Monday, July 13, 2020
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Swordplay leaps from page to practice

For a group of literary swashbucklers, the sword is just as mighty as the pen. A group of Vancouver authors…

By Jessica Roberts-Farina and Codi Hauka , in Feature story Life , on April 1, 2015 Tags: , ,

For a group of literary swashbucklers, the sword is just as mighty as the pen. A group of Vancouver authors have leaped into the practice of swordplay to help shape adventures on the page.

Authors speak at the Pen and Sword event leading up to the Vancouver International Sword Symposium.
Authors spoke at the Pen and Sword event

Among the authors is Kris Sayer, a graphic novelist and Viking enthusiast. While writing and drawing fight scenes for her graphic novel Tatterhood, she found herself wanting to wield the weapon of her character.

Like method actors, Sayer wanted to immerse herself in swordplay to produce a more authentic character.

Sayer felt that it was important for her to know the feel of her main character’s weapon of choice. So she had a giant wooden spoon made for her.

“I wanted to treat it as a serious weapon so I had to learn how to fight with it,” Sayer said at an event held on March 23 leading up to the Vancouver International Sword Symposium.

The symposium brought together people of all backgrounds for three days at the end of March to practice and learn the art of swordplay.

A sense of self

People in Vancouver interested in the duelling end up at Academie Duello, the only school in the city for modern swordplay. Some come to wield a bow like Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. Others come to improve their fitness.

The school is a place where these people can come together to pursue these diverse goals weapon in hand.

Devon Boorman, co-founder of the school, says that studying and teaching swordplay has provided him with a rhythm that helped him get through rough spots in his life.

“No matter how bad I felt, I was going to get out there and practice.”

Boorman sees swordplay as a metaphor for dealing with life’s struggles. Setting long-term goals to achieve a certain level of weapon mastery, for example, has helped him work through mental obstacles.

[pullquote align=right]Swordfighting has given me physical control of my body[/pullquote]Students spoke to similar feelings of how swordplay led to unexpected benefits. Laura Kostur, a government project planner, had her first blush with Academie Duello through a friend’s birthday party. By the end of the night, she was asking where to sign up.

Before Kostur got into swordplay, she didn’t consider herself athletic. But that perception changed once she picked up a sword.

“Swordfighting has given me physical control of my body. It’s taught me a lot about myself I didn’t know before. It made me realize I love my body.”

Shawn Bullock, an assistant professor of science education at SFU, moved to Vancouver with a background in martial arts and was looking to find a new home for that practice. While waiting for his bartitsu lesson to start at Academie Duello, he caught the tail end of a swordplay class and was impressed by the emphasis on technical accuracy.

“I thought, no way I’m not doing that!”

Bullock was surprised to find that swordplay has helped him build a stronger connection between his body and mind. You wouldn’t expect hacking and slashing away at people with a sword to bring a sense of inner focus, he explained.

“It has helped me understand how I physically interact with the world and has given me a far greater sense of personal awareness.”

Rediscovering history

Jon Mills, member of the Academie Duello team, attributes the surge of interest in Western Martial Arts to the current prevalence of historical swordplay in popular culture.

Authors Kris Sayer and JM Landels taking a class at Academie Duello.
Authors Kris Sayer and JM Landels taking a class at Academie Duello.

When people think of martial arts, they will often imagine Kung Fu and Karate. But certain popular television shows are bringing a world of martial arts that exists outside of Asia to a wider audience.

“We get a lot of people in because of Game of Thrones,” said Mills.

And Academie Duello’s archery program has seen a boost due to the Hunger Games movies. But there’s a longer-term trend at work.

Mills explained that Asian martial arts have been practiced continuously over many centuries, whereas interest in European martial arts lay dormant for a long time.

Another factor contributing to the revival of swordplay is the ease with which the public can rediscover and immerse themselves in lost cultural practices, explained Mills. Social media has allowed online communities to form around enthusiasts of once isolated interests and hobbies.

“For people interested history, it goes beyond just reading about it. You get to take those books and re-create them for yourself,” said Mills.