Sunday, April 3, 2011

War and Peace

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; Let the brow o’erwhelm
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide;
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit
To his full height!
                   -William Shakespeare (1564-1616),
                     "King Henry V", Act 3 scene 1
Sometimes a student or prospective student expresses a desire to “just fence" with me.
I decline the pleasure.
I never “fence” with my students.
No good can come of it.
Here’s why.
When I take you on as a student, I’m making a commitment to do the very best for you that I’m capable of doing – in order to bring out the best that you’re capable of doing. 
The better I know you, the better I’m able to do my job.
I’ll know what moves you, what motivates you.
I’ll know what you love.
I’ll know what you fear.
I have to know, so I can help you find a way to deal with it.
You’ll reveal – whether you intend to or not -- everything about yourself, your every strength, your every flaw.
And I will reveal to you aspects of myself that I do not reveal to anyone else.
It’s an intimate relationship.
It requires trust.
I would not recommend you reveal your secret soul to just anyone, and you shouldn’t reveal it to me, either -- not unless you can completely trust me never to use it against you. Over time, I’ll earn your trust, I’ll prove to you that I always have your best interest uppermost at all times – even at times when it doesn’t seem like it to you.
(Like Mick says, I may not always give you what you want, but I’ll stop at nothing to give you what you need.)
It takes long time to build trust, and only one thoughtless second to completely destroy it.
I don’t take on many students because, if I do a good job, it’s both physically and emotionally exhausting.
During the course of training a student, I may sometimes give a “combat lesson.”  This may have the appearance of “fencing,” but it isn’t.  In a combat lesson, I feed my student various tactical opportunities, without prior warning, and their job is to recognize and respond appropriately. I increase the pressure both physically and psychologically. As always, when they act correctly, I reward them by allow them to touch.

The relationship I have with a student is the diametrical opposite of the relationship I have with an “opponent,” and the two are mutually exclusive.
I don’t fight for “recreation” or “fun.”
For me, it isn’t “play,’ unless you consider a cat’s antics with a doomed mouse to be “play.”
And when I fight; I do not posture.
When I fight, I fight.
Fighting requires a different mindset than teaching.
Teaching is about giving.
Fighting is about taking.
Teaching, I’m there for you.
Fighting, I’m there for me.
Teaching, my purpose is to build you up in every way: mentally, physically, emotionally, even spiritually.
Fighting, my purpose is to utterly and completely destroy you.
The more I know about you, the easier it is for me to do that.
And if you’re my student, I know you very well.
Can you see what a conflict of interests this would create for me?
If I were to fence with a student, I would undo everything I’ve tried to accomplish for that student.
If I tried to drive with my foot on the brake to avoid destroying the student, then I’m not really fighting, am I? 
And if I’m not really fighting, why pretend?
Better to be honest about it and stick with giving a “combat lesson.”
If my opponent should defeat me, I don't want his/her victory to be blemished by any doubts about whether I had fought my best fight.
As the Bard noted, a war requires an altogether different state of being than does peace.
I think it’s a good idea to know which one is which and conduct yourself accordingly.


  1. Maitre,

    I understand what you are saying here, but personally disagree. I have benefited in so many ways by this contrast of give and take in fencing relationships. Then again, I see myself more as a facilitator/instructor and certainly not a master. In my role - rather than yours - that intimate moment of exhaustion is precisely what my training partners expect.

    I have fenced against many fencing masters - there are but a few I have not yet had the pleasure to engage. This post of yours, and the fact that I agree with your concept of combat in general, is such a tease! It makes the idea of fighting you even more enticing.

    What do you think it would take to establish a professional fencing league? Is this an idea that you still entertain?

    With Respect - DA

  2. Hello and thanks for your comment!

    Perhaps I can clarify.

    First, I should say that my views are my own and I'm speaking for myself. My background is significantly different from that of the typical fencer or typical fencing master. I have never viewed fencing as a sport or a "recreation," in the common sense of that word, but as a method of fighting. I came to this as a fighter, not as an "athlete." When I say "fighting" I don't mean "mock fighting." I refer to the Real McCoy.

    You mention that "that intimate moment of exhaustion is precisely what my training partners expect." That's fine.
    I might say the same, if I had "training partners."
    I don't.
    I have students.
    I train them, I don't train WITH them.
    They don't pay me to train; they pay me to train THEM.

    As for those fencing masters you've crossed blades with, I must pose the obvious question (not knowing who you;re referring to), "What makes you think they weren't giving you a "combat lesson?" :)
    Perhaps YOU were fencing, but the Master was teaching. I've seen this happen. More than once.
    But even if the gentleman was crossing blades with you as an "equal," so to speak, that's something that's up to that individual's judgment.
    For me, it would be completely inappropriate; it would do nothing beneficial for you, and nothing beneficial for me.

    I think it's good to distinguish between a "professional fencer" (if there were such a thing) and a "professional TEACHER of fencing, which is quite different. DOING a thing and TEACHING how to do a thing are two completely different skill sets -- which is why the best performers so often make the worst teachers.

    Imagine an excellent boxing trainer like Angelo Dundee. He trained at least 15 world champions including Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
    Dundee didn't get in the ring to "box" with any of those guys. Not his job. That's what sparring partners are for. Dundee's job wasn't to box, it was to TRAIN boxers.
    Likewise, I don't "fence" with my students. Not my job. That's what the other fencers are for. My job isn't to "fence," it's to TRAIN fencers. And along the way, perhaps a few fighters, too.
    But that's not for everybody.

    Thanks again for your comment!


  3. Maitre,

    I understand loud and clear. I think the logical next question is, do you ever enter into that combat situation at all or with anybody? I know you have fenced publicly with Maestro Sullins in the past.

    Also, to my previous question, do you think there is any merit in testing the field for a professional league of some sort?



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