Dodge. Parry. Thrust. Also, drop the épée. Take off that dumb facemask and grab one of them dull machetes over there. Count your fingers up, just to be sure. Okay, now you're ready for sport. Let ol' Alfred Avril, aka "Papa Machete," show you the ropes.
Reporter Arielle Castillo interviewed a filmmaking team, led by journalist Jason Jeffers, that is crafting a documentary about Avril, who for decades has trained all comers in the art of the big-ass blade—sans helmet or safety gear—in a jungle camp outside Jacmel, Haiti.
Supposedly, the sport derives from stick fighting around the time of Haiti's historic, self-determining revolution at the dawn of the nineteenth century:
"It's a Caribbean thing. The machete is the Excalibur of the 'Third World.' I grew up in Barbados originally so it's just something you'd see all over," says Jeffers, now based in Miami, Florida. "It's a tool, it's a weapon, it's whatever you need it to be. It comes from the history of the Caribbean as a bunch of sugar colonies. So it's just something that's part of everyday life."
Jeffers—who also records music under the name Fitzroy—sees them as a totem, drawing repeatedly on the image of the machete throughout his creative career. So, one day, when he was trawling a favorite subreddit forum on the martial arts, a YouTube video basically gobsmacked him. The clip showed one American acolyte, Mike Rogers, fencing an older Haitian man named Alfred Avril—with a sharpened, and potentially deadly, machete.
"Immediately I was like, 'Okay, I have to go,'" recalls Jeffers. "At first it was like, 'Okay, let me just go and learn how to fence. Then it became, 'Oh, maybe I should write a journalism story about it for a magazine or something.' Then it became, 'Oh wait, maybe I should make a film about it.'"
Avril's camp has fallen into post-earthquake disrepair, and the filmmakers have launched a Kickstarter... with donations from luminaries like novelist Junot Diaz, who have an interest in keeping this vestige of Haitian culture going.
In the meantime, don't fuck with the old man.
[Images via Fusion]