Monday, December 7, 2009

Chinese swordsmanship?

In my never-ending quest to look at what practitioners from other fencing schools are doing - be they in the European tradition or not - I stumbled across some interesting videos on Chinese swordsmanship, or more specifically jianshu, the use of the straight blade. I know very little about Chinese martial arts, but I've always wondered why Chinese fencing never really took root: the Japanese have been doing kendo since the end of the 19th century, the Europeans have been doing modern fencing since the beginning of the 19th century, and this is not to mention the numerous styles to be found in Southeast Asia, but I have never heard of fencing with Chinese weapons.

The World Jianshu League, which is comprised of only a few schools in North America (from what I've learned on the website, is busy reconstructing traditional Chinese swordsmanship as a modern sport, and what I've seen is pretty interesting. Interesting in that the techniques they've gleaned from a number of sword sets look almost identical to what Europeans were doing with an arming or sidesword in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

This actions shown in this video, for example, bear a striking resemblance to the Dall'Agocchie's (1572) solo form, which will - I swear! - be posted up here in the coming weeks. Take a look.

I'll put some more commentary up here in the next couple of days; my first impression leads me to say that they should forget the sporting aspect and focus on the controlled application of the techniques they've gleaned from the various forms. It's too beautiful to be turned into a gunslinging match, like, say, the following video:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Class review: 5th of December

What a class! Over the past couple of weeks, we have begun digging deeper into the system, and I know that I have been discovering some very interesting things as a result. The focus of this month is cutting with the rapier, both as agente and paziente, and has really brought some of Capoferro's more difficult to interpret passages to light; yes, they actually make sense to me now.

The one thing that had always bothered me since I first read his treatise in 2006 was the section on guadagnare in the second part of the book; what is the smart thing to do if you're in a weak position? First, "you don't do this, and you never do this, but you will do this." So what exactly does that mean? In the course of today's class, we were able to show these three responses in action, and...they work very well. I also realized today that they're all enshrined in some of the drills we've already been doing, heh heh.

1) "You must never disengage in order to throw a full blow." Like we were taught in grammar class, let's make that a positive statement: perform a cavazione to throw a half blow, i.e. a mezzo mandritto or a mezzo riverso, and then follow with an action that hinges on the opponent's reaction to it.
a) if the opponent attempts to clear your sword with the false edge, perform a cavazione and strike in the opposition hand position. For example, if you threw a mandritto to his sword, perform a cavazione as he comes back with the cut and thrust in seconda, and vice-versa.
b) if the opponent attempts to cover the threatened part of his body - i.e. guadagnare - exchange guards and thrust. For example, if you threw a mandritto to his sword, exchange guards and attack in seconda as he comes back with the cavazione, and vice-versa.
c) if the opponent's sword is excellently cleared by your cut, throw a false edge cut to the face, followed by a thrust if necessary. For example, if you throw a mandritto to his sword, cut to the face on the same line with a falso dritto. It is important that the hand stays low during the cut to prevent being struck by a flailing opponent.

2) "Never parry and then strike." Again as a positive statement, always parry and strike in the same tempo, not two. Although I've never explicitly mentioned this in class - probably because I never really made the connection - this is the cavazione di tempo. As my opponent comes to misura larga via a cavazione, rather than simply closing the line via a cavazione-guadagnare, I thrust via the cavazione, all in one motion.

3) Huge paraphrase here: "Perform a half-cavazione, and thrust to either side of the sword as the opponent approaches." The final option we as the defender have at our disposal can best be classified as a defensive feint, though it could be used by the aggressor as well. In this case, rather than take an offensive action as we did above, we will perform a half-cavazione (coming to terza) with a ceding of the vita (this is key); we thereby give the illusion of making distance, when in reality we are still at misura larga. If the opponent decides to step again, we strike on either side of his sword without having to do a cavazione, because our sword is right in the middle.

And another thing: the attacker and the defender's roles constantly blend together, so at any point, we could be doing these things back and forth to each other.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Class review: 19th of November

Tonight's class was a good review for everyone who showed up; since only a few students showed up last week because of the "November Reading Week" (two days, really), it had been two weeks since anyone had picked up a sword. We went over all of the basics, refined some of our motions (particularly in relation to the correct tempo), and went as far as option three, creating motion.

