Meet Academie Duello
//Mike Bastien

The sword has played a large role in the history of humankind. Not just a weapon of early warfare, the sword also has a romanticized element, from Arthurian legends to the Three Musketeers. As firearms started to replace the blade in the field of warfare, the sword was adopted by nobles to settle disputes and defend one's honour in duels. Even today, it is still exciting to see sword fights in modern entertainment, such as in movies or theatre.

If you are interested in learning how to wield a sword with a modern twist, then you might want to check out Academie Duello, Located at 412 West Hastings St. Academie Duello is a studio dedicated to Western martial arts. Inside the building there is a store, a museum, and a training area. The store offers a variety of arms, armour, equipment, and books to satisfy one's needs and interests. The historical museum has a collection of swords that range from 1500 BC – 1940 AD, several different polearms, and a suit of plate armour, amongst others.


“As a martial art, and I have practiced several, it captured me because of how powerful, intricate, and graceful it is,” explains Devon Boorman, Maestro d’Armi of Academi Duello. “I feel like it is an art that I can be a student of for years to come, and that it will continue to teach me new lessons. I love the competitive side of it, pitting your skills and wits against another opponent. The discipline and focus required to build and hone your skills. There is also a meditative type of connection you get when working with a weapon as an extension of your body.”

With the equipment available at the studio, students can safely practice about 90 per cent of the martial art at full speed. By practising this way, students get a sense of authenticity and find out if they are doing it right.

The students who go to Academie Duello are a diverse group. The age ranges from eight to 60 and come from many different backgrounds, such as chefs, educators, and construction workers. “I'd say most people that come into the school are looking for a unique way to get fit, connect with their bodies, and challenge themselves to learn something new and exciting,” Boorman explains.

Members also love the connection with rich European history. The studio teaches members to follow the knightly virtues, such as honour and chivalry. The goal is to practise this martial art with a rich tradition now, in the present. However, the studio isn’t focused on re-enactment; all members wear modern, comfortable clothing.


“Personally, I started in theatre,” explains David McCormick, who is an instructor at Academie Duello as well as combat teacher for several theatre companies and high schools. “When I was at the University of Waterloo, I took a stage combat class and I really loved it.”

The stage combat workshop teaches actors and stunt people how to safely and convincingly create the illusion of combat for theatre and movies. The course covers sword, quarter staff, and unarmed combat to create convincingly violent punches, slaps, and chokes. The course also incorporates dramatics so actors will be able to show emotion, recite lines, and move around the stage with purpose, all the while focusing on the fight choreography.

At the end of the course, participants will be able to receive a Fight Directors Canada (FDC) certificate. The FDC, according to their website, sets “the national standard for stage combat recognized by the Canadian Actors Equity Association and known worldwide for safe performance of thrilling violence in theatre and film.”

For the swashbuckling portion, rapiers are the arm of choice. They are very ornamental, which makes them look like arms that a noble would wield, and are made of steel to create an authentic metallic sound to excite the audience. Members of the class learn how to properly hold a rapier, as well as to strike and block with the true edge. Some theatre companies are able to use the same swords for decades because the actors are trained how to properly use a sword and maintain it. After all, if a sword were to break mid-combat it could be disastrous.

Techniques covered in classes include footwork, aiming for safe areas on the body, arm extensions, and breaking fights into 1-2-3 steps such as prompt-evade-slash. Using this universal fighting system, actors can use a variety of weapons, such as claymores or scythes, to match the world the production is set in.

David McCormick states, “I think that everyone should have safe and effective fights in their plays and films. In terms of stage combat, I have no preference in weapons, because it should be appropriate to the particular project. I like the opportunity to be creative with the choreography so that means a lot of the time I’m using nontraditional ways.”


Children tend to love the idea of knights, dragons, and princesses. Academie Duello offers both summer camps and on-going classes for youth. Academie Duello offers a variety of courses, including beginner courses, specific periodbased classes such as “Taste of the Renaissance,” warrior fundamentals, and more. Equestrian people could also be attracted to the mounted combat program.

Academie Duello is, additionally, one of the few places that teaches Baritsu, the Victorian martial art used by Sherlock Holmes that combines boxing, jujitsu, savate, and cane fighting. “I also teach baritsu here at the school, which is my favourite martial art; it is an effective, yet gentlemanly form of self-defence.” explains Mc- Cormick. “Many of the people who come in here are looking for fitness and a martial art that is closer to home, rather than taking on one of the Eastern martial arts such as karate. Others are interested in the competitiveness and really getting a sense of mastery over something. Rather than playing soccer, they find this a more interesting sport.”


All martial arts, regardless of country of origin, fit into a tradition. Despite how efficient or perfect anyone might think their own martial art is, it exists within a historical context and culture, so no single one can said to be “better” than the other; rather, it is a case of feeling a connection to that culture and a feeling of accomplishment for your own body.

Academie Duello is interested in both the competitive effectiveness for those who want to compete, as well as maintaining the historical martial way of doing it. The studio runs its own competitions and contests, and there are a few international get-togethers that incorporate competitions. Academie Duello also hosted Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium (VISS) last year which had a large competitive component, and was complemented by workshops and guest speakers.

If you are curious and want to try Academie Duello out, the best way to start is with one of the free lessons offered. If you enjoy it, a beginner’s course is eight classes long, taken twice a week over one month or once per week over 2 months. Classes run nearly every day of the week and cost $99 to start. You can also start with an Introductory Workshop for $60, or Mounted Combat Intro Workshop for $149. After that, the programs range in price from about $100 to $200 per month depending on how actively you choose to train.

Academie Duello also offer discounts to students and members. The Academie has their own swords and equipment to borrow, but if you want your own mask, gorget, and gloves, prices can range from $260-$295. If you are curious to learn more, you can drop by the Academie Duello, or visit their website at Academie Duello offers a fun and exciting chance for anyone who loves history, action movies, or fantasy to experience the thrill of armed combat. It is accessible to casual and competitive duellists, actors, and anyone looking for a good workout.

// Mike Bastien, Writer
// Illustration by JJ Brewis

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: