Warrior Fundamentals - Week 1

The following is the first in a four-part series from a student contributor.  If you enjoy this and wish to read more from Angella, you can start with her four-part series on her experience taking another one of our introductory courses, Taste of the Renaissance.

Day One

It feels great to be back at Academie Duello with a sword in my hand!

Day 1 of Warrior Fundamentals has arrived. Joining me on this journey are two trusty battle companions from Taste of the Renaissance as well as a new group of students that I look forward to learning swordcraft with. We have a new instructor named Adrian (though Roland, one of my Taste of the Renaissance instructors, is still here with another group) and we have the pleasure of performing our first salute all together: Arte, Ardore, Onore!

We have already selected our longswords and Adrian goes over the basics with us, including a review of the sword’s structural elements. Adrian instructs us on the proper stance, feet aligned with knees and well-spaced for balance and agility. We must always be ready to shift position, always ready to fend off an attack from any side.  I remind myself that this time around we aren't learning duelling arts to be used to settle a dispute between yourself and one other person dressed in everyday clothes; these arts are intended to keep you alive on the battlefield when surrounded by burly, mail-wearing berserkers.

We begin to learn our longsword guards, starting with the Long Guard, or Posta Longa. Once mastered we add to this the Lady’s Guard, or Posta di Donna, which reminded my battle companion of how he might hold a baseball bat on his shoulder. We then combine the two into a more or less smooth motion. I can tell that most of our group has taken other training; I clearly have to step up my game!

We add two more guards, first the Boar’s Tooth, or Dente al Cinghiara, which allows us to thrust up under an opponent’s shield, and the Iron Gate, or Porta di ferro, which protects our own entrails. Through exercises we learn to cut from one guard to the other, with right hand and then left, taking a hit, then avoiding, all in as smooth a series of motions as possible. I have to admit, I feel rusty, like a sword left untended too long.

Day Two

My companions and I arrive a few minutes late for the second class and have missed a useful review of footwork. I will have to ask for this in a future clinic as I’ve had no dancing master and find my own steps rather awkward. We then begin a review of the key guards from the first class. Adrian scans our positioning and movement as we perform them. Our last class benefitted from two instructors, but Adrian must monitor our progress all on his own. He is patient with us and provides correction where necessary. We then learn the last two guards: the Breve or Short Guard, has elbows tucked in front of you, preparing you to thrust with the point of your sword. We also learned Posta Fenestra, or the Window Guard, which allows us to cut from a new and exciting angle. It is tricky for many of us as it does not come as naturally as some of the other guards. I wish I could stay for clinic this week to practice these new guards and the movements between them, which look so graceful when performed by others. I feel awkward, as usual, during the practice sessions but I admit that it is enormous fun to poke our partners in the mask!

Now we practice the finding and gaining positions over our opponent’s swords, positions with different degrees of advantage which most of us learned during Taste of the Renaissance. As this was a concept I already understood it felt like it should have been easy. Yet with this type of sword, with only its thin crossbar to shield your hand, it is critical to get the positioning right. Several imaginary thumbs were lopped off during our practice sessions as we struggled to master the moves. To do these moves, you have to cross your sword over that of your opponent, ensure the strongest part of your sword has control over the weakest part of theirs -- keeping the True Edge of your sword over theirs all the while (which way are your knuckles pointing?)  --and, lastly, forcing their point away from you as you slide in for the kill. Practice, practice, we just need more practice!

As we leave today, Roland asks us how we are enjoying the new class. We're pleased to chat with him before returning to work. All of the instructors here are great!

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.