One thing I mentioned tonight that seems to have frightened a few people was that I would be giving the first rank examination next Thursday at the beginning of class. This is both a formality and a necessity: formality because everyone already knows very well what I'll be testing them on, necessity because no one can free fence without passing this small hurdle. What I'm really aiming for with the examination is to make the commitment to Capoferro's system, which necessarily means abandoning anything that does not belong in it (the actions described in the plates are exceptions to this rule), and improve our skill in that system until we can take on anyone from another school, be they Spanish, Italian, German or self-trained. It's not enough for us to be good fighters; we need to be exemplary fencers. Only then can we begin to branch out and begin to examine other methods of performing the same kinds of actions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Class review: 12th of November

Things are progressing along very smoothly, now that we are two months into the new curriculum. Since UT students experiencing the first ever November reading break (a whole two days...), only three people showed up to class tonight, but that was perfect for what I wanted to do: run through all of the plates of the single sword in Capoferro (save two). Normally, this is not something I would in class, because it essentially means training the wrong thing, which is a bad thing to do, but it was useful in that it shows some excellent responses to someone doing the incorrect move (i.e. attacking out of tempo).

First, a few generalities:
1) If my opponent and I are point high (i.e. at the throat or face), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike to the head, I respond by passing in either seconda (plate 9) or quarta (plate 18). In plate 9, a pass in prima is also possible, especially if the person doing so is shorter than his or her opponent.
2) If my opponent and I are point middle (i.e. at the chest), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike to the chest, I respond by either striking with a firm footed lunge in either seconda (plate 7) or quarta (plate 16).
3) If my opponent and I are point low (i.e. at the flank), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike the flank, I respond by either performing a scannatura di punta (plate 13) from the outside, or press down his sword from the inside (plate 12).

So, considering the inside and the outside, as well as the height of the point, we already have six contratempo actions to the opponent attacking out of tempo. How many other ways can the opponent strike? Not too many.

If for some reason my opponent attacks very low, in this case with a riverso to the leg, I simply void the threatened leg and thrust right to the face. (plate 8) Throwing a mandritto to the leg is just as, if not more crazy.

Finally, we have gli scansi, the voids. Although I love performing the scanso della vita (plate 19), I find the circumstance in which Capoferro describes very difficult to pull off. Granted, as I discussed with Aldo at the end of class, all of these are moments in time, typically four or five moves into the engagement, so "doing" the play should feel stilted. The two instances Capoferro shows are against a thrust to the inside, either to the chest (plate 17) or to the face (plate 19). More on this to follow, because I would actually like to post some video of this up.

Class review: 11th of November

Wow, what a class last night. I've taught some pretty good classes in the last two years, but last night's class definitely was near the very top of that list. For the first time in a long time, I covered everything I wanted to in the allotted time, and even managed to build on the already complex sequences we were going through at the end of the class.

Because we always warm up with the same drills (cavazione di tempo, the perfect and inperfect spirals, etc.), I'll only mention what was new about last night: more cutting, and their follow-on.

1) Throw a mezzo mandritto (i.e. from quarta) or mezzo riverso (i.e. from seconda) to the opponent's sword to create motion from stillness. As the opponent performs a cavazione to come back on line, exchange guards to either seconda or quarta, depending on which side you started, and thrust in opposition.
2) If the opponent decides to step back with while performing the cavazione, strike with a passing lunge.
3) If as the defender the aggressor passes in seconda, this is an opportunity to peform a scanso della vita, or a scanso del piede dritto if he lunges with a firm foot.
4) If however the aggressor passes in quarta, we'll be looking at a counter-beat followed by a pass in quarta.

Tonight I'll be going through the plates with a smaller group tonight, to figure out the context for each; more on this later!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Class review: 5th of November

Although a bit late, I have the review materials for the class at UT this past Thursday. Despite the peculiar habit of people showing up whenever they want to - class does actually start at 5pm, people - we managed to get through a great deal of material, so much so that we will be ready to fence starting not this Thursday (the 12th), but the following Thursday (the 19th).

So without further ado, here are some of the things we discussed last week:

