"The substance of fencing is its precepts of defending oneself well with the sword. Its form, order, and the truth of its rules are always and evermore true and infallible." - Ridolfo Capoferro, 1610
Elegant, swift and lethally effective, the Italian system of rapier swordplay was developed and documented during the 16th and 17th centuries. Combining realistic physical training with intellectual principles from geometry and Aristotle's Metaphysics, the Renaissance nobles and soldiers of Italy sought to develop an art of sword fighting which favored skill over brute strength by emphasizing concepts such as leverage, angles and timing.
Students of rapier fencing at the Ravenswood Academy are taught proper body alignment and mechanics from day one before they even pick up a sword. Once the correct state of posture and movements has been achieved, sword-on-sword drills are then practiced, with techniques lifted straight from 17th century rapier manuals and taught to the students. Building on these skills and techniques eventually culminates in free fencing exercises and more importantly, a method of 17th century rapier fencing inherently ingrained in the student.
A 17th century plate depicting a proper rapier lunge.
A Ravenswood student thrusts home.
A typical practice rapier for student use from the Ravenswood Academy armory.
"Flourishes are certain movements with the cards... In general they are used to show elegance..." - Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue, 1949
Someone who can flourish with playing cards possesses the ability to bring life to a seemingly mundane object. Cards are twirled, fanned, stacked and riffled to create an endless display of artistic formations and sequences. While originally a subset of card magic during the 1800's, card flourishing has became an art in its own right over the past few decades, continuing to grow and evolve.
Students at the Ravenswood Academy are given the opportunity to learn card flourishing from the very basics all the way to advanced, intricate movements. While there are plenty of free resources online that students are encouraged to pursue, the Ravenswood Academy offers aspiring card flourishers a chance to work as a group in-person to exchange, learn and collaborate.
"Music is a science that would have us laugh, sing and dance." - Guillaume de Mauchaut, 14th century
Music classes offered at the Ravenswood Academy vary. While piano is currently emphasized, studying with a qualified instructor in voice, composition, or even music theory and history are all options depending on student ability and circumstances.
Students can expect to be guided through how to read written music as well as how to use their ears to instinctively improvise. A student may arrive at the Ravenswood Academy knowing nothing about piano, but with enough hard work, achieve the experience of playing a Chopin Nocturne or a Bach Prelude.
"Here I display my inquiry, so that human achievements may not be forgotten in time..." - Herodotus, 5th century B.C.
Extraordinary Battles. Mysterious Ideas. Astounding Individuals. With material like this the Ravenswood Academy thinks it a mortal sin to teach history in a boring fashion. Instead of lifeless lectures, maps and charts are rolled out, choices of individuals throughout history are weighed, and hot drinks are passed around.
The period or topics covered vary depending on what is currently being offered, but classes range from the general (e.g. "History of Ancient Greece", "History of the Renaissaince") to the more specific ("Battles of the Ancient World", "Impressionistic Music", "Herbal Medicine in the 16th Century").
The intensity of each class will also vary. Casual one day seminars for the mildly curious student will be offered to merely introduce a historic topic, while semester long classes covering primary sources and research methods will be far more involved.
A 17th century page on incendiary weapons from the Ravenswood Archive.
Chinese Martial Arts
"When fighting with swords, you will not blink. This is called the Stability of the Eyes. You will not be surprised with sudden changes of situations... This is called Stability of the Mind." - Huang Hanxun, 20th century
Forged in turbulent times, the martial arts of China evolved to include a wide array of techniques and weapons. Practiced and passed on by members of all classes, from Imperial body guards and scholars to monks and common soldiers, these combat arts were intended to protect the body while at the same time challenging the mind and offering benefits such as increased flexibility and strength.
Students of Chinese martial arts at the Ravenswood Academy are trained from the beginning in principles such as efficient movement and generating force, while also learning specific techniques including strikes, kicking, joint locks and throws. Sets of movements passed down from previous generations are memorized, drilled, and then their practical applications to combative scenarios are applied. Not merely a collection of random movements, each technique should seamlessly flow from one to another. Eventually, students will move beyond empty hand applications and will train weapons of the style that include staff and differing types of sword.
"Write as well as you can..." - Johannes Trithemius, 1492
An artistic tradition spanning millennia, calligraphy has been employed to exquisitely decorate everything from religious texts and legal documents to the more personal pages of party invitations and correspondence between friends.
Students at the Ravenswood Academy can expect one part tradition, one part experimentation in their calligraphy classes. On the one hand, after learning the basic strokes, they will be given historical alphabets from different time periods and cultures to meticulously copy under guiding supervision; on the other hand, they will also be given creative assignments in which they can employ their own ideas, ultimately resulting in a pen that is informed by tradition yet exploratory in the modern sense, crafting a style that is truly their own.
"We repeat, however, that health... should be the chief object of physical training." - Eugene Sandow, 1894
In many ages and societies past, physical education was held to be as beneficial as it was essential. At the Ravenswood Academy, fitness classes are offered in order to benefit the students' lives as well as prolong them. While various students will have differing interests, all of them are encouraged to keep physically fit and active. To some this will mean yoga and running while others may meet this goal by weight-lifting and rock climbing. In this case the end goal and benefits remain the same, regardless of the methods used for achieving them.
Workouts led at the Academy differ, but generally focus on body weight exercises conducted outdoors. Students are encouraged to lift, push and move their own body, increasing their strength, flexibility and speed. As a variety of fitness levels will no doubt be represented in a group setting, a student need not feel despondent for being below another's fitness level, as long as they are genuinely pushing to improve their own.
"There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them."- Vicki Baum, 20th century
Few arts combine social interaction and physical expression quite like ballroom dancing. Be it the community, physical activity or simply the aesthetics that are relished by those who experience it, it is little wonder that paired dances have persisted across continents for centuries.
Students at Ravenswood are guided through the basic steps at their own pace, gradually building up to a state of confidence in which they can gracefully navigate the ballroom floor (without being stuck continually repeating the same three moves). In addition to practice time during class, dance students will also be given a chance to practice at special events held periodically at the Academy.
"In sword-fencing, the first object must be to avoid being touched at all..." Alfred Hutton, 1889.
Victorian Era saber fencing was truly a unique style of swordplay: it combined the finesse of the French school, the vigor of the English backsword, and techniques from the old Italian tradition. Often its teachers were just as experienced fencing for exhibitions on stage as they were using their skills in actual combat while deployed in the military. Rich in history and technique, the western saber predates Napoleon and was still issued after World War I.
Students of saber fencing at the Ravenswood Academy can expect to learn posture and movement first, followed by a variety of attacks, defenses and strategies, all applied from a cohesive fencing theory. While primarily relying on the work of the late fencing master Alfred Hutton, students may eventually be introduced to techniques of other saber schools that existed at the time as an exercise in contrasting styles.
A student parries in High Octave.
A Victorian Contest at Arms - Saber versus Bayonet.