though…

Get Inspired

‘You have to believe in yourself.’


You’ll find that you’ll become a great deal more immersed in the weekend if you’ve mentally primed yourself first. This can either be achieved by reading a favourite swords-and-sorcery book or simply by kicking back with a classic movie. My personal recommendations would be either Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of The Ring for some quintessential forest based battles or (if you’re looking for something a little cheesier) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Tool Up

‘Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.’


A big weekend away is always a good opportunity to treat yourself to some more gear. You wouldn’t want to be caught short in a fight, and not have enough throwing knives to take down that last bandit. Assassins also might want to invest in a cloak, to adapt to the changing colours of the forest, targets will be given outer garb to wear, but are encouraged to style and kit themselves out as much as they deem suitable.

Bring Food

‘When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.’


Although we’ll be supplying all our volunteer targets with plenty of ale, meats and soups – the assassins won’t have the same luxury. Our two teams will be laying low and lighting fires at their own risk. As part of the experience we’ll be getting assassins to cook and prepare all their meals in the forest, but you can still bring seasonal fruits, breads and cheeses – anything period – no cereal bars (I’m looking at you Barbara!).

We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us, so my very last tip would be to get a good night’s sleep tonight and tomorrow. Rest up in your beds well, because the Forest floor is not always the most comfortable of mattresses!

Rachel Leissbecker is an expert Stealth Trainer and Knife Thrower. Her weekly classes teach the uninitiated how to successfully track, stalk and eliminate groups of targets – utilising ancient covert tactics passed down from her Priesthood ancestors. She is a huge fan of the LOTR films and has just the smallest of crushes on a certain Kevin Costner…

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Summer Round-Up

autumn-foresWe’ve reached that magical time in the year again.

The days have been shortening, but they’re about to get a great deal shorter. 22nd September is the Autumn Equinox, ushering in cooler breezes and much darker days.

Looking back, we’ve had a fantastic Summer here in the Forest of Dean. Despite a few rainy days, for the most part we’ve been able to run our sessions with little or no issues (minus that small run-in with a few interested kids!) and once more all our students have made some great progress.

The Summer is a time for capitalising on the longer hours and cracking sticks until dusk, and that’s just what all of you have been doing. The hard work and practice has been paying off and, as teachers, it’s incredibly satisfying to see so much improvement in your techniques.

Kevan, Rachel and I have been keeping a close eye on every single one of you and, after a brief team talk, we’ve come up with a shortlist of award nominees. Of course, we like to make sure that all our students’ progress – no matter how big or small – is properly recognised.

The awards are reserved for those who have exhibited the skills of a total warrior. Those who have shown themselves to be devious in battle, fierce in resilience and even in temper will be awarded with one of our hand-crafted trophies.

short-sword-fightersThis year we’re going to be upgrading our Awards night and joining forces with our border-allies, The Cotswold Warriors. The lads from over the way have been training in Broad and Short Swords for the last 3 years.

After meeting Jason at a competition earlier in the year, we’ve kept in touch, and are proud to be holding our celebration nights in tandem this October.

My quarter-staff student, Barbara, has been kind enough to offer the huge space she has in her barn, so we’ll be feasting like our forefathers and drinking like them too, hopefully!

Before we move onto our Winter plans, I thought I’d mention out little trip to the Highlands, during the peak of Summer. The midges may have been out in full force, but that didn’t stop 20 of us making the journey up North to stay in the lovely Cottages that we had rented for the weekend.

highlands-swordsAfter some one-on-one training sessions, our broadsword fighters made some big improvements and Jason pulled off some particularly clever moves, deposing our reigning Champion Kevan to claim The Prize.

A wonderfully deft feint put our valiant Sword instructor off balance, and gave Jason the upper hand in this thrilling closing bout of the weekend. Congratulations go to both participants.

Now, with our eyes firmly set on the future, we can look forward to the next three-day event which will be taking place on our home turf, The Forest of Dean.

