Being a Swordfighter

Feb 3, 2015 | Opinions

Today, I will have been a swordfighter for exactly one year.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve been one forever, and sometimes it feels like only a moment. I can remember feeling very out of place, initially, when I first stepped into the Warrior Fundamentals class in Academie Duello. That lasted until I actually picked up a longsword, and truly began to learn.

I’ve been in Vancouver for four years. Time, opportunity, and, cheesy as it sounds, a New Year’s resolution finally got me in the salle; I needed the exercise, above all else, but I also needed knowledge. I write fantasy adventure, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t look out of place next to Lord of the Rings, and there’s only so far you can go with fight scenes before you really need some actual experience of fighting.

I’m not sure what I expected. What I found, though, is that there is a difference between learning how to swing a long piece of steel, and actually being a swordfighter.

We learned the school salute – Arte, Ardore, Onore – before making a single strike. Arte: the art, the skill of the sword. Ardore: the passion, the love of the sword. Onore: the honour, the respect for the sword. Then on to the basics; how to hold it, how to stand, the first simple guards. The phrase “Pretend you’re a haughty Italian noble from the 16th century” was used more than once.

We learned how to use the sword, as described in the old instruction manuals from the Middle Ages. But we also learned why – why turn the true edge out like so, why parry on the forte of the blade, why this crossing is good and this one is bad. Every class in Academie Duello involves the theory and the history as well as the practice, on the assumption that merely knowing the practice is not enough. Sometimes the best part of a class is doing nothing but listening while the instructor talks about some aspect of swordplay from Capo Ferro.

Personally, I learned that longswords may not feel heavy at first, but they will after you’ve had to use them for an hour. The soreness fades, however, long before you step onto the training floor again. You take it as fair payment for just being there, and being a part of the class, a part of the community.

The Duello community is small, vibrant, joyful, and sometimes very silly. We chatter over Facebook about this new video, or that particular technique, or look-at-my-new-sword-isn’t-it-pretty, or would-lightsabers-work-no-really. In the salle, we talk about the class, and what we’re doing next, and… anything, really. Sometimes lightsabers are involved. But we’re all there for the same reasons, and we all hold the same swords, and every pass is another opportunity to become better than we were yesterday. We compete against no one but ourselves, and share the joy of the Art. All of us, together.

There came a point, and I’m not sure when, that I stood on the training floor, took up a guard, and realized that I knew. Not everything, but enough to stand like so, and hold the sword like so, because of a hundred small things that I had learned that suddenly clicked together with the knowledge of how and why delivered from centuries before. For a moment, I could look back and see a line of fencers hundreds of years long, who lived and learned and died by the sword, all so that I could be here.

Knowing that, feeling that – it changes you. Picking up the sword and walking into the salle changes you. You stand a little taller, hold your head up a little higher, knowing that you carry one of the oldest human legacies in your hands.

In one more year, I doubt I’ll even have gotten as far as Blue Cord. I am mostly okay with that. The progression is slow, and demanding. But… I am a swordfighter. I will be a swordfighter no matter my level. And every day, in so many ways, I carry the power of the Art in the back of my mind, even if I don’t actually have a sword in my hand.