Highlander’s Adrian Paul to teach swordplay in Tampa this weekend

When it comes to being a master of the blade, there can be only one: Adrian Paul of “Highlander.” Unless you enroll in his traveling class, the Sword Experience.

The 63-year-old actor, producer and philanthropist is best known for starring as the immortal Duncan MacLeod in multiple “Highlander” films and the “Highlander” television series in the ’90s and early 2000s. He also spent 25 years studying Hung Gar and Shaolin Kung Fu. In other words, he’s done a lot of sword fighting.

To raise funds for his charity, the PEACE Fund (which stands for Protect, Educate, Aid Children Everywhere), Paul launched a sword workshop in 2015. He officially founded the Sword Experience the following year, and has been traveling with it around the world. ever since.

His upcoming five-hour Tampa class on Saturday promises to pass along inspiration as well as sword fighting techniques. It costs $55 to be a spectator and between $255-$355 to learn swordplay (students go home with pictures and a short video of their experience). Tampa Bay Times readers can use the code TampaSpecial for 10% off.

Ahead of his Florida appearance, Paul chatted with the Times over Zoom. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Highlander star Adrian Paul, center, created the Sword Experience in 2016 as a way for the public to learn some of the key techniques of screen sword-work – first-hand. Paul has run events all over the US, UK, Canada, Europe and beyond, catering for all ages and levels of expertise. [ MICHAELRISCHERPHOTOGRAPHY | Courtesy of the Sword Experience ]

What inspired you to take your experience on the road?

When people watch somebody on screen, they think, ‘They look like they know what they’re doing.’ And so we wanted them to do it with me. I have a martial arts background and I have done many, many years of sword fighting, but when I first started I didn’t feel I was qualified to teach people. Since then, I have studied more and I have done many hundreds of hours of swords fights. I had a boy my charity was looking to raise money for, and I said, ‘I’ll do a seminar type of thing, and I’ll see if people would be interested in it.’ I got quite a number of people coming.

At the time, “Game of Thrones” had already come out. So I started with the intent of just kind of showing people a few moves and taking them to interesting places and then I said to myself, “If I start doing this, the issue is there are so many other sword styles out there.” So I called it “Sword Experience” because I wanted people to understand that I’m giving them an entry into this world of swords, and the world of movies.

We started taking (people to) places that were French chateaus, wineries, various different exotic places where we could film. We’ve created a numbering system, which actually helps people remember the moves a lot easier. And then that took it into the next level, which is the academy level where those are the people that really want to learn.

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Who would you say is your typical customer?

That’s a really interesting question. I’ve had kids — I can’t go any lower than 14 — to 75-year-old ladies. The variety is enormous, which causes a problem because I’m not sure what my target market is (laughs). It originally started with fans, who come from all walks of life. I’ve had a NASA space engineer. I’ve got others that are librarians. Most people say, “I didn’t think I could do this.” We understand everybody has different levels. And you know, everybody’s come here for a different experience. So when I meet people, I go, “OK, who you are you? Are you the one that just wants to be here to sort of do it a little bit, or you really want to get into the technique?” It then allows us to tailor the event.

Walk me through what the upcoming Tampa event will be like.

Well, that’s interesting because that’s the launch of our new program. It’s called VVVI: Vitae Vim Vertus Institute. For trademark reasons, I’m not using the word “lightsaber” because I’m not allowed to, but it is based in the light wands, if you like, of the very famous franchise.

This weekend we’ll show them that there are real techniques involved, as well as swinging a light stick around. In the morning they get a good start with fitness, then they get to work with the actual angulation, because with light wands there’s no edge. They get taught the proper edge alignment. And that actually allows them to then manipulate the blade. Then there is the movements that all of these things do, with targeting, with footwork. There’ll be the breaks in between where they can have fun and converse with other people. And then we give them the whole form to do with a partner and we will film them doing it, as well as photograph all of that.

What is your favorite thing about this experience?

I think the best kick I get is seeing somebody who thinks they can’t do it and suddenly they get inspired to change their life. And I’ve had several people do that. I had a lady, she came to my my Maryland event and she did not want to do it at first. Even just a walk was tough. And I made her do like a mile hike over and up and down. I didn’t make her, I said, “You can come if you want. You can stop. I’ll go with you.” And we did. To be able to do that gave her such joy, and gave me joy.

We know you aren’t involved in the future “Highlander” reboot, but what else are you working on?

I have a film I’m supposed to be directing next year. I have a film production company in Hungary, so we have our second film that we’re putting into production by the beginning of next year. I have my charity, as well as my podcasts. I do a weekly podcast for kids called PEACE Fund Radio. I have another podcast which is talking to all different professionals, like some actors, about action in the movies. I’m fairly busy and I like to be. Sometimes I go, “I’m overreaching, I’m doing too much.” But you know, that’s me.

If you go

The Tampa Sword Experience event promises to “test your balance, help your centering, and teach you weaponless defense and laser sword attacks and defenses.” It takes place from 11 am- 4 pm Sunday at the Rialto Theater at 1617 N Franklin St., Tampa. Use code “TampaSpecial” for 10% off. https://swordxp.com/event/elite-event-tampa-florida/

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