1) The tempo window: as with every other weapon, be it fist, foot, sword or whatever, there is a good and a bad time to attack the opponent, particularly if the opponent is wielding the same or a similar weapon to the one you are. Dall'Agocchie and Capoferro mention five specific instances in which I can safely strike my opponent. For the sake of simplicity, these five instances can be distilled into one, easy to remember rule: I can only safely strike the opponent when they're busy doing something else, be that changing hand position, stepping backward, performing a cavazione or opposition, cutting, etc. With a thrusting weapon, such as a rapier or smallsword, this window of opportunity is very small, and with an experienced fencer, the window will be almost imperceptible, due to the size of the motion.
The two main drills we have been working on in class, the perfect and imperfect spirals (the former being a strike via a contracavazione, the latter a strike via opposition) work on the assumption that our opponent wishes to defend himself by closing off the line, and it is during this action that we strike. Our two motions together make one tempo, though my contribution to the tempo will be far smaller than his, because the proportion of our actions has changed significantly, provided I have stringered his blade. But...what if the opponent doesn't react? As we saw in class, if I attack out of tempo, my opponent has a contratempo action immediately available to him. Hmmm....
2) Creating motion in the opponent: the simplest answer to our quandary is to make our opponent move, in this case by removing their sword from the equation by way of a mezzo colpo, or half cut, either from the "true side" (a mandritto) or from the "riverse side" (a riverso). I make an angled cut downwards to my opponent's sword to bring it offline, and during his recovery, I perform a cavazione and strike to the other side; simply striking straightaway is actually quite risky, as we have seen. Needless to say, the rapier fight is one of great patience!
3) The cuts: to wrap up this review, I think it would be worth it to discuss the names of the cuts, and diverse angles. There are quite a few of them, and unfortunately, the direct English translations don't flow very well, so we need to learn the Italian for each one.
- Fendente: a downwards, vertical cut.
- Sgualimbro: a downwards, diagonal cut.
- Tondo: a horizontal cut.
- Ridoppio: an upwards, diagonal cut done with the true edge.
- Falso: an upwards, diagonal cut done with the false edge.
- Montante: an upwards, vertical cut, usually done with the false edge.
- Tramazzone: a downwards cut done from the wrist.
In other news, Saturday's class may be moved to 12-2. More details on this later in the week.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Class review: 4th of November

Last night's class, for one reason or another, did not turn out the way I had planned. I had written down a number of things to accomplish - getting through all of the attribute building drills, practicing and perfecting the spirals, beginning the cuts - but we only managed to get through the incomplete spiral drill, with a very brief introduction to cutting.

Since I have already discussed in previous posts the drills that we do in class, I won't repeat them here, but I will make a comment on a little something I realized last night; an extremely obvious little something, but it bears mentioning it for the newer people.

1) Guadagnare: placing my guard opposite my opponent's threat, thereby closing that line of attack. Does not imply an offensive action at all.
2) Stringere: directing my point at the appropriate target (i.e. front shoulder in quarta, rear shoulder in seconda), all while having guadagnare. In this way, my offense is backed up by my defense, and my defense is more effective because an offense is attached to it.

Interestingly enough, each guard offends the opposite target it defends: seconda threatens the rear shoulder while defending the near shoulder, and conversely, quarta threatens the near shoulder while defending the rear shoulder. For whatever reason, people are still under the impression that the near shoulder can be defended in quarta; yeah, not going to happen, because there is no opposition.

More to follow on this after tonight's class at UT.

Three years to the day

Guy Fawkes Day has a very particular meaning for me, despite the fact that I've never been to England, have never burned a Guy (effigy or otherwise), and thought that V for Vendetta was just a decent film; three years ago today, I started fencing at Academie Duello. It seems like such a long time ago, because so many things have happened since then: I became an assistant instructor, got my master's degree at UBC, moved out to Toronto for my PhD and started up a rapier programme at AEMMA. I think it's pretty fair to say that I've been a busy, busy guy in the past three years.

So what does this have to do with anything? People have a tendency to attach a certain amount of importance to certain days of the year - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and so on - and I am no different. Recognizing that I've fencing for three years has got me thinking about how far I've come, how far I want to go, and how I plan on getting there. So...where exactly do I want to go with this? It has always been my goal to learn the various disciplines of which the Italian school of fencing is composed, starting with Fiore, passing through the Bolognese masters, and finishing up with Capoferro and Fabris in the early 17th century, and that is the goal I am working towards. Being at AEMMA this past year has been a tremendous boon in my understanding and subsequent application of Fiore's art, and I feel much more comfortable now than I did before I came, so much so that I feel ready to challenge for the rank of Free Scholler next September, provided life doesn't get in the way. I've spent a lot of my own time reading, analysing and re-analysing Marozzo's and Dall'Agocchie's treatises, and have achieved a very high level of understanding of them, I believe; I just wish I could find the time to work with someone on them. As for rapier...I'm teaching three times a week, so I'd say I'm doing pretty well.

However, in order to get to where I'm going, I need to really improve my training regimen, which for the moment consists largely of improving my athleticism through weight training and running, as well as perfecting the actions of whatever weapon I happen to be using; I'm missing the key element of a good training partner, whom I can push and who will definitely push back. So...let's go find someone.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Upcoming quarterstaff workshop

This Sunday, from 1-5, I will be teaching a workshop on Swetnam's quarterstaff system, as a follow-up to the one I did at the beginning of September. Everyone is welcome to attend, as we will be going over all of the basics to start, and gradually work our way up to performing more complex plays, specifically integrating the blows, extending our exchanges, and executing some of the more interesting actions described by Swetnam.

The cost will be $40, and all of the equipment will be provided by AEMMA. I hope to see a lot of faces (new and old) there!

