A Taste of the Renaissance - Week 4

I can’t believe it's the last week of our Taste of the Renaissance series. The four weeks have gone by like the lightning slash of a sidesword. I have to determine which class to sign up for next. The noon time slots work best, but the biggest question is what to try next…?

Today in Class 7 we explore using the longsword and I absolutely love it! Now I truly feel like a warrior woman, powerful and precise. I could totally take on Conan! The stance is a little different from the rapier. We are more balanced over our feet and do not shift all of our weight onto the back leg. We learn to grip the sword firmly with our dominant hand just below the hilt, and lightly grip the pommel with our other hand using mainly the thumb and index finger, for a greater range of motion. We move our swords in gentle arcing motions, pretending first to cleave the necks and torsos of our sparring partners, then slice off their arms at the shoulder. It is great fun. This material is not on Friday’s test, however, so back we go to the rapiers halfway through class.

We get a merciful review of the tempos, and practice slowing our movements down as we did in the clinic after the previous class. We don our neck guards and masks again and are encouraged to tap each other in the face if we fail to move defensively. We experience the same challenges as last time, the difficulty in keeping the slow pace when all you really want to do is pretend you’re Zorro.

We all stay for the clinic today and Roland takes pity on us by leading us through some of the basics we’ve been struggling with. Even simple things like body position tend to slip when you try to master new things. Bless him. My partner Kat and I try to master the basic tempos together. Primo tempo is the easiest, but there is a subtle difference between contra tempo and dui tempi that is a challenge. It might be easy enough to explain verbally, but to demonstrate? Oh dear….

I finished an enjoyable piece of historical fiction (1356) over the weekend by a writer named Bernard Cornwell. He is described by some as the best writer of medieval battle scenes,  and I can believe it. My new knowledge, such as it is, makes reading good battle scenes so much more rewarding now. Yes, I spent the night before Class 8 reading fiction rather than studying. But here I am in the final class of the series, ready to try my best. Roland is on his own today and very patient with all of us as we review the material covered so far. We ask last minute questions about topics we’re unsure of and are grateful for good explanations and a chance to practice. We’re still nervous, of course, since we are about to be examined by the “Maestro”. He turns out to be quite approachable and engaging, putting us at ease while still managing to push us for answers and examples that test our knowledge. And then comes the trick question – what are the two tenets of the school? We remain silent, searching our minds for when we might have covered that material and what the answer might be. Of course it’s from Class 1, but I’m not going to tell you the answer!

Finally, we are called to line up and, one by one, we are awarded our green cords and certificates. What a happy relief and what a delightful sense of accomplishment. We’ve had a lot of fun together and are rather sad it’s over. Thankfully there are other classes, and Roland shows us which ones we can advance to from our current level. And though more advanced rapier classes would be great, I am seriously considering another intro class that specializes in the longsword, sidesword and, best of all, the poleaxe! I can barely contain my enthusiasm and, to my absolute delight, the Maestro hands me a poleaxe to heft and swing. That’s it. There’s no going back now!

This is part four 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.
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