Saturday, October 14, 2017


     One of our essential training elements is the “bout,” a contest between two fencers, each of whom attempts to touch the opponent without being touched by the opponent. 
     Bouting is “flashy” and exciting and can be a lot of “fun,” too.  It puts your skills and spirit to the test. In some part of us it represents the obligatory show-down between the hero and the villain, the “moment of truth,” the climax of our favorite swashbuckling novels, films and TV shows.
     It is, in this sense, the pinnacle of our practice, like a musician stepping up to play a solo. 
     Here are the things you must do in order to participate in bouting.
1) You must demonstrate that you will be a courteous opponent.  Your conduct must be impeccable at all time, under all circumstances. You must be composed and gallant, allowing no expressions of emotion to sully the bout, whether positive or negative, neither elation or disappointment.

2) You must demonstrate that you will be a safe opponent.  Injuries are not an inherent part of fencing. They are always a result of fencer error. You must be able to avoid such errors. You must control yourself, executing actions in a safe manner, at the correct distance without excessive force.

3) You must demonstrate that you will be a competent opponent. You must have some hope of being able to defend yourself, so that you will be a worthy opponent for your adversary.  You don’t get to play in the band if you don’t know how to play your instrument!  You MUST master these techniques, at an absolute MINIMUM:
1.     Straight attack, disengage attack executed on a perfect lunge
2.     Parries of 6te, 4te, 7me and 8ve
3.     Direct ripostes and disengage ripostes from each of the 4 parries
4.     Parries of 6te and 4te in the lunge
5.     Direct counter-ripostes and indirect counter-ripostes from 6te and 4te, while in the lunge.

     There’s more, of course.
     MUCH more: compound attacks, counter-attacks, contre-temps, parry combinations, preparations of the attack, prises du fer, yielding parries, the remise, reprise, redoublement…
     But these 5 kinds of actions are enough to enable you to BEGIN bouting. You won’t be terribly interesting. You won’t be dashing or brilliant. But at least you won’t be completely lost, standing there with that deer-in-the-headlights look, hopelessly unable to get out of your own way.

     We typically don’t keep score in bouting, because it inhibits the student. But periodically we do hold a “recital” in which, for more advanced students, we do keep score, and we present awards for the best performance.

     There are significant irreconcilable difference between classical fencing and the sport called “fencing,” of which technique is only the least important.
     The sport is simply about winning a contest. And apparently, it doesn’t matter how you win. You can fence poorly, you can behave obnoxiously. You can score by accident or you can score by cheating. They don’t care. It’s only the final tally that matters. We disdain this approach because we believe that it rewards the worst in people: mediocrity dishonesty, and narcissism. In the sport venue, it doesn’t matter at all what kind of person you are, only whether you “win.” Winning is the “be all” and “end all” of what they do.

     Classical fencing is the exact opposite.
     You must fence properly and you must conduct yourself courteously. If you fail to do either of these things, you will be disqualified.
     You cannot score by accident or by cheating because we enforce the rules strictly, impartially and without exception. But, more than that, the classical fencer has no desire to "win" by fluke or by cheating, would renounce any doubtful touch, refusing any unfair advantage. A victory, to be celebrated, must be unblemished. It's not enough for your performance to be better than you opponent's; it must be the best performance of which you are capable.
     We reward only the best in people: excellence, honesty and gallantry.
     In classical fencing, it doesn’t matter at all whether you win or lose, only what kind of person you are.  In a contest between two people, one of them is going to win and one of them is going to lose, but BOTH of them can display excellence, honesty and gallantry, win OR lose, and we accept nothing less.
     In classical fencing, winning is not the end, itself.
     It’s only the means to an end.
    That end, our goal, is to cultivate in every individual a strong healthy body, an acute and agile mind, a gallant and gracious manner, and a joyful and dauntless spirit.   The classical fencer must be gracious and dignified in defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
     We hope that by populating our planet with more such individuals, we will create a little bit better world.

- aac


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fair Trade Policy

Today, so-called “sport fencers” think that these two hits are of equal value. 
They also believe that if  C’s hit to D’s foot arrives a quarter of a second before D’s hit arrives, then D’s hit doesn’t matter.
What do you suppose C would have to say about that?
Oh, right.
He's dead.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Allow Me to Illustrate the Difference

The True Art, Science and Spirit of the Sword

"Olympic" or "sport fencing"

 "HEMA" or "Historical" Fencing

SCA/Jedi/Fantasy Role-playing "Fencing"

Iceberg, Let Us

The “sport fencer” sees only the superficial: the domination of others. They live in the transient, short-term world of the purely physical, relying on size, strength and speed. There is little need for tactical sophistication, and strategic finesse is an alien concept.  Two fencers may be playing at the same time, but it’s not a duet. There’s no harmony. It’s just two people each trying to play louder and faster than the other.
For the classical swordsman, the martial artist, that is inadequate and unsatisfying. We know there is more – much more – below the surface, and that what is unseen may profoundly influence that which is seen. We want to know where the iceberg came from and how it came to be, and where it’s going.
We want to understand the currents, the effect of the winds, the life in the surrounding sea. We want to know about the clouds, about the rain and the snow and the sun and the moon, and about every relationship between the iceberg and everything else that exists in creation – including ourselves.
And yet, we understand that it’s just a bunch of water.


