The Sword Experience is the latest brain-and-body-child of Adrian Paul. Paul is an actor, podcaster and director who has earned a loyal, long-lived following from his six years starring as the Immortal Duncan MacLeod on TV’s HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES, plus its two film sequels.
Paul, originally from England but now residing in the U.S., will be talking about HIGHLANDER at the virtual convention WATCHERCON this weekend, August 21-22. The event features over twenty-five guests from the HIGHLANDER-verse, including actor Jim Byrnes, Elizabeth Gracen, Alexandra Vandernoot, Anthony de Longis, and Valentine Pelka, executive producer and show runner David Abramowitz, writing staffers Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow, producer Ken Gord and many more. For more information, go to highlanderworldwide.com/hlww-watchercon/
However, Paul’s main purpose in this exclusive phone interview is to discuss the Sword Experience – found online at swordxp.com – a portable seminar for people interested in learning blade technique, be they novices, stunt professionals, or anyone in between.
ASSIGNMENT X: What is the Sword Experience?
ADRIAN PAUL: The Sword Experience started off as a way to show people what it was like to do swordfights in movies. It’s evolved into going to various locations, like castles or vineyards or warehouses that are very filmic, and putting a story together, teaching the people the sword work from our system, and filming them in a short at the end of their experience of the day itself, so they can feel like an action star for a day. But now I have also my Academy events, which teaches actors and stunt performers the various techniques you need, targeting the angulations of camerawork, as well as action work.
AX: Are the Sword Experience and the Academy two different things?
PAUL: The Sword Experience has different events. We have our Elite events, we have our Corporate events, we have our Academy events, and our retreats. And they’re all slightly different in what the intent is for the event. It’s still teaching people swords.
Our Corporate, for instance, teaches you, if you had a sword in your hand, how would you deal with your customer? If you had a weapon, you wouldn’t talk to them the same way. So, it teaches you how to discuss and negotiate and partner with somebody, but also get what you want in a different way.
Whereas our Elite events are more for people who want to figure out what it’s like to be in the movies. I’ve had choreographers to stage combat people, fans, cosplay, martial artists, all those people come through, just because it’s a different thing to do, and they get to learn something, and it’s a fun day out, because the idea of it is also to have fun doing it.
AX: Do you get that wide a mix of people in a single class?
PAUL: Yeah, we do. That’s the interesting part about it. [laughs] I have instructors that we bring in; [how many depends] depending on the amount of people we have. It’s a variety of [attendees], from ladies who are in their seventies to young boys who are fourteen, fifteen years. Usually, I don’t go any lower than that. In the next six months, we’re working on starting up something that has a STAR WARS-based type of thing that deals with – I can’t say “light sabers,” because Disney wouldn’t like me to say that, but it has light sticks, if you like, incorporated in it. So, that’s a whole different thing.
AX: Did the Sword Experience start out as the classes you were giving at HIGHLANDER conventions and morph out of that, or how and when did this start?
PAUL: It started in 2015-16. People have asked me for so many years, “Could you do a sword video?” And I was like, “No, I just don’t have time.” I was doing a lot of these cons, and I said, “I’m going to change this up.” And at the same time, in my charity [the PEACE Fund], we were raising money for a young boy, and I said, “Why don’t we do a little sword class, and we’ll donate the money to charity.” And I got a number of people doing it, and I said, “Let’s just continue doing it.” I put another five events on, and they got sold out, and a lot of people [enrolled]. So, I started the Sword Experience in 2017, and it’s kind of grown and morphed into a bunch of other things as we move along.
AX: You learned sword technique from people like HIGHLANDER sword masters F. Braun McAsh and the late, great Bob Anderson. So, how much of your teaching style is based on the styles that you learned as a student, and how much is what you come up with on your own?
PAUL: When I bring instructors in, the reason why it’s called “an experience,” and I’m teaching them a sword style, is that every single sword, whether it’s a katana, a broadsword, an epee, you still have to cut in the same direction. So, my style, if you like, is teaching people the cut and the angulation. That goes across whether I’m dealing with people who are stunt coordinators, or stunt people, to HEMA, to people who are wanting to do it for fun. So, I get to teach them, “Okay, if you’re targeting for a competition, you need to know where that sword is cutting on the angulation you’re cutting from.” If you’re just doing it for fun, or doing it for film, you still need to do it like that, because you need to know where that [sword stroke] is going, so you keep your partner safe. So, my thing is explaining the overall version of it.
