Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sine Qua Non

Sine qua non

All human activities have a goal, or organizing principle, or sina qua non related to that activity.  I call it the foundational imperative of the activity.

The goal of equitation is to ride a horse from point a to point b. The sine qua non of equitation, the foundational imperative is: Stay on the horse!  I submit that any approach to equitation that results in your being thrown, trampled or dragged by the stirrup is invalid.

The goal of swimming is to cross the water in the water from point a to point b. The sine qua non of swimming, the foundational imperative is: Don’t drown!  I submit that any approach to swimming that results in you drowning is invalid. 

The goal of a swordfight, or duel, if you prefer, is not to get killed. To survive the fight. The foundational imperative of “fencing” then is: Don’t get stabbed!

Indeed, the word “fencing” comes from Old French meaning to fend off or to ward away a blow. The primary and definitive skill of the fencer is defense. Not offense.

Swimming in a pool resulted from and was intended to address the real world need to NOT drown. Riding around an arena resulted from and was intended to address the real world need NOT to get thrown, or trampled.  Fencing in the salle d’arms resulted from and was intended to address the real world need NOT to get stabbed.

None of these activities were created by the whimsy of idle minds, who fabricated, ex recto, rules, conventions, procedures or recommended practices that were arbitrary or capricious. The rules for the thing were created by people who had experienced the reality of the thing. The real world reality. 
The only reality that counts. 

People who had experienced and understood the real world requirements of swimming, developed swimming, based on and consistent with that reality.  People who had experienced and understood the real world requirements of horse-riding developed equitation based on and consistent with that reality. And people who had experienced and understood the real world requirements of surviving a sword-fight developed fencing, based on and consistent with the reality of the duel. They were people who had fought duels, whose friends an family members had fought duels. They lived at a time when reports of duels appeared in the newspaper like baseball scores.
Indeed, the fencing rules that govern fencing contests specifically state that the goal of fencing is to simulate as closely as possible a “courteous and frank encounter.” What’s a “courteous and frank encounter?” That’s 19th Century-speak for “duel.”

The purpose of a fencing contest is to determine who is more skillful at surviving a duel. It’s not a contest to see who’s stronger or who’s faster because being strong does not, per se, optimize your chances of surviving a duel. Fencing is not a contest to see who’s faster because speed does not, per se, optimize your chances of surviving a duel.  Even strength and speed combined won’t do the trick. The only thing that optimizes your survival in a duel is your sword-handling skill,
Luck, too, I suppose. But you should always remember the first rule of luck: it runs out.
The person best able to survive a duel is the one who never receives a “touch” (a wound). Touching the opponent is a secondary consideration because it isn’t required for your own survival.

In summary, fencing is specifically and explicitly intended to simulate a duel, and fencers are bound to conduct themselves as if  those blades were sharp. If you just got here from Mars and read those rules in a vacuum, they don’t make any sense. The contest rules are not an instruction manual  for people who don’t know how to fence. The rules exist to clarify and codify standard operating procedure for people who already know how to fence. The rules provide standard definitions, a common language, and describe established principles. They serve to ensure a safe contest, a fair contest, and a true contest, that is a contest with the highest degree of verisimilitude.  All fencers and officials agree, by their participation, to follow those rules.
But do they?

WE do.
When you boil it all down, the definitive difference between “classical” fencing and “modern sport fencing,” which is the so-called “fencing” you see in the Olympics, is this:  

In classical fencing, we follow the rules the way they were written and for the purpose for which they were intended.  We don’t cheat. We don’t creatively “interpret.” We’re not interested in gaming the rules, or bending the rules, let alone breaking the rules.  The rules are “sacred” not because they are rules, but because they are logical, rational and realistic, not arbitrary or capricious. The rules specify exactly how you should fight a duel IF you want to maximize your chances of survival.

And that, you might say, is the point.



Friday, October 5, 2018

All That Jazz

I play guitar a little.

For some years, I made a (meager) living as a wondering troubadour, a singer-songwriter on the folky circuit.  Guitar was my comp instrument, because you can’t find many a cappella gigs, and you can’t hitchhike very well carrying a piano. I’ve played some classical stuff on a classical guitar, I’ve played some blues on an electric guitar. I’ve rocked and rolled. Dabbled in flamenco.

I like all kinds of guitar music. Every style has something to offer, some unique thing about it that you really only find in that particular genre of music. They all have something to offer. But no matter what kind of music you play, you still have to keep time and hit the right notes.  Playing it well is key. A terrible classical guitarist isn’t inherently a better musician than an excellent bluegrass picker, just be cause he’s doing classical music.

