You are not logged in.
Do disarms belong in “classical” fencing? I feel obligated to be concrete here: One artifact of enthusiasm for the “real” duel is a revival of disarms: ‘rasslin’ “techniques” usually acquired from peering intently at Angelo plates, rather. A disarm, it seems to me, would be a very risky thing to pull in a real early modern fight, and its purpose might have been surprise as part of deliberately changing the agreed-upon terms of the encounter or dealing with a much weaker opponent or both. It certainly ended the conversation of the blade. Especially if they—disarm attempts—are expected by a skilled fencer, they can be eluded and the ‘rassler will be exposed to the point. Against one with gumption, barroom rules would go into effect if his sword arm were seized. (This assessment bears directly on the use of disarms today.)
So what is the purpose of disarms in the contemporary “classical” group? Suppose one in which disarms are performed by the leader against passive subordinates who take no countermeasures; he grins to emphasize his demonstration of superiority. In effect, his victim of the moment is turning up his or her belly as if performing a submission ritual in a canine pack. In other words, the disarm is deployed as part of a dominance game to which fencing is merely an “accident” (in old Scholastic terms), an arena for alpha dog to ritually subordinate others and prop up his own insecure sense of status, an act of displaced resentment But: Who’s he really mad at? Boss, wife, daddy, whomever? Note: This is not an imaginary situation, just an exemplary one and representative in general terms, a rough model. We had something similar (but very brief) develop with a visitor to KFS who claimed to be a "master." I suspect--but can't prove--such behavior occurs in "historical" fencing groups as well, but I have nothing but second- and third-hand reports to go on.
Because the associated emotions are only just below the surface in such situations, very real and conscious--this assessment is not a product of observer “nominalism”—student resentments are deliberately repressed, and I suspect that if our model teacher ever encountered resistance, things would quickly deteriorate into a brawl as his resisting opponent broke another set of conventions having a basis in more than just fencing, though a teacher's exploiting his authority. So the student's antagonist would become a bully to be defied and fought, not a source of knowledge and inspiration--but bullies are seldom challenged; fighting disrupts normal group cohesiveness, the impulse to hierarchy and conformityis strong, so almost always people will quietly seethe. They might even be more enthusiastic than otherwise in their praise of the leader. The attitudes below the surface will trickle down. This can and does happen elsewhere as a matter of course, but should it happen in a "classical" salle? The implications for relations within such a "classical" fencing group are obvious—it’s probably not a healthy place. So I ask: What then should be the place of disarms? From my perspective, ain't none. 1.) They ain't good fencing and probably weren't even in the days of the duel. and 2.) they create an asymmetrical situation in which someone takes advantage not just of a subordinate fencing opponent but of broadly acknowledged societal rules shared by others (they could be playing tiddly winks) with minimal risk to himself. Is that dueling? Is it fencing? Is it teaching?
Last edited by wleckie (2006-07-01 07:24:11)
I have intentionally disarmed students many times in order to illustrate a point -- usually a faulty position or excess tension or stiffness coming from using excess force. Almost always I use simply a strong beat or a crisp prise du fer. The lesson is that using more strength or force than is needed can work against you. More is NOT better. Almost always, this is something I have to demonstrate to a young Turk in the throes of testosterone poisoning. I say "almost" because I can't recall ever needing to do this with a woman, but it's possible I don't remember the occasion.
In our practice, a "disarm" stops the phrase. I allow actions made during it, but not after it.
Stabbing a now-unarmed opponent, after all, is clearly murder. I require my students to retrieve the opponent's lost weapon and return it to him/her.
When my advanced students and I examine other contexts than the bout/duel, I include all actions appropriate to that circumstance, of whatever kind. If it should include blade actions or other actions that in "polite" encounters would be unseemly, then so be it.
It is my intention to provide my students with the fullest possible understanding of all the grim possibilities in order to avoid prettifying or worse, glorifying combat. My premise is that the more you know about fighting, the less inclined you are to do any.
