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While I understand our basic stance and philosophy towards dueling... I still find myself asking this question: In a duel, what's most important? To win, to fence honorably, to act graciously or is it simply to survive no matter what? Are there really rules, or is it use all the skills you have, plus anything that can be to your advantage? What is the real bottom line in the duel?
The most important thing about fighting a duel is not to fight a duel.
A duel, remember, is pre-arranged, an agreement to meet for the purpose of killing.
Some folks might call that pre-meditated murder.
A few of those folks are judges.
If you must fight in self-defense or in the defence of those whom you may legally protect, then it's not a "duel" and you are free to do whatever any reasonable person acting prudently would do until the threat of grave bodily injury or death is no longer extant.
This is, incidentally, my educated but personal OPINION and not legal advice.
I understand...but what of dueling? In a pre-arranged meeting expressly for the purpose of killing, are there rules? What is most important to know? Is the purpose strictly to surviveand "win" by survival, or is throwing dirt in your opponent's eyes considered foul play? Essentially I'm looking for the real program. When duels were fought, were they really gracious and gallant meetings, or was there crotcth kicking, eye gauging and hair pulling? I guess I'm trying to get at whether or not what we "simulate" in a bout is actually the "real deal" or a rather stylized affair. I also wish to covey that this is said with no disrespect or insult meant to what we do. Essentially I'm just curious about the real thing.
> While I understand our basic stance and philosophy towards dueling...
Interesting. I wasn't aware we had one. Perhaps I just don't understand what you mean by this.
> I understand...but what of dueling? In a pre-arranged meeting expressly
> for the purpose of killing, are there rules?
If those who prearranged the meeting agree to rules, then yes.
> What is most important to know?
This is such a huge question, with such a simple answer.
What is "most important to know" in a duel is the same thing that is always the most
important to know, I would think. How to exist in the moment.
> I guess I'm trying to get at whether or not what we "simulate" in a bout
> is actually the "real deal" or a rather stylized affair.
Loaded words here. Let me try to sort them out so I can be more sure that we understand
I'll start with "simulate."
Yes, somewhere it says we "endeavor to simulate as realistically as possible a frank encounter..."
But what does that mean, exactly?
To me, it means we are not actually trying to kill each other; that is the part that is
But everything else is real. We're really using swords in the way they are designed to
be used, in the way that is most likely to protect ourselves. No pretense or simulation there. That's the whole point- that what we do is real and true to the sword.
Now for "stylized."
I can't think of anything we do that is "stylized." There is nothing we do solely in order
to conform to any particular style. It might be in a particular style- but the REASON for
it is the important part, not that it looks some certain way. Form follows function.
Perhaps there was grappling and kicking and eye-gouging in some duels. I wouldn't know.
But our choice not to engage in non-fencing techniques does not make our fencing any less
the "real deal."
Personally, I'm not particularly interested in duels, per se. I'm not interested in pretending
to fight a duel or in trying to imitate what someone else may have done in one. And I'm
certainly not interested in fighting an actual duel.
I'm curious, Ethan, what it is about duels that fascinates you? Is it that you find it
difficult to believe that people would remain gentlemanly in the face of near certain death?
I notice you haven't mentioned honor in this thread. Weren't duels fought for this very thing,
honor? If so, wouldn't that preclude behaving dishonorably? And if they were not about honor,
then why do most stories we read suggest that they were? Has history been "rewritten" for
some political reason?
In response to the post by Linda:
Yes, essentially I do believe that these duels were about honor. However, honor and killing one another do not always go hand in hand. Many "gallant" and "honorable" soldiers throughout history have burned villages, raped women and killed unarmed civilians because it was "part of the game" as it were. When dueling, are such behaviors as eye-gauging, dirt throwing, etc. "part of the game?" That's what I'm really getting at.
I hope that my "loaded" words were not taken in offense, since truly there was none meant. I appreciate your breaking down of such phrases and recollecting the thoughts as they were intended.