AX: Can you say more about HEMA?
PAUL: HEMA is Historical European Martial Arts. These are people who go out there, and there is no choreography, nothing. They just go at it with protective gear, and they’re attacking each other in different tournaments to see who can win. It’s all based on the old system of rapier, dagger, the Italian system, the French system, all those from the books. These guys are historical re-enactors in a sense, and they go at it for real.
So, I have those guys come in as well, and I say to them, “You really need to know where you’re cutting.” So, the whole point of this is for me to actually give people the overall sword angles and cuts and target, whether it’s to keep your partner safe, or whether it’s to try and win a point, so that you understand that all swords are the same. Then, when people have done that, they can go away and learn with an instructor of a style they would like to follow. So, my job is [to provide] an experience, not necessarily to just teach them a specific style.
When we do our Academy events, for instance, one of our sections is technique. I have a fitness section, which is an hour, and it’s a workout with the sword. It deals with stretching, it deals with joint manipulation, getting your joints all warmed up, and then doing a fitness area. When we get to the technique, the technique deals with strength of swing, target, and making sure that you’re not gripping too hard and swinging too hard, and making sure your angle and your targets are correct. So, that helps them identify what their footwork is doing, where they’re going. It really has a benefit for them, as well as people who just want to do it for fun.
AX: Are the Academy events primarily for stunt professionals?
PAUL: The Academy is not just for stunt professionals, but stunt professionals will get more out of it, in a sense, because there are three separate classes within the Academy. As I said, there’s the fitness section, the technique section, and the performance section. So, you can take any of the classes, or all three at the same time, or on the same day, and if you want to learn more about sword, you can do it, and if you want to learn more about film, you can come into the technique and performance sections. So, it’s geared a little bit more towards that, but it’s not exclusive.
AX: When you have enough attendees that you need additional instructors in there with you, do you personally work with the most experienced group, or the least experienced group?
PAUL: Personally, I deal with everybody. I will pair people up separately. Sometimes, I’ll put a more experienced person with a less experienced person, or I’ll put two experienced people together, because there’s a certain section that has a little bit more intent to it. I’ll have a group of twenty, thirty, forty people, and as we go through the day, we can see who has got less experience, and therefore, we give them less choreography, or less moves to do, because I always believe that you have to do a small amount well, rather than doing a lot of it just generally. You won’t get anything out of it that way. So, the more experienced people usually get a few more cuts or parts of the choreography to deal with, or added pieces, because they can handle it.
AX: Is the choreography the same each time, or do you work out different routines depending on where you are and what you feel like doing …?
PAUL: No, it’s always different. You [asked] about Bob Anderson. One of the big things I learned from him, and I constantly put in my own choreography is, when you have a space, you go into the space and you create the choreography or the sword work in the space, because now the space is a character in your movie, as well as the sword work, which is a continuation of the conversation between characters, which is one of the things we talk about in performance.
So, I always change the choreography, I always change the story in our Elite events. Now, I’m cutting it together and filming it like a small movie, which is cut for about four or five minutes apiece. I’m working on one for Chicago right now, and since I have a HIGHLANDER background, and the space kind of lends to that, the story behind it is that there can be only one [remaining Immortal], or maybe there are a little bit more of them, and all these Immortals start fighting everywhere. So, I put this whole story together about how they came into the space.
Whereas another one I did, in a brewery in Ohio, I based it on the Charlie Chaplin MODERN TIMES, where this guy couldn’t find any hand sanitizer, and got caught up in a riot inside a brewery, where they’re picketing. So, it’s a whole different thing every time. And I come up with it, which is great for me, because it allows me to be constantly be working as a director. I’m constantly working, coming up with ideas, and looking at new techniques and new camera angles, and finding out what’s wrong, and what I need to do to get things done very fast.
AX: And changing it up also encourages people to come back, because it’s different each time?
