How This Swordmaster is Reviving the Lost Art of Knighthood

Devon Boorman is the instructor and director of Academie Duello, the world’s largest centre for the practice of European swordplay and martial arts. For over 10 years, he and his instructors have been working to revive the lost arts of the knight and nobles, including mastery of both hand-to-hand and mounted combat, as well as archery and wrestling. He teaches students of all ages and demographics. These students are drawn to Devon’s classes for a wide variety of reasons: physical fitness, historic interest, the mental challenge, and those inspired by historical drama and fantasy in pop culture like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or World of Warcraft. “There is something neat about connecting with those historical and fantasy elements… Our goal as a school is to excite people about the capacity to do that. To realize something that’s epic and exciting inside of themselves and also put them on this path of really mastering something.”

Devon fell in love with fantasy and the world of swordplay at a young age through books. “I was a very brainy sort of kid. I started reading really, really young. Teachers definitely recognized that I was smart and wanted to encourage that, but I felt like on a physical level, I had a really difficult time. I think I felt awkward as this gangly, very tall kid.” He remembers loving Zorro, The Three Musketeers, Errol Flynn, and The Legend of King Arthur. “As a kid, I was deftly put into the academic box. I wasn’t in the jock box, even though I wanted to be.”

As he grew into a teenager, his interest in swordplay and sports evolved into a desire to try fencing. “At 16, I had a friend come to me and said, ‘Hey, I found a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism that’s doing fencing with rapiers.’ I was like, ‘What? Really?’ I guess I told enough of my friends that I’d love to do fencing, if I could find fencing somewhere. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go do it.’ We went to this underground parking lot and took some classes. I just remember having my first sparring experience, which at that time was very early. I remember getting hit a whole bunch and being like, I’m not good at this, but it doesn’t matter, but I’m really enjoying it…I just couldn’t get enough of it.”

He was hooked and sunk his teeth into learning and practicing. “It was everything I wanted to be. It was exciting. It stimulated my mind and my imagination. Being tall was a helpful physical attribute. This humble beginning led me to travel throughout the world to study, compete, and eventually teach.”

He has won more than 40 European martial arts competitions, and worked on both stage and screen as a stunts person and choreographer.

In 2004, he founded Academie Duello, a centre devoted to teaching and reviving Western Martial Arts and the chivalric ideals that surround it. Since that time, Academie Duello has grown to be one of the top schools of its kind in the world with over 200 active students. Students don protective gear during practice, such as neck protectors called gorgets, fencing masks, padded jackets and athletic protectors. They often begin lessons by raising their swords for a salute in Italian: “Arte, ardore, onore,” which means art, passion, honour.

“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve always wanted to do and I just didn’t know it existed.’ Now, here it is. That was really affirming may be to sort of feel like, “Oh, I’m not just the one weirdo who likes this or amongst a small group. There’s lots of people who are excited in the same way I am and are looking for doing this in the same way that I’m doing it.”

“What I’m wanting to create here is to open up swordplay and martial arts to even more people. I feel a responsibility to keep it going. To keep making this something that people can do. That they can be inspired by, like I was.”

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