Chances are, if you’re a member of Academie Duello, you started your path to mastery the same way I did: choosing a fundamentals class, learning the basic concepts of your chosen discipline, earning your green cord, and receiving your Academie Duello black binder upon conclusion of the course.
Then comes the next step: transitioning from the focused and guided structure of the fundamentals course into the much more technical and slightly daunting world of full blown tuition. Compared to the narrow focus of fundamentals, the curriculum of the next rank can initially be overwhelming. The black binder you earned at the end of fundamentals is full of information, checklists, and terminology, all of which needs to be studied, learned and demonstrated to reach the next level of mastery – blue cord. As a newbie to green cord, what are you supposed to do? Where are you supposed to start? Fret not, dear reader, the path becomes much clearer once you understand it.
Understanding the Curriculum Format
Before jumping into classes for your chosen discipline, it’s important to understand how the curriculum is structured. Depending on whether you chose Longsword or Rapier, your syllabus will be structured slightly differently.
The Longsword Green Cord syllabus structure
Academie Duello’s Longsword curriculum is on a 6 month cycle, running through its entirety twice a year. Each month of the syllabus examines a different facet of the discipline, breaking it down into composite pieces. These are:
- Forms: The various poste/guards of the longsword, and drills that incorporate their practical application.
- Approaching Giocco Stretto: tactics and techniques for approaching narrow play (i.e. controlling the centre line, sword point online, thrusts and acting from the bind).
- Receiving Giocco Stretto: tactics and techniques for dealing with your opponent's narrow play (i.e. regaining control of the line)
- Approaching Giocco Largo: tactics and techniques for approaching wide play (i.e. cuts, sword offline, creating a bind)
- Receiving Giocco Largo: tactics and techniques for dealing with an opponent utilizing wide play (i.e. defensive techniques, applications of the various guards)
- Grappling: Employing the longsword to grapple with your opponent, and techniques to deal with an opponent that wants to grapple.
The Rapier Green Cord syllabus structure
The Rapier syllabus runs over a 4 month cycle, meaning that it runs three times over the course of a year. The 4 months are divided into the following focuses:
- Approaching: Tactics and techniques for approaching an opponent at all measures
- Receiving: Tactics and techniques for receiving an opponent at all measures
- Offhand: Offhand positions and basic tactical applications
- Cutting: Techniques for using cuts to regain control, and defending against cuts.
This cycle structure is handy to know, as it means you’ll be aware of what aspect of mastery is being covered. It’s always best to start classes at the beginning of a new month, for the sake of completeness for whatever aspect the syllabus is the focus.
The Academie Duello Student Binder
Your new Academie Duello binder serves as a guide for and a means of charting your progress through the curriculum. In essence, the black binder comprises an overview of everything you will need to study in order to progress to the next rank. Although the layout of the curriculum found in the binder differs slightly from the monthly format of each discipline, rest assured that everything in the binder is covered over the course of each discipline’s cycle.
As well as being a study reference, the black binder serves as a checklist for a student’s progress towards their rank exam. Each area of proficiency contains lists of techniques, tactical situations and required knowledge that you will need to demonstrate ability in and be assessed on.
Based on which tuition package you’ve selected, you’ll have a set number of hours per month to explore the myriad classes that Academie Duello has to offer. Some of these classes are directly related to advancement within a discipline and are a requirement in order to progress, others are more ancillary in nature, either exploring other aspects of the school’s fighting system or helping develop other helpful attributes related to swordplay, like physical fitness.
In order to advance within your discipline, there are only two courses that you absolutely must take: Mastery classes for your chosen discipline (Longsword or Rapier) and Practica.
- Mastery classes are where students learn the Green Cord (apprentice) curriculum outlined in your binder.
- Practica are classes where students can practice and be assessed on the proficiencies in the binder. Practica is split into two categories: guided and assessments. While guided Practica is invaluable and relevant to strengthening your fencing, assessment time is required to check off skill requirements to advance to the next rank.
Sparring provides an opportunity for a student to apply the techniques they’ve learned in a combat situation, and develop their understanding of the underlying principles of this martial art. For anyone serious about fencing, sparring is a must, as it is an integral part of the school’s curriculum. For many students, it is also the most fun and rewarding part of learning swordplay!
Sparring is good to practice at all levels of intensity. Slower speed sparring is great for new students coming to grips with the practical application of recently learned knowledge, and students of any level that are looking to hone and improve their techniques and tactics. Faster speed sparring allows you to develop skills such as the ability to act with appropriate techniques under pressure. But don’t worry if this sounds daunting! For most students, working up to high-speed sparring takes many months to develop the techniques and confidence necessary to spar safely at that intensity.
Along with the learning and assessing of proficiencies, students looking to advance to the next rank are also required to participate in a number of sparring matches, both with students of their own rank and higher ranked students. The most ideal time to find partners to spar with is at Duello’s ‘Open Floor’ night, which occurs every week on Fridays between 7 and 10pm. While sparring may initially seem intimidating, it’s better to start sooner rather than later, as it is the practical expression of the art in the context of a fight and also comprises a significant portion of your rank exam.
We have all experienced the dread of being a newbie at open floor and feeling like you can’t approach students of higher ability and/or rank. While it might be scary, the reality is that we are blessed with one of the most inclusive, friendly martial art schools out there. Even as a total newbie, most if not all students will be not only willing to accommodate you in sparring, but also fight at a level where the objective is to help you learn, not knock you on your back. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you ‘win’ or ‘lose’ the sparring match – that is not the objective. The objective is to practice and develop proper technique, particularly the concept of “true fight”, in an applied context. Once you have completed a sparring match (a minimum of 10 passes, each with an unambiguous “winner”), your partner will provide you with their initials in your binder, which will count towards the minimum number of sparring matches required for the next rank examination.
Choosing your own path
Ultimately, the path through the green cord curriculum is a fluid, dynamic one, not a linear checkpoint based one. Even when assessing one thing, you may very well be learning multiple other things, and applying what you’ve learned in sparring sporadically. It is not a race. You can take as long as you want. Some students attain exam readiness faster than others, but it does not matter. Everyone runs their own race. You have the freedom to set your own goals at your own pace, right down from how you approach the curriculum to which tuition package you select.