Rachel will be putting the skills her Assassin’s have been learning over the Summer to the test with a weekend long stake out missions. Two teams of light-footed cutthroats will be scouring the forest for four groups of targets (comprised of our Quarter Staff and Sword students), all of whom will be on the look out for would-be attackers.

larpersAll of the targets will be given enough food and drink to keep them going, and medieval camping gear will be provided to those who need it. As ever the rules of costume and camouflage will apply for the whole weekend: no electronics and no modern clothing or equipment!

For the time being, don’t mourn the loss of Summer too much, let’s make the most of the evening hours we’ve got left.

Jeremy Whiting-Huntsley has been running training sessions and seminars from the Forest of Dean for the last decade. He enjoys Quarter-Staff training the best, but has been known to pose as Short Sword wielding Merc on certain weekends away…


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Broadsword Battles in the Highlands – There Can Be Only One!

sean conneryWith the summer upon us, despite how much its been raining, the Forest of Dean is full to the brim with visitors. Although there’s nothing quite like a peaceful walk in the woods – its also a joy to hear it so alive with people.

Rachel has been busy for the last couple of weeks with her teams of assassins. The clatter of quarterstaffs can be heard as Jeremy puts his students through their paces. Droves of dog walkers, hikers and families also descend upon the forests on the afternoons and weekends. Whilst its a wonderful to see so many people enjoying our gorgeous Forest, sometimes it feels like there’s not enough room to swing a cat, let alone a broadsword!

synthetic_medieval_training_swordAs a result of the increased traffic through the Forest, I have decided to scale down the weekly 3-hour broadsword workshops to daily one-on-one sessions. Due to the niche nature of broadsword combat, I think we’ll find it easier to fill classes this way and will allow everyone to learn at their own pace.

Training with the broadsword is an intensive and potentially dangerous past-time. By scaling down to solo classes, we can upgrade from oak to blunt steel. Without spectators and other students in the near vicinity, we have more space for evasive manoeuvres and big swings, giving us all a chance to experiment with different attacking styles.

highlandsOn the subject of swords; after picking up a niggling shoulder injury during last month’s competition, I’ve invested in some new Carbon-Fibre blades from the States along with a couple of sets of rubberised armour for sparring. For coaching, you need real steel, but these light-weight beauties are perfect for training at home. As for the armour, I think the need for some protection goes without saying!

Now, looking ahead to Autumn – there’s the yearly outing to plan for. After chatting to Rachel, Jez and the rest of the students; I’ve settled on the Highlands as our destination for this year’s Broadsword Weekend Away.

Its a cheap time of year to visit, with Highland Heather Lodges in Scotand being able to accommodate all of us in their gorgeous self-catered cottages. There will be a couple of dinners cooked by the trainers, as well as master classes and workshops you can take part in.

Apart from being a visually stunning landscape to surround yourself in, I know that the Highlands holds certain cultural connotations for a great deal of my students. With that 80s movie franchise in mind, we’ll be having a themed competition that will run throughout the weekend. Trainers and students will be competing against each other in single round combat sessions, in a knock-out style tournament.

So as much as I’d like to wish you all luck, my competitive spirit denies me from doing so. Remember dear students: there can be only one!

Kevan Dennisal is a Broadsword Martial Artist with a background in Ju-Jitsu and Wu-Shin. After spending a decade studying in Japan, whilst there on business, Kevan returned to the UK to pursue a career in EMA training.

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Acupuncture For An Old Warrior

English Martial Arts are, by their nature, an old man’s game. The time and practise taken in developing excellent skills often puts off the younger crowd, and to a lot of people it might just seem a little silly. But, for those willing to give it a shot and really commit themselves to learning one of our disciplines, great personal satisfaction can be taken in practising our arts. However, the longer in the tooth you grow, the harder it is to keep up with the pack and maintain a schedule of regular training. Sports injuries can occur at any time, something that I wasn’t prepared for back in the 80s when I first started on my road to English Martial Arts excellence.

larpersBack in ’87, I had started a Medieval Reenactment Society. Part way through my University course in Middle English I had felt inspired, by the texts I was studying, to attempt some chivalric feats of my own. A young and impetuous scholar who desired to slip into a world of knights and vagrants, I thought that I would be alone in my quest. However, I was not. After a few awkward first meetings with a handful of people, numbers began to swell until there were 20 or so members at a given time.