But I could be wrong on that.
I believe the disarm is a useful tool for teaching, as Maître Crown said.
In addition to correcting those who try to grip their foils to death, I also find it useful as a motivational tool for our pair of very small young women. The very notion that it's possile for them to disarm a much larger, stronger opponent is empowering. I don't expect that they'll ever use it- but it's good for them to know that they could.
It is anger, "demonstrations of authority" and any form of emotional blackmail that have no place in the salle.
Anyone with rational authority- real authority, based on skill and leadership- has no need to indulge in demonstrations of it.
Any student who did so would no longer be a student of ours.
Part of learning to fence is learning to control emotions and ego. If someone can't do that, they aren't going to be bouting here.
Any student whose behaviour- emotional or otherwise- interferes with the learning of other students will find themselves "taking a break" and they must make some changes before being allowed to return.
I agree with most of this...I can certainly understand the pedagogical response to excessive force. My question still remains about the incentive built into its use in a fencing encounter. I'm not sure the empowerment example, restricted as it is and if they'll never use it, affects my position. I'll teach'em, too, grappling disarms, when the time comes, if only to demonstrate how to handle some hot-shot who pulls one. My guys have already seen me elude them in exactly that situation (Maitre Crown knows about an incident here, and I'd prefer its details be kept private). The disarm should not deter a skilled fencer, and the menu of responses to it in "the real McCoy" could transform the encounter. That's my focus. I also think it sets up a display of machismo. I may be wrong about this in the general case, but can base what I write on what I have seen. Let's shift it a bit: What would your response be if out of the blue someone tried a disarm in a bout? I mean the grappling disarm, not one achieved solely by action on the blade. Those, actions on the blade--and I have heard reports from the US about those used in a "classical" tournament with which you may be familiar--worked because the fencers on the receiving end were not prepared to defend against them and had to contend with a last-minute rule change. Apparently those affected failed--as per the syndrome I described--to put up much of a fuss. The most concerned report I received was from a very talented female fencer. In this instance, the object was of course to "kill" the victim. In other words, are there not still perverse incentives built into their use? I confess to stopping instructional action by seizing the blade--with mine. I have also used the wear'em to death ploy! Made'em bust a hose! Let the testosterone leak out onto the floor like engine coolant. This has been my response to very common competitive behaviors here, and my idea is to discipline and direct them by letting a student figure out on his own (it's usually a he) that he can wind up having a coronary trying to complete an attack. But imagine somebody out of the blue seizing your sword arm and you don't expect it...Hm. Should you then stick to "fencing" actions, or do you close and use the limited but very violent list of options? Most people will not. Most will be decent folks. In fact, pollyanna that I am, I think most people are decent folks. But they will not be happy campers. I have also seen and experienced the "fencer" who having made a touch continues to push; the mentality's the same. That will not happen here. Have you seen it elsewhere, since I have absolute confidence these practices do not exist in your salle?
What would your response be if out of the blue someone tried a disarm in a bout? I mean the grappling disarm, not one achieved solely by action on the blade.
Hmm. Can't imagine it happening.
We have, on occasion, practiced such disarms, but in a controlled exercise, not in a bout.
I don't think anyone here would try such a thing in a bout UNLESS we had been working on it and specifically agreed to include such actions. I doubt that would happen because no one has practiced them enough to effectively do so safely in a bouting situation. Perhaps as some of our most experienced fencers continue to progress, someday we might.
Besides, there's no advantage here to disarming your opponent, since it stops the bout until you return his sword to him.
But I'll answer the gist of your question anyway. What would I do?
Immediately stop the bout and kick them out permanently.
We simply do not allow anything that is dangerous, discourteous or dishonest. If anyone does such a thing, they're gone.
They all know this, right from the first day.
We have had the occasional (2 or 3 times that I can recall) drawing the arm back and jabbing in the heat of the moment, for which a fencer has had to be warned.
