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.
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.