Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium 2024 in Review

The Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium (VISS) is a premier event in the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community, drawing practitioners and instructors from around the world. This year’s symposium marked the seventh gathering since its inception in 2011, offering a rich blend of instruction, sparring, and discussion at the newly expanded Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay in Vancouver, Canada.

It was a tremendous honour to have such an awesome group of students and instructors at our place for 3 days of instruction, sparring, demonstration, and discussion. The theme of the event was “From Earnest to Honour,” an exploration of European martial arts from combat to sport. Through a series of intensive tracks, instructors worked with students to progress in their art from deadly techniques to modern and historical sporting applications. It was a great way for modern practitioners to engage with both the tradition of their arts and their applications now.

From Rapier to Foil

Maestro Eric Myers and Marli Vlok guided students through the history of Italian fencing arts from the rapier to the techniques of classical foil. Students explored the evolving tactics of these duelling weapons with an emphasis on footwork, blade engagement, and tactical decision making.

Eric and Marli demonstrate a technique with rapiers.

Italian Armoured Fighting

From battlefield to deed of arms, Maestro Sean Hayes led students through armoured combat in the Italian tradition with spear, dagger, and sword. The entire affair ended with a martial challenge where students got to test their newfound skills with one another.

Sean Hayes with Spear in Armour

German Longsword

The German Longsword intensive with expert Meyerist James Reilly progressed from foundational body mechanics to games of winding and feeling at the sword.

James Reilly demonstrating winding at the sword

Messer & Dussack

The venerable Christian Tobler brought students through the tradition of German long knives. Starting with blade and grappling actions with the messer to contests of play with wooden and leather dussack.

Christian Tobler conducting a grapple with the messer

From Street to Mat

Mike Panian explored folk style and free style wrestling as a sport as well as their origins in street fighting and self-defense techniques. Students finished their weekend with a team wrestling tournament.

Mike Panian demonstrating a choke hold
Students wrestling in the team competition

Sharpsplay to Swordplay

I had the pleasure of offering three days of the Bolognese arts with both longsword and sidesword exploring the powerful and beautiful wide-play (gioco largo). This aspect of the art employs large whirling cuts and clever footwork to clear opponent’s weapon and enter all while avoiding binding.

Devon Boorman leading a class in cutting exercises
Students practicing in the Bolognese intensive

Lanterns, Cloaks, Kettlebells, and More

Beyond the intensive courses VISS featured focused sessions on a variety of topics including rapier and cloak, fighting in the dark with lanterns, contemporary weapons arts, cutting with sharps, and lectures on using AI to translate historical texts, and the theory of timing and tempo in diverse traditions.

Cloak and rapier led by Matheus Olmedo
Fighting Fitness with Tricia Dong
Rapier and lantern lead by Marli Vlok
Arik Mendelevitz sharing a point in his workshop on Bolognese sword in two-hands
Christian Tobler leading a group discussion
Claire Wen and Mario Loubert teach techniques from Filipino Martial Arts
A student cuts a tatami mat with a longsword in the cutting class led by Sihong Fu

Gala Night

On Saturday night the VISS Gala featured demonstration bouts from instructors as well as axe throwing and archery tournaments as well as much socializing.

Ben Davis and Sean Hayes fight at spear in armour
James Reilly and Devon Boorman in traditional attire fighting at longsword

Looking forward to Next Year!

The event was a tremendous success and we’re already looking forward to next year. Thank you to all of the instructors, staff, and volunteers who made this event possible and all of the students who travelled from around North America to further the practice of these arts!

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