A Portrait Series by Mark Feenstra / @mfeenstra

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If you want to see in an equal balance
the blonde Phoebus and red Mars,
procure to look upon the great Carranza,
in whom the one and the other are not separate.
In him you will see, friends, plume and lance
with such discretion, skill and art,
that fencing, in divided parts,
he has reduced to science and art.

~ Miguel de Cervantes

There is a common image of the modern day sword fighter as a white-bibbed fencer, but delve beyond that and you will discover a growing culture of practitioners of what is known collectively as Western Martial Arts. They train with rapiers, longswords, axes, knives, batons, and even walking sticks; but what binds them together is the desire to learn and improve, both as fighters and as human beings.

"At its surface old swordplay is the study of lethal violence. As you delve deeper it becomes a journey of holistic personal development. The original Spanish master [Carranza] said that Destreza was a method for improving the young men of Spain for the good of the kingdom. If you train a student, you transmute the potential for violent destruction into knowledge, personal growth, and creation. That is the great paradox of the sword; it is an extension of the person. Ultimately, learning to know the sword is learning to know yourself." - Puck Curtis

The title of this series is derived from the Italian word for sword fighter, giocatore, translating directly as 'player'. The practice of sword fighting is often referred to as swordplay, but the strata of practioners ranges from lifelong masters to quite literal weekend warriors.

Puck Curtis

Rapier ✠ Sacramento Sword School ✠ Sacramento, CA

Our community could not thrive without dedicated people doing extraordinary things. Like spring sunshine, each year provides the community fresh research and talent which fosters new growth. We strive with and against each other to build a new fellowship of swordplay all the while knowing that we may not reach our goals in our lifetime.

The black jacket is the symbol of a fencing master. I studied for years to earn the right to stand before a board of classical Italian fencing masters in the traditional examination. As one link in the chain, I now bear the responsibility to ensure that the tradition continues through my students.

Each time we travel to teach, we accept the risk that we may not return. There is a conflict between my desire to be completely present in my own family with my pregnant wife and twin sons contrasted by the desire to teach my art. If the sword represents the will of the wielder this is a moment of self-reflection as I think on why I am separated from the people I love. I reconcile the conflict with the hope that teaching swordplay can improve the world if we do it mindfully.

Scott Wilson

Longsword, Sabre, & Stick
Southern Academy for Swordsmanship and WMA ✠ Laurel, MS

I have played, practiced and fought with swords since I was a child. Since reading the legends of Aurthur, tales of the Hobbit and everything else I could about swords and swordsmanship, I have learned to make them, how to fight with them and now how to teach others to use them. The Art of Arms is the gentleman's trade.

Note: Sabre is not shown, but was handmade by Scott.

Kris Sayer

Poleaxe & Longsword ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Richmond, BC

I’m a shy, awkward, fairly introverted individual and have been welcomed with the greatest kindness and respect from all the WMA practitioners I have met. This is a skilled set of extraordinary people who want to share their knowledge and passion with others; a brother/sisterhood that genuinely cares about each other and wants to help their comrades excel in their field. I love history, and have always been captivated by the Middle Ages. When I was younger, I took up fencing because that was the closest thing to longsword available to me. Recently I started working on a combat-heavy historical graphic novel and, as part of my research, I began learning pole-arms and I fell completely in love with western martial arts.

There are so many reasons why I continue to be drawn to swordplay. It’s a perfect blend of honour, romance and courage, enriched with the utter joy experienced upon delivering or even taking a blow! Not only do I engage and better my body and soul, I learn something new every time I pick up a sword. And there is something delightful to be said of people whose idea of a fun night out is to try and stab one another in the face, then can go and laugh as friends once the masks are off.

David McCormick

Walking Stick & Small-Sword ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I believe nobody approaches historical martial arts or fencing who wants to harm others. The motives may be different: cultural, sportive, self-discipline, fitness, fantasy... but the spirit of the community is obvious: sharing expertise for the betterment of all.

Everyone understands the use of force in a combat situation: more energy, more damage. The brute knows this. The martial artist develops skill by repetition of technique along intelligent principles. The application of geometry to human confrontation and how forces interact is tangible in sword fighting, and leads to mastery of the body and the use of muscular force in every situation.

Gregory D. Mele

Longsword & Spear ✠ Chicago Swordplay Guild ✠ Wheaton, IL

There is a romance to the sword that is unique in martial arts. Deadly and requiring a great deal of discipline to master, it is also a tie to our past, and to a world dimly remembered, but which shaped our own.

Filippo Vadi of Pisa wrote in 1482: "Sometimes you will find yourself to be a dwindling flame; worry not you will soon be back." There is such a truth to that in the study of these arts: in working to revive them, we learn so much about ourselves.

