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Ancient art's devotees get to the point
Posted on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 7:48 am
by IDMA Editor

Devon Boorman is a true maestro when it comes to the cut and thrust.

In a duel, the quick flash of his rapier would end with a victorious Boorman pointing his sword down at his opponent's breast. He is undoubtedly the best swordsman in the city, and woe to those who malign his character.

Devon Boorman, director and maestro d'armi at Academie Duello in Vancouver, demonstrates some swordplay movement - photo credit Jenelle Schneider, PNG, Vancouver Sun

Swordsman? Duel? Is this the 13th century?

Not exactly, but for a few days this weekend, Vancouver will host tournaments in which men and women from around the globe take up their swords, enter that ancient world and test their mettle against each other in winner-take-all contests and student-learn-all workshops.

Swordplay -or Western martial arts -almost disappeared as Westerners moved on to gun play. But a small band of history and fantasy buffs is resurrecting the form, with Maestro d'Armi Boorman leading the charge, at least in Vancouver.

Boorman's downtown swordplay academy, Academie Duello, has organized an international swordplay symposium open to anyone interested in learning or learning about Western martial arts. Would-be pirates, musketeers and nobles take heed.

Besides the tournaments, esteemed experts will devote 12 intensive hours to the styles of maestros from the 14th and 15th centuries. Students can dig deep into the sparring techniques of Achille Marozzo, an Italian fencing master from Bologna who wrote an influential swordplay manual in 1536. (Boorman has an original volume under glass in the school's museum.) They can study under Christian Tobler, an expert in the tradition of Johannes Leichtenauer, a German master in the early 1400s. Or they can work with Guy Windsor, an expert in the techniques of Fiore dei Liberti, an Italian knight and master whose detailed martial manual greatly influenced the warriors of the day.

There will also be workshops about the swordplay traditions of various European nations, poleaxe techniques, and applying historical techniques to modern day defence. A lecture series will discuss the romanticism of swordplay, stage combat choreography and Shakespearean swordplay, among other topics.

Boorman has had a passion for these ancient arts his whole life. He used to dream of being Zorro (Douglas Fairbanks, not Antonio Banderas) and he has trained in the arts for 17 years. He has a supple wrist and is the champion of 40 tournaments using a rapier, long sword or side sword. He says women can compete equally with men, because while swordplay is energetic, it requires finesse over brute strength to prevail.

He gets a little miffed when people wax on about the sophistication of Eastern martial arts.

"This is very sophisticated," he says of the Western tradition. "The martial heritage of Europe is definitely as rich as all the Eastern countries."

It's just that it didn't survive the advent of guns, most likely because it didn't have the spiritual aspects of the Eastern forms.

"Europe was more pragmatic," he says. "So as soon as guns came along they said, 'Screw this sword thing.'"

But swordplay is excellent for physical and mental dexterity. The rapier teaches the fine dance of evasion and attack while the long sword instils confidence even among the meek.

Photo credit

"It challenges your audaciousness," says Boorman. "You have to step in, get close and expose yourself by having that haughty bearing. It builds confidence."

It is also rich in history. Academie Duello has a museum section with reproduction swords from the bronze age to the iron age on through to the more modern steel tempered swords. He has Minoan swords, Viking swords, Roman and English. He has a great sword, an Iberian falcatta and rapiers from Queen Elizabeth's reign. (She decreed that no sword be longer than 40 inches. Those that were had their tips lopped off at the border.)

Photo credit

Iron swords replaced bronze versions, but not because it was a superior product, says Boorman. Iron swords were softer and less durable, but because iron was readily available, they were cheaper to make. Later, craftsmen learned to temper the iron to make the harder steel. The Romans were the first to have the technological capacity to craft enough swords for their armies. So for the first time, swords entered the battlefields where spears had dominated before.

Boorman loves the history and he lives and breathes the martial art, but for a weekend, everyone can get in on the action.

Photo credit Federico Borella

The weekend symposium costs $299 to attend. A lecture pass costs $40 for one day, $60 for both. The Saturday night gala with dancing and duelling to the music of Lache Cercel and the Roma Swing Ensemble, costs $40.

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