Maître Jean-Jacques Gillet, Director of the American Fencing Academy, graduated from the French System with a Bachelor’s in Technology and from the 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. During that time, he was runner-up in the French Military Championships in sabre and was four times on the French Team in the three weapons. In 1963, he became National Fencing Coach of Algeria, serving until 1966. He was National Fencing Coach of Morocco and Technical Advisor for Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria until 1969, when he joined the Cornell staff as Assistant Coach. In 1970, he was the official coach of the gold-medal winning American Master’s team and was given Honourable Mention for NIWFA Coach of the Year in 1973. In 1974-75 he was the United States Fencing Coach at the World Championship in Grenoble, France. In 1976 Maître Gillet was named the US Olympic Fencing Coach for the games in Montreal, Canada. In 1977, he was the National Coach for the US Team World Championship held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as the National Coach for the US Team Under-20 Worlds Championship held in Vienna, Austria. In 1978 he was National Coach for the US Under-20 World Championship held in Madrid, Spain. Maître Gillet was the National Technical Advisor of the Olympic Fencing Committee, Technical Director of the National Coaching Staff, and also Chairman of the US Academy of Arms. He was named 1979’s Coach of the Year by the NCAA.
Maitre Jean Jacques Gillet served as president of the United States Fencing Coaches Association for two terms until his retirement from Cornell in 1989. He retired to his homeland of France and continued to serve the USFCA as vice president and chairman of the Pedagogy Commission of the Academie of Arms International (AAI) from 1986-1999.
But perhaps M. Gillet's greatest contribution to US Fencing was his long involvement between 1972 and 1984 with the American Fencing Academy. The AFA was the only school of its kind on the North American continent, located on the campus of Cornell University, in Ithaca NY. The two-year, four-semester course was based upon the curricula of European Fencing Master Schools, yet modified to meet the American Master’s needs. The Academy was founded in 1972 and graduated its first class in 1976. The Academy was recognized by the United States Academy of Arms and the International Academy of Arms. 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. Raoul Sudre, M. Jacques Piguet and M. Steven Cook). In 1977, he published Foil Technique and Terminology which was the primary written reference for training and certification within the USFCA for many years. It was updated in 1994 and still serves as a valuable reference for those preparing for USFCA examinations.
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 US 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 Antonelli, Guy Bertrand, Steve Cook, Adam Crown, Gene Gettler, Raymond Finkleman, James Fazekas, Graeme 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.