To answer the interest question: What about duels fascinates me? I suppose all of it really. I will admit a desire for combat dwells in me, and certainly that forms part of it. And at the same time, I also find that within lies the same sense that combat, is not required to solve difficult problems. After all, killing a person to solve a problem only generates more, as history has taught again and again. I also suppose that the same desire to understand my Zen post goes hand-in-hand with this one. "Dueling" is and was a "natural" part of master swordsmanship as I understand it. Being a master nesscessarily indicates that you've accomplished a victory over another person, or over yourself. However, one doesn't go to a fencing master who isn't very good with a blade. It only makes sense to learn from someone that is good at what they do. However in this case, "good" can be determined in several ways...one of those being survival.
Master Crown and yourself essentially stake your reputation on what you can do with a blade, and what comes along with that technique, education and mastery. In the past, those things would have been established most readily by demonstration not necessarily in the salle, but rather on the field. Although, both were and are equally important. I admit fully that my understanding of fencing masters and their whereabouts in historical settings may be totally off-base, and a correction would be readily received. I guess what I say here comes from all the stories I've read, about gracious and gallant meetings, by honorable people seeking to kill one another. Hence my interest to determine what is true about such things, and what is invented by authors both historical and fictional. After all we're talking about the same people that invented "walking the plank," which is in fact entirely fictional.
P.S. "Our" basic stance and philospohy about dueling as I understand it is this: don't get in one, and if you are in one, try to get out of it alive, while exemplifying all of the honorable characteristics we aspire to. That's what I understand it to be from Master Crown's respone to my post, as well as from what he's said in his book, and during class time. Again, I hold that I could be totally mistaken.
Just a few quick points:
First, honorable is as honorable does. And honorable person is by definition one who behaves honorably. Murder and rape don't qualify, in my opinion.
Second, I do not stake my reputation (whatever it may be!) on what I can do with a blade, but on what I can teach YOU to do with a blade. (Provided, of course, you follow the course of instruction as given.)
Third, in any but the most exceptional case imaginable (and I can't imagine one right offhand) a duel (given a strict definition) is not something I would recommend.
However, a "fight" is different. Crown's Rule of Dirty Fighting states: "There's no such thing as dirty fighting; there's just fighting." Nota Bene my constraints regarding the judicious and proper use of lethal force in self defence. THOSE are the parameters within which you must act.
Needless to say, the beef is between you and the would-be criminal assailant(s) -- and you would not extend that beef to their wives, children, friends and family, etc.
You might enjoy reading up on self-defense laws and also the code of conduct outlined in the UCMJ.
Buongiorno a tutti, I would like to post my reply just for the studies I made about the chivalry codes through the centuries. The duel, by definition, is a fight made following rules, so that means: no rules, no duel (you could call it streetfight). In the history of duel this rules, consuetudinary laws gathered in the chivalry code accepted by the most of the noblemen and gentlemen (with some little difference due to different interpretation in each state) started to define the judiciary terms of God's judgement, with a precise procedure very similar to criminal and civil procedure law. There were the laws that explained the active subjects, the motivations, the procedure to notify and accept the challenge and to define the fight (weapons, time, referee) and the final consequences. The main difference between the ancient code (i.e. Marozzo) and the modern (i.e. Gelli), that is, theoretically, still valid for a gentlemen, is that the preliminary rule of a fight to death is forbidden, as anti-chivalresque, and that the motivation for duel is just an insult, in its different degrees of intensity. In the modern code the weapons that could be used in duel are just three (epee, sabre, pistol), with particulary and taxative rules to follows in each style (for exemple, the wild west's duel, or the rapier and dagger one are considered not chivalresque) to preserve as possible the lifes of the duellists. Following the modern rules, also the first-blood duel is not chivalresque, risking to reduce a fight for serious motivations to a joke; the duello ad oltranza is the kind prescribed and it means that the fight continues until at least one of the two is declared, normally by the doctor who must be taxatively present, not able to continue the fight.
