Within the Academy, challenging each other to grow is a normal part of our experience. We do so as comrades seeking to better each other, focusing on our common goals. Competition exists only to serve this aim.
Dueling in the Academy fashion is a practical embodiment of this ethos. Without the need for words, we challenge and test each other, exposing weaknesses as an act of service. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development results.
While there are many variations of Academy duels, suited for different contexts and situations, these elements remain constant. Primarily we engage each other with swords, but the practices of jiu-jitsu, boxing, chess, go, and other activities can also fall under this rubric and serve this overarching purpose.
What follows is a non-exhaustive primer on dueling in the Academy manner. Use at your own discretion and risk.
It is easy to get caught up in the collecting of weaponry and protective gear, and this can result in significant expense. It is advised to begin simply and start the practice with a bare minimum. This prioritizes action over consumption – a critical value of the Academy.
We do not use dueling in a sportive context, but in a pedagogic and therapeutic context. As a result, we opt for less protective equipment in order to exercise courage. We learn through hard knocks how to control our strength and use discretion in our motion. As always, proceed with your own level of caution – you and you alone are liable for your actions. A few elements of protective equipment are typically adequate:
Clear face shields
These face shields protect the eyes, are easy to wear and breathe in, robust and secure, easily stored compactly, and affordable. They do not protect the top of the head, the ears, or the throat, so more cautious individuals may desire to add a hood and/or gorget.
HEMA Face Mask
These full-protection masks guard the entire head as well as the throat. HEMA practitioners dealing with heavy steel weapons will still include a gorget and other protection, but for our purposes this is rarely necessary. They are much more bulky, block face-to-face vision, and significantly more expensive, but worth having available upon request once they are affordable.
When beginning, keeping things simple and affordable is helpful for making a quick start. Incorporating more appealing weaponry soon is helpful for increasing the draw for new participants, as well as providing variety for the veterans. We recommend the following sequence of investments, based not only on incremental cost but also on the complexity of skill required to use each weapon effectively and enjoyably.
We do not recommend longsword combat at this time. The options are either to 1) risk significant injury or 2) use foam weapons which do not meet the goals of challenging courage or our aesthetic ideals. The shinai are the closest variety to the two-handed style of combat we have found which works effectively.
Shinai are made from light bamboo (as opposed to bokken, which are oak generally, and much harder), and are safe for striking with minimal or no protection. Avoid thrusting without torso and face protection. We recommend acquiring three shinai for training group melee. The leather wraps wear out rapidly with use, but can be easily and effectively replaced with white electrician’s tape.
Rattan singlesticks are an excellent upgrade from shinai for single-handed saber-style dueling. The hand guards are helpful to protect knuckles, and the gunpowder smell when the rattan is struck definitely is a plus. Do not thrust with these, as injury can result due to the lack of flexibility, but cuts are fine.
Sport fencing weapons like epee and saber are excellent for our uses and are surprisingly affordable (under $50 at times). Using steel elevates the dueling experience significantly. These are also the safest of any of these weapons, due to the flexibility, allowing both cuts and thrusts without needing anything more than a mask to protect the face. We do recommend getting rubber tips to help make thrusting without protective gear safer.
Synthetic weapons are designed to imitate real weapons in balance and weight while being significantly more affordable and safe. They can be very satisfying to duel with, and there is a large variety of options to select from. For more affordable choices than historical reproduction steel sparring weapons, these are ideal.
Heavier, more risky, but far more satisfying, are replica gymnasium sabers. These pack a strike you will feel for months if you aren’t careful, and are perfectly suitable for duels of the highest honor. Not for daily sparring practice, but are ideal for a duel in service to a Ball or a Table of Council. Also very expensive. When shopping, opt for rolled or at least spatulated tips.
The most extravagent and expensive, but also the most elegant and dramatic option. The rapier is also a challenging weapon to wield well, with a wide variety of theories and philosophies of combat to explore leading to a vast array of styles to choose from. It is, truly, a weapon of a more civilized age, worthy of the ideals of the Academy. Ensure you acquire rapiers with rolled or spatulated tips.