Thursday, May 26, 2016


Here’s a famous photograph of the notorious “outlaw,” William Bonney, known as “Billy the Kid.”  He carries a rifle in his right hand, and his colt revolver on his left hip, indicating that he was left-handed.   
Pretty much “everybody knows" this.  It’s a cherished part of sacred wild west lore. In 1958, Paul Newman was (mis)cast to portray Bonney in the bio-pic “The Left-Handed Gun.”
The thing is, it ain’t so.
 The image is from a tintype, one of two almost identical images taken of The Kid in 1880. The original of one was lost. The other was discovered in 1986.
A tintype is a reverse image.
William Bonney was NOT left-handed.

Just a reminder that sometimes what "everybody knows" is dead wrong, and a cautionary word to those who religiously strive to emulate bizarre, awkward and unlikely poses found in some centuries-old fencing books.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Dueling for Dummies

Dueling for Dummies

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Your First Rapier Duel

In any given encounter, there are three possibilities:
1.     If your opponent is your superior, he lives, you die.
2.     If you are your opponent’s superior, you live, he dies
3.     If you are both equal, you both die.

Therefore, you have, at best, a 33% chance of survival. As Shakespeare advised, “beware of entrance to a quarrel.” Speak gently. Treat others with respect. And grow a thick skin. Become one who neither gives offense, nor takes offense easily, if at all.
If that should fail:

Plan A

1.     Select as your seconds, from your closest friends, those with the most experience as seconds, or lacking that, the coolest heads. It is best to select gentlemen to whom you owe money, as they will be the more keenly interested in your survival. Do not choose someone whose wife, fiancée, daughter, sister, mother  or other object of affection you have slept with.
2.     Be certain that your seconds understand your preferences.
3.     Arrange for the most distant date possible. Hot blood tends to cool over time. By affording yourself and your adversary an opportunity to contemplate your mortality, you may maximize your inclinations toward reconciliation.
4.     Whatever the insult or offense you gave, apologize.
5.     If you gave no insult or offense, apologize, anyway.
6.     If your opponent insulted or offended you, forgive him.
If all earnest efforts at the above should fail:

Plan B
1.     Bring your own surgeon. Be sure it’s one whom you trust with your life. That’s what you’re doing. Make sure he’s sober.
2.     Do not eat or drink much within 12 hours of the event.
3.     Be sure to completely empty bladder and bowel before you arrive on the ground, or you will likely do so afterward.
4.     Suck on a hard candy or slice of lemon or lime. You mouth will be dry.
5.     A shot of brandy may help steady your nerves.
6.     Make a last attempt at reconciliation. “I’m satisfied if you are, Sir.”
If that should fail:

Plan C
1.     Disregard everything you’ve seen on stage or in the cinema.
2.     Disregard everything you’ve ever seen (or done) in the “sport” of fencing,  historical “re-enacting,” and/or fantasy role-playing.
3.     Powder your hand. It will be sweaty.
4.     Bind your weapon to your hand. Your manual dexterity will be severely compromised.
5.     Take 2-3 deep, full, slow breaths. (Repeat this whenever there is a “break” in the event.)
6.     Take your ground as far from your adversary as possible.
7.     Assume a relatively tall stance, knees slightly bent, so that you can move backwards quickly and with ease.
8.     Keep your arm well extended, not quite fully extended,  and behind the guard as much as possible.
9.     Train your point on your opponent’s centerline at the level of his throat.
10. No matter what your opponent does, smartly extend your arm to its fullest extent, putting your point in line, aiming at his centerline, and step back -- as many steps as needed to regain your distance. Don’t attack. Don’t parry. Don’t feint. Don’t twiddle with your opponent’s blade. Stick your arm out and step back.
11. This disposition will not only discourage your opponent from attacking, it will encourage him to attack, if he does, your forward-most target, the wrist and forearm, where a wound is least likely to be fatal, but sufficient to end the encounter.
12. If you should wound your opponent, even the merest scratch, immediately withdraw, handing your weapon to your seconds (who should by now have come between you,) and declare to the President du Combat that you are satisfied.
13. If you should be wounded, even the merest scratch, withdraw to your surgeon, handing your weapon to your seconds, and declare to the President du Combat, “Thank you, I’ve had enough.” 