By its own declaration, the modern chivalry code states that duel is a crime: in fact, in base to an express definition, "gentleman is who, protected by the rules of honor, commits the crime of duel".
Anyway a precise analisys of the question must be done considering the law's systems in each country
Gio (this time also in his lawyer role)
Thanks, Gio! If I ever need a good lawyer......
Note how closely the old procedures are reflected even today in boxing.
One note I can't resist offering: re the "duel Americanne." That's when two drunks tumble out of a brothel blasting away until their pistols are empty, spooking the horses, narrowly missing the madame's cat, wounding four innocent bystanders, including the piano player from back East, while completely missing each other.
Dueling prompts feuilleIon:
I just can’t see the point of fencing without ideas, and fencing and ideas oughtta be, well, fun. Play. Serious play, but play. (Yes, I’m picking up on an essay in the latest FQM by Maestro Lurz, too.) Maybe I just miss grad student bull sessions, I dunno. But there's form below the surface here, I hope. Perhaps an elaborate set of feints, too.....
And you know, I don’t know what’s more fascinating: the quest for the “real duel” I’ve heard over the last few years and a subsequent neglect of foil for things like smallsword, “all in battle” (Sidney Anglo’s phrase), and “combat effectiveness” (white knickers or black gym pants with boondockers?)…or this small but growing literature from professional historians about it. Steven Shapin, Allen Gabbey, Peter Dear. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not like Anglo, sneering at “amateur” historians in the Letters column of FQM; it’s just that there ought to be more exchange between fencers and professional historians working in some esoteric fields. It might enrich modern practice technically and ethically. It’s sure helped me.
This post is not scholarly argument—it’s play, allusive and incomplete. Plenty of holes in it to drive a truck through, too. Details of application to training to follow! …Hm. Maybe. Two older generations of traditionalists, among them my teacher, Nick Evangelista, and the sponsor of this forum, Maitre Crown, are right. Here in Soest, we pay attention to them—my students know of their work and our debt to them, and on the piste we will disappoint them, ignore what they and others we know are out there but don’t communicate with stand for, over my dead body.
We’re convinced what happened in the 17th century can help us with modern practice. Yup, we think “traditional” or “classical” fencing is “modern.” We don’t have any answers, just hypotheses, but so what? For my part, I think folks should chill and play with ideas. (There’s a very long philosophical tradition going back to Plato invoked here.) Our initial idea—it’s repeated from Day One here in training—is that the two-beat parry and riposte of formal fencing theory and the very rich and complex context of the 17th century duel together demand attention to foil. In fact, they’re simply part of the same package. Heck, they’re why we have foil in the first place. Worse yet for “antimodernists,” fencing theory played a central (if until now unappreciated) role in the birth of modernity. We like ideas because they give “meaning” to the fencing actions we decompose, reassemble, and repeat and repeat ‘til our eyes are crossed. They enrich the experience of tactical choice in the phrase d’armes. Or at least that’s my excuse!
Our little band of beginners grew out of a shock to my system, when I made the mistake of participating in a workshop and found myself standing with a weapon in my hand, not knowing where I was, and I was going under the knife not long after I got back home! Yeah, I can be a damned fool. Who can’t? Starting a group from scratch, well, means you can think, you have to think or you’re really a fool and a fraud. So one goal has been to assimilate everything possible to coherently integrate ideas and action…Unlike others out there, I’m a retired bookworm—had no choice to become one, sorry to say—so what does a sick old man with time on his hands do? One member of this forum had said on a sunny Saturday afternoon in St. Louis’ Tower Grove Park before I expatriated, “Why not hang out your shingle? You know the theory.” So: I plan lessons. I have to because I’m new at teaching. And my students hear about ideas linked to the actions they study in gradually developed lessons about the European duel, all right, but also about one John Smith T—known as a duelist in frontier Missouri, but basically he’d shoot anyone in a heartbeat. I’m shameless. By way of compensation, there’s not a single thing I teach them I will not perform myself. You demonstrate but you also engage. Period. And, since I demand analysis, they are asked to tell me when they see something off in my execution. If I’m alive 10 or 15 years from now with my Big Ticket, I’ll still do that. One reason’s philosophical and historical, another is to make’em better fencers: The development of fencing was part of the development of a “public” and rational public debate. It is fundamental to the phrase d’armes. Our group is a tiny “public at arms”—not just an extension of my personality, though I’d be a liar if I said it also wasn’t that. No, sirs and ma’ams, when my students fence, I want them to think.