Class review: 22nd and 23rd of October

It's been awhile since my last update, and a lot of things have been happening in class lately. Very, very good things, I might add. The curriculum that Jared has passed on to me is beginning to bear some fruit, and I think it is worthwhile to discuss here some of the drills we have been working on, so those who are just visiting the site for the first time will get an idea about how and what we practice, and current students can review what they learned in class.

Strictly technical
One thing I had been struggling with for a long time was how to improve the fundamentals of the rapier in the Italian school, notably striking accurately and in tempo, all while staying completely covered. I have stuck with some of the older targeting drills to focus on one thing at a time - proper measure, order of the lunge, and accuracy - while introducing a drill inspired by what we had worked on with Jared, adding in the elements of time and proper defense.

1. Striking various targets: I usually adopt the same three every time - open hand, index finger and knothole - and occasionally add in a moving target, a second target, a sometimes target, etc. This is great to get people warmed up, and really have them focusing on the proper order of the lunge, and if done correctly, the accuracy that comes up with proper order.
2. Striking to the body on a cavazione: this is a drill I have borrowed from Jared, which forms a nice bridge between a strictly fundamental drill, and a drill rooted more in timing, or rather, the correct tempo in which to strike. The agente will start in terza at misura larga, and will change to seconda or quarta in order to stringere the patient's sword. The patient will take advantage of this motion and perform a cavazione and thrust to the opening created by the agent.
3. Cavazione and opposition drill: another mechanical, albeit essential, drill. This can start either in or out of measure, though I find the best instance is when the agente starts at the first distance (i.e. tip to tip, or larghissima), and steps in to stringere the paziente, who will immediately perform a cavazione. Agente will perform a contra-cavazione, and so on, and then they change roles, so they have practice doing a cavazione on both sides. To make this drill more interesting, the agente will oppose, i.e. exchange guards, on each of the paziente's disengages. The important thing in both of these drills is to ensure that the physical guard is always in a position to defend the threatened parts of the body.

Working towards fencing drills
We haven't yet reached the point of practicing combat specific drills, but a lot of these drills are in preparation for fencing, as they rely exclusively on the fencer's ability to act in the right measure, and in the right tempo. For some bizarre reason, I have decided to call these the true fusili drill and the false fusili drill; why I felt the need to reference a lovely pasta, I have no idea.

1. Striking via a contra-cavazione (i.e. true fusili drill): both fencers will start out of measure. The agente will create a threat to either the inside or the outside, and paziente will go to close that line with the physical guard in either seconda or quarta. During his motion, agente will perform a cavazione with a step in. Paziente will go to close that line again via a cavazione, and agente will perform a contra-cavazione and lunge. As we have noticed in class, a shorter person will have to take at least one more step to get within range.
2. Striking via an exchange of guard (i.e. false fusili drill): both fencers will start out of measure. The agente will create a threat to either the inside or the outside, and paziente will go to close that line with the physical guard in either seconda or quarta. During his motion, agente will perform a cavazione with a step in. Paziente will go to close that line again via a cavazione, and agente will interrupt by exchanging guards (i.e. going from seconda to quarta or quarta to seconda) and lunge.

The difference between the two of these is timing: in the first case, agente is acting in the middle of paziente's tempo, so he must go around his sword in order to strike safely. In the second case, agente acts early in paziente's tempo, so he is able to simply exchange guards (which actually takes more time than a cavazione) and thrust.

Starting next class, we will begin alternating freely between the two of them, and then gradually increasing the complexity by adding in some very specific factors: what happens if the paziente performs the "wrong" action? What happens if paziente doesn't react? How do I induce a tempo? Finally, and what I think is the most interesting, what if paziente attacks? Hint: look at the plates!

That'll be all for now; more to follow this Saturday!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Summary: Jared Kirby seminar

I realize I'm posting this well after the fact, but better late than never! On the 26th and 27th of September - just over two weeks ago - our rapier group at FAC had the privilege of hosting Jared Kirby for a two day seminar on Capoferro. Having met Jared earlier this year at ISMAC, I was eager to have him come up to spend some time with our group, but mostly for my benefit: during the course of ISMAC, I realized there were a few pieces "missing" in my repertoire - due in no small part to my lack of constant supervision - which I felt he would be able to help me fix. I was not mistaken.

Nine people including myself showed up bright and early on Saturday morning to study in detail Capoferro's system of Italian rapier, starting by a very, very (!!) thorough examination of his one and only guard, terza. Immediately I was thrown off by the small - though very important! - details I had neglected to incorporate, notably the exact positioning of the body parts in both the ordinary and extraordinary paces. I've been often asked why ____ sore, and now I have my answer: if we follow exactly what Capoferro wrote, nothing should be sore, save the burning you should feel in the legs. I caught myself several times putting stress on the knee, which I was able to immediately fix because of the feeling of the guard.