Jessica Finley

Messer & Wrestling ✠ Old Dominion Fechtschule ✠ Herdon, VA

I fell into Medieval German Fighting Arts almost by accident and found in it my life's work: mental study, physical discipline, and spiritual growth.

The martial arts attract some of the most interesting people in the world. Martial artists are frequently ego-driven, often creative, and absolutely the most giving and honest people I have ever met. I am proud to be called a martial artist and to be a part of the western martial arts community.

Note: Uniform designed and produced by Jessica Finley.

Chris Treichel

Rapier & Small-sword ✠ Order of Seven Hearts ✠ Arlington, VA

Why Swordfighting? To train the mind and body. 1. To conduct methodical, scholarly research of the historical fencing and dueling texts of the medieval through early-modern period, 2. To perform the theory and practice of what we learn as a martial art while remaining as faithful as possible to the letter of the text, and 3. To share our research with the growing Historical Western Martial Arts community through online resources, published books and translations, and seminars.

Roland Cooper

'Anything I can get my hands on' ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

Swordfighting is fast, precise, and can be brutally unforgiving. But with the right people it's amazingly fun. "The entire secret of arms consists of only two things: to give, and not to receive." - Moliere 1671

Note: Arming coat by Revival Clothing.

Jennifer Landels (Maestra di Scuderia)

On foot: Rapier; from horseback: Longsword
Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I love the art of the rapier for its grace. What is beautiful in the postures and movements is also functional and deadly, like the long narrow blade and elegant swept guard of the weapon itself. A rapier fighter requires elegance of mind as well. Years of disciplined training instill the immediate recognition of proportion, angle, line, and tactics needed to succeed in the high speed chess match of a sword fight. The sword is a great leveller. I may not have the height or upper body strength of many men, but I can use form and tactics to succeed in a swordfight. And from horseback, those physical differences are moot.

I painted the blue horse on my gorget before I even dreamed Academie Duello would have a Mounted Combat program. Once I started up the Cavaliere Program it became a self-fulfilling motif.

Neal Stephenson

Longsword ✠ Lonin ✠ Seattle, WA

We evolved to be active creatures. Society has made us sedentary. We invent reasons to exercise. Whatever inspires you to get up and move is a good thing. For me it's swordfighting. I don't do a lot of introspection as to why.

My armour is a hodgepodge of perf steel, chain mail, and synthetic mesh, all designed to breathe. Overheating is my nemesis. The gauntlets are by Jiri Krondak with custom modifications.

Eric Myers

Sabre & Montante ✠ Sacramento Sword School ✠ Sacramento, CA

Good fencing is about turning science (knowledge) into art (practice) in ever changing situations — it's not enough to know it, you need to be able to do it too. This is FUN.

Fencers tend to be smart people who are constantly striving to do better. Since many of them have this same approach to life in general, not just fencing, they tend to be great people to spend time with.

Greg Yoshida

Long Sword & Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

Swordfighting is a whole lot of fun, and it's challenging to the mind and body. I've liked swords and knives since I was young, and this has been a really cool way to develop that interest. It's also pretty cool to be involved in reviving the European martial arts that were dormant for centuries.

The community at Duello is fantastic. It's a really diverse and interesting group of people. Many of the students and instructors that have visited are likewise fascinating and passionate about the arts that we practice. There is a real sense of camaraderie when you've faced off against another person, tested each others "metal", and helped each other become better practitioners.

I built all my leather Longsword gear, some was based on provided designs, the torso is my own design. The centre of the chest is a stylized wolf head, which I've come to realize is pretty close to the cub scout logo.

Sean Hayes (Maestro d’Armi)

Longsword, Dueling Sabre, & Dueling Sword
Northwest Fencing Academy ✠ Eugene, OR

I’ve had a lifelong interest in European swords, and first followed it through contemporary fencing. Over time I pursued the roots of our arts, to the point of becoming a practitioner and teacher of them.

Researching and re-establishing the martial practice of our ancestors is a labour of love made joyful by the shared efforts of so many skilled and dedicated people. It’s a privilege to be able to stand with these men and women and practice our arts in an atmosphere of friendship and celebration.

Gavin Joth

Longsword & Katana ✠ Victoria, BC

I enjoy the tactics, like an active chess game, and the rush of free sparring. It also gives me a link to my heritage. Being a swordfighter is very cultural and social, I am proud to be in this small group, a 'Brotherhood of Steel', with lots of sisters too of course!

I'm very happy with the armour, made by Dark Horse Leather in Vancouver.

Clinton Fernandes

Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Burnaby, BC

I love swords and pursuing swordplay has enriched my life. We're a community of people who enjoy ourselves most when our friends are trying to hit us!