But John Smith T? (Nobody knows what the T stood for.) The stuff on the US duel, as you can guess, focuses on pretty wild and wooly frontier types and southerners mostly, and of course firearms. Maitre Crown’s on target. Things like the Burr-Hamilton affair were exceptional; gentlemen challenged each other—Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame went around challenging at the drop of a hat. But the gentlemanly duel was rare and conflict was enmeshed in elaborate formal codes that trickled down in interesting ways: Elivis’ “Blue Suede Shoes” is a wonderful example. So’s the idea of the “fair fight,” in which I was bloodied and bloodied others with earnest regularity as a waif of a South Texas youth. Still, Maitre Crown is right: the six-shooter in the street or the John Wayne bar fight ritualize the ethos; my favorite counter example is of course Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny: “…he shouldda armed himself.” Eastwood was closer to reality, and I’d bushwack you if you were too big, and at 13 swallowed a piece of a kid’s ear, to my mother’s and everybody else’s horror ("But Momma, he wuz bigger'un me!" I howled, sic transit the fair fight idea). At the same age I tried to honorably make piece with another kid by shaking hands and got kicked in the groin for my efforts. And some retired professor in Bristol celebrates "all in battle?" With systems that never were systems? In books with old pictures nobody can even guess were read or seen by whom (viz., where are the reception studies, guys)? In a medieval manual--supposedly, though the "manual," a technical guide like what comes with your VCR, is a very recent idea--that shows a man and woman dragging each other in or out of a pit or tub?
Fauncy interpretations “engender” this in terms of male self-doubt, and they’re right. The practical result meant “honor” favored the powers that be and bullies: in “Bloody Edgefield” County South Carolina, Strom Thurmond’s father shot an unarmed drunk who, he claimed, insulted his honor. To be honest, I sense something uniquely American in the “historical” fencing movement, a divided and insecure self, it'd be easy to lampoon as rednecky and culturally backwoods, but dressed up in medieval or Renaissance clothes--Bubba with a rapier, maybe (don't take offense, my cat's named Bubba, and I feel at home among rednecks, it's just that....). We all know stories about this in various fencing situations today. They have I hope no place here, the stories. The literature from this movement, mostly online, is overwhelmingly in American English. Hit the German Kampfkunst organization’s website and you’ll find a link to Professor All-in-Battle. He’s a “Machiavelli man,” but so is neocon “Bomb Teheran” Mike Ledeen (which doesn’t surprise me because over three decades ago I used to have coffee with him almost daily and was appalled then). I rest my case.
But the early modern formal duel with swords was a lot more complex. In northern Europe (Mediterranean Europe was a bit different and it’d take a long essay to show why) the duel rapidly became enmeshed in very elaborate formal conventions—just what constituted an insult could be a Scholastic exercise. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the duel was part of the process of internalizing manners described by historian Norbert Elias. It also was assimilated by the law courts in centralizing dynastic states—James VI’s Scotland is the best-studied case. The flipside was systematic rationalization of bureaucratic administration; the ongoing, unpublished work of a scholarly co-author of mine (in philosophy of history), Mike Fitzhugh of Washington University in St. Louis—he’s recently told me I can mention it—has found that honor played a role in administration and a sense of both a public interest and a realm of ideas, too. It gets more interesting—the part of things like neo-Stoicism in developing military discipline and clockwork drill also changed the role of the officer; he doesn’t hack and whack on horseback, he’s supposed to learn manners, how to read a little, he’s a gentleman not a mounted thug whose family owns land; he learns in a time of siege warfare about engineering. His sidearm gets shorter and relies on the point, and frankly, I think rational analysis not fashion was why. Here come the military academies! Fencing academies by royal writ are part of the same movement that produced the Royal Society, the French academies of philology, antiquities, and so on. Shapin argues the cult of honor allowed for trust in another gentleman’s data, and so furthered scientific advance. All this made battle a far bloodier, larger-scale proposition than anything seen before--Besnard invokes the glory of the Thirty Years' War. The armies of Maurice of Nassau and Maximilian both were shaped by neo-Stoic codes; Descartes knew both--he witnessed White Mountain, the first big encounter of that awful conflict.