The entire first day was spent refining terza, and I couldn't have been happier. It feels much more... efficient than what I had been falling into, particularly concerning the vita; already bending at the waist makes is a small adjustment that makes a big difference during the fight. I was also struck by how much forward energy can come out of a lunge, even more than I had been training for the past three years.

On the second day, to my great surprise, everyone showed up (on time, even). That made matters much simpler for the purpose of drilling. In any case, we started with a review of the previous day's session, and then went right into discussing guadagnare and stringere, two very important notions which I had reversed; turns out it's not a huge deal because I had been doing the right thing all along, only my language had been in error. We managed to get through quite a few drills throughout the course of the day, and the wheels in my head have been turning steadily ever since. We have a lot of material to work on for the next couple of months. Excellent.

Overall, it was an excellent seminar, and I look forward to inviting Jared out again for a follow-up. We all got a great deal out of the weekend, and the fencing spark has been re-ignited in more than a few people's eyes. Next week will bring some good things.

Friday, October 9, 2009

UofT class update!

Yes! After several weeks of uncertainty, we finally have confirmation that rooms are booked for next week! I have yet to confirm with the person in charge of bookings which room(s) is booked, because it will change every week due to a host of other events going on throughout the St. Mike's campus.

As for content, a few things will change in the way I present the material since Jared Kirby's workshop. As of next week, I'll be starting from scratch with the new students, and really work the new things that I've learned. Specifically, I want to play around with the refined notions of guadagnare and stringere, and how to enter the fight safely. The idea of creating an opening as a way to get into measure is an interesting one; let's just see what non-fencers do about it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UT: Review of the first class

Despite the difficulties with the booking (which should be resolved by the next class), the first class went very well; three new people showed up to class, and three people from FAC came as well, so it was a nice mix of relatively experienced people and new students.

I was very happy with the way classes progressed. In two hours we got a lot of things covered, and we kind of covered some of the material for the next class, specifically a more thorough introduction to measure and a glimpse into the various notions of tempo. Since I introduced so many new terms in today's class, I thought it would be very useful to give a definition of each one.

Prima: the first hand position possible upon drawing the sword from its sheath. It is characterized by being located above the shoulder with the true edge facing upwards, the point going downwards. It is a forward position. Palm out.

Seconda: formed by turning the true edge outwards, sword at the shoulder, and the point somewhat raised. It is also a forward position. Palm down.

Terza: formed by turning the true edge downwards, in its natural position. Capoferro considers this his only true guard position. Palm in.

Quarta: formed by turning the true edge inwards, sword below the shoulder. The final forward position. Palm up.

Misura: the distance between the point of my sword and my opponent's body.

Out of measure: when neither myself or my opponent can reach the other. Tempo does not exist outside of measure.

Misura larga: the wide measure. The distance at which I can hit my opponent with a firm-footed lunge, i.e. with a step.

Misura stretta: the narrow measure. The distance at which I can hit my opponent without moving my foot.

I'll leave it there for now. I'd like to figure out a way to make this a separate part of the blog, like a glossary; all in due time...

Wednesday night recap

Last night's class went very well, considering the varying levels of participants. I didn't quite get through everything I wanted to do, but I covered the essentials:

1. Refine everyone's posture and hand positions. (Looking much better!)
2. Get people more comfortable with recognizing measure, and lining up the target.
3. Stepping to misura larga in safety.
4. Regaining a strong position via backwards motion and either a cavazione or a change in the angle of the sword.

Although we ran out of time towards the end, I'd really like to develop the final drill we worked on, in which one fencer has constrained the other, who must regain the line via the two ways mentioned above. The "aggressor" will try to maintain his or her control by exchanging the guards (usually from seconda to quarta, or vice-versa) or contra-cavazione. Ideally, and this is definitely an idea that sprung from working in JKD over the past few weeks, we can turn this into a wonderful flow drill, from which all things are possible: thrust, cut, disarm, pommel strike, throw, etc. Let's see where this goes.

Speaking of flow drills, working the 1st-3rd masters of grappling would make an excellent flow drill, which can start or stop at any time. It really became apparent to me tonight just how simple it is for the aggressor and defender to switch roles. So much to think about.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Class info: Wednesday night's class

After a very productive JKD lesson today, I got inspired for tomorrow night's class material. I've been playing around a lot recently with the True Fight, going back and forth, gaining and maintaining the line, and so on; now I want to put everything thing together into one long chase scene.

We'll spend the first part of the class going over the basic (footwork, guard, targeting), and then review the basics of the true fight (trovare di spada, stringere e guadagnare), and then go back and forth from there: I have the line, now you have the line, etc., until someone decidedly "wins" the drill.

And in other news, blue cords will start looking at sidesword in the next couple of weeks. I have two coming in, and I am excited. : )

UofT class: update!

