A Taste of the Renaissance - Week 2

I watched no martial arts movies over the weekend, which would be unusual except for the fact that it is hockey season. Now there’s some interesting martial arts for you -- I wonder if those hockey sticks are as well balanced as my rapier! I find myself really looking forward to Class 3. The only struggle is hurrying from work to be there on time. I feel it is disrespectful to our instructors to be late, and yet late I am by a couple of minutes, along with my colleagues. We are forgiven, I hope, as we settle in line with our fellow combatants with our rapiers ready for the salute that brings me focus and calm.

We begin with a brief and welcome review. We then perform exercises on "finding" and "gaining" the swords of our opponents, to which we add the further complexity of moving back and forth across the floor. I begin to see what those elaborate fight scenes in the movies are really all about.  Flawed and exaggerated though they may be, they really do reflect the skills we are practicing in this lovely safe space: gaining advantage over our opponents and their weapons. I assume the guard called terza, cross my opponent’s sword with mine, position the strongest part of my blade (the "forte") over the weaker part of his (the "debole"), use the true edge of my steel and lunge in for the kill… umm… I mean tap.

It looks so easy when Matheus and Roland do it, but if your position is off you get muscle fatigue fairly quickly. I finally know from my own experience that it is best to switch arms on a regular basis. The rapiers only weigh about 2.5 lbs, but they can feel like 20 lbs when you haven’t been holding them right during a series of practice exercises. All in all I consider these classes to be a fantastic workout -- both physically and mentally.

Back and forth we go across the floor, like slow-motion musketeers, trying to get the movements right. Matheus and Roland tell us that speed will come later. First we must be correct. In addition to terza, we practice three additional guards, seconda, quarta and prima. I understand the hand positioning well enough, like the ¼ hours on a clock, positioned high enough to guard the eye, and balanced to the shoulder, but remembering which name goes with which guard is trickier. I just know there will be a test....

Class 4 provided us with brand new material to work with and was even more exciting. We were introduced to the sidesword with all its slicing and cleaving motions. Now come the dark jokes with my colleagues, as we threaten to slash each other into a bleeding mass of entrails, or cleave one another’s skulls in two, etc. We are kept focused by our excellent instructors, who have no doubt seen all of this nonsense before. We learn the eight cuts and make lovely ribbons in the air with our swords. We learn the relative strengths of the cuts from the shoulder, the elbow or the wrist. We learn to move our swords before we move our feet.

For some reason I am truly inspired by this class. It seems silly but I can’t seem to make my arcing cuts through the air without also making an aggressive sound effect to intimidate my opponent. I must be channeling Red Sonja now, or perhaps Éwoyn, shield maiden of Rohan. My colleagues are laughing at me and I get a strong sense that I am not the only one truly enjoying today’s class. I simply cannot wait until we get to try the two-handed sword!

This is part two in a series. Click here to read "Taste of the Renaissance - Week 1".

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.