A Taste of the Renaissance – Week 3


Class 5 begins and we are back to the rapier.  My body is sore from yesterday’s Sun Run and I cannot focus. I am embarrassed by my inability to grasp what is being asked of me. I think I understand, but cannot execute the movements requested. Thankfully, our odd number makes it possible for me to have a patient exercise with Roland before we switch partners. Today is the sort of day where I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever develop into the skilled swordswoman of my fantasies, so I’m extra grateful for the one-on-one correction and reinforcement.

Another new and exciting thing is introduced today: the use of a mask! We each select one from the rack, getting some help with adjustment as required. The first mask I try has that unfortunate scent of much prior use, which allows for a sales pitch on the merits of buying your own mask. The second mask I try fits better and smells better, too. Once we are all suitably masked, Matheus pokes us each rather hard in the face so we know we are safe from getting hurt. I can tell he’s done this many times before. Our faces get hot inside the masks while we do our exercises and I think we’re all relieved when we move on to a new concept, that of tempo.

Tempo has three meanings for us. The first meaning is time, the second is opportunity, and the third is pure poetry: tempo is the motion between two stillnesses. I am so moved by that definition that I repeat it to myself again and again, slowly. Wow…. All beauty aside, the real thrust of the concept, so to speak, is all about seeking an advantage through the timing of your movements. Primo tempo: as your opponent enters your wide measure, take an advantage and attack. Dui tempi: as your opponent recovers from their sword being displaced, attack before he or she can fully recover. Brilliant!

I am well caffeinated and eager for Friday’s class, and I’m even on time! After our salute we begin Class 6 with a review of our definitions of tempo. Then we embrace the different types of tempo. Beautiful words are used that sound musical: Primo tempo, dui tempi, contra tempo and mezzo tempo. Watching Roland and Matheus, I believe they originate more in dance. It is all about movement, and timing of movements, so I’m not far off. The only unfortunate part is that watching the instructors and executing the moves yourself are two entirely different things. I feel awkward an inept. Matheus senses that most of us are having a hard time connecting the names of the various tempos to specific actions in our exercises. He promises to email us active descriptions of each tempo so we can practice at home. Sweet man.

Class becomes unpleasantly odoriferous again as we don our masks, plus one new piece of equipment. It is a curious little neck guard called a gorget. We wear both for the rest of class and for the clinic, which almost all of us stay for today. During the clinic we are asked to slow right down and take careful measured actions, one tempo at a time, but most of us can’t manage to slow our movements enough.  We can’t resist the compulsion to actively spar.

I am pleased when Matheus’s email arrives as promised on Saturday. In addition to the descriptive text he has also provided links to the wiki and training videos available through the Academie’s website. Once I sign up for access to the videos I realize how much additional research I could have been doing to help myself. I even have my own sword, given to me by mother ages ago.  I just need the open space to practice. The park is probably not a good idea (can you imagine?)  so maybe the roof!

This is part three in a series. Click here to read “Taste of the Renaissance – Week 1”.

devonboorman 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.
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