After a nearly two-week long absence, I finally have some time (and the information) to post something about the class at UofT. It has been finalized as taking place from 5-7 at Father Madden Hall in Carr Hall - that's a lot of halls - on the St. Mike's campus, just off of Bay on St. Joseph street.

For the first two months, I'll be bringing in all the swords I can possibly handle - I think 12 is a pretty good number to start - and we'll be looking strictly at the absolute essentials of using a rapier, notably it's practical use: dueling. I really want to emphasize that fencing with a rapier is not at all a sport, and I want the sporting mentality to stay at a minimum, even during mini tournaments.

Thursday's topic: the introduction. I'll specifically be looking at the rapier's place in history, it's use, how it is properly held (any of the three ways), how to hold oneself in guard, how to move in guard, and how to thrust. That will be plenty for the first class, I think.

Friday, September 11, 2009


One final (I swear this time!) thing I'd like to do with this blog is to examine some of the swords that I and my group use, and discuss some of their better (or worse) qualities. For a lot of people just starting out, finding a good rapier or sidesword is not the easiest task in the world, given the amount of blade makers out there, some being far better than others. Tomorrow I'll post pictures of all three of my rapiers, two Darkwoods and a Hanwei. I hope to get everyone's sword up here at some point.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Recap of tonight's class

I've realized something about teaching, having done it four five years at the high school level, and almost two years at the fencing school: every time I come up with the "perfect" lesson plan, I always deviate tremendously from it. Tonight's class was no exception.

Although in general I really enjoy small classes, whenever the number is under five (including me), I tend to overemphasize a lot of things, and make every effort to make sure that everyone understands everything. It doesn't work in a classroom, and it doesn't work in a fencing salle. Tonight's class was supposed to be on the true fight (which I did cover, and went very well, actually), but it eventually turned into a symposium on the presence of the point, a concept that is key to excelling at the rapier. Muscular strength - while nice - is not what rapier is all about. Rapier is all about mastering time, distance and proportion, all by doing virtually effortless motions of the hand. This is something I need to work on myself for basically the rest of my existence.

Anyway, the one great thing that came out of tonight's class - and I hear this all the time during grappling class at AEMMA - is that if everything is aligned, i.e. my structure is sound, I'm acting in the right time at the right distance, doing should be absolutely effortless. Or really close to it. Changing the proportion of my sword's angle as I step back requires no physical effort at all from me, and it gives me a tremendous advantage.

Goal for this Saturday, regardless of who shows up: let the weapon do the work for me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Something I've always wanted to do - dating from my days back at Duello - is posting videos of various techniques, plays, fencing situations from the masters we study: Capoferro, Dall'Agocchie, Swetnam, Marozzo, as well as Fiore (why not?). I've gotten really frustrated with just seeing pictures with a description (or not) of a particular technique or principle, because it's taking a very dynamic situation and twisting, warping it into a static one. I want to see things in context, so that's what I'm setting out to do.

The absolute first thing I'll be posting will be from Dall'Agocchie's treatise, on what he calls stepping in the guards. It's an incredible simple form designed to get the new student used to the stepping patterns used in the Bolognese system, but it also contains a number of important sword actions which are seen again and again throughout his text: the dritto and riverso ribbon cuts, the tramazzone, and the riverso ridoppio-imbroccata combo. I've been working with his treatise for so long (a year and a half now), and I feel the urge to produce something from my experiences.

I also plan to take some short videos from class, which will focus either on a particular drill, a concept, or a moment in time, otherwise known as a play. I'll start with some really simple stuff (striking as my opponent enters misura larga, cavazione to regain the line, the counter-stepping drill), before moving on to some complex exchanges.

Now I just need some volunteers, and possibly someone with a nice camera...

Update on class at UofT

The rapier class to be offered at UofT as of next Thursday will be held from 4-6 in Madden Hall (on the first floor of Carr Hall) on the St. Michael's campus. (This time may change slightly; more info as the week goes on!)

My goal for the class on campus is to reach out to the student population at UofT, bringing in some new bodies, which is good for everyone in the long run; the more people we have learning, the more we all have a chance to fence with "many diverse players." Due to the initial equipment dilemma, I'll have to limit numbers to twelve students maximum, and we won't be doing any "fencing" until after the foundations of the Art have been understood to a satisfactory degree. Students will be expected to purchase their own equipment by the end of the eighth class, which includes specifically a mask and a rapier.

Material to cover during the eight weeks:

1: the essentials of posture, movement, the four guard positions, and the lunge.
2: an introduction to measure and angulation of the sword and body.
3: introduction to the concepts of trovare di spada, stringere, and guadagnare.
4: introduction to the various meanings of tempo.
5: the true fight.
6: expanding on the true fight, incorporating cuts, offhand use.
7: introduction to the deceptive fight, i.e. the basic feints.
8: tying it all together, the test.

