Pet projects

sketch - Dana's puppy smallOne of the rewards offered in Pulp Literature‘s recent Kickstarter campaign was pet sketches.  These were challenging but fun.  The challenge with the pug puppy was how contrasty he is.  He’s a creamy white with very dark markings around his face, and I wanted to capture his expressive eyes without losing them in the surrounding dark fur, and delineate enough of his white body without darkening it with too much detail.

The cat was the opposite problem.  He’s all black, with no markings.  As someone with two black horses I know how hard it is to get good photos of black animals.  His owner sent me several shots which I was able to manipulate in Paintshop to get some good detail.  I chose not to shade him in thoroughly, which would have been overbearing in a pencil sketch.  Instead I tried to capture his imperious and slightly mischievous expression, and left his colouring up to the imagination of the viewer.  Did it work?  You tell me.sketch - Natasha's cat small

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‘The Wolf’ due out soon!

Whew, it’s been a while since I updated this blog!  However that’s nothing compared to the time span between the days when I used to cartoon on a daily basis and sitting down to draw and ink an eight page graphic short for Pulp Literature.

It’s been a long and indirect path to here.  I started drawing comics back in university, as a diversion from studying population genetics or Paradise Lost.  Finding the Cartoon Centre in London UK fuelled my scribbling and gave me some professional guidance under artists Dougie Braithwaite (Punisher) and David Lloyd (V for Vendetta, Aces Weekly).  In a Continue reading

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Mounted Combat at VISS

originally published in Academie Duello’s blog on 19 Feb 2013


As wonderful as all our venues for the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium last weekend were, none of them were quite large — or rustic — enough to host a mounted combat workshop.  Though we were sad not to be able to offer swordplay from horseback to the conference attendees, we did manage to bring a small group of instructors and guests to Red Colt for a mounted combat crash course.

Our participants ranged from experienced jousters and dressage riders to those who only had a few trail-rides under their belts, so we began the session with a quick riding lesson to let the riders get to know their horses and get used to reining with one hand as well as two.


Before picking up swords we worked on control and measure by exchanging the friendliest of blows — high fives on the lists.

In the program the first thing we do once we have swords in hands is sack out our horses. This involves desensitizing by passing the swords all around the horses’ bodies, slowly at first, and working up to cutting motions. Our horses are very blasé about swords, as you can tell from Jack’s expression as Nicole was testing him with the sword.  Nevertheless, a quick sacking out is a good habit to get into, no matter how many times your horse has seen a sword.


Next we began moving around the arena practising simple X’s and ribbon cuts from the high and low lines. For these expert swordsmen and -women, such basic exercises would be child’s play from the ground.  However, controlling a horse with your legs and left hand while controlling a sword with your right requires significant brain and body rewiring from either just riding or just using a sword.  I always like to spend a few minutes doing practice cuts at all paces before beginning mounted drills.

Likewise, the sensation of receiving a blow is quite different on horseback.  On the ground, when you are hit you can step backward, absorbing the impact.  From horseback, you need to relax and yeild your upper body only to avoid being swept from the saddle as your horse carries on forward.  Our swords are nylon trainers, which allow us to deliver blows strong enough to break the opponent’s structure without hurting each other or our horses, and we practised simply receiving blows without parrying at first.

Because our group was small, Devon and I had the luxury of teaching from the saddle which made demonstrating plays easy.  From here we moved on to clearing the sword from low guards on the left and right, and eventually to follow-up attacks as our horses passed each other.

No mounted combat primer would be complete without a bit of grappling, so we worked on a few holds used to unhorse opponents.

As the light began to fade we finished up with our progression of mounted guards, and had some fun spearing rings and cutting blocks at walk trot and canter.

I was thoroughly impressed by all four participants. Nicole and Scott completely met my expectations as experienced riders.  Jessica and Sean progressed amazingly fast with good seats and control by the end of the day, thanks, no doubt, to superb body awareness from their years as martial artists.

None of this would have gone as smoothly as it did without the help of our volunteer ground crew who came out early to set up, ferried people to and from Vancouver, groomed, tacked up, and assisted our riders as needed.  Huge thanks to our team of squires: Aurelia, Chris, Crystal, Kirsten, Michael & Roland.  You guys are awesome!


