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Utah group hones lost art of sword fighting

Published: Saturday, Aug. 21 2010 1:07 a.m. MDT

Zeb Bjorge, left, and Steve Walther prepare to fight under the direction of Micheal Ricks.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At first glance, in the middle of Liberty Park, nestled among pine trees higher than buildings, it appears there is a time travel vortex that has popped some beings out from medieval times.

On second glance, it's Utah's chapter of the United Clans Swordsman Association. And the colorful tunics and sashes aren't for show — they represent the rank of the fighters.

The group meets in the Salt Lake City park from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays to practice sword fighting. The first four weeks are free to participants. After that, it's $20 a month, which includes use of weapons. Men and women ages 12 and up are welcome.

Heather Rentz, 33, of Holladay, who joined the group five years ago, is a bit shy and works as a caregiver, but sword fighting has helped her come out of her shell.

"I can be really unsure of things," Rentz said. "It's made me more outgoing."

The fighters use long and short swords, daggers, shields and a hefty weapon called a poleaxe, which has a spear point and an ax head.

The group orders the wooden weapons from a company in Texas. They are made out of oak or hickory and treated with linseed oil.

"They stand up pretty well for all the combat we do," said sword fighting instructor Travis Emery, 26, of Salt Lake City.

Emery started sword fighting at age 12 and began instructing at 18. He works as a computer technician at the University of Utah.

Emery said it's especially fun to sword fight in the snow or rain.

"When you're fighting on the grass, you know what to expect. You can run and keep your footing," he said. "When there's snow or rain, it cuts down on your visibility, your ability to grip your sword, to run or hold a stance. It really tests the ability of the sword fighter."

Sword fighting instructor Michael Ricks, 32, of West Valley City, teaches through Granite Peaks Lifelong Learning community education classes but also instructs on Saturdays in the park.

Ricks, a history major in college, works in a call center and sings with the Utah Opera Chorus. His hobby is misunderstood by many people — and the group does catch some flak for their unique activity, he said.

"It's usually people driving by, yelling names at us. People walking by are more respectful. They ask questions and walk away enlightened," Ricks said. "We are not a role-playing organization or a re-enactment group. We're a martial-arts school. People assume our tunic and sashes, which we use for rank, are costumes."

Actor Sasha Pinegar, 30, of West Valley City, has been sword fighting for 11 years.

"I'm kind of a history buff — not to mention it's a great workout and self-defense skills," Pinegar said.

For more information, visit www.theucsa.com

e-mail: astewart@desnews.com TWITTER: AKStewDesNews

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