PAUL: Absolutely. In Colorado Springs, for instance, I did an event about two months ago, and I was sold out at forty-two people at our Academy event, and I had eight people on the wait list. And I had fifteen, twenty people already say, “Yeah, we want you to come back.” [On August 14, there was] an Elite event, but it’s a different location entirely, a mining town. So, the next one I may be able to get, which I’ve already been in contact with them, is the Air Force Academy there [in Colorado Springs]. So, [each time] it’s an entirely different look and feel of the event.
AX: How do you find your event sites?
PAUL: A lot of what we call Musketeers around the country. These are people that help us either find locations, or they find us the photographers in the area, or they find us the partners we go with. So, a lot of the time, we do polls, and we say, “Okay, we’re thinking of going to New York, or Chicago. Is anybody interested?” And if we get enough people saying, “Yes, this is a place I’d like to go,” then we start targeting that area, and finding a location in that city.
AX: How does the Sword Experience stay in contact with past and potential attendees, and how do people stay in contact, and say where they want to go?
PAUL: Yeah, we have an online mailing list. We’re just about to launch our membership platform as well. There are two different types of membership platforms, which give you a whole bunch of different things – connection to this, early access to that, et cetera. So, we have a whole mailing database that we send those notifications out to, as well as on our Facebook pages, or my Facebook page, or Instagram, or any of those other pages, we put polls out there, and get responses from people really quickly.
The Sword Experience is swordxp.com. There’s contact information on there, and it will show you what we’ve got going on, where to contact us, any suggestions you might have. And our YouTube page is The Sword Experience. You can see on there, we’ve got literally hundreds of things on there now from our Facebook Live events to our actual events we do ourselves to a podcast that we have each week, and it’ll also talk about the retreats. We have a retreat coming up in Mexico in December this year we’ve just launched as well. So, there are a lot of things for people to look at.
AX: What happens at the retreats?
PAUL: We’ve done two or three of them already. A lot of people say, “I’d like to spend a little bit more time doing this, rather than just one day.” So, at our retreat in Mexico, for instance, there are three, three-and-a-half hours of training a day, every day, split up into sessions, but then you’re also going to be swimming with turtles, and going to the cenotes, which are underground, freshwater swimming holes, Mayan ruins, and lunches on the beach down in Tulum.
So, we have a variety of things that we give people, because we want them to experience the place, as well as the choreography, and get a little bit more out of it, which then means that we will be doing meditation and sword work on one day, targeting on another day, choreography on another day. They get a whole experience over four days, five days. The price, obviously, depends on where it is.
AX: Do you have any COVID concerns about traveling and so much close contact?
PAUL: Yeah. Well, when COVID first came out, we had a whole system. We [didn’t] have the vaccinations on there yet [because they didn’t exist at the time]. We only had about six events in 2020. Three of them came in October. During those times, everybody was fully masked, everything was COVID-compliant. We had [the weapons] wiped down, social distancing, and I also even created, for our Pittsburgh event, which is on our YouTube page, a social-distanced swordfight, where they couldn’t touch weapons [laughs]. They had to do the movements, and they would beat each other if they got past that movement in the choreography, but they couldn’t touch each other. So, they were actually physically distanced.
In our other ones, now, I just did Combat Con [in July in Las Vegas], and the rule at Combat Con was that everybody had to have vaccination records already in place, and then you had the opportunity whether you wanted to have masks or not if you were compliant with their policy. As things are changing, we have to change our policies again. It’s a very strange time at the moment. [Check the swordxp.com website for updates on COVID policies at live events.]
AX: Where are your upcoming Sword Experience events going to be?
PAUL: Our other live Sword Experience event in August is going to be in Baltimore [Maryland]. And then in September, we have Bowling Green, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Hall of Heroes, which is a convention event in Indiana. In October, we’re looking at Ohio again, and possibly Seattle. We’re just getting onto our events, because putting events together, you need at least three or four months of advertising, and then when everything opened up, we quickly scrambled to get our events back together again, and we’re just gradually getting into that two-, three-month ahead of time lead time to actually be able to launch events.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Adrian Paul on HIGHLANDER, THE SWORD EXPERIENCE and WATCHERCON – Part 2