I'm really looking forward to branching out; this should be good.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Class outline

For the first time...ever, I'll be dividing the class into two parts: the more advanced students will pick up a dagger, and the less advanced will continue working on refining the elements of the true fight, as well as incorporating the feints we've been working with over the past few weeks. The schedule will look something like this:

9h00-9h30: warm-up, basic footwork and targeting drills. (All students) Short break.
9h30-10h00: intro to dagger (blue) and both fights (green). Short break.
10h00-10h15: slow work.
10h15-end: attacker/defender scenarios: free, back against the wall, having been hit. (Hope to have time for all three)

Things might change slightly depending on how many people show up, but we shall see...

So far, we have six students (including myself) signed up for Jared's seminar. Keep the names coming!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Upcoming events

One of the main reasons I wanted to set up this blog was to get information out about upcoming events and classes much more efficiently than using an e-list; this way, everything you could possibly need to know about this week's topic in class is going to be will be here (as well as a few notes afterwards), and I'll be posting all sorts of events, like upcoming seminars and the bimonthly free fencing sessions that I've been setting up.

Speaking of which, after the small hiccup caused by Labour Day weekend, we'll be having our second free fencing session at Queen's Park (at the UofT0 campus) from 12-2, weather permitting. Otherwise, we'll be at the salle. I'll be running a short lesson from 11-12 beforehand, and then we'll get right into fencing right away. There is no fee, and the only requirements are the following:

  1. Fencing mask
  2. Gorget (if not, you'll only be allowed to do slower speed fencing)
  3. A rapier. Pretty obvious, no?
  4. Fencing jackets or a heavier shirt is preferable; if you have one, bring it.

We don't fence for points - they sure as heck didn't do that in the 16th century - so all good hits count. Obviously, this is a very subjective qualifier, so I'll do my best to explain what I mean. Any solid thrust to a major target (head, throat, chest, under the arm, torso, flank, inside of the thigh) is a killing blow, as well as a cut to any of these areas. If one or both fencers receives a hit in one of these places, the fencers will reset, and fence again. A thrust or cut to any other target will also be cause for a reset, but only if the blow is good, i.e. the blade bends during the thrust, or the cut draws through; it's pretty hard to fence without a swordarm or feet. Seizures of the blade and swordarm are allowed, though full-on wrestling is not.

In other news, very important news, I might mention, Jared Kirby, the translator of Capoferro's fencing treatise Gran Simulacro, is coming to FAC for a two-day workshop on the 26th and 27th of September. If you are even remotely interested in rapier, or historical martial arts in general, this is definitely the workshop to attend. Mr. Kirby is an excellent fencer and instructor, and I hope you can all help me welcome him to Toronto with a big turnout. So without further ado, here's the workshop description.

Deconstructing Capo Ferro
Although Capo Ferro has not left us a “manual” to work from, his brilliant treatise hold the keys necessary to recreate his system of fencing while also giving a wonderful glimpse of contemporary fencing as well as the opinions of other masters. This weekend will give you guidelines to understanding how Capo Ferro presents information as we work on distilling his system from the source. This is an advanced workshop for those studying Capo Ferro's work and will assume you have read "Gran Simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della Scherma" or "Italian Rapier Combat".

Class will begin with the posture and guard which are the foundation of all fencing. We will look at how Capo Ferro explains his guardia and where to find the information in his book. Using this information we will then assume the posture precisely as he describes and illustrates. Once in the proper posture, we will add the weapon and position it exactly as Capo Ferro describes in order to form his one and only guardia.

From this guardia, we will examine how Capo Ferro prepares and executes an attack. Start with his footwork, we will analyze the passo straordinario in order to perform the precise mechanics of his unique ‘lunge’. Next, we will examine how to enter the fight and create tempo for your attack. The workshop will conclude with an examination of how to position ourselves to facilitate defense in the attack.

Bio: Jared Kirby has been involved in Western Martial Arts for over fifteen years. He co-founded The New Dawn Duellists Society in Minneapolis, MN in order to generate interest in the study of Historical European Martial Arts. After several years of recreating western swordfighting from the historical treatises, he moved to Scotland and studied with Maestro Paul Macdonald. After returning to the U.S., he moved to New York City in order to learn the Spanish Rapier from Maestro Ramón Martínez. Jared has studied and trained at the Academy for 10 years and is an Instructor of Spanish and Italian Rapier as well as French Foil at the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City.

He is currently the fencing instructor at SUNY Purchase and also teaches teaches a variety of workshops across the US and around the world including Canada, England, Scotland, Finland and Italy. He has taught at the Paddy Crean International Art of the Sword Workshop, the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention (ISMAC), Rapier Camp and the Western Washington WMA Workshop just to name a few.