Oh, there’s even, then, more flamboyant stuff about honor; gosh, read the opening pages of Besnard’s 1653 text, but it’s Besnard who’s our parry-riposte pioneer with fleuret so far, linking a product of early modern mechanics with “premodern” notions of gallantry: ah, the famous “reverence.” Reverence on the white ground plays the same role as honor in establishing a common epistemology in science. “Reverence” is based on a “theory of mind” and that means acknowledging other minds like yours Out There. Crows and gorillas do that by recognizing deception—fencers with the salute and the feint. There are also “neo-Stoic” elements in this: a posture toward uncertainty also shaped by more esoteric (nowadays) things, from a preoccupation with deception to justifying action on the basis of incomplete knowledge in terms of what early modern Jesuit ethical thought called “probabilism,” part of a formal doctrine called "casuistry." Blissfully ignorant of all this, capuchin monkeys and stock brokers behave indistinguishably on its basis. You find it somewhere earlier: In the work of Rene Descartes, educated at the Jesuit La Fleche. Sure, his Traite d’Escrime is lost, but we have his criticisms of Thibault on the divisions of the blade, his ethical theory, too. It’s the basis of the universal principles of fencing. It’s why tradition makes sense. Why striving for performative excellence makes sense. Why it’s a “modern” tradition.
What was called “the sword problem” (which part of an opponent’s blade is most efficiently parried) played a major role in the development of mechanics and statics, in which Descartes’ approach—you don’t need to replicate a doctrine, to expect that’s silly, to allude to a mindset-- triumphed. (Things get sticky in the 18th century.) Besnard--apologizing for "barbarous" Italian fencing terms-- is “Cartesian.” Fencing theory is Cartesian. There are no real fencing “systems” before this. The proliferation of historical “systems” is anachronistic, a function of the peculiarly American craving for “systems” that guarantee technical therapeutic authority—weight-loss systems, say, or like my new razor was packaged as a “shaving system.” In the true sense of "irony," our preoccupation with technical systems is Cartesian. Note the distinctions implied here. Castle was right. With the Cartesian “revolution” French rather than, say, southern humanist rationalism viewed from Holland in Thibault, infiltrated the south and Italian practice quickly via northern royal patronage (the power of Louis XIV’s state helped, too), and that’s why Maestro Gaugler can rightly say French and Italian styles share the same fundamental principles with differences in execution. This should make today’s more machismo-oriented Italian afficianados think twice, my hint’s a blunt warning in the best mid-20th century German manual, Melichar’s, and if Soest fencers encounter a certain kind of American ‘classical” fencer, they will think “ein John Smith T,” and know how to deploy mit Cavation (oder Umgehung) der Aufhaltstoss zum Wishbone. Hard. I drill them in it.
“Cartesianism” is lurking in Marcelli, in 1689, some of whose plates (he drew’em himself) bear uncanny resemblance to some of Besnard’s. Marcelli dedicated his text to Queen Christina of Sweden, at the time abdicatress—why not have fun with words, too?-- frolicking in Rome as a cardinal’s mistress and patroness of the arts and sciences. A tomboy, she liked riding and fencing when like a young Ingmar Bergman character in northern gloom. She kept Rene Descartes as pet philosopher and tutor until the climate killed him. Still, TCA’s tee-shirt, god bless’em, hit the nail on the head: I fence, therefore I am. Maybe, “I parry, therefore I am,” as Maestro Evangelista put it to me recently, makes more sense. Fusion of analytic reason and disciplined action are the goal, but you ain’t a robot because there’s always the feint to make choice, uncertainty—probabilistic intent--real. You acknowledge your opponent can reason and deceive, too. You salute, and grammatically correct discourse begins. You can’t do this looking at old pictures. But you can’t but adhere to inexorable demands of a rationalist tradition. You are forced to always realize the spectre of error. Honor means you admit it. I ain’t being holier-than-thou here. I find it very hard, and take little comfort from the fact that we all do. But error was built into the Cartesian foil. Along with discipline and manners.
