An interview with María Ignacia Concha, Chile’s First Women’s Longsword Gold Medalist

maria concha2VALDIVIA, CHILE – Chile recently hosted its first ever women’s longsword tournament, crowning María Ignacia Concha as Chile’s first female longsword champion. María and her fellow medalists, Trinidad Farías and Mía Caballero, have set the pace and opened the doors ever wider to encourage more Chilean women to practice HEMA. María trains with Esgrima Histórica Valdivia, having been with them since 2017. We were able to catch up with María, and with translating help from her instructor, Daniel Cristi Santander, we were able to ask her some questions.

Women of HEMA: Can you tell us about how you began practicing HEMA?

María Ignacia Concha: Fencing always caught my attention but my knowledge about HEMA was null, until a classmate mentioned that she practiced historical fencing and I asked where. That was in 2017. I started to practice because I found myself in a moment I didn’t feel good about myself. I had certain problems to overcome: fear of getting in contact with others, fear of ridicule, failure, defeat or getting hurt. I felt the urge to do something to help me fight those fears and realize they were not that big of a deal. HEMA practice became something very therapeutic for me, because it makes me feel I am growing in some way, and every small triumph makes me want to keep practicing.

How does it feel to be the first women’s longsword champion in Chile? Do you feel any pressure now to be a role model for other women in your country?

The truth is that I never imagined it. I have always thought of myself as someone with a low profile and insecurity, and to win a female longsword tournament was quite the unexpected. I experienced an incredible sensation I don’t know how to describe; I had a smile that lasted for weeks. I may not get to be a ‘role model’ for other women in my country, but I do hope that any girl who is interested in the practice of HEMA (whatever the reason) dares to do it, even when they know starting anything can’t be easy; you never stop learning. Even then, every time you acquire knowledge one feels reassured and satisfied with oneself.

How does Chile’s traditional culture impact your personal experience in HEMA, if at all?

I have never felt sufficiently acquainted with the topic of gender in this sport. Even then, thanks to my family (my own main ‘cultural’ influence) I almost never have established any differences of any kind between a man and a woman. Fortunately, the coexistence [of men and women] in Esgrima Historica Valdivia has always been welcoming and egalitarian from the very beginning. At least that’s what I feel every time I go to train. I may have felt scared the first day I went because I only saw men, but soon I realized it was just prejudices I had in my head, and I soon got used to everything. Today I feel quite comfortable with all my training partners, male and female alike.

How did you prepare for Torneo Acero de Aconcagua, the tournament you just won?

I have never been an athlete, sincerely. I hate running and exercise. The fact that I do that in my trainings is because it is necessary. Therefore, if I wouldn’t have asked for help from my instructors I would have never prepared in any way. So before the competition, my instructors helped me with some warming up and sword exercises. That day [of the competition] I had a “diet” of sugar, chocolates, and energy. I wasn’t used to eating those, but it helped, and it was also an excuse for eating sweets. I could say that what I prepared the most was my mind. Days before the tournament I felt pretty nervous and in anguish because I didn’t want to make any mistakes, but as soon as I was getting closer to the date I took another stance, relaxed and I stopped worrying. I just resigned myself to fate.

What system of longsword do you practice and study?

When I started practice I was taught some techniques from Joachim Meyer, but due to the time I’ve been practicing (one year) I don’t guide myself formally by any manual in particular. I think I need to learn several things before I could get to focus specifically on one. In that regard Hans Talhoffer caught my interest, but I believe he’s rather complex, and that I need to polish many technical and practical knowledge before I start to fully study that.

What were your winning techniques in the tournament?

I don’t consider myself a very disciplined or technical fencer yet, though I hope to one day become one. I think my main virtue at the time of combat is that I keep myself in the offensive and try to seize the initiative. Although sometimes that depends of my state of mind. I also think one of my major weaknesses is that most of the time I am not fully aware of my movements or distance.

 

fight for gold
Gold medal match between Mía Caballero (L) and María Ignacia Concha (R) at Acero de Aconcagua. Photo: Andrea Vicencio

Who was your most difficult opponent at Torneo Acero de Aconcagua?

I felt intimidated by a competitor from the Academia de Esgrima Histórica de Santiago called Sara. I really liked her fighting style, but in the end I didn’t have much trouble in the actual match. I consider that my most difficult opponent was Trinidad since I lost that [pool] match, but I just didn’t feel the same as my match against Sara, because I knew Trinidad would win because of her experience and technique. That was a fact for me.

Would you ever want to compete in a HEMA tournament outside of Chile?

I believe that is the dream of every HEMA practitioner, and if I imagine myself in that situation I can’t think of anything but the smile on my face. I hope that in the future I can commit even more and perfect myself that way. And, who knows? I may fulfill that dream one day.

Had you ever competed in a HEMA tournament before Torneo Acero de Aconcagua?

I had never competed in any tournament before Acero de Aconcagua. As I previously stated, it was quite a new experience for me; but I do hope to be able to go to more tournaments, no matter the results, so much as I win experience and surpass myself.

How do you approach the fight mentally?  

I think that I have achieved a mental growth not only in my personal life, but also in my fights. I tend to consider that part as a process that takes different forms as time moves on. I first felt nervous, and later I started to focus my anger and my anguish positively. Today I feel many things in my fights, I have lots of fun and after my fights I feel relaxed and happy, without a care about winning or losing. I just enjoy myself.

Thank you for your time, María, and good luck in your future tournaments! 

Winners of the tournament (1)
Trinidad Farias (L), Maria Ignacia Concha (C), and Mia Caballero (R) at Acero de Aconcagua. Photo: Andrea Vicencio
The opinions expressed by the subjects of our interviews are their own, and do not express the opinions of Women of HEMA or its authors.

 

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