To our participants, I hope to see you all again soon!

Jennifer Landels, Maestra di Scuderia
Academie Duello Mounted Combat Program


mounted, left to right: Devon Boorman on Jack, Scott Wilson on Flavie, Sean Hayes on Chicco, Nicole Allen on Winnie, Jessica Finley on Princess.

photos: Chris Richardson

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Over, Across & Around: turning the sword

Swordplay from the Ground: the three turns of the sword



The last of the swordplay skills you’ll need to demonstrate for your Green Spur is an understanding of the three turns of the sword.  These turns have the same names as the turns of the body, which makes them easy to remember. It may be helpful to review the cuts and thrusts of the sword to refamiliarize yourself with their terminology.

Volta Stabile

The stable, or fixed point turn changes the orientation of the sword’s edge from inside to outside, or false to true, without moving the point significantly.  It is easy to think of this in terms of rapier guards.  Changing from guard to guard involves a stable turn: the hand moves, say from palm up to palm down when switching from quarta to seconda, but the point stays on line.  With a longsword the hands may move farther and the wrists may cross when switching from a low to a high or an outside to an inside guard, but if the point stays on line it is a volta stabile.

This turn is used to change the line on which you are defending your body, to change a cut into a thrust, (eg, to change from a fendente to an imbrocatta), or to reach around the opponent’s sword in a punta dritta or punta roversa.

Practise your stable turns by placing your point gently on your partner’s open hand, or on a wall.  Change through your guard positions, from high inside, through the stretta guards to high outside, and back again, keeping the point in one place.

Mezza Volta

In the half turn, the point of the sword travels in semi-circular arc from one line to another.  Although the point makes a half-circle, the blade ends up about a quarter of the way along the cutting circle.  For example if your sword moves from inside to outside on the high line (roverso to mandritto squalembratti) this would be a half turn.  Another half turn is a cut that moves from a high to low guard on the same side of the body.

These turns often occur when the sword is parried but can also be used as feints, or to change the line of attack in response to your opponent’s movement.  However for the Green Spur we are not looking for this level of sophisticated response.  The ability to demonstrate a simple mezza volta of the sword is enough.

Tutta Volta

The full turn takes the point of the sword in a complete circle.  A stramazzone (a wrist cut that makes a full circle) is an example of a tutta volta.  So too is an elbow cut that starts in a low outside guard and delivers a roverso squalembratto to the opponent’s left shoulder.  In order to make that cut you need your sword point to travel in a circle behind you and across to the other side of the body.

Tutte Volte generally travel along the diagonal cutting paths from low to high, inside to outside, and vice versa, and are good preparations for powerful cuts.

Next week: Anatomy of the Sword.

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Eight Horse Melee

Originally published in Academie Duello’s blog, 5 Feb 2013German_tournament_1480

I wish I had a photo to share from last Sunday’s Mounted Combat workshop.  The stars aligned so that all participants in the workshop were strong riders, and we had enough horses for everyone, including instructors.  That meant nearly three awesome hours of trading blows from horseback!  Having eight very different horses and riders on the field for that period of time offered the chance to experiment with timing, lines of attack and defence, and measure.  So I thought I would take a break this week from our tour through the Green Spur Swordplay from the Ground, and share some of my observations.

Position, position, position

I harp on rider position in riding lessons because it is so vital to good riding and good swordplay mechanics.  On Sunday I found that while I was concentrating on the line of my cut, the point of deflection, and clearing the sword to avoid hitting my horse, my position would deteriorate.  I needed to consciously put more weight in my stirrup irons and maintain a light seat.  Not only did my legs and seat bones become quieter, giving fewer false cues to my horse, my cuts became cleaner and more powerful as my waist and shoulders could rotate freely and my arm could extend further.


With two opposing circles of four horses we traded a lot of attacks.  When both horses are walking you have to be fast to get a riposte in after deflecting the opponent’s attack.  It is far easier to get your deflection and counterattack in if one horse is halted and the other is walking.  However, it would be suicidal to simply stand there in battle, even if it did make your initial defence easier.  I found the most effective plan was to halt or slow my horse when receiving an attack, then give her a light squeeze at the moment of deflection.  This added momentum to my attack and got me quickly out of reach of my opponent.  On occasion I even reined back during an opponent’s approach, waiting for the correct measure and timing before releasing forward.



