A graduate of the French Military Fencing Master’s School of Antibes, first and second grade, he was in charge of fencing and physical education in the French Air Force until 1963. Among his many honors, he was selected four times as a member of the French team. M. Gillet’s career was already distinguished when he arrived in the United States in 1969 to serve as assistant fencing coach at Cornell University under Fencing Master Raul Sudre.
During his time at Cornell, the university took the National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association (NIWFA) Team Championships twice, and in 1974 Peggy Walbridge was NIWFA Individual Champion. The men’s team was the National Collegiate Athletic Association runner-up in 1975. M. Gillet was appointed Head Coach at Cornell in 1976. He held that position until 1988, when he returned to his native France. During his career he was U.S. National Coach at the 1975 World Championships and U.S. Olympic Team Coach (1976). He was a founder of what is now the United States Fencing Association Coaches College and served two terms as president of the United States Fencing Coaches Association. He served as Vice President and Chairman of the Pedagogy Commission of the Academie d’Armes Internationale. He worked with the Federation Internationale Escrime and the International Olympic Committee to develop fencing programs in the Far East and Oceania, and worked to develop national programs in Algeria (National Coach-1963) and Morocco (National Coach-1969). In 1993 he was awarded the Silver Medal for Career Achievement by the French Ministry of Youth and Sport.
Richard Gradkowski (Coach of the Saltus Club) and Jean-Jacques Gillet (Cornell Coach) watching the 1989 Jr. Olympics in Colorado Springs. Photo by Andy Shaw
But perhaps M. Gillet’s greatest contribution to U.S. Fencing was his long involvement between 1973 and 1984 with the American Fencing Academy (AFA), the two-year fencing masters program located on the campus of Cornell University. The program was developed in response to the need for a national academy for the training of fencing masters located in the United States. M. Gillet’s AFA involvement spanned the entire existence of the academy. (Staffed over time as well by M. Sudre, M. Piguet and M. Cook).
The program was designed on the French model of the Institute of Sports and the Military School at Antibes. The two-year full-time graduate program included the study of virtually every aspect involved in the teaching of fencing. Emphasis was also placed on the total business of fencing, especially the running and maintenance of a fencing salle. An average training and study day at the AFA lasted twelve hours. As a result of that program a group of fencing masters trained in the U.S. emerged, working with and developing successful fencers and fencing programs at the local, national and international level. The Fencing Master Graduates of the American Fencing Academy: Lynn Antionelli, Guy Bertrand, Steve Cook, Adam Crown, Gene Gettler, Raymond Finkleman, James Fazekas, Greame Jennings, John Helmich, Anthony “Buckie” Leach, James Murray, Colin Oberg, Robert Scranton, Marc Twomey, and John Wills represent a part of the legacy to the art and sport of fencing inspired by M. Gillet. Today, M. Jean-Jacques Gillet resides in Gerde, France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is understood that he hikes frequently and is still active in the service of the sport of fencing. M. Jean-Jacques Gillet is surely one of the great living masters of fencing. The Swordmaster, 1999