Eric Artzt

Longsword ✠ Lonin ✠ Seattle, WA

Sword fighting is an excellent gentlemanly martial art with which to round out my years.

Kevin I. Heide

Two handed Bastard Sword & Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I've never seen the benefits of a gym, it seems quite boring for working out. At the Academie we are working out very dynamically, and the experience stays pretty fresh. Getting older means a few thing start happening to the body and a good tune up of activity is what's required to keep it going strong. I've always had an interest in swordfighting; I remember seeing Errol Flynn in Robin Hood and seeing the swordfighting seemed surreal and beautiful at the same time. Other movies where the sword play a predominate role seem to grab me. What other hobby allows you to stay fit and release stress at one go, specially with a great bunch of guys?

The armor is still a work in progress but it's fun to make. Unfortunately I don't get to wear it enough, but it's a source of pride for me.

Walker Lunsford

Longsword & Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Burnaby, BC

I've been doing martial arts continuously for about 15 years, the last five spent with a sword in hand. The factors that really drew me to this discipline in the first place were the literary source material and the training with steel swords. It also doesn’t hurt that I've always thought swords, and armour, and castles, and metalworking, etc., are pretty awesome.

Part of my vigour and enthusiasm for this martial art comes from the fact that there is a rational, tolerant and humanist philosophy which is present strongly within Academie Duello and, I would dare say, within the Western Martial Arts community itself. This welcoming philosophy and lack of a disciplinarian hierarchy encourages honest, happy friendships among some of the most varied, interesting and generous people I've had the pleasure to know. Doubtlessly I am a fuller person because of my interactions within this community.

In case all that gushy stuff might skew your perspective, yes, we do our level best to hit each other with swords on a daily basis.

Chris Richardson

Rapier, Rapier & Dagger; also Longsword, especially in the Mounted Combat program
Academie Duello ✠ Richmond, BC

Why Swordfighting? Hello? SWORD fighting! It pretty much speaks for itself. Seriously, it’s a great workout, an historical skill, a “lost art” rediscovered. I tell people I play in a band and they think that’s pretty interesting, but they get much more interested when I tell them I do this swordfighting thing.

The Academie Duello community is diverse and welcoming. Through Duello, I’ve met many great people engaged in the Western Martial Arts disciplines from around the world.

Matt Mazur

Rapier & Longsword ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I had always been greatly interested in swords from both a medieval & fantasy perspective, and I have a nice collection of realistic sword replicas. One day I passed Academie Duello on the street, and suddenly the idea of learning how to actually use those swords sparked my imagination. Almost five years later, I think joining Academie Duello was one of the most excellent decisions I've made. It keeps me fit, the people are awesome, it has taught me a deeper understanding of history, and it's the most epic athletic hobby I could imagine pursuing.

I built my own leather armour at a series of armouring workshops at Academie Duello, over about a year & and half period. The leather is hardened in beeswax to make it very tough. I also make chain mail which I've used to accent the leather under the arms and around the waist. I also purchased custom-made steel gauntlets and neck protection... since getting whacked on the thumb with a longsword is not fun. The armour is reasonably comfortable, not too heavy, and protects me quite well — except for those times when I get bruises. Sparring in full armour can be exhausting (and pretty hot in the summer), and it certainly helps keep me fit.

Aurelia Sedlmair

Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

Sword fighting, particularly with the rapier, has long fascinated me but until I walked into Duello, I never thought I'd be able to actually learn how to use one myself. Now I cannot imagine not learning and challenging myself physically as well as mentally with the most wonderful group of passionate individuals who study, practice, and teach the art. I love that the ideas of honour, valor and integrity are not just spoken of but practiced.

Messer Marco Quarta

Sticks, Unarmed Free Hands, Daggers ✠ Nova Scrimia ✠ Palo Alto, CA

I always loved and practiced martial arts since I was a kid. But I also always loved the rich history and traditions of my country: Italy. From Etruscans and Romans to Medievals age, Renaissance time and later centuries. The day I started practicing Olympic fencing I knew I could find a common denominators between my vocations. Indeed, I joined Nova Scrimia, a brotherhood in arms where others like me in Italy joined bringing together different traditions of italian martial arts and the study and research of historical fencing and combat, with the goal of full contact fighting (assault). Swords, sticks, daggers and unarmed fighting revealed to me a language I always spoke, embeded in my own cultural fabric and tradition. Martial arts finally spoke my own language.

Western Martial Arts are part of the core of our tradition, philosophy, mythology and culture. Keeping it alive and sharing it with others is a great task. Luckily there are many, between us, who dedicate their passion and intelligence and skills in protecting and rediscovering treasures that should not be lost or forgotten.