In recent conversations, some folks have asserted that “modern sport fencing” has something to offer, that, by implication, “classical fencing” does not.  I’d really like to know exactly what they think that is.

Because “classical fencing” is simply correct fencing, fencing in strict accordance with the rules, which are based on the realities of the duel. “Modern sport fencing,” aka “olympic fencing,” is -- to put it bluntly -- incorrect fencing, a kind of pseudo-fencing in which they violate the rules and “fence” in a manner that is completely contrary to surviving a duel. 
In classical fencing, you have to keep time and hit the right notes.
In Olympic “fencing” you don’t even have to tune your guitar.
You just have to play real loud.

I’ve never found that playing the guitar incorrectly had “something to offer.”
Playing out of time, hitting the wrong notes, playing out of tune -- that’s not a “style” of playing guitar.  I don’t see any benefit to making a practice of it.

So I wonder, what is it that the “sport fencing” advocates think that fencing incorrectly has to offer that fencing correctly does NOT?

I guess that’s rhetorical.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018


     When I was a kid, I taught myself to play the guitar. 
     I had a fool for a teacher and an idiot for a student. I taught myself lots of things that seemed fine in the context of 3-chord rock-and roll, but turned out to be real handicaps when I tried to play Bach.  

                         (Not my band; but I was in one just like it. Just add black leather jackets)

     I later found a wonderful guitar teacher, and he taught me a hundred little tricks and secrets that I would never have figured out intuitively, all by myself. For example, are you aware that you don’t have to blow into it?

     It’s very common in martial arts to have some kind of a skill-ranking system. That makes perfect sense. In many eastern martial arts, such as karate, ranks are often designated by different colored belts  (a system devised by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, in the late 19th century).
     Quite often, there are many more students in a school than there are teachers, and the more “advanced” students are put in charge of the less advanced students. 
    Typically, The Sensei works with the highest ranking students, while a lower-ranked student is put in charge of the rank beginners.
     When a student works his way up through all the ranks, he/she is anointed a “teacher.”  Now, these “teachers” may be very good at DOING the thing they do, because they had a great deal of instruction and practice in how to do the thing they do. But few -- if any -- have any training in TEACHING.  For good or for ill -- and usually for ill -- they simply mimic their Sensei (sometimes right down to his/her accent!)
     DOING the thing and TEACHING the thing are two SEPARATE -- though closely related -- skill sets.  Having one of them does NOT mean you have the other.

     Here’s a little pop quiz for you. It helps if you’re a boxing fan, but you’ll recognize some of these names even if you’re not.
     QUESTION: What do Willie Pastrano, Luis Manual Rodriguez, Carmen Basilio, Jimmy Ellis, George Scott, Jose Napoles,  Ralph Dupas, Pinklon Thomas,  Trevor Berbick, Sugar Ramos, Wilfredo Gomez, Michael Nunn, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali all have in common?


     If you guessed that they’re all boxing champions, good for you.
     What’s the other important thing they all have in common?
     THIS guy.
    Angelo Dundee.
     He's the guy who trained them.

     Know how many professional boxing titles Angelo Dundee held, himself?
     Know how many times he was a top contender for a title?
     Know how many professional fights he had?
     Know how many amateur titles he won?

     Angelo Dundee did not become a great boxing trainer by being a great boxer. He became a great trainer by watching great trainers at Stillman’s Gym, and devoting himself to the art and science of training boxers.
     Dundee was not a "master boxer," or even a "boxer."
     You could say that Dundee was a “Boxing Master.”

     When I was studying under Maitre d’Armes Jean-Jacques Gillet at his American Fencing Academy, we weren’t there to become great fencers, we were there to become great teachers.
     Our definition of a fencing master was someone who could teach any person (young, old, male, female, athlete, non-athlete) how to use any sword (foil, epee, sabre, longsword, rapier and dagger, smallsword) for any purpose (recreation, sport, theatre, or earnest combat). 
     We used to say that a true fencing master was someone whom you could lock in an empty room with some strange kind of weapon he/she had never seen before, and by the end of the day, they could train you to wield it effectively.

    I’ve been self-taught and I’ve been trained by a pro. I’ve been a student many, many times, and a teacher for quite a while.  I can offer you this recommendation from my direct experience: If you want to learn something, don’t look for someone who knows how to DO it; look for someone who knows how to TEACH it, and do whatever they tell you to do. Get the best teacher you can right at the beginning so you don’t have to try to “un-learn” bad habits later.
   I wish someone had given me that advice early in my ill-spent youth.
   Would have saved my pucker.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Rosoidae by Any Other Name...

