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Swordsman And Spokesman: Lake Worth Beach's Spokesperson Teaches Sword-Fighting Basics At Local School

Ben Kerr.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Ben Kerr, the co-founder and senior instructor of the Palm Beach Sword School, poses with his European sword and holster. The school teaches Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Kerr is also the city spokesman for the City of Lake Worth Beach. July 31, 2021

The Historical European Martial Arts class is a dream come true for fans of the centuries-old fighting styles. The senior instructor for the Palm Beach Sword School is Lake Worth Beach city spokesman Ben Kerr.

When you stroll through the Historical European Martial Arts class in Lake Worth Beach, the instructor might be wearing a kilt and a fencing jacket that can prevent broken swords from piercing it.

People lined up in pairs outside of the American German Club, train with longswords, rapiers, daggers, spears, sickles, Viking shields, and the Scottish broadsword — the school's primary weapon.

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Since 2018, the class has been luring history buffs who want to learn the centuries-old basics of sword fighting. Students, ranging in age and experience from 13 to 60 years old, are still suiting up.

“People have been looking for this — to learn sword fighting since they were kids,” said Ben Kerr, senior instructor at The Palm Beach Sword School in Lake Worth Beach. “And they’ve tried out fencing and things but it’s not been quite what they were looking for. And that’s always very rewarding as instructors being able to bring that part of my culture to them.”

Ben Kerr is also the city spokesman for the City of Lake Worth Beach and he's originally from Scotland. Kerr started teaching the class in 2007 while studying at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. This martial arts are his life's passion.

The Scottish swordsman, who also earned a black belt in karate, says when he’s not answering inquiries related to City Hall, he and his wife, Lindsey McMahon, are helping new and current students in the South Florida area cope through the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 virus shut down businesses in early 2020, Kerr said they filmed instructional videos for students instead. In October, the school reopened outdoors with “very strict mask guidance.”

The outdoor lessons continue to serve as an escape for students every Saturday.

“They want to get fit. They want to stay in shape,” said Kerr. “And this is a way of getting fit while doing something that’s fun. You don’t notice it as much I suppose.”

“Along with the sword fighting classes we also teach historical crafting and are about to embark on bagpipe lessons for our students.”

Kerr said beginners “use the wooden singlesticks for the first month” until they’re ready to move up in difficulty.

Students Palm Beach Sword School.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Students learning Historical European Martial Arts at the Palm Beach Sword School in Lake Worth Beach, just outside of the American German Club.

Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA is the study of the historical fighting systems practiced across Europe from the 17th to 19th century. The traditional manuals for the fighting methods and techniques have been preserved by historians, Kerr said. And many fans of the Starz show "Outlander" usually want to learn how to use the wide variety of weaponry.

Kerr, alongside business partner Keith Farrell, started a full-time HEMA school and publishing house in Scotland. That class is ongoing and he hopes students in Lake Worth Beach will be able to train with those students in Scotland someday.

Kerr said he has access to one of the largest collections of HEMA manuals in the world. During an introduction class, students learned about weapons from some of the most direct sources.

“[They learned about the] sword and buckler [a small shield] using one of the earliest sources, the MS I33, which is from the 1300s and was written by monks and famously features a female fighter,” Kerr said.

And like the variety of weapons student’s wield, Kerr had to adjust to different circumstances to keep the lessons alive.

“We started at the Palm Beach Karate School which was a wonderful place to train but when the pandemic hit we moved to outdoor training on a private island and then recently we have moved to the American German Club, “ Kerr said.

“I love being able to bring a part of my culture with me and provide people with something that they have been searching for their entire lives.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.