I can't recall offhand anything else ever happening.
I don't recall anything ever being repeated after a warning.
No one wants to get "that look" from the Fencing Master more than once. Or even once, for that matter.
I have not personally seen it happen elsewhere.
I would think at the very least if it's going to be allowed, everyone involved should know that ahead of time, since it is disallowed in every set of rules I've ever seen. Then people could choose whether or not to participate, based on the rules being used.
One other note, since it may be that this is unusual. We do not allow people to come in from elsewhere and bout with us. We must know that they will be a safe, competent and courteous opponent before they bout- just as we are sure with any of our students. So we won't ever have a situation caused by someone coming in from the outside who uses different rules or techniques.
What would your response be if out of the blue someone tried a disarm in a bout? I mean the grappling disarm, not one achieved solely by action on the blade.
Just a couple of quick thoughts on this.
First, and I hope rather obviously, fencing bouts are carried on in accordance with rules governing the use of each weapon which are or should be known to all participants. (I personally prefer the rules from circa 1970)
ANY violation of these rules would result in me disqualifying the offender, with or without a specific warning depending on the nature and severity of the infraction. I might also temporarily suspend that person's bouting priviledges or permanently expell him/her from our salle. (I do not use the tangle of legalese gobbledy-gook regarding the various types of infractions. More about that if you're interested.)
So any sort of grappling, being specifically prohibited by the rules, falls into this category.
On the matter of hypothetical "real world" encounters: duels must also be properly carried out in accordance with the rules, whether an established standard or ad hoc stuff agreed upon by the seconds.
In brawls, there are no rules but survival, so we are left with only practical considerations.
First, keep in mind that every action has a counter-action. Knowing the various methods of disarming allows you to defend against them, even if you opt not to employ them yourself.
Second, if your assailant would get the better of you at swords point, then by all means, redefine the nature of the confrontation. Don't try to arm-wrestle an octopus.
Third, I won't kill my assailant unless he absolutely insists on it. If I can possibly avoid it, I will.
Therefore, if I can disarm him, I may not have to kill him, and that's perfectly all right with me.
I have enough bad karma breathing down my neck.
(Be sure to read Maestro Lurz's recent post re: duelling).
I’m in total agreement with you both here. Certainly I have deterred excessive force in lessons with my blade, but more often I simply wear’em out. “Okay, try to hit me.” I then let’em bust a hose and watch the testosterone flow out onto the strip like coolant Aggressiveness in sport is encouraged here and so at first I had to admonish my guys to stop defending even in simple slow demonstrations. This does not occur now.
Certainly my students will, when the time comes, learn more about both disarms with the blade and grappling, but with a view to knowing what to do if they ever encounter them. They have seen me elude both. It's actually pretty simple, but their ability to execute a small repertory of feints is still quite undeveloped.
My question was aimed at finding out how list members felt about what’s been reported to me since I expatriated and what I had seen in the States before I did. For instance, and I've alluded to this, I received an e-mail from a very talented young woman fencer complaining that at a “classical” tournament a last-minute rule change had encouraged disarms and she felt overwhelmed without a defense. Apparently—as per the “symptomology” I mentioned—no one had put up much of a fuss. I would have, and would’ve made sure my students were equipped to handle people who thought a ricasso was part of the handle of a club.
We are—despite an overlay of relaxed and low-key mood—very conservative. What is called “free fencing” in KFS actually is unsupervised (although monitored) activity focused on assigned tasks, often performed among three students, one always observing and commenting--I want them to learn to analyze-- and prepared to ask me questions. The group has two “sergeants at arms” to assure courtesy and keep everyone on-task. They have little to do. I think my system of compensating for a too-high instructor-to-beginning-student ratio to my taste works, but it would not succeed without very serious student commitment.
