Vancouver’s Academie Duello is allowing people to live out their historical combat fantasies
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Although swords are an extremely outdated weapon by any modern benchmark, they still hold a special place in many people’s hearts. Whether it’s because of the Zoro cartoons you watched as a child, or the sound that Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber made the first time he activated it on the Millennium Falcon, a sword is one of, if not the most captivating weapons of all time.
I can still remember the first time I saw the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask, in which the three musketeers fight to save Phillipe from his twin brother King Louis XIV, both played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and how fascinated and enchanted I was with their swordplay.
Although I used many sticks and other long skinny objects along with my imagination, pretending to be one of the musketeers as a child, it wasn’t until I walked through the doors of Vancouver’s Academie Duello that I truly got to live out my dream of being a sword fighter. Located at 412 West Hasting’s street, Academie Duello offers a wide variety of classes on traditional western martial arts. “I’ve been involved in western martial arts of some kind for about 25 years,” said Devon Boorman, the school’s director and Maestro d’Armi.
Boorman, like many, became fascinated with swordplay as a child. Unfortunately, there weren’t many schools like Academie Duello in the past, so Boorman had no real options to pursue his interest, until one of his friends told him about a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) – a medieval and Renaissance enactment group. “They were doing fencing with rapiers and things like that,” Boorman said. “So, I went out with him to an underground parking lot of a building where one woman who was a part of it lived.” From that evening on, Boorman never looked back.
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Academie Duello has now been in operation for 14 years, and has seen incredible growth. The school started by teaching just rapier – the sword style used in Renaissance Italy and also by the three musketeers – and wrestling. Since then, they’ve added a wide variety of courses including a variety of traditional western weapons including differing sword styles and pole-weapons, to mounted combat, archery and even Bartitsu. “It was probably the west’s first marital art,” Boorman said of the combat style. Bartitsu is a combination of Jujitsu, scientific boxing, the French kick boxing art of Savate and cane fighting, and is the form of martial art the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle enabled the famous Sherlock Holmes with.
When I visited the school, I took an introductory class that covered the rapier, side sword and the long sword. While the rapier is probably the most intriguing due to the intricacy and beauty involved in its movements, each sword brought a new and exciting challenge. And no matter how challenging the task was, my instructor, Ben Davis, was up to the challenge. Not only was he able to guide me through the different movements and techniques, he showed a genuine interest and passion in the history and art of the practice.
Even if you’re not sold simply because you get to learn how to use swords, the classes are also excellent workouts. “From a modern fitness perspective, people are looking for ways to do something that’s interesting,” Boorman explained. The school has even gone to the extent of creating a fitness class called Swordfit, which combines modern workout techniques with the historical weapon practices.
Academie Duello then, is less of a business and more of a passion project. “The goal isn’t to make a bunch of money from it, the goal is to have something that people value,” Boorman explained. “So, we thought, ‘okay, we’ll charge a fee that’s sort of equivalent to what other martial arts programs are and we’ll teach a structured program’,” He added.
Additionally, the school’s classes teach far more than just the mastery of a weapon. Boorman believes that the commitment and dedication required to master any of the styles of combat offered by the school, translates into other aspects of one’s life. “Pursing mastery is really about doing something that is really challenging and learning the rewards of it, and going through the plateaus and hard times and getting good at something, and then learning the skills that help you stick with something,” he said.
The school is open from Monday to Saturday and offers a variety of courses daily. Whether you find yourself fantasizing of being a musketeer, or looking for a new and exciting way to workout, Academie Duello is worth a visit. “We try to make it super easy to come out and try it out. So, come and do a trial class, and get a sword in your hand,” Boorman said.