Last edited by wleckie (2006-06-30 00:10:32)
> In a duel, what's most important?
The answer depends upon whom you ask. The duelist's societal peers, those who officiate at the combat, or individual duelists; each would likely have different answers.
> Are there really rules, or is it use all the skills you have, plus
> anything that can be to your advantage?
Throughout the history of dueling there were countless duels in which combatants arranged to fight or spontaneously fought informally, often at some out of the way place, free from the eyes of witnesses and the local constabulary because dueling was, for the most part, illegal. The practice led toward terming such an incident a "rencounter," that is to say, an inadvertent "encounter" for whose lethal outcome no one could clearly be blamed, especially since the word of a survivor could not be challenged by his dead adversary. However, as dueling evolved, so too did dueling codes which dictated what was permissible and what was forbidden. These codes were elaborate and covered a wide variety of subjects.
> In a duel, what's most important? To win, to fence honorably, to > act graciously or is it simply to survive no matter what?
Initially, dueling was a practice of the aristocracy and a defining feature of the societal norm. Dueling was "expected" of its male members and it was not uncommon to view with a jaundiced eye those who hadn't "gone out," as it was called, at least two or three times. "Honor," "gracious behavior," and other attributes associated with chivalry are often spoken of in the context of dueling, and it is the opinion of one Oxford University scholar who has written on the subject that such "honorable" practices were spurred on, at least in part, because of increasing opposition to dueling on the part of the first and third estates.
Initially savage and widespread, dueling took a terrific toll on those who engaged in the practice. At sunrise its adherents frequently left streets, doorways, alleys, and church steps littered with pale, exsanguinated corpses. As a consequence, the aristocracy "cleaned up its act" by developing dueling codes that made dueling, with all of its rituals and regulations appear more like a "church service" than an act of violence. Because acts of ceremony have a strong appeal to most people, a mystique about dueling soon developed that made it appear so attractive that even the lower classes came to admire it. It should be appreciated that there are many examples of duels in which the conduct of the principals was anything but "honorable" or "gracious." The duel between the Count of Conversano and the Duke of Martina is a classic example of many others that justifiably equate to nothing more than malice, treachery, and cold-blooded murder.
> I will admit a desire for combat dwells in me . . .
As a past president of my county's chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America I can speak with some small measure of knowledge on this topic. The desire to experience combat is not uncommon in cultures that enshrine death as though it were an honor to be sought after and that place a high value on killing and the ability to suppress the natural instinct to preserve one's life. In most cases (not all), this desire quickly evaporates when men in possession of a modicum of intelligence, common sense, and compassion for their fellow man face combat for the first time. In most cases (not all), such experiences tend, in varying degrees, to rob one of one's humanity, burden one with a sense of shame, and leave an indelible scar on the psyche. In general, the experience is most highly prized by those who don't know any better. You must work diligently to gain enlightenment on this subject without maiming or killing yourself, or anyone else. "Heroism" is most valued by those who aren't heroes.
For more thorough answers to your questions, read "The Duel in European History" by V.G. Kiernan, and "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Dave Grossman.
Re: the desire for combat
I wish I'd said it that way, Frank. Well done.
I'm reminded of Vegetius "They are most enthusiastic about war who are the least familiar with it." And Shakespeare's great line "They jest at scars that never felt the wound."
Or more recently, "He's far enough away from the fighting to be a General."