Jared is the editor and one of the translators of “Italian Rapier Combat”, the first complete, professional translation of Capo Ferro. He is also the editor and wrote the introduction for “The School of Fencing” by Domenico Angelo and annotated by Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez. For more information, see Martinez Academy of Arms or

He is the co-coordinator of the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention in Detroit, MI. This workshop, created in 2000, brings together the finest instructors from around the world for one of the largest annual Western Martial Arts workshops. Jared is also a member of the Association for Historical Fencing.

The cost for the workshop is $100, and will run from 10-3 on Saturday, and 11-4 on Sunday. Required equipment: rapier, mask, gorget, fencing jacket or gambeson, gloves. If there are any questions, feel free to contact me.

Wow, that was a long post. I think I'm done now.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Random pictures from classes/workshops past

This is another shot from yesterday's long sword freeplay. I don't necessarily recommend fencing longsword barefeet.

After teaching rapier class yesterday, Aldo (right) and I wanted to do some longsword freeplay at about half speed. We had some really good exchanges, though my hands have seen better days...
This is from an impromptu class I gave at the UofT campus yesterday afternoon. David (left) is being quite indulgent by having fallen victim to my feint in seconda.

This is another shot from the quarterstaff workshop. It looks like Brian (right) is trying out the first false play of the thrust on Aldo (left).

This is from the quarterstaff workshop I gave at FAC on the 30th of August. I was really happy with how it went; if only we could figure out a safe way to fence with these...

This is one of my favourite pictures from when Devon came back in June. We brought all of our gear down to the Beaches to do some photos and some slow work, and this is just one of those.

This is from the two-day workshop given by head instructor Devon Boorman from Academie Duello on the 20th and 21st of June. Here we're going over the basic guard positions of the sword and dagger.

© Emily Tanaka 2009, All Rights Reserved.

Class times

I currently teach two times a week at FAC (927 Dupont St.), with the strong possibility of a third class to be offered Thursday afternoon/early evening at UofT (St. Mike's College).

Wednesday: 21h00-23h00
Thursday: 16h00-18h00 (tentatively)
Saturday: 11h00-13h00

In addition, every two weeks we host a free fencing session at FAC from 12h00-14h00 on Saturdays, to which everyone is welcome.

Fencing in Toronto: the beginning

I've finally accumulated the requisite amount of chutzpah to get this blog going; the idea of making all of my ideas about fencing available online has been at the back of my mind for quite some time now - about as long as I've been in Toronto, actually, so just over a year - but I've never quite felt the urge to until now. Why now? I guess it's because a new school year has started, I'm getting anxious to test my skills against new people, and I'm preparing for both of my fencing exams for next year, but there's a whole host of reasons, I suppose. Regardless, here I am, so let's start.

I began my journey of historical fencing in Vancouver in 2006 (on Guy Fawke's Day, coincidentally) when I showed up for my first class at Academie Duello. I had been trying to find a martial arts school that suited my personal tastes for quite some time at that point, and having been weened on Dumas and all sorts of swashbuckling films, the rapier appealed to me immediately. I am so lucky to have walked into the studio that Autumn night, or else one of my lifelong passions might have just passed me by: without a question, taking up fencing was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had in my life. Not only is it an incredible physical exercise, but it involves every fibre of one's being; needless to say, there has never been a dull moment, and I know I'll never be done learning.

Starting up fencing has also been a tremendous social boon for me, as I have met a number of really wonderful people through fencing, most of whom I can consider my close friends. Not to mention the love of my life, whom I met during my first month of teaching. : ) Although everyone I met at Duello has played some part in my life, I owe my biggest thanks to Devon, who has been an excellent instructor and friend, and who has entrusted me with a number of projects, notably bringing the curriculum to Toronto, where I'm now teaching rapier.

After finishing my master's degree at UBC in the spring 0f 2008, I decided to continue my studies in Toronto at the UofT, a city that was also the home of AEMMA, a school that had been on my fencing radar for quite some time, possibly even before I found out about Academie Duello. Although I was quite disheartened to leave all of my friends in Vancouver behind (save one!), I was quite thrilled to start anew in Toronto, with a whole new group of people. Although the curriculum here is quite different from the one I was used to in Vancouver, I have learned a tremendous deal from my fellow scholler's and instructors since being here, and have felt myself grow as a martial artist and an instructor. Things are looking good.

So now that I have made the obligatory lengthy introduction, I can get down to the reason why I started this blog in the first place: involving more people in the fencing community, by offering classes, workshops, bimonthly open free-fencing sessions, and seminars from some of the best instructors out there. I love perfecting my knowledge, and I love passing it on to other people, and that is what I plan to do.