I try as well to work with every individual attending a session. KFS is comprised 100% of beginners. That does not mean equal time for all in each session. Different levels of instructional engagement are in fact formal and recorded. This level of engagement is demanded by my instructional doctrine, which is 100% student-centered. Oh heck, I’ll tell the story-- Our problem occurred when someone claiming advanced credentials entered the program in its second term; our instruction is conducted through an open-enrollment continuing-education institution (this will dramatically change during the coming year)and only 11 months old .
Remember, there is little or nothing in the way of a traditional fencing movement here. Group development is a challenge. Now, I’m not like some I’ve heard about who condescendingly claim to “test” experienced newcomers and instead offend them (dominance games, again); it only takes a casual and polite few minutes on the piste, and frankly the testee needn't even be informed of what's going on. For those who object: it's called manners. Anyway, the guy more than passed muster. I should make clear he was in no way designated an assistant. I hoped I would have some informal assistance in our exercises, in which he was like everyone else expected to participate (I started with 27 total neophytes, a KFS session is intense and non-stop, we now meet four times a week). Instead of engaging our class objectives, basically he used them to show how great he was. He was admonished but kept it up. He soon reminded me very much of a certain kind of fencer I was familar with, arguing with some very basic things, and loudly.
Something occurred—details aren’t necessary—that prompted me to drop the relaxed pose and my students heard something that at the time I wished they hadn’t. Let’s just say I was very candid with this jughead. Then I took a big risk. I challenged him. All action stopped for it, and the gallery was big-eyed. He’s gone. We now have an unwritten but firm rule: Don’t mess with my beginners. We welcome anyone. We want to spread the gospel. Just don’t mess with my beginners. You come on like a hot dog to them (I don’t care what you pull on me), you fight the old man, and he’ll fight you as if his point really was sharp.
Even if I’m whupped, I don’t think I’ll lose whatever respect my students have for me. There’s too much misplaced machismo and plain stupidity out there, they know that now, which is what prompted my query anyhow. I take a maybe odd-ball view of all the old and oft-rehashed tales of challenges of yore. There’s a strained quality to them that'd take old fashioned contextual analysis (a fancy way of saying "common sense") to explain. But George Silver has left us with maybe a glimmer of reality and ideal both, in his assessment of Vincentio: “This was one of the valiantest fencers that came over the seas, to teach Englishmen to fight, and this was one of the manliest frayes that I haue heard that ever he made in England, wherin he shewed himselfe a farre better man in life than in his profession he was.”
If I had to choose between those two poles Silver sets up, it’s a no-brainer. I’ll be a lucky man indeed if I can just be like Vincentio. In fact, I'd be proud. On the other hand I can get too cocky. Not far from where I was born, there's a town named Gonzales. Way back when, the Mexican army had loaned the townspeople an old cannon to scare off maurauding Comanches. In 1835, I think it was, Mexican troops showed up to retrieve the cannon. The townspeople sliced an old log into wheels for it, ran it out, fired a shot, then dragged it after their enemies, who surrendered after a sharp fight a few miles out toward San Antonio. Those Texians had a flag improvised by their ladies: Blue star over a cannon silhoutte, beneath that the motto, "Come and take it." But! The Alamo tricolor (green-white-red with '1824' in the white, for the Enlightenment-liberal Mexican constitution of that year) is on my jacket, and we all know what happened there! Looking back, the duel was fun. So I can crow like a scraggly ol' rooster, but I know even as scrawny and gristly as I am, I could still go into the pot!
Last edited by wleckie (2006-07-02 05:49:58)
...a very talented young woman fencer complaining that at a “classical” tournament a last-minute rule change had encouraged disarms
Ah, now I understand the reason for your inquiry.
Well, for the situation you describe I can afford no better term than this: it's just plain stupid. And it is emphatically NOT classical fencing.
I coined that awful term in 1980 in subtle defiance of the first of wave of hopelessly ridiculous rule "interpretations." (I don't know who else might have used the term, when or why.)
In retrospect, I think it was a big mistake and I often wish I had simply stuck with "correct" fencing. The goad proved TOO subtle.