Some horses, like the two thoroughbreds, were road hogs and unwilling to yield the path to oncoming horses.  Others were reluctant to get into a close measure.  This naturally affects the types of plays that are available.  We found we often had to adapt our defences at the last second, turning from false to true edge, or from deflection to block.  It is great to test your adaptability this way, but challenging if you have to think about your best response.  I was grateful for the long hours spent on the ground practising these moves so they came straight from muscle memory without too much thought.

Know your horse

We finished the day with a grand melee of all eight horses on the field.  Most riders developed different tactics according to the abilities and temperaments of their horses.  Some horses were good at leg-yeilding and turns on the forehand to allow their riders to swing behind an opponent.  Those who weren’t relied on speed or quicker parries to protect themselves after an intial tempo.

It was a grand day, and I can hardly wait till the March Mounted Combat workshop!

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Meeting with Swords


 Swordplay from the Ground: Crossing the Sword in Front and Behind

For the Green Spur there are only two ways you need to worry about encountering your opponent’s sword: from in front, and from behind.

Crossing in Front

This is most direct and natural way of preventing your opponent from striking you. As she delivers her cut, you move your sword to block, or parry it.  For an effective parry the forte of your sword (‘strong’ half of the blade from the middle down to your hilt) should encounter the debole of hers (‘weak’ half of the blade, from mid-point to tip).

Crossing Behind

Meeting the sword from behind requires a bit more nerve and timing.  The aim is to redirect your opponent’s sword away from you, altering its path by striking it from behind as it travels through its arc.  Because you are using your opponent’s momentum rather than stopping it, you don’t need the forte of your sword.  Debole-on-debole will keep you safer by allowing you to be farther away from your opponent, and will in fact deflect the sword better.

You will not have to demonstrate these crossings against all eight cuts.  The abilty to meet in front and behind the sword from squalembratti (cuts to the shoulder) and an understanding of the difference is sufficient.

There is a ‘sweet spot’ in the middle of your blade (mezza-spada) which will produce the most rebound during parries and, if you’re using a steel sword, the clearest ring.  While it’s nice to hear and feel, your goal at this level is not to hit the sweet spot every time, but to make sure your parries and deflections are achieved with the appropriate part of the sword.


next week: the three turnings of the sword

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Cutting: Fluid Mechanics


Swordplay from the Ground: Cutting Mechanics & Timing

In previous posts I discussed the eight lines and the three points of origin (shoulder, elbow and wrist) of cuts.  To make your cuts effective, however, you need proper body mechanics and timing of hand and foot.

Timing of Hand and Foot

A cut is most powerful when it lands on its target at the same time as your footstep meets the ground. This is easy enough to do when you are focussing on your timing.  However, you will want to practice the timing of your hand and foot until it becomes a natural part of your swordplay, and you no longer have to think about it.

Common errors include allowing the sword to finish its cut before finishing the step, or conversely, moving the body before the sword.  The first diminishes the power of the cut and may make it miss its target.  The second not only weakens the cut, it puts the swordsman in grave danger, by allowing his body to come to the opponent before his sword.

Always begin by moving your sword first, putting it between you and your opponent: the foot will catch up to land at the same time.


Shoulder and elbow cuts involve not just the shoulder and arm, but the turning power of the hips and torso as well.  As you turn your hips, your shoulders and arm follow, driving the sword forward.  The leg is almost pulled forward into its passing step, and your foot lands as your sword does.



Although we use the term ‘mechanics’, you want your cuts to be anything but mechanical. To make cuts flow smoothly from one to the other takes practice, and a good connection through the torso to the sword arm.

If you find your movements are becoming disordered or choppy, go back to moving without the sword.  Practise swinging your loose arm like a tetherball, using the power of your hips and shoulders, stepping at the very last moment.  When you have regained the fluid connection of your body, pick up your sword again and continue to practice flowing in simple ‘X’ patterns, until you no longer have to think about the individual components of your cut.

This video from Duello TV illustrates sidesword fundamentals and some very simple exercises to start with.

(If the video doesn’t play for you, sign in — membership is free).

