How Virtues Changed Sword Camp into Knight Camp

Academie Duello’s Spring and Summer Camp, Knight Camp (for kids), is coming up in March so I wanted to share a video of a talk I gave in 2014 about how the camp changed from it’s early beginning as Sword Camp, more than a decade ago, to a camp focused not only on swords but on knightly virtues. This talk was at a book launch for the young adult book Verity by Marian Keen. The story takes place in the Middle Ages and contained some strong anti-bullying themes.

Knight Camp started as a martial arts camp focused on the teaching and practice of European swordplay to kids. Like all good martial arts camps, within it we concentrated not only on martial arts but also on the discipline, self-respect, and mutual respect that are important to their practice. Yet as the camp matured over the coming years, we realized an opportunity to do something more with Knight Camp by connecting it with the ideals of chivalry and knightly virtues.

In 2006, we began explicitly teaching knightly virtues like Charity, Humility, Integrity, and Nobility (you can read more about the 10 knightly virtues). We told thematically appropriate stories from history as well, and began asking the students to share examples of times they had seen the virtues at work in the present. We then challenged students to demonstrate the knightly virtues and to celebrate their practice by others at the camp on a daily basis. At the end of each camp day, students would award accolades to one another for their practice of knightly virtues and then a chain was awarded — the “chain of virtue” — to the most virtuous student of the day.

The effect of this practice on both our Knight Camp students and instructors was profound. Kids still learn swordplay, participate in battles, and put on armour, but the practice of knightly virtues has become something very central and special. Through knightly virtues, kids who were afraid of sparring and avoided it now challenge themselves to be courageous! Kids who competed with one another to be the biggest disruption in class now compete in acts of charity to see who can be the best helper. Furthermore, kids who were the best fighters now strive to help others to be their best. In my talk I tell the story of a young man from Knight Camp, who I call William, who came into Knight Camp a sullen and disconnected 13 year old, who connected with the virtue of Charity in a positive and uplifting way.

The power of the knightly virtues is that they are something we can aspire toward regardless of outside barriers and circumstances. When you challenge yourself to practice Courage for instance, perhaps by stepping into an activity you’re afraid of, it’s irrelevant whether you succeed or fail at the activity — simply stepping up meets the challenge. Similarly, if your goal is Integrity, then you have all the tools for success or failure in your own hands. It means you can face an external challenge and count yourself a winner regardless of the outcome, as long as you are true to yourself.

Virtues can allow us to find our own internal compass and values and can build resilience in a world that often feels turbulent. The addition of virtues, as well as the history and inspirational stories that surround them, changed our camp from one that simply taught swordplay to one that helped girls and boys aspire to be knights.