Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Sweet Science




We recently added a class on “Boxing Basics” to the menu at Salle du Lion.
Pugilism, as you may know, is fencing’s close cousin.
Early bare-knuckles champion and the “father of modern boxing” James Figg was a fencing master by trade.
 All the same familiar foundational elements – balance, line, focus and distance – are there, as are all the same elements of attack, defense, counterattack, tactics and strategy. In addition, there is one aspect of boxing that is normally absent in fencing: pain. 
Now, make no mistake, in this beginner class I don’t throw people in the ring and let them wail away on each other haphazardly – the way so many fencing “teachers” do with their “students.” It will be a long, long time before my students do anything other than drills: shadow boxing patterns; slow, perfect repetitions with each other; taking a turn with me on the mitts. Even in such drills, they will wear proper protective equipment.
While boxing and fencing share so much, there are a couple significant difference between boxers and fencers, today’s fencers, anyway.
One difference is courage.
Every time a boxer steps into the ring, he/she risks injury – serious injury. It is an inherent risk. In fencing, serious injuries occur only “accidentally,” that is, because one or both fencers is poorly trained and/or just plain stupid.
Another difference is respect.
Because pain and injury are a boxer’s constant companions, boxers respect what they do. They are cautious. They try not to get hit. Getting hit hurts.  They respect the opponent, too, understanding what the opponent’s punches are capable of doing. (And knowing, too, that the opponent possesses the same courage as themselves.)
A third and resulting difference is courtesy.
In past times, fencers set the standard for gallantry, for “sportsmanship.” No longer. In the recent Olympics, I was embarrassed by the fencers’ rude, overblown displays of screaming narcissism, that have now become the reigning fashion --- a pity that the fencers had not even sufficient decency to be embarrassed for themselves. (Any student of mine who behaved so discourteously, I would ban from the salle permanently.)
Contrast this with the conduct of the boxers, typically and hug and/or a handshake, and a congratulations from the vanquished to the victor.  I find it interesting that the boxers, whose actual fighting includes a high risk of pain and injury, conduct themselves with dignity and graciousness, while fencers, who engage in “play” fighting completely divorced from any verisimilitude and in which they face little risk of pain or injury, act like complete horse’s asses (with my apologies to horses everywhere).

Shakespeare wrote: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother...”
Boxers still seem to believe it true.


While one fencer makes a childish show of disappointment, begrudging his opponent's victory, the other engages in an equally infantile celebration, rubbing is adversary’s nose in the defeat. Absent are empathy, respect, dignity, grace and composure.

No, the lady on the right isn’t going into labor. She’s just displaying her belief that she’s the center of the universe. Note well that, not only is she rude enough to engage in this kind of trashy conduct, she’s also stupid enough to do it with her mask off, still in distance of her opponent’s weapon, inviting an “accident.

1 comment:

  1. It is disgusting to see what my beloved sport has become (at least as far as the main stream goes). I had the misfortune to see some of the olympics fencing on TV. I kept asking myself, where is the sportsmanship.

    My friends and co-workers who know that I fence kept asking me, "Is that what you do"?

    "No", I told them. "What I do is nothing like that".


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