A Rosoideae by Any Other Name, or
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”

                                                              - Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

     Item: The Chinese teacher and philosopher, K’ung Fu-Tse (Confucious) noted “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”
     Item: I once went to my doctor and old him I had pain in my kneecap. He examined it and told me I had “chondromalacia patellae.”  “What does that mean?” I asked. “That means,” he replied confidently, “that you have pain in your kneecap.”
     Item: I had a friend who was incredibly proud of his infant son saying the word “ball.” Sure enough, when I visited, the tyke was playing with a big red one, happily giggling to us “ball… ball…”  What a prodigy! Of course, he also used the word “ball” to describe a shoe, a hat, a cookie, and the cat.  Perhaps you can imagine how pleased the cat was to be included.
     Item: "Tell your own words." Do you have your own words? Personally, I'm using the ones everybody else has been using. Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say, "Nigflot blorny quando floon."  -George Carlin
     I propose that the fundamental purpose of language is to communicate. By communicate, I mean that what the message receiver hears is what the message sender meant. It doesn’t always go down that way. Maybe you’ve noticed.
     Part of this failure to communicate is because about 90% (your mileage may vary) of communication has nothing to do with the text, that is, communication isn’t limited to the actual words you say.  The largest part of the meaning in the message is non-verbal: posture, gesture, facial expression. Another chunk is para-verbal: volume, pitch, tone, pace, inflection.    
      Actors do an exercise in which they play a scene, say, a couple breaking up, but instead of dialogue, they just say the alphabet. They focus on the non-verbal and para-verbal elements, stemming from what actors like to call the “sub-text.” As in, “What’s my motivation in this scene?”   That’s why you can understand what’s going on in an opera sung in Italian, even when you have no idea of what words they’re singing. It’s also why email is such a lousy method of communication. But to be fair, ANY print medium deprives the message senders and receivers of the para-verbal and non-verbal dimensions of communication, emoticons, notwithstanding.
     Another part of the communication problem is that not everyone uses language to clarify, elucidate, and illuminate. Some people use language to confuse, obfuscate, complicate and confound. 
     Yes, Virginia, some people are liars. 
     Language can serve to identify who’s in with the in-crowd, who’s hip and who’s a drip. That’s why teenage slang is always changing; once adults get hip to it, it’s not cool anymore, i.e, it’s no longer a reliable identifier of US as distinguished from THEM.  Criminal slang changes when the cops get hip to it.  When the enemy knows the password, you change it.
     Some people use language as a power trip, to denigrate, ridicule or disenfranchise others who don’t know the right secret words -- thereby aggrandizing themselves.   For example, in a recent online (there’s two strikes against communication, right there) discussion of the longsword, I mentioned that I had had the opportunity to learn something of this weapon from a mentor many years ago, about a decade prior to the other party’s involvement in it.  The other party –who for some reason believes that the longsword had been dead and forgotten until he and his little pals discovered it--- then, rather rudely demanded to know what “sources” (arcane and sacred texts) I had used. He further demanded to know if I knew this or that medieval German longsword term.  
      This gentleman’s position was 1) that I could not possibly learn long sword from an actual teacher, without meticulously scrutinizing some ancient book and 2) that I could not possibly know anything about the longsword if I did not use the same arcane pet-names for it that he did himself. The gentleman’s underlying error here is learning domain confusion. He’s likely very good at the cognitive domain, but it leads him to believe that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, can be found exclusively in and through his sacred text.
     He doesn’t appear to realize that a book no more contains truth than a clock contains time.
     Well. I don’t speak German, that’s a fact. 
     And neither does a longsword. 
     It has no idea whether you are speaking German, French or Klingon, and it doesn’t care. Whichever language you choose to describe it is irrelevant to how the weapon is used. In fighting, form follows function. When, in fighting, form follows fashion, you’re foolishly and formidably fucked.

     A third part of the problem is that context often defines the meaning of a word, for example when used in a court of law. Many words that are commonly used with a broad latitude of meaning  have more specific, narrow and particular meanings as terms of art, the jargon of a particular field.  Therein lies the hub of the rub.
     For example, the word “attack” is used by most people to indicate any forceful aggressive action.  As in: “He attacked her in the alley.” “The bombers attacked the city.”  “They attacked his character.” “He attacked that steak with gusto.” “She attacked the assignment with enthusiasm.”
     It can also mean a sudden incident of something such as: a heart attack, an attack of hunger, an attack of loneliness or anxiety – or an attack of silliness.
     As a term of art in music, “attack” has a particular meaning and refers to the manner in which a tone is begun.
     In hoplology, “attack” refers to the initial offensive action in a phrase comprising more than one offensive action.
     Good science requires that you define your terms as narrowly as possible, and use them in accordance with those definitions. Avoid using two different terms to describe the same thing, and avoid using the same term to describe two unlike things.

