Old Is New at St. Augustine's School of the 16th Century

Re-enactors at Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine

St. Augustine – If you've learned about centuries-old battle tactics by watching Hollywood interpretations of Robin Hood and William Wallace, don't bother bringing that knowledge to St. Augustine's School of the 16th Century.

The seminar, offered a couple of times a year, instructs participants in how soldiers of the era dressed, fought, ate and navigated their way around the New World. And authenticity is the star of this show.

"One of the first things we tell people is, 'OK, forget every movie you ever saw,'" says Chad Light of the Fountain of Youth, a professional re-enactor who portrays such critical Spanish explorers as Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez de Aviles. "Whatever you do, don't raise your hand and say, 'But in Braveheart, they did this.'"

From pike drills and horsemanship to how to navigate using only the stars, the seminar exposes participants to 16th century soldier life in one- or three-day training exercises. The next School of the 16th Century will take place over three days in January.
 
Information about upcoming offerings of the school is available at fountainofyouthflorida.com. Typically, one-day seminars are offered in July and cost $30; three-day seminars are offered in January and cost $150.
 
Some participants who complete the course are simply St. Augustine visitors looking for a hands-on learning experience. Others go on to use their re-enactment skills at venues around St. Augustine, from Castillo de San Marcos to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

In fact, part of the schooling focuses on how to develop a historical personae.

"I think the evidence is self-evident, when you look at role-playing games and all the things people do," Light says. "Historical re-enactment is a more academic way of doing that same thing. Rather than pretending you're some pointless character in a computer environment, you have a chance to make it real yourself. It's a fascinating and interesting way to learn, both for the people who are portraying and for the people who watch them."

The School of the 16th Century is offered at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. Like so many sites in St. Augustine, the lush, 15-acre waterfront park is rich in history all its own: It was the site of a Timucuan Indian village before the Spanish arrived in 1513; later, when Menendez came ashore in 1565, he founded St. Augustine on the property.

Centuries later, the property became known as the Fountain of Youth when its enterprising owner, Dr. Louella Day McConnell, took advantage of St. Augustine's arrival as a tourist destination and began charging visitors admission to drink from the natural springs found on the site. But in the 20th century, archaeological digs uncovered evidence that the Fountain of Youth site had historical significance as more than just a tourist destination.

Light is the instructor at the park's School of the 16th Century, and his life experiences make him the ideal person to train others. Growing up, his father was a professor of history and ancient languages, and they commonly had antique arms and firearms hanging on the walls of their home.

When friends were learning Asian martial arts, Light was learning European martial arts from the medieval period. "My dad brought me into this as a child," Light says, "so by the time I was an adult I had an extensive knowledge, and that's been extended by formal training."
 
At the School of the 16th Century, students benefit from training by learning such skills as how to handle swords, tomahawks, muskets, cannons and matchlock weaponry. Students also participate in pike drills, involving legions of soldiers fighting with 14- to 16-foot piles with spear tips.
 
Typically, the class includes about 50 participants, but Light says he could accommodate as many as 150. "No commander in history," he says, "has ever said he had too many men."

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