Devon Boorman

Rapier, Sword and Buckler, Longsword ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I've had a romance with swordplay and swordplay stories since I was a small child. Now it is a passion that positively challenges me physically, mentally, and emotionally and inspires me to be a greater person.

I have been consistently surprised and inspired by the authentic and passionate people that are drawn to Western Martial Arts. You will be hard pressed to meet a more welcoming, open, and intelligent group of people anywhere.

Erik Etienne Hayden

Rapier & Dagger, and Schiavona ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

It probably started when I was a child and my dad read us Lord of the Rings translated into French, kept up by more sword wielding stories about me and my siblings invented by my father. Making swords out of sticks in the forest and playing with them probably didn’t help either. And later on there was lots of fantasy novel reading… well, that’s what got me biased towards swords anyways.

I really enjoy western martial arts because it has many facets: it is fun, both physically and mentally challenging, historical, academic, and it builds confidence; it can be one or all of these things. The sword also has that mystique of defence and justice, and if you know how to handle one decently, you know you can defend your life, or someone else’s, if needed … against other swords and medieval weapons anyways.

Going to the Academie allows me to forget about other things as I concentrate on gaining knowledge and experience through class or sparring, and trying to get better using what I’ve learned.

Tom Leoni

Italian Rapier with and without companion weapons; Polearms
Order of Seven Hearts ✠ Alexandria, VA

I love historical swordfighting as an ancient artifact that we are helping bring back to life. When looking at European museum weapons as a child, I wondered how they were used, and since nobody was there to tell me how, I began researching the subject from Renaissance treatises. Two decades later, I find myself teaching these arts all over the world and sharing my passion with countless new friends.

Ancient European martial arts are every bit as effective and "scientific" as their Asian counterparts. Except that, as Westerners, we have allowed this tradition to die — save perhaps a couple arts that still have a tenuous link to their historical tradition. Few outside of the Western martial arts community, for instance, know that our understanding of fencing time comes right from the pages of Aristotle's Physics. As a community, we are dedicated to rekindle an interest in these arts, and to develop curricula and standards that more and more people can enjoy.

Matheus Olmedo

Sword with Secondaries ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

Swords are just... fascinating. As little kids we've all picked up a broken stick and pretended it was a sword; you probably felt awesome doing it. For some of us the desire to feel that way doesn't seem to go away. And then you get Academie Duello materializing in your life, and there's an outlet for that creative desire to exercise swordplay. So you start learning, and every step takes you further into the wonderful depths of historical swordsmanship, and each step feels precisely as awesome as you felt when you were a kid. But this time, the swords are real and what you no longer need to pretend to know what you're doing.

Sword play is only really possible when you have other people to share the practice with you. Do it by yourself, and you only get half of the experience - but find a partner... and it suddenly makes sense. Find a swordplay community and it all suddenly explodes with knowledge, challenge, friendship and learning. Duello is that, and more, for many of us; it's a family, a place to geek out with swords and relax, a challenge to our minds and bodies. Its a place to let the kid with the stick grow into the dreams of sword fighting.

Dan Degagne

Rapier ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

Its kinda funny. We read a lot of about swords in books and see a lot of Swordfighting in the movies, yet it's been near impossible to find someplace where you could actual learn the art. So when I saw Academie Duello there was no way I was gonna pass up the chance to learn something a lot of people can only watch.

Mark Mikita

'Whatever is on hand' ✠ Mikita School of Martial Art ✠ Los Angeles, CA

The sword is the classic weapon of a warrior. Quoting Aldo Nadi: "A man is how he behaves, sword in hand."

Kimberleigh Smithbower Roseblade

Spadone, Longsword, Poleaxe ✠ Academie Duello ✠ Vancouver, BC

I feel very much in my element when I have a two-handed weapon in my hand. I get a great sense of joy training, teaching and having bouts with my friends. There is a sense of community — of family in the study and practice of Western Martial Arts. Not to mention, it's a great workout for the mind and body, and beats going to the gym by a long shot!

Mike Panian

Longsword ✠ Penticton, BC

I have been practicing martial arts including swordsmanship since 1974. I spent years studying Asian martial arts and at some point I decided that I wanted to study the martial arts of my own cultural roots. Martial arts has always been a path to self discovery for me and I find Western martial arts to to be rich with opportunities to grow. It's interesting to discover first hand how it was actually done long ago. Fighting in armor with metal swords is also pretty exciting and energizing.

Note: Mike teaches self defense, karate and sword fighting in the southern interior of BC with a focus on seminars and workshops under the organization name Mind, Body, Spirit.


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Special Thanks

To Roland Cooper, Devon Boorman, Academie Duello for hosting me, all the fighters and instructors of the 2013 Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium for welcoming me and posing for these images, and those VISS volunteers who patiently answered my questions and helped with logistics.

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