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In the past decade, pockets of communities have emerged across the globe, with the Internet helping expand people’s minds and connect like-minded individuals everywhere. In this change, many conventions have risen to help bring people with similar interests together in one setting.

From conventions, such as ComicCon (exploring everything there is to do with the comic-book world) to K-Con (events and panels related to K-pop, korean culture, etc.), these places serve as a meeting point for people of similar interests to enjoy themselves. Amongst these is a more newer convention known as CombatCon – a place where history and fantasy meet.

The CombatCon Experience

With the mission to “increase awareness and understanding of Western Martial Arts,” CombatCon is a convention that brings people of all walks of life to an environment full of diversity and creativity. Somewhat like ComicCon, fans of cosplay, comics, fantasy, sci-fi gather. Yet, what separates CombatCon to the former is that it adds the culture of combat into the mix.

Held in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, the convention goes on for 3 days with interactive activities, events, and panels all throughout. During the event, visitors are welcomed to hold a multitude of various weapons – real and fictional – while also watching series of demonstrations from real martial art practitioners and other individuals involved in combat-related fields (bodyguards, military officials, stuntmen, etc.)

Classes & Tournaments

One of the more important and interesting aspects of CombatCon is the interactive element of the event. Not only is it a place for like-minded individuals to gather and show off their costumes, but it serves as an educational gateway for people to learn, experience, and briefly train in a myriad of various martial art classes. There is something for everyone, as some examples of classes been learning how to throw a knife, yielding rapiers and daggers, and fighting on film. With professional instructors and skilled martial art instructors, people of all levels (from beginner to advanced) come to try their hand in a combat-related class they may have never thought twice of joining before.

Additionally, CombatCon is also known for holding one of the largest Historic European Martial Arts (HEMA) tournament in the world. At the event, sword-wielders across the nation can gather to test their skills on other fighters, as the convention provides several rings and areas to combat. CombatCon provides both experienced and novices a place to exemplify their skills in HEMA.

Panels & Presentations

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Demonstrations at CombatCon™ 2016
Photo Credit: Terry Giordano

While a large part of the fun of CombatCon involves getting involved in the physical activities that are offered, one of the convention’s aims is to educate and inform people of the world of martial arts and its relevance in the modern world. Therefore, for those genuinely interested or curious in learning more, CombatCon offers, “a multitude of panels, presentations, and academic classes covering all aspects of combat in popular culture.” 

Without any restriction on the topic, CombatCon aims to set up panels that visitors would find interesting and informative. Previous presentation topics have ranged from topics on the stunt industry in Hollywood, women in the combat world, female martial artists, etc.

One on One with CombatCon

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Demonstrations at CombatCon™ 2016
Photo Credit: Terry Giordano

With CombatCon being an event spreading awareness to martial arts and fantasy, attracting an amalgam of people from all over the nation, this annual passion project has steadily grown over the few years and shined its light on the culture of combat. Yet, considering it has not been 6 yearssince its emergence in the convention world, we have had the great pleasure to speak with Jared Kirby, the President of CombatCon, to get a closer look into the origins, mission, and further information on the place where history and fantasy meet.

1. How did you go about first developing CombatCon?

I had been running a Western Martial Arts (WMA) / Historical European Marital Arts (HEMA) event called ISMAC (International Swordsmanship and Martial Arts Convention) for over a decade, but we found that we were mainly attracting the same group of people each year. We wanted to expand our audience and reach a more diverse and expansive cross-section of fighters, actors, stunt people, creators, writers, etc. Basically, if you had an interest in anything WMA/HEMA, we wanted to meet you and welcome you in an inclusive environment to train, learn, exchange ideas, and have fun.

This meant we needed a larger “stage” to gather people from all manners of backgrounds and interests who had that one awesome thing in common — they all love fighting! From comic book fans to movie stars. gamers, weapons makers, artists, martial artists, personal protection enthusiasts, stunt people, and beyond, we have created a melting-pot of folks who enjoy martial arts, sword fighting, high-octane action, and good, old fashioned fun on one of the largest stages in the US: Las Vegas!

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2016 CombatCon™ Tournament
Photo Credit: Eric Laskin

2. What inspired you to create this convention?

One day I was speaking to a friend who runs band festivals and said, “What would ISMAC look like if we mixed it with a Band Festival?” We decided that was a bad idea, but out of that conversation came the idea of merging a European Martial Arts convention with a traditional fan-oriented convention and CombatCon was born. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate and explore the relationship between WMA/HEMA and popular culture by engaging a wide range of people with diverse viewpoints through educational and entertaining activities.

We wanted a space to bring together everyone who loves European swordsmanship and fighting in general, regardless of the way they love it. That can be as a martial artist, as a fan (or performer) of action movies, competition fencer, Renaissance Faire attendee, writer, etc. This way each participant can explore all kinds of different ways to enjoy swords and knives and sticks and fighting in general. At CombatCon you can attend lectures and presentations, watch martial arts demos, take hands-on classes, and participate in (or simply watch) martial arts tournaments. There’s just no way to be bored at this event!

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KA Cirque du Soleil at CombatCon™ 2016
Photo Credit: Eric Laskin

3. Do any of the founders practice martial arts of any kind? If so, what do they practice? If not, what would they like to practice?

Absolutely. Jared Kirby is a Traditional Fencing Master through the Martinez Academy of Arms which teaches European Swordsmanship as a Martial Art. In addition, he is a trained Knife Instructor through the School of Two Swords. The Vice President, Tim Ruzicki, is one of the world’s foremost experts in classical British Pugilism, the eighteenth and nineteenth century art of bare-knuckle boxing, and is quite the knife fighter himself!

4. What are CombatCon’s long term hopes and aspirations?

We want to keep introducing the world to WMA and HEMA. This will be our 6th year running CombatCon and it continues to evolve each year as we learn what people want to see and do at the event. We really listen to participant feedback each year and grow from our successes and failures. That said, we wouldn’t turn down some ESPN coverage of the HEMA tournaments!

5. Are participants and visitors of CombatCon usually fans of games, movies, etc?

Almost everyone who loves WMA and HEMA loves some sort of fandom or fan activity. Many of our stunt professionals started down the road to their careers after watching movies like Princess Bride, Three Musketeers, and Star Wars, and many of our top WMA/HEMA martial artists and instructors grew up playing role-playing games and fighting-oriented video games. Some of us started out as stage combat performers at Ren Fairs, and others got into cosplay and other aspects of fan culture. But that’s one of the great things about CombatCon, you can enjoy your fight-fandom passion in whatever way you like, with a lot of other people who share that passion.

6. How often are visitors or contributors actual practitioners of martial arts?

Most people who come to CombatCon have martial arts training and/or stage and screen combat backgrounds.  There is also a large portion of our attendees who are professional writers, sword makers, Indie film makers, artists, etc.

7. What are future plans for CombatCon?

To continue growing and offering more and more exciting programming for anyone who’s passionate about European Martial Arts. CombatCon has literally changed people’s lives in really exciting and amazing ways, and we want to give everyone the opportunity to have a “OH! I want to learn how to do THAT!” moment. By reaching a larger audience we really hope we can touch more lives and bring the wonderful aspects of WMA/HEMA to even more people.

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