     I believe the lexicon of a particular discipline should facilitate understanding and communication.  It should be as precisely definitive as possible.  The use of foreign language terms, for any other reason, is merely an affectation and an obstacle.
     Many languages have a word that means, “cut.” If your language is German, then it makes perfect sense for you to use the German term. If your language is French, what’s the point of adopting the German term? Is it somehow more precisely descriptive of a “cut” than the equivalent French word?   Probably not.  But it is  possible.
     Take for example the English fencing term “deceive,” as in “to deceive the blade.”  To deceive the blade means that your opponent intends to make some blade contact, to touch your blade with his own. When you avoid that blade contact, that is to “deceive” his blade.
     Fair enough.
     But suppose there are, tactically, two very different situations.
     In the first, the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, that is, it’s an attempt at preparation (engagement, beat, press, etc) to facilitate a  subsequent attack.
     In the second situation, you are making an attack, and the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive in character, That is, your opponent is attempting to parry your attack.
     In English, the word “deceive” is used to describe both situations.
     But in French, there are two words “tromper” and derober.  Derober can mean to slip away or shy away from or to hide from.  Tromper can mean to cheat, swindle, tease, trick, fool,  falsify or hoax.
                                                                      (President Tromper?)

     If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact, you are slipping away, shying away, or hiding from it.   
     If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive, in response to your particular attack (or feint of attack) then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact and continue your attack in some other line, to some other target, you have tricked, fooled, teased, cheated or swindled him – having appeared to be doing one thing, but actually doing quite another thing.
     I submit that using the French term "derober" to describe your “deception” in the first situation, and "tromper" to describe your “deception” in the second situation, is more accurate and precise than using “deceive” for both situations.  Therefore, in the interest of clarity, I would favor using the  French terms "derober" and "tromper" over the single English term “deceive.”
                                                (Don't confuse "derober" and "disrobe," either.)

     Let’s consider another example.
     In fencing, there are various trajectories (called “lines”) that a blow, whether cut or thrust, can take to reach the target. The trajectory can be above or below the opponent’s swordhand. In English we refer to that above the hand as being in the “high” line. That below the swordhand we call the “low” line.
(WRONG. The lines are NOT areas of the target; they are the spaces through which the blade  travels to REACH the target, and are infinitely mobile, defined by the position of the opponent's weapon.)

     In French, the two words are dessus (on top of) for the high line, and dessous (under, beneath or below) for the low line.  Despite their similar spellings, and, to the untrained ear, similar pronunciation, these words mean opposite things. Further, these words have no special meaning that the English words do not have. That is, they do not define the high and low lines any more precisely or accurately than the English words do.  I would submit that, for an English-speaker, the lack of any greater clarity with the French terms, combined with the high likelihood of confusion and error in using the French terms, suggests that the best choice would be to use the English terms “high and “low, and not the French terms “dessus and dessous.

     The reason that selecting appropriate terms is important is that the way you talk about a thing  strongly influences the way you think about that thing. And how you think about the thing strongly influences how you act in regard to that thing.
      It's important to understand this because, as already noted, terms are not always used to improve understanding and facilitate accurate communication.
     For example, let’s consider the word “terrorism.”
     Back when I was first learning about such things, “terrorism” had a very narrow, specific and precise meaning.  It described a very particular type of coercion. In the law, “coercion” means the use of force or the threat of force to compel a person to do something that they have a legal right NOT to do, or to prevent someone from doing something that they have a legal right TO do.