But that jini's out of the bottle now.
A LOT of people I've run into claim to be doing classical fencing, yet have no training in it. They apparently think it only means "non-electrical." People claim to teach the French style, yet have no credential from the French School; they claim to teach the Italian Style, yet have no diploma from the Italian School, either. People claim to be "masters" because their own teacher
allegedly so annointed them, or because they heard voices, or have a pretty nose.
(Keeping in mind that courses to actually achieve a French or an Italian certification are currently available.) And of course, some people run right out and not only start up their own schools, but their own organizations, even requiring others to pass just the kind of exams that they themselves never stood for.
It's enough to make Mother Teresa an axe-murderer.
Now, to make it worse, we have numbskulls teaching "smallsword" and "rapier." Where the deuce did they get their training in THAT, the back of a matchbook cover? (Famous Fencing Masters School: Just take this simple test...) More a combination of bad swashbuckling movies and staring at illustrations in old books (never having bothered to become adequately fluent in the language in which the book was written, or consulting with someone who HAS).
For starters, they don't even seem to realize that rapier and smallsword are essentially the same weapon, despite semantic distinctions.
I'm perfectly happy to delve into the rough and tumble of the brawl with a variety of weapons for reasons previously stated. But THAT isn't really "classical fencing," except in that we use ALL weapons strictly in a realistic nature.
Yet, I disain to call it "historical fencing" either, as if we're "re-enactors," now.
If I build something using a hammer, which is an ancient tool indeed, am I practicing "historical carpentry?" These weapons are "historical" only if you see the art and science as dead as the American Dream
But then, I haven't completely given up on that "liberty and justice for all" idea, either.
I appear to be rambling and ranting, so there an end.
Something occurred—details aren’t necessary—that prompted me to drop the relaxed pose and my students heard something that at the time I wished they hadn’t. Let’s just say I was very candid with this jughead. Then I took a big risk. I challenged him. All action stopped for it, and the gallery was big-eyed. He’s gone. We now have an unwritten but firm rule: Don’t mess with my beginners. We welcome anyone. We want to spread the gospel. Just don’t mess with my beginners. You come on like a hot dog to them (I don’t care what you pull on me), you fight the old man, and he’ll fight you as if his point really was sharp....
Bill, although I resisted the impulse awhile, I feel compelled to comment on this part. You may not be the only one to face this situation, so I'll pick up on it, not so much related to you directly and personally, but for the benefit of all.
It's just my own experience so you can take it for whatever it might be worth and other's can chip in if they like.
When I was young and foolish (now I'm older and foolish) there were a few rare occasions in which I decided to cross blades with a bully. (This did NOT occur in my own salle, but when I was teaching under someone else. At that point I had already made a sufficient number of stupid mistakes in my life that I had learned the folly of fighting at the drop of a hat, or because somebody stepped on my hat, or because they didn't like my hat, or wore a different hat than me. I'd survived those events not because I'm dangerous dan the street-fightin' man but because the Creator is part Charles Manson and part Woody Allen.)
The Bully was always male and typically had had a thimbulfull of previous "fencing experience" to go along with his teaspoonfull of brains. This translated into him giving not necessarily a lot of touches but very, very HARD hits and in very bad form, using raw strength and speed to overwhelme an as yet untrained person -- quite often a woman. (I WILL resist going off on the male/female tangent of it, which I trust you can imagine anyway.)
I never "challenged" the bully, but merely took a turn crossing blades with him. I was careful to display an oriental degree of politeness, smile and smile...and, yes, shake hands pleasantly afterward and say "thank you" as well.
I never returned brutality for his brutality. I wanted to accomplish three things 1) to show that technical precision and correct timing could easily overcome mere physical strength/speed 2) to let the bully feel the humilation he had just hammered his victim with and thus see the error of his ways, go and sin no more and 3) to convince the bully that his time was better spent DEVELOPING some skill rather than trying to DISPLAY it
I may have succeeded on the first count as far the onlookers were concerned.