There is no guarantee that this plan will succeed. It is, however, better than any other plan, and much better than no plan at all. 
If you should survive:

1.     Have your seconds immediately approach your adversary’s party with several bottles of the best brandy you can afford as a gesture of reconciliation. Any intelligent gentleman, given a choice, would rather imbibe than fight.
2.     Go for a short, casual walk by yourself. This will allow you to vomit discreetly.
3.     You can expect to be extremely thirsty, soon ravenously hungry, and afterward incredibly libidinous.
4.     When you finally succumb to sleep, you can expect to sleep through the next 12-24 hours,  possibly longer. You will have nightmares.
5.     The next day or so, you may experience an adrenaline flash-back: you heart will race, you will perspire, feel off-balance, mouth suddenly dry, stomach queasy. Breathe deeply. It will pass.
6.     Have your closest friend over for coffee and implore him/her give you a good, swift kick in the ass for having been such a fool, and firmly resolve never to do anything that stupid ever again.

 -- aac

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Concrete-and-Jello Tango

Scientia potens est, quoth the sage: "Knowledge is power."
It’s a good thing for me that it is.
If size were power, or strength were power, I’d be long since sunk.
I wasn’t big.
And I wasn’t strong.
I was a fat, wheezy child.
But I wasn’t stupid.

“Martial arts” attracted me because it wasn’t all about brute force. 
Rather it was about the judicious application of science: leverage, geometry, physics. The universal mathematical rules that glue the whole world together were evident in every strike, every lock, every throw.
This is the science that every fighter knows, whether he knows he knows it or not. But knowing that you know it makes it easier to apply what you’ve learned in the salle, and in the dojo to events outside of those confines.

For every action, there is an equal an opposite re-action.
If A strikes B at X mph, the force acting against A will be the same as the force acting against B. It really doesn’t matter if A hits B or B hits A – the forces created will be the same and will go in both directions.

While the forces created are the same, the resistance to that force, i.e., the ability to withstand that force, depends on the nature (hardness or softness) of the body acted upon, relative to the body acting upon it.

I learned about this principle the hard way – by punching someone in the head with my fist.

Imagine a tub of solidified jello.
Imagine a 35 lb block of concrete.
You drop the concrete block onto the jello from a height of 10 feet.
What happens to the jello?
What happens to the concrete?

Now take a tub of solidified concrete.
Drop a 35 pound ball of solidified jello onto the concrete from a height of 10 feet.
What happens to the jello?
What happens to the concrete?

Throw a bottle at a concrete wall, and the bottle shatters, not the wall, because glass is less able to withstand the equal and opposite forces created than the wall is.  (We could call that the Molotov Cocktail Principle.)  But throw a same-size chunk of concrete at a window, and the window shatters, not the chunk of concrete, because glass is less able to withstand those forces than the chunk of concrete is. Throw the same bottle against a featherbed and the result is quite different.

When a cartoon character, like Wile E. Coyote runs through a brick wall leaving behind a perfect cookie-cutter shape of himself, that’s funny only because we know it’s impossible.  We know the wall is actually better able to withstand the equal and opposite forces created than the cartoon character’s body would be. 

When bullets bounce off Superman’s chest, we are impressed because we know it’s impossible. Flesh is less able to resist the equal and opposite forces created than bullets are.

The practical application is simple:  Always direct a relatively harder weapon at a relatively softer target. Never use a softer weapon against a harder target.  You don’t strike your opponent’s forehead with your nose; you strike the opponent’s nose with your forehead. 

You can strike your opponent’s throat with that web between your thumb and forefinger to great effect because his throat is less able to withstand the equal and opposite forces created than your “fishbelly” is. By the same token, you don’t use that strike against your opponent’s shin because his shinbone is better able to withstand the equal and opposite forces created than your hand is.

You can effectively apply a kick to your opponent’s groin, because your foot is better able to withstand the equal and opposite forces created than your opponent’s testicles are.  And you don’t try to block his kick with your scrotum.

Some guy in a bar comes at you with the jagged end of a broken beer bottle, that’s cause for concern. If he’s coming at you with the jagged end of a broken milk carton, not so much.

See how easy this is, once you get the hang of it?
I’ll bet you can come up with a dozen examples of your own without even breaking a sweat.

I love science.
It’s how I know that you don’t block your opponent’s elbow strike with your nose.
 It’s also how I know that aluminum airplanes do NOT fly through buildings made of concrete and steel.

Unless maybe the pilot was Wile E. Coyote.