For the Green Spur you will need to demonstrate cutting with a sword in two hands as well as in one, but the basic principals remain the same.

next week: crossing the sword in front and behind

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Getting the Point to your Opponent

Marozzo stocatta

A stocatta from Marozzo

The knight’s sword was not just a cutting weapon.  A well-aimed thrust delivered with the impulsion of a moving horse was a deadly combat technique.  It was also an effective attack from the ground.


The player on the left is using an imbrocatta. Note the crossed hands.

There are four basic types of thrust, defined by the orientation of the sword hand.  Those of you who practise rapier fencing will be familiar with these positions as prima, seconda, terza and quarta.

1. Imbrocatta:  delivered with the true edge of the sword (knuckle side) upwards, and the palm facing outward (prima).  This is a descending thrust, with the hand high and the sword point lower.  When using the sword in two hands, the wrists will cross.  If the imbrocatta is difficult to acheive without contorting your body you can adjust your hand on the sword slightly so your thumb comes underneath.

fiore stocatta

An effective use of the stocatta (Fiore)

2. Dritta: delivered at shoulder height with the palm down (seconda), this thrust comes from the right side of the body if you are holding the sword right-handed, hence the name, which means ‘right’.  With two hands on the sword the pommel hand will be underneath the forearm of the sword hand.

3. Stocatta: an ascending thrust, delivered with the true-edge of the sword down (terza).  The hand is low and the sword tip higher.  This thrust can also be delivered slightly to either side (terza-seconda or terza-quarta).

4. Roversa: coming from the opposite (‘reverse’) side of the body, this thrust is delivered palm up (quarta). Like the dritta, this thrust is at shoulder height with the sword parallel to the ground.

Your thrust should be stable and direct.  If the point wavers as it travels it will decrease the speed and power of the thrust, so practise making your sword travel on as straight a line as possible.

Proper timing of hand and foot is important.  Extend your arms fully into position before stepping into the thrust.  Not only does this ensure your safety by first putting your sword between you and your opponent, it creates the maximum power for your strike.

Practise slowly at first, ensuring that your order of movement is smooth and natural and you can easily adjust your hands as you move through various thrusts.  Only speed up once you can put it all together well, and slow down again if you find your form starts to fall apart.

Next week: cutting mechanics

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Shoulder to Wrist: three types of cut


Swordplay from the Ground: Wrist, Elbow & Shoulder Cuts

Not only are there eight lines on which to cut, there are three places from which to cut, wrist, shoulder and elbow.  For the Green Spur you are required to demonstrate all three types with the sword in one hand, and wrist and elbow cuts with the sword in two hands.

1. Wrist Cuts:  The power for these cuts is generated almost entirely from the weight of the sword as it wheels through its arc.  The shoulder and upper arm are fixed.  When cutting to the inside of the body, only the hand and wrist move; on the outside it may be necessary to move your forearm and elbow very slightly.  With the sword in two hands the pommel hand makes a circle around the sword hand.   Wrist cuts should end high, with both the elbow and sword point at mid body or above.

2. Elbow Cuts: The pivot point of the sword arc is now the elbow, and the forearm appears to move like the spoke of a wheel on the steady drive shaft of your upper arm. Don’t make your elbow cuts too small — the sword point may travel behind you, but the elbow should stay in front of your body throughout the cut.

3. Shoulder Cuts:  These are delivered with the sword in one hand (your head gets in the way if your try to deliver a two-handed shoulder cut).  The entire sword arm swings in a single arc, as if the sword point is a ball on the end of a string, with your shoulder as the tether — though with more control.  A shoulder cut should end with the sword point very low (larga guards), above your heard (guardia alta or posta di donna) or behind the body (eg, with the sword under your arm).

You should be able to demonstrate all eight cutting lines with each type of cut, though some will feel more awkward than others.  Work on the proper timing of hand and foot, so that regardless of the type or line of the cut, the blow is delivered as your foot falls.  It’s not necessary to demonstrate fancy cutting patterns.  However, flowing between all three types of cut is excellent practice and will prepare you for more advanced drills.

This video demonstrates all three cuts, and a flow exercise for practising them:

(If you can’t view the video sign up with Duello TV. Membership is free, and this one is free to members:

Next week: the four thrusts of the sword


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New Years Goals revisited

Originally posted in January 2013 on Academie Duello’s blog.  April is a great time to check in on those heady resolutions and see where they’re at …

Good Morning and Happy New Year!