But I certainly failed miserably on the other two.
The most recent occurance, just this past semester, occurred between a new student and one of my assistants. (At the end of the semester I let each student have a quick taste, just a sip, of what bouting is like, facing off against one of my assistants.)
The new student in question had had his timblefull, all right. On my command "fence" he charged forward like a wld bull, flailing away.
I immediately stopped the bout, told him, "You're done. Have a seat. Then I finished the class.
After class, I explained to him his transgression and why he was no longer welcome to participate -- and why he would be failing the class.
I would NEVER fence with one of these yahoos now. It's a no-win situation because it's no great honor for a lion to slay a jackass. When I beat him he'll say "Yeah, but he's a fencing MASTER," and probably considerably embroider how well he did against me. And if he should somehow actually touch me he'll say, "Yeah and he's a fencing MASTER," and I'll have tossed gasoline on his fire.
So my advice is: Don't.
Every situation is unique, of course and may call for a unique solution.
But don't get lured into a big-penis contest with anyone. Not your job. You job is to ensure the safety of everyone (including the bully) and to teach as best you can (including the bully).
And you can never be 100% sure that it isn't your own petty ego coming into play and not "concern" for your beginners.
Whether or not you beat him has nothing to do with proving who was right and who was wrong anyway -- as the history of duelling and warfare illustrates.
I use crossing baldes with me as a reward for students who do well -- NEVER AS PUNISHMENT.
I will certainly show them where they are making a mistake, but that's to teach them how not to make it, not to punish them for doing it.
Don't kid yourself about your students respecting you. What's the clear difference between what the bully did and what YOU did? Is there a moral distinction (there MIGHT be)? If there is, do they understand it? (fat chance!) So at best, you look like an ass who believes that might makes right.
Just my opinion.
all the best,
As I wrote, opinions can differ honorably. Here goes, trying to rectify that ‘slippage!” And the questions you raised are by no means trivial. They actually do raise some very, very profound issues and should rightly disturb us all. My reply is an acknowledgement of that seriousness and out of my respect for you. I would not go to this length unless I sincerely thought—not felt—this is worth exploring, an intersection of Big Issues and the strip. I mean, Big Issues!
We are a group built on “Hoeflichkeit,” a word that means courtesy, manners, other closely related valences of meaning. This is very important here for reasons I have alluded to offlist and would prefer to keep them there as much as possible, though a gesture at them might be unavoidable. Nevertheless, the issues I mention offlist are very, very real, and they were a part of our problem I had to think very hard about. There was, in fact, an after-class meeting about them and the more obvious ones that preceded my having enough.
Furthermore, we are so dedicated to manners, they have a “casual” feel in that they are not artificial. No fencing encounter occurs without the salute. There is no standing around. All this occurs without posturing. Part of courtesy is focus on tasks at hand. If anyone forgets to end a session failing to salute and even shake hands, it’ll be me—excited about explaining and demonstrating something I love and also knowing I must, simply must, give time to everyone in the class.
My problem with this guy was my fault, in that I was too polite for too long. If I have reason to be really proud, it’s that—knowing I am not exactly a shrinking violet anyway, actually grew up in an authentic “honor culture,” and to get down and dirty personal spent years learning to internalize that rural southern tetchiness to the point where I force myself not to react immediately (which has kept me out of trouble!), and there is, of course, something else lingering—I was always courteous up to the last minute, and was afterward when our friend’s attendance became erratic and he withdrew, which allowed him to maintain a façade of honor. “I feel I’m not welcome here,” he e-mailed me. I replied as long as he got with the program, of course he was. I meant that.
That courtesy, and another, institutional challenge: I do not control enrollment. In the school, “teachers” are not “teachers” but “Kursleiter,” course leaders. For legal reasons, we cannot advertise, I technically cannot teach (all fencing teachers have to be certified by the DFB by federