EN GUARDE!: Swordfighting 101


ME AND MY RAPIER: How I Learned to Swing A Blade at the Women-At-Arms Festival

By Kessa De Santis

For eleven days in October, The Lady Cavaliers returned to New York City to host the second annual Women-At-Arms Festival. The 2003 Festival included the world premiere of CAMILLA: Vergil’s Warrior Princess (translated and adapted by Peter Hilton from Vergil’s AENEID), four short plays, three stage combat workshops and two lectures.

The Lady Cavaliers are an impressive theater company featuring "women who fight." Having seen them perform, I already knew that they are skilled, professional, and theatrically powerful. Having experienced them as a viewer, I had to wonder what it was like on the other side. I wanted to know how these women learn to fight.

So, when the opportunity arose as this year’s Women-At-Arms festival, I decided to take a two-hour workshop called "Introduction to Swordfighting." Helmed by Carrie Brewer, co-Artistic Director of The Lady Cavaliers, I was amazed to find that in that brief time I, too, felt that spark. The choreographed footwork, the careful stances, arm motions, the clanking of metal against metal – I experienced it all; and though I would have to admit that I really was not very good at it at all, I felt invigorated by the experience.

What I did learn was, of course, very basic. Single rapier in cautious hand, I was taught to get into fight stance, also known as En Guarde, to advance and retreat (move forward and backward), to cut and parry, to croise (make my sword sound a very theatrical swoosh), and to safely elude my partner’s encroaching stomach slash. Put together, and you will have to use your imaginations here, the final product of my training was a short stint, with a partner, that looked and sounded something like this (I am retreating as my partner advances on me, so there is constant motion):

"Clank" – swords meet above our heads

"Clank" – swords meet pointing to the floor

"Clank" – above

"Clank" – below

"Clank" – above

"Clank" – I block a hit to my right arm

"Clank" – I swing around to block a hit to my left arm

"Clank" – I drop my blade to protect my thigh

"Swoosh" – Caught in a croise, my blade swishes behind me

"Whoosh" – I jump back to avoid the attempted stomach slash

In my own clunky way, I actually accomplished a small feat in the realm of stage combat. If I could do it, and enjoy it as much as I did, then anyone with an itch to learn this very special art form should try it. That means you especially, ladies! When you can learn from professionals who make the training athletic, energetic, educational and fun too, well, why not? I have newfound understanding of the skill and intricacy involved in even the simplest choreographed combat scene. I know how undervalued a good fight director can be. I have discovered an entirely new way of appreciating the many unnoted contributions of the "women who fight." Having held a sword in my tiny hand, I begin to understand why just about every man I know seemed to get an almost erotic thrill at the suggestion that I learn to fight with it, and an even clearer idea why those who know me a little bit better all but cringed with palpable fear. There’s sexy grrrl power in them there blades!


New perspective in tow, let me bring you back to the beginning, and a time when I merely enjoyed the clanking of swords from afar. As I mentioned, I have seen The Lady Cavaliers in active performance, most notably in the October 2000 run of GLORIA by Peter Hilton. Following that, I had the opportunity to interview title-character Carrie Brewer for Electronic Link Journey as part of our New and Noteworthy features. That interview can be viewed in its entirety at www.electroniclink.com/carribe.htm.

Do you want to learn more? Of course you do! Check out www.ladycavaliers.com and The Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) at http://www.safd.org/.