A Taste of the Renaissance - Week 1

Every week since our office moved downtown I have walked by Academie Duello and looked through the window, admiring the brave students practicing their arts as I passed. I would conjure up inspiring visions of myself decked out like Red Sonja, or like some rogue female musketeer, brave in my mind, but not quite brave enough to walk through the door and actually sign up for a class. Months passed before that would change.

Thanks to a couple of colleagues who eventually shared their similar interest in the Academie with me, I found myself downtown on Easter Monday brimming with nervous excitement waiting for my first class to start. I would probably still be waiting to become brave if not for them. I had brought my leather motorcycle gloves and a water bottle and, although I had a hard time imaging anything really bad happening, I happily signed the waiver. I’d be grateful for stories to tell anyway.

First we selected our rapiers, the long ones with the intricate guards, and the safely cushioned tips. After introductions, we learned the rapier’s components and how to hold it properly (though even in class two I still occasionally got the wrong end up). Then we learned the Academie’s salute: Arte, Ardore, Onore, along with its graceful motions. I love how we begin and end each class with it. It reminds me of the discipline needed to become truly proficient, and makes me hope that I have what it takes.

Then we learned terza, the third guard, which we had to learn first because, really, it is the basis for all of the other positions we needed to know. Getting this right was important. Guard hand up beside your head with elbow tucked close, sword hand steady with elbow at a good angle, a fist-width from the body, with forearm parallel to the floor, weight on the back leg, always, so you can be ready to lunge in an instant, front foot pointing forward, back foot pointing to the side for stability. It is a lot to remember, but we practice, with great assistance from the instructors. When we learn to lunge I think back to yoga class, and the classic warrior pose. What a powerful pose it is. It not only looks great, it feels great. We were quite happy with the first class, but then the instructors offered a free half hour clinic, which we all stayed for. Fabulous!

The second class thankfully began with review of the previous class's material , but then introduced us to the concepts of “Gaining the Sword”, or learning how to actually master your opponent through the positioning of both yourself and your weapon. Having colleagues to partner up with made this even more satisfying. The physics of leverage, something so basic, became artful and elegant, and fun! Sadly, the second class was on a workday so we couldn’t stay for the clinic. My colleagues and I agreed that we might have to make special arrangements for Fridays….

I find myself now with two introductory classes under my scabbard belt. A Taste of the Renaissance has been an incredibly enjoyable and humbling experience so far. Mastery of the sword (and yourself) is truly an art. There is beauty everywhere, in the design and balance of the sword, in the lovely open practice space, in the grace of the body in perfect position (well not me, not yet anyway). Though still a raw novice I feel privileged to be learning this art from such patient masters, who thankfully manage not to burst out laughing when I lunge too far and begin to tip over, and never fail to convey their passion and respect for this noble skill.

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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