     Terrorism is the use of force or the threat of force to coerce a given civilian population to do or not do something in order for the coercing party to achieve some political end. The political component is a sine qua non. Using coercion so you can rob a bank is not “terrorism.”  Further, not only must the end be political, but  with “terrorism” the coercion must target the innocent, non-combatants – especially children -- and be characterized by extreme depravity, brutality or cruelty (the intentional infliction of unnecessary pain for it’s own sake) that one could say “shocks the conscience.”
     Given this history of  word “terrorism,” it is no wonder that in the popular consciousness a “terrorist” is considered to be a vicious and sadistic person, lacking compassion, common decency, fairness, courage – indeed lacking ANY respectable human qualities at all.  A “terrorist” is nothing but a bully, and, like all bullies,  fundamentally a coward. Such a person is typically regarded with an immediate negative emotional response,  disdain, contempt,  outrage, and/or hatred.
     Knowing this, savvy political propagandists, employ the term to deceive rather than to inform. They have no interest in maintaining the once-narrow definition of terrorism.  On the contrary, their interest is in expanding the term to include anyone and everyone who opposes them or might oppose them. Indeed, they have spent the last couple of decades broadening the definition of  terrorism to include --- well, practically everything.  People who have the gall to resist a foreign army invading their country and killing their friends and families, are all most certainly “terrorists.” People trying to protect the environment from wholesale pollution and destruction by parasitic mega-corporations are now “eco-terrorists.”  People who want to save animals from living lives of unimaginable horror on factory farms are now “agri-terrorists.” Peaceful protestors, people who esteem the bill of rights, Muslims, Christians, Gays and Feminists have all been described as some form of “ domestic terrorist.”  Once there were jaywalkers; now they're pedestrian terrorists.  
       It is the hope of the political propagandist that by dubbing someone a “terrorist” other people will automatically respond emotionally to the long-established connotation, immediately condemning the “terrorist” based on those characteristics that they associate with someone who is, in fact, a true terrorist, according to the narrow, accurate and precise definition of that word.
      To the propagandist, eliciting that emotional response is important because they know that their audience cannot respond emotionally and rationally at the same time. And “rationally” would give the lie to their use of the word. But to the extent that they can keep you emotionally aroused with some combination of fear, anger and hatred, they can be sure that you will remain incapable of the critical thinking that would almost certainly conclude that the propagandists, themselves, are liars, thieves and murderers.

     Truth-seeking is contingent upon rational analysis and critical thinking. It can be greatly facilitated --- or substantially obstructed --- by the use of language.
     That’s a good lesson.
     Courtesy of the Sword.



Monday, March 19, 2018


     Somebody just put a .38 slug into the back of Mr. Toad’s brain, and I’m investigating the murder.
     I have half a dozen suspects, all of whom had plenty of motive and the opportunity to deal Mr. Toad permanently out of the game. But only ONE of them had the means -- in this case, the .38 calibre firearm. But the weapon is not at the scene, and subsequent searches, properly conducted with a warrant based on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and describing the particular places to be searched and items to be seized, turn up zilch.
     Then along comes a source who says he has in his possession the murder weapon, and bestows upon me a handgun in a plastic bag.
     “Ratty killed Mr. Toad,” he tells me. “Here’s the murder weapon.”
     Case closed, right?
     But suppose this informant is a junkie, a career criminal with a long history of perjury. Should I tell him to stick that gun into the orifice of his choice and get out of my office?
      What if he’s a pimp or a child pornographer, or worse yet, a politician?
Suppose the informant is a “known” communist, or fascist, or a member of the local PTA. Would his belonging to such a despised group be a good reason for me to give him and his alleged evidence the boot?
     Suppose the informant wants a hundred bucks for the evidence. Or what if the informant is one of the suspects who clearly has a vested interest in casting suspicion on someone other than himself? Is that conflict of interest reason enough for me to shit-can the baggie?
     Don’t be a sap.
     No matter who brings me the evidence, no matter why they bring me the evidence, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to run a ballistics test and dust it for fingerprints, maybe look for DNA.
     Either the ballistics will match the murder weapon or the ballistics won’t match the murder weapon.
     Either we get fingerprints or we don’t, and those prints will either match one of the suspects or not.
     If the gun in the bag is the murder weapon, and it has Ratty’s prints all over it, I don’t care if Adolf Htler brought me that evidence; I’m going to have a little chat with the old rodent.   If the gun in the bag isn’t the murder weapon and/or doesn’t have Ratty’s prints on it, I don’t care if Mother Teresa brought me the evidence; it doesn’t support an arrest of Ratty for the crime. In short, I’m going to assess the evidence on its own merits and nothing else.
     If you summarily reject evidence because you don’t like the person who brought it to you, or if you automatically accept evidence because you like the person who brought it to you, you’re not a detective. You're a mark.

    If your theory of the crime is “Ratty Murdered Mr. Toad” then all the evidence must support that theory.
     If the gun in the baggie has Ratty’s prints all over it -- but it’s a .45 and not a .38, the evidence doesn’t support busting the old Rat. It isn’t the murder weapon.  “If he owns a .45 he probably ALSO owns a .38,” says my informant. 
     Yeah? Prove it. Bring me the .38.
     If the pistol in plastic is a .38 and the ballistics all match up  so we’re sure it’s the murder weapon, but the prints on the gun  -- all nice and clear -- don’t match Ratty’s, then the evidence  doesn’t support an arrest.
     You have to account for all the evidence. You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence that supports your theory while ignoring evidence that refutes your theory.  Cherry-picking is what puts innocent people on death row.