(sorry, was that too loud?)

Since it is far too soon after last night’s indulgences to be practising cutting in a safe and responsible manner, I’ll eschew wrist, shoulder and elbow cuts for another week.  Instead, sit back in a comfy chair with the hangover remedy of your choice and consider your goals for 2013.

If your goals for the year are fame, wealth and everlasting happiness you’re on your own.  But if they involve improving your Riding, Horsemanship, or Mounted Combat skills and perhaps achieving the next rank in the Cavaliere Program here are some tips on getting there.

1. Sign up for the Integrated Training Packages.  For either $120 per month or $675 for six months you get all the classes offered in the Cavaliere program.  This includes one Mounted Combat Workshop and two Cavaliere Classes per month.  On this training schedule, the average amount of time it should take you to achieve each rank is as follows:

Green Spur: 6 months
Blue Spur: 12 – 24 months
Red Spur: 18 – 36 months

This presumes no prior riding or swordfighting experience, and some practice outside of class time.  But how do you get practice time without a horse of your own?

2. Take Riding Lessons.  Additional private or semi-private riding lessons are available at Red Colt and many other excellent riding facilities around the Lower Mainland.  If you want some help finding a riding stable near where you live contact me directly at

3. Lease a Horse.  Leasing one or two days a week is an excellent way to experience the responsibilities and joys of horse ownership without taking the full plunge.  Our school horses are all available for part lease, with special rates for Academie Duello students starting as low as $100 per month, and there are several other horses at the barn for lease by their owners.


4. Book Extra Riding Time.  If a lease is too much of a commitment, those students with a minimum of Riding Level 2 can book individual rides on our horses at $35 per time.

5. Become an Apprentice.  Strapped for cash, but have plenty of time on your hands?  Trade your muscles for riding time by assisting at the barn.  Duties include grooming, mucking, ring & paddock maintenance, and for more experienced apprentices, longeing, warming up and cooling out horses.

6. Attend Open Barn.  Offered once a month, Open Barn is a chance to practise all your Cavaliere skills.  The sessions are free and use of a school horse is only $10 (free to apprentices and leasers).

7. Audit Clinics.  Even if you don’t have a horse to ride, watching other people take lessons or clinics is a valuable learning tool.  I often find I get more from watching clinics than riding in them, as I can observe other horses and riders and listen more closely to the instructor than I would be able to if focussing only on my own horse.

8. Read, read, read. Aside from our core book, The Manual of Horsemanship, there are hundreds of fabulous magazines and books out there.  Subscribing to a magazine is an excellent way of building your knowledge base, and is far less overwhelming than digesting a whole book.  Some of my favourites are:

And all these are just tips on improving the horsey side of your skills.  What about swordplay?


9. Take extra classes.  Warrior Fundamentals, Swordfit, Longsword and Sidesword Focus classes, and Quarterstaff, Polearm or Abrazare (wrestling) workshops will all give you additional practice and new techniques with our core weapons.  Mastery classes also include abrazare and, as you progress through the ranks, increasing focus on side- and longsword.

10. Watch videos. Duello TV has an ever-expanding array of excellent videos.  New videos are posted each week and are generally free to view when they first go up. Don’t be afraid to check out the advanced Red Cord curriculum — that’s where you’ll find a lot of the longsword mechanics that will help your mounted swordplay.

11. Practise, practise, practise.  Swordplay’s a lot easier to practise at home than riding is, so make sure you take advantage spare moments in your day to practise movement, guards and cutting.  If you don’t have a sword, a long stick, a dressage whip, or your imagination will do.  Remember practise is 80% mental, so visualization will go a long way.

12. Attend VISSThe Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium is happening in Vancouver in February.  Don’t miss this fabulous opportunity to learn swordplay from the panoply of well-respected masters coming to our town. There is something for everyone at this amazing conference, and I for one, can hardly wait!

Of course these are all standard means of improving your skills aboard a warhorse.  If you’re more of an iconoclast you could follow Matthew Inman’s advice … but please, not on our horses!

And as a last resort you can always resort to the more Pythonesque methods:

Wishing you all a very happy New Year brimming with success for all your goals!

Jennifer Landels, Maestra di Scuderia
Academie Duello Cavaliere Program

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