Jason Callis, founder of Steel Ring Academy in Bradenton, describes himself as a little boy who picked up a stick to pretend it was a sword, and never put the stick back down.
He thanked the SunCoast Renaissance Festival for the unique opportunity to showcase his unconventional passion to Sarasota's community.
Held weekends from Nov. 18 to Dec. 10 at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds and inspired by European history and myths, the festival features live entertainment, including jousting shows and swordplay, live music, vendor booths and food and drinks.
The festival is owned by Brevard Renaissance Fair, Inc., which produces The Brevard Renaissance Fair in Melbourne, Florida.
One experience participants were able to enjoy on Nov. 18 was watching the students of Steel Ring Academy competing against one another. It’s one that Sarasota’s Alyx Daughterty, a member of the school, has eagerly embraced.
“I'm mainly motivated because it's fun. I really like swinging swords at people,” Daugherty said.
The school’s business manager, Amanda Closser, said she hopes people will discover that the sport is accessible, including to women, who she said are underrepresented in the Historical European martial arts (HEMA) community.
“Swordfighting actually doesn't require a lot of strength; it's skill," she said. “The weapon is your equalizer. In the community, women actually tend to score higher in skill points.”
Attendees also had the chance to witness a theatrical jousting match by the traveling company Noble Cause Productions.
Erin Eisenmann, who played "Sir Lilith” in the jousting match, says the role demands the skills of an equestrian athlete, stunt performer and actor all at once, although not everything involved is acting.
“We can't pick who's going to win,” she said. “Sometimes we mess up things. It just shows that we're real and we're not perfect at this.”
Michael Murphy, who plays Sir Michael in the jousting matches and has been performing in stage combat for 18 years, said his skills in the art did not come easily.
“It’s just practice, practice, practice,” he said. “There’s no substitute. There's no cheat. There's no shortcut. It's doing it, and doing it a lot and doing it often.”
Attendees also enjoyed exploring the other features of the festival, including the selection of vendors.
“It’s always fun to see the booths, what people bring, and the art,” said Renee Webber, who returns to the festival each year.