Of course, It cannot escape notice that those currently beating the war drums the loudest in our own country, have by some odd miracle managed to elude service in the armed forces themselves.
If I may, I'd like to add my endorsement to your recommendation of Grossman's book. It's near the top of my "required reading" list.
Again, my compliments.
A humble second to Maitre Crown's praise, adding that Maestro Lurz always makes sense to me, and one more thing--well two--first, from what I've studied so far, fencing actually developed as a way of curbing wanton conflict; two, in my whimsical long posting I only alluded to the hypcrisy Maitre Crown mentions by suggesting a naive ideological agenda in the best-known recent book on Renaissance martial arts. Naive can kill. But then, I guess it's in the eye of the beholder. The "miracle" ain't, though--those puppies felt, as Gilgamesh Quail-Killer famously remarked, they had "other priorities" and a higher calling.
Last edited by wleckie (2006-07-01 08:24:27)
My thanks and gratitude to all postings on this subject. It has been most enlightening.
In summation let me see if I have a basic concept of this:
1. Dueling is not a street brawl. There are rules, that have developed over time, essentially to keep wanton violence from the street.
2. Fencing is as much philosophic/mathematical analysis, systematics, etc. now, as it is actions made by a pyhsical being; thanks to our friend Descartes.
3.The "Duel American" has more to do with drunken insensate men with firearms than it does with the "real" purpose of "Northern European" formalized dueling.
4. Modern "classical fencing" is some uniquely American thing developed in its own unique way, similar to our English. Still essentially English, but really a whole other language unto itself.
In another direction: The desire for combat
Certainly heroics are most desired by those that are not heroes. And more certainly the wanton violence that comes with war and personal violence is more than understood on a rational level. I wholeheartedly agree with the assesments brought here. War and violence is ugly business and not many humans with a functioning rational mind would have desire for it.
That said...why study the sword? Is it not openly an honestly a tool of death? Do we really study it from strictly a desire to master one's self in a discipline? Or are there links to the combat...spoken or unspoken? Is the devotion to the steel simply the pursuit of mind over body..."stillness of mind, mastery over body?" Is it that through time and study, fencing masters feel no rush of excitement when they engage...is it truly an objective intellectual pursuit?
This commentary is in no way meant to be inflamatory, and I hope that is not recieved that way. I simply wonder on a human level whether or not the series of emotions caused by combat/violence, ritualised or not, is inspired within those that have taken to the study of the sword. Can there be devotion and objectivism at the same time?
I realise this conversation has taken somewhat of a turn, and if it needs to be reposted under another catagory...please feel free. And again, my sincere thanks to all.
A few quick thoughts.
Re #4: Absolutely wrong!
Classical fencing a uniquely American thing????????
HA!!!!! That's a real knee-slapper!
Sorry, but that is a completely erroneous, while amusing, notion.
My first teacher had studied under an Italian master. My mentor was of the French School.
What I teach may have my own personal stamp on it, as true with all teachers who are not merely parrots, but "classical" fencing, remember is simply CORRECT FENCING, in accordance with traditional rules and principles, practiced AS IF for a duel and AS IF you wished to survive that duel.
Classical fencing didn't start in the US. It was brought here by French and Italian teachers. Those few of us who still teach it today are merely continuing that line.
On "violence" --- a word used much too loosely -- I recommend you read THE ANATOMY OF HUMAN DESTRUCTIVENESS by Eric Fromm, and take particular note of the differences between
benign aggression and malignant aggression.
I do not study arms the better to commit murder.
I study to become the kind of person who can quell violence and set things right.
What qualities or traits do you imagine that would require?
Some of this you may never really understand, I regret to say, except by direct personal experience. It's like trying to understand jazz intellectually, without ever having heard Bird, or Miles, or Coltrane et al. Louis Armstrong said, when asked what jazz is, that if you have to ask that question, you won't understand the answer.
It's a little like that. Fencing is about as "intellectual" as jazz.
