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.