“The stab for 10 is very dangerous. It’s a stab in the face,” said Mr. Brent Feagans prior to the Viking fitness training at Edward Medard Conservation Park in Plant City on a Saturday morning in July. It’s not something I expected to hear in a fitness class.
Who Leads Viking Fitness Classes?
In a semi-circle, about 20 of us sat in camp chairs and watched as he demonstrated nine other moves with a sword as one of the participants held a round, wooden shield to protect himself. Mr. Feagans, a Sarasota native, is flight director of Wyrd Brothers Production. The organization is a volunteer-run historic reenactment group focusing on the Viking age, which lasted more than 300 years beginning in the 8th century. In addition to free Viking fitness training, they produce the Florida Viking Festival and as a group, they set up re-enactment camps as the Wyrdwood Vikings at festivals such as the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Tampa and the Sarasota Medieval Fair.
Thanks to a coworker and Facebook, I learned about the free Saturday Viking fitness training. What I discovered was an intense workout, which I felt in my muscles for a couple of days, and comradery extending beyond the workouts.
Fancy Footwork and Coordination Helps
“Have you taken martial arts or dance?” Max Valentonis asked as we lined up to begin training. We held steel swords in our right hands and wooden shields in our left hand.
“Sorry, no,” I replied, “I skated roller derby, does that count?”
Before beginning, I learned Max has two black belts in martial arts and he explained how most of the moves are dependent on footwork and balance. Using his sword, he pointed to an injury just under his left eyebrow and told me it was caused by his shield during a previous practice. He promised he would not injure me during the exercises and when it was finished, my only injury was stepping on a fire ants nest and going home with several bites on my right ankle.
The group divided into two lines and Jarl Erik the Blood Axe shouted commands, one through 10. Erik the Blood Axe is Feagans’ Viking persona as the group’s chieftain, or jarl. Max and I were at the end of the group and I tried to remember which number coordinated with each move with the sword. I thought how this was a lot of hand, eye, and foot coordination and peaked out of the corners of my eyes to see what others were doing. Each stab or movement meant a step forward while shielding my body from my opponent’s reach.
Once I had finished the 10 movements, it was time to shield myself from my opponent’s attempts of stabbing me. This is where I began to appreciate the shield and used it to push away his sword from my vital areas. With each swipe, the 9-pound shield felt heavier, and I realized how out of shape I really am. In a typical Saturday Viking training, partners switch but because I’m atypical, Max agreed to work with me. It was hot, humid and sunny but then rain showered down and over us, which felt refreshing and revitalizing. It was then the movements finally clicked and I understood the process.
The Viking Family
Playing the role of a Viking can be serious business but during my morning visit, I found lots of laughter and a great sense of community, which is a goal Mr. Feagans and Ms. Michele Phillips, who head up Wyrd Brothers Productions, want to accomplish. It’s also a family-friendly group as there were several families who participated with their children, although the small children did not play with swords.
Max, whose teen son participates in the trainings, told me this is something his whole family does together. He and his wife enjoy history and during the week, he and his son battle it out, either with martial arts or with shields and swords. Through participating, he’s connecting to his Norwegian family heritage.
Mr. Feagans, who has been participant in living history since the mid-90s, also has genealogical ties to the Vikings through his Swedish and Scandinavian heritage. Up until a few years ago, the group participated in pirate and medieval re-enactments but recently, they focus primarily on Vikings, perhaps the History Channel’s Vikings television show has created an interest in that era.
“We are community first,” Mr. Feagans said and Ms. Phillips added, “We all have a passion.”
Not only is it a family-friendly group but they have a family-like cohesiveness. Individuals, couples, and families from as far as east of Orlando and the Ft. Myers area participate in the trainings and events. Their backgrounds vary, too. Max works in information technology, Mr. Feagans is an electrician, and Ms. Phillips works in the finance world. Almost immediately after being introduced to the group, I felt as though I “found my people,” a judgement-free zone and ability to just be who you want to be. I mean, Ms. Phillips was wearing a Princess Leia shirt and I knew these are my kind of people.
There is no fee to participate and there about 50 members. Those serious about participating need to invest in a kit which is their elaborate clothing; find a trade such as a silversmith, seamstress, or blacksmith; pick a Viking name; and communicate with each other beyond the Saturday trainings.
Oh, leave the helmet with horns at home. Vikings did not have horns on their helmets but I’m guessing they enjoyed mead. Enjoying mead is not a requirement but useful when participating with Wyrd Brothers Productions. Each training ends with the group yelling, “Mead is forever!”
Nuts & Bolts About Viking Fitness Training with Wyrd Brothers Productions
Viking Fitness Training is held every Saturday morning, 9 a.m. – Noon.
Sometimes they meet on Sunday mornings.
Participation is free but the park has a $2 admission fee.
All are welcome.
For Viking fitness training, it’s recommended to wear closed-toed shoes and gloves; bring insect repellent, sunscreen, cooler of water, yoga mat or towel to sit on, sweat towel, and camp chair. I also recommend a high-protein snack or energy beverage.
Where to Eat
There are many places to dine and found Ben’s Family Diner. Mmm. Liver and onions. Need I say more?
Ben’s Family Diner
704 E. Brandon Blvd.
Brandon, FL 33511
Tel: (813) 530-0990
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit, and my special-needs dog.