     Now, what about that ballistics report?
     The fingerprints?
     How “expert” is the expert running the tests? Did he/she get his training in a one-hour on-line course from Joe’s Investigative Academy and Taxidermy School?  Or does he have hundreds of hours of advanced training and a couple decades of experience? Regardless of his bona fides, what’s his batting average? Have 50% of his analyses later been proven to have been incorrect? What if he’s positively matched fingerprints to ALL suspects who were Black but NEVER to a suspect who was White?
     When you’re relying on an expert to determine the truth of a particular fact, NOW it’s perfectly acceptable -- in fact NECESSARY -- to be sure that your expert is really an expert and conducting his part of the investigation objectively, impartially and in accordance with the best scientific methods and procedures, and not tainted by other influence.

     Once you examine all the evidence, you can then piece it all together to formulate a theory of the crime. Your theory MUST be based on the evidence and nothing else, and you must include all the evidence without leaving anything out just because it doesn’t fit your theory.  If it isn’t Rat’s prints aren’t on the murder weapon, and a dozen eyewitness say that Rat was in custody for drunk driving a hundred miles away at the time of the murder, you don’t get to say, “I STILL think it was him. He’s a RAT.”   You let the evidence lead you to formulate a theory of the crime -- not the other way around.

     The world is full of people who want you believe all kinds of things. Some are definitely true. Some are probably true. Some might be true. Some are pure bullshit.
If you’re not going to be an easy mark for every grifter, hustler and political hack who has a nice smile and a good suit, “common sense” ain’t gonna cut it.” You’d better learn how to act rationally and not emotionally. 
     "Rationally" means you believe what is supported by good evidence and ONLY what is supported by good evidence.
     "Emotonally" -- or "Irrationally" --  means you believe what is not supported by evidence, or even what is contradicted by good evidence.
     The rubs lies in the fact that human beings (except for psychopaths) are hard-wired with emotions, installed at the factory. Emotions are universal, instinctive, automatic and effortless.
     Critical thinking is not. It’s an acquired skill, like playing the cello. It is rare, counter-intuitive, and requires conscious effort and regular practice.
     But it’s worth your time.
     Consider it intellectual self-defense.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Government of Laws, Not of Men

   You can’t uphold the law, or enforce the law, or even abide by the law if you don’t know the law. While I am the first to declare that foolish rules, like unjust laws, demand to be broken, there are some rules that exist for a very good reason and make very good sense. For example, the rules against assault, murder, robbery, rape and kidnapping seem like very reasonable rules to me. The rule against parking on the left-hand side of the street on Tuesdays, not so much.
    Likewise the rules of fencing. They exist for good reason, whether or not you have the nimbleness of wit to understand the reason.
    Neither fencers nor officials are permitted by the rules to violate the rules. Violations stem from one or both of two things: 1) ignorance of the rule or 2) An intent to cheat. There is no third option.
     Personally, I never ascribe to mere ignorance that which can be adequately explained by malevolence. In my experience ignorance is the fall-back defense of those who get caught in acts of malevolence.
    Thus let it be with Caesar.
    The following excerpts from the fencing rules, are essential for every fencer and, of course, every fencing official to know and understand, both in what they say and in what they do NOT say, also WHY they say what they say.  (The Devil will win the Heisman Trophy before I ever advocate mindless obedience to any rule!)  Indeed, one cannot possibly fence properly and well without knowing, understanding and complying with the rules. All added emphases are my own.
(*Excerpts from the Fencing Rules 2011 translated from French)

t.87-1            The competitors must fence faithfully and strictly according to the rules laid down in these Rules. All breaches of these rules will incur the penalties laid down hereinafter (cf. t.114-t.120).
        2) All bouts must preserve the character of a courteous and frank encounter. All irregular actions (fleche attack which finishes with a collision jostling the opponent, disorderly fencing, irregular movements on the strip, touches achieved with violence, touches made during or after a fall) are strictly forbidden (cf. t.114-t.120).

t.7-1   The offensive actions are the attack, the riposte and the counter-riposte.
The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target, preceding the launching of the lunge or fleche (cf. t.56ss, t.75ss).

t.10     The point in line position is a specific position in which the fencer’s sword arm is kept straight and the point of his weapon continually threatens his opponent’s valid target (cf. t.56.3.a/b/c, t.60.4.e, t.60.5.a, t.76, t.80.3.e, t.80.4.a/b).

t16-1.   With all three weapons, defense must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together.