Over the four years I spent at University, I nurtured the society and its members into a group of well trained warriors. Those days were not spent without conflict, however, there were plenty of other ambitious young men and women who wished to make their mark amongst our community. As a result, rivalries and team battles would often breakout amongst our ranks. One particular bout involved myself and another trainer vying for the affections for a much coveted girl (its always a girl isn’t it?).

Often, when you spend enough time enveloping yourself in the context and practices of another time, the lines between fiction and history begin to blur. After weeks of rigorous training and studying of ancient texts, my words and thoughts were starting to adopt a Medieval dialect. So, when my love rival and combatant, Torben, lashed out during a sparring session with an illegal pommel bash. I treated his actions as a breach in conduct and publicly challenged him to a duel.

It seems so petty looking back on it now, but its the folly of all young men – to care too much about their ego and reputation amongst others. The duel was a tense affair. Our friends in the society enjoyed watching us battle, because we were both experts in our chosen field of combat; but everyone was aware of the ulterior motives that we both held. There was no end of gossip within our ranks, a telling sign of the futility of our duel was the notable absence of the object of our desires.more larpers

As our quarterstaffs clashed, I lunged for a sweep of his leg. A worthy opponent, Torben took his chance and struck my unprotected leg. This was the end for me. Up until then, we had only suffered a few scrapes and bruises but this was the injury that was to haunt my Martial Arts career for the rest of my life. The quarterstaff connected with the side of my knee sending me sprawling, and immediately dislocating my knee cap. Torben, seeing the fight was over and his adrenaline quickly subsiding, rushed to help me up but the damage had already been done.

8 weeks off my legs, and copious physiotherapy has not returned my knee to its former functionality. Youthful exuberance had led to my injury and a similar source of enthusiasm would serve to be the cure. As time wore on, my knee only grew worse. Continued training and coaching had left me reliant on painkillers until I met a young physiotherapist. Finishing a quarterstaff team building day for a privately run sports centre, I was approached by this young woman who had noticed me popping pills throughout the day. Having enjoyed the day so much, she offered me a free acupuncture & sports massage session.

Before then, I had dismissed acupuncture as holistic mumbo-jumbo, preferring to trust in what I saw as hard science. This one session changed my mind on the matter completely. The pain in my knee has disappeared, and although I would need to return to an acupuncture specialist every month or so, my overall fitness had never been better. Here’s some advice from an old man who’s spent too long fighting with swords; don’t let emotion be the reason to practice English Martial Arts. Practice safe and, if you sustain an injury, treat it with acupuncture.

Jeremy Whiting-Huntsley is an experienced English Martial Artist and trainer in Quarterstaff. His time fighting duels for the affections of young ladies is far behind him now,  he now spends the majority of his time training and practicing with the Defense Training Volunteers of Forest Dean.

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Night-time Cloak & Dagger Training continues…

The summer nights are finally here and, now it looks like we’re in for some better weather, its time to get back to some Night-time Cloak and Dagger training! We have around 6 weeks left of lovely dusky evenings and, regular attendees will know that, this is the best time of year to practice the stealth tactics that we’ve been training so hard on over the spring break.ToaA-Priest

For those who are new to the Volunteers, welcome! Cloak & Dagger training is a wonderful historical martial art that can be practiced by people of most abilities. Mostly used by Shadow Monks and Rogue Priests, under the employ of the church, these sleeper agents secretly trained in the arts of stealth and subterfuge whilst going about their clerical duties. When the message came from the Cardinals or Bishops in Rome, they would be sent to undermine political connections and cause dissent.

forest ambushAs the decades and centuries passed, these agents were slowly either retired or killed in the line of duty and the church found more discrete methods of infiltrating governments and monarchies. However, the art of stealth and dagger-work has been kept alive and well, passed down from generation to generation. Today, we practice Cloak & Dagger techniques almost as a form of meditation. Much like Yoga or Tai Chi, the movements and skill involved require patience and flexibility to master. A beginner in Cloak & Dagger might well find their movements sluggish or clumsy but, even after a year of practice, enormous progress can be made in the fields of guile and cunning.