But some things you don't need personal experience of -- jumping off the Bay Bridge, for example. Study closely the accounts of those who have and you'll get the idea. You may not REALLY understand it in that direct, experiential way, but I think in this case that may be all right. Why not learn from the mistakes of others?
Thanks for the advice. I appreciate the amused commentary to #4 on my list. It seemed very clear to me prior to reading Bill's post that indeed what I have come to know as "classical fencing" is simply "correct fencing" brought here by other masters. However, it also occurs to me that we've gotten into the realm of what we actually mean by the terms we use. "Classical fencing" to us means simply, correct fencing. However it appears that this term has also been applied to what the SCA does, along with other similar fighting groups. I can't say what they're up, I only have a general understanding. I agree with Master Crown on the point that "classical fencing" is being used to loosely. I take pride in the fact that I study with Master Crown, however regretably infrequent that may be. We study hard, work hard and take serious steps to be humble and gracious, courteous and dignified. There are no injuries dispite the danger, thankfully because of serious precautions. I know I don't want to be associated with people that have no training and are simply whomping on each other and calling it "classical fencing." I hope that we can clear the name and set people straight...but we digress.
Anyway, thanks again for the advice, and I will undertake to have a greater understanding in the future.
If I may step in here (with trepidation). I certainly cannot compete in scholarly discussion with those posting here, but I would like to submit an observation.
In the course of a history project of my own, I have been seeking out accounts from the 18th and 19th Century American South (particularly the Louisiana/Texas coast) of duels, particurly those not involving firearms. I will not be so bold as to say these are indicative of all "American duels" as described above, but they represent a constant current of attitudes and ideas as voiced and enacted by those participating in duels.
Participation was largely restricted to landed gentry and other social/cultural elites. If a shopkeeper challenged, say, a plantation owner to a duel, he would likely just get himself buggy-whipped on the spot and laughed at (or spat upon) for his insolence. If he drew a gun so might the other fellow, but it would not have been recognized by those witnessingit as a duel.
There were generally lengthy negotiations between representatives of both parties to (at least superficially) attempt to reach a satisfactory solution before both parties actually had to meet "on the ground."
Places such as New Orleans and Savannah had "Courts of Honor," which often carried sufficient weight to be able to rule that a duel was not called for in a given case and would forbid either party from participating. At such times and places where these courts were active and potent, ignoring their ruling and fighting in a duel could be just as damning to one's standing in society as being challenged and backing out.
These individuals most certainly had rules of conduct, even during the encounter, which varied with time and geography. There are accounts of seconds disengaging the parties when they broke these cultural boundaries.
Since duels were technically illegal, but culturally required of a gentleman, they were both kept secret and widely advertised by word of mouth within the social elite's circles. There were generally witnesses, often many. Behaving in a manner that reinforced their conventions and beliefs, under threat of injury or death, were the important aspects. Many sword duels in American did not result in fatalities, thus how one behaved while one's character was truly on display, under fire, determined how one could expect to be treated within one's class after the event.
It seems that as often as not, they were simply engaging in a social ritual, to reinforce to others of their class that their personal honor meant far more than their life. This was a defining quality of a gentlemen in the American South. A duel might end with a death, some drawn blood, or even, simply a robust and accomplished display of will and skill. At any given point the seconds (or, occasionally, a judge) might call halt and declare the affair over. Both parties could then bask in the approval of their peers. I have encountered some occasions when these other parties halted a duel once one party suffered an injury deemed too excessive for the point being disputed.
I think the idea of a social ritual is the most important to keep in mind with the duels I have been studying. These were not free-for-all, win-at-any-cost encounters like you would expect on a battlefield. These were, more case of "I will abide by my caste's code of behavior even if it means my life."
We have a tendency to simplify the idea of "duel" with any occasion of single combat between two adversaries. Because the average American has nothing like the concept of a personal honor which must be defended at all costs, the idea and practise of dueling has passed away.
(I do like to think its best parts, however, survive on the piste.)
Last edited by schlager7 (2006-08-03 13:03:29)