T16-2.   The weapon must not be – either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner – transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the grip and without the hand slipping along the grip from front to back during an offensive action.

T18-5    The order “Halt” is also given if the fencing of the competitors is dangerous, confused, or contrary to the Rules, if one of the competitors is disarmed or leaves the strip, or if, while retreating, he approaches too near the spectators or the Referee (cf. t.26, t.54.5 and t.73.4.j).

t.19       Fencing at close quarters is allowed so long as the competitors can wield their weapons correctly and the Referee can, in foil and sabre, follow the phrase.

t.34-1.   By accepting a position as Referee or judge, the person so designated pledges his honor to respect the Rules and to cause them to be respected, and to carry out his duties with the strictest impartiality and absolute concentration.

t.46-1.   The foil is a thrusting weapon only. Offensive actions with this weapon are made therefore with the point and with the point only.

t.61 The Epee is a thrusting weapon only. Attacks with this weapon are therefore made with the point and with the point only.
t.52  When using the apparatus it should be noted that: b) the apparatus does not indicate whether there is any priority in time between two or more touches which it registers simultaneously.

t.55  The Referee alone decides as to the validity or the priority of the touch by applying the following basic rules which are the conventions applicable to foil fencing.

Respect of the fencing phrase

1.     Every attack, that is every initial offensive action, which is correctly executed must be parried or completely avoided and the phrase must be followed through – that is to say, coordinated (cf. t.7.1).

2.  In order to judge the correctness of an attack the following points must be considered:
            a) The simple attack, direct or indirect (cf. t.8.1), is correctly executed when the extending of the arm, the point threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            b) The compound attack (cf. t.8.1) is correctly executed when the arm is extending in the presentation of the first feint, with the point threatening the valid target, and the arm is not bent between the successive actions of the attack and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            c) The attack with an advance-lunge or an advance-fléche is correctly executed when the extending of the arm precedes the end of the advance and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche. 

         d)    Actions, simple or compound, steps or feints which are executed with a bent arm, are not considered as attacks but as preparations, laying themselves open to the initiation of the offensive or defensive/offensive action of the opponent (cf.t.8.1/3).

3. To judge the priority of an attack when analyzing the fencing phrase, it should be noted that:
            a) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is not in the point in line position (cf. t.10), it may be executed either with a direct thrust, or by disengage, or by a cut-over, or may even be preceded by a beat or successful feints obliging the opponent to parry.
            b) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is in the point in line position (cf. t.10), the attacker must, first, deflect the opponent’s blade. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade (cf. t.60.5a).
            c) If the attacker, when attempting to deflect the opponent’s blade, fails to find it (dérobement), the right of attack passes to the opponent.
            d) Continuous steps forward, with the legs crossing one another, constitute a preparation and on this preparation any simple attack has priority.

t.57    The parry gives the right to riposte: the simple riposte may be direct or indirect, but to annul any subsequent action by the attacker, it must be executed immediately, without indecision or delay.

t.58    When a compound attack is made, if the opponent finds the blade during one of the feints, he has the right to riposte.

t.59    When compound attacks are made, the opponent has the right to stop hit; but to be valid, the stop hit must precede the conclusion of the attack by an interval of fencing time; that is to say that the stop hit must arrive before the attacker has begun the final movement of the attack.  


Judging of touches

t.60 The Referee should apply the following basic conventions of foil fencing:
1) When during a phrase, both fencers touch at the same time, there is either a simultaneous action or a double touch.
2) The simultaneous action is due to simultaneous conception and execution of an attack by both fencers; in this case the touches exchanged are annulled for both fencers even if one of them has been touched off the target.
3) The double touch, on the other hand, is the result of a faulty action on the part of one of the fencers. Therefore, when there is not a period of fencing time between the touches:
4) Only the fencer who is attacked is counted as touched:
            a)   if he makes a stop hit on his opponent’s simple attack;
            b)   if, instead of parrying, he attempts to avoid the touch and does not succeed in so doing;
            c)   if, after making a successful parry, he makes a momentary pause which gives his opponent the right to renew the attack (redoublement, remise or reprise);
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a stop hit without being in time;
            e)   if, having his point in line (cf.t.10) and being subjected to a beat or a taking of the blade (prise defer) which deflects his blade, he attacks or places his point in line again instead of parrying a direct attack made by his opponent.
5. Only the fencer who attacks is counted as touched:
            a)   if he initiates his attack when his opponent has his point in line (cf.t.10) without deflecting the opponent’s weapon. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade;
            b)   if he attempts to find the blade, does not succeed (is the object of a dérobement) and continues the attack;
            c)   if, during a compound attack, his opponent finds the blade, but he continues the attack and his opponent ripostes immediately;
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a momentary pause, during which time the opponent makes a stop hit, after which the attacker continues his attack;
            e)   if, during a compound attack, he is stop hit in time before his final movement;
            f) if he makes a touch by a remise, redoublement or reprise when his original attack has been parried and his opponent has made a riposte which is immediate, simple, and executed in one period of fencing time without withdrawing the arm.
6. The Referee must replace the competitors on guard each time that there is a double touch and he is unable to judge clearly on which side the fault lies.