We’ll be meeting in the same place as usual, and I’d like to ask all participants to leave their cars parked a little way down the road. The dress-code remains the same as last year: dark green or brown cotton or hemp, with leather shoes of your own choice. If you’ve got blonde or otherwise light coloured hair, it might be a good idea to bring a headwrap or hood to stay hidden in the shadows. As usual, I will be supplying all fighting equipment – for safety precautions I’d like to ask participants to not bring their own.

larperThe usual 3 hour schedule will be used this year. A half hour of training and warm-ups, followed by an hour of new skill acquisition and then two full scenario sessions to put those new skills to use! I’ve spent the break compiling a whole range of new situations and there’ll be plenty of opportunity for role-playing, if anyone has the urge! Get your email suggestions and course bookings in early because, as always, places will go fast!

Rachel Leissbecker is a Cloak & Dagger Coach and descendant of Rogue Priest Jacobi Leissbecker. She trains and coaches the art of subterfuge and stealth for educational and recreational purposes only. Due to the nature of the fighting style we ask that participants be at least 18 years of age and due respect be given to all present.

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Quarterstaff Lessons In The Forest

quarter staffThe average quarterstaff training session is something I consider to be a transformative experience. The students in my classes may live their own lives at a break-neck pace, interacting with modern technology that, not so long ago, would have belonged in Science-Fiction; however, for a couple of hours a week they can leave those lives behind. For two hours a week they can forget about sales projections, dissertations
or social media.

When the weighty silence of the forest is all around you, and just the sound of clashing staffs can be heard (along with the trainer’s calls) the members of the class are no longer Digital Marketing Executives or Quantity Surveyors. When the clatter of a blocked side blow sends a man’s feet sliding through the undergrowth; the last thing on his mind is his Facebook Newsfeed.

spear staffI meet my students in a car park or lay by. Part of the joy in training in the Forest of Dean is that there are dozens of wonderfully peaceful clearings where we are guaranteed privacy and peace to practice our art. Although, logistically, it would be easier for us to meet in the same place each
week; there’s a certain mystery and fun in training somewhere different.

It harks back to the days of guerilla gatherings of medieval serfs. Terrorised by local landowners and their goons, they were forced to train in hiding – equipping themselves with the skills that they would need to defend themselves from future raids.

Once we have all greeted each other, we change out of our modern civilian clothes and into the training garb of the traditional English peasant. Simple cotton, yarn or even hemp sacking is re-purposed into basic tunics or robes – this allows freedom of movement and brings us closer to the ancestors that began this tradition. It can be amazing what a quick change of costume and scenery can do to a person’s demeanour. A pushy, sales executive (yes, Gavin, I’m talking about you!) can be transformed into a contemplative forest nomad or a shy, stay-at-home-mum can turn into a daring woodland warrior.

forest beautyWith a strict no phones policy, a two-hour workshop can almost feel like a time-warp. When the noise of the modern world is muted by the dense wall of the surrounding forest, the only thing you can think about is the man or woman who’s trying to knock you down with a quarterstaff. Focus and concentration are two of the main tenets of our society – one that is based on decency and honour. By the end of a typical training session, our participants should feel tired, exhilarated and embellished with new skills that can be perfected in the future.

Jeremy Whiting-Huntsley is a fully trained Quarterstaff practitioner with over a decade’s experience in competitions and teaching. His teaching has taken him across the breadth of Britain, however the Forest of Dean is where his regular activities take place. If you’d like to experience one of Jeremy’s Quarterstaff workshops then you can make an enquiry over on the Contact page.

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