t.75 (sabre)
3. An attack with a lunge is correctly carried out:
            a) in a simple attack (cf.t.8.1) when the beginning of the extending of the arm precedes the launching of the lunge and the touch arrives at the latest when the front foot touches the strip;

t.79 (sabre) b) When a parry is properly executed, the attack by the opponent must be declared parried and judged as such by the Referee, even if, as a result of its flexibility, the tip of the opponent’s weapon makes contact with the target.

t.82    Fencers must observe strictly and faithfully the Rules and the Statutes of the FIE, the particular rules for the competition in which they are engaged, the traditional customs of courtesy and integrity and the instructions of the officials.
            2. In particular they will subscribe, in an orderly, disciplined and sporting  manner, to the following provisions; all breaches of these rules may entail punishments by the competent disciplinary authorities after, or even without, prior warning, according to the facts and circumstances (cf. t.113-t.120).                     

t.821                               Fencing etiquette
t87-3) Before the beginning of each bout, the two fencers must perform a fencer’s salute to their opponent, to the Referee and to the spectators. Equally, when the final touch has been scored, the bout has not ended until the two fencers have saluted each other, the Referee and the spectators; to this end, they must remain still while the Referee is making his decision; when he has given his decision, they must return to their on guard line, perform a fencer’s salute and shake hands with their opponent. If either or both of the two fencers refuse to comply with these rules, the Referee will penalize him/them as specific for offenses of the 4 group (cf. t.114, t.119, t.120).
Protests and appeals

Against a decision of the Referee

1. No appeal can be made against the decision of the Referee regarding a point of fact (cf. t.95.1/2/4, t.96.2).
2. If a fencer infringes this principle, casting doubt on the decision of the Referee on a point of fact during the bout, he will be penalized according to the Rules (cf. t.114, t.116, t.120). But if the Referee is ignorant of or misunderstands a definite rule, or applies it in a manner contrary to the Rules, an appeal on this matter may be entertained.
3. This appeal must be made:
         a) in individual events, by the fencer;
         b) in team events, by the fencer or the team captain.
This appeal should be made courteously but without formality, and should be made verbally to the referee immediately and before and decision is made regarding a subsequent action
4. If the Referee maintains his opinion, the Head Referee has authority to settle an appeal (cf. t.97). If such an appeal is deemed to be unjustified, the fencer will be penalized in accordance with Articles t.114, t.116, t.120).

     Prior to around 1980, these rules were universally accepted. Those who fenced in any other manner were simply consider very poor fencers.  But there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that fencing was not as popular (read that “profitable”), not a “spectator sport” as, say, football. Apparently, no one pointed out that the best fencing is  sly and subtle, and such nuances are difficult to observe and appreciate from 50 yards away, while drinking beer, eating a hot dog or performing a wave.
     So the gauntlet was cast: how can we make fencing more like football?
     Along came lights and whistles, and colored uniforms, and video re-play, and big, wild, loud “fencing.”  Farewell, Bach, hello Death metal.
     However, as more an more people were recruited into fencing (in the vain hope of finding a champion in the rough who would produce a gold medal for the good old USA), more and more very poor fencers were produced, accumulating at the bottom of the pyramid.  Not only unskillful, but with no particular affective loyalty to the long-established “code” of gentlemanly (or ladylike) conduct. 
     But, as they say in football, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the ONLY thing.” HOW you win isn’t part of the equation. If you can cheat and get away with it, well, then it isn’t really cheating. And especially not if everyone else does it, too.

     In time, those very poor fencers became very poor officials, who redefined fencing by a deadly combination of incompetence, negligence and arrogance.
     The inevitable result was the savage dumbing-down of fencing, until it bore utterly no resemblance to either a frank encounter or a courteous one.
     And that is where we are today.

Sometimes, when you change a thing enough from it's original conception and form, it ceases to be the thing. The above photo is a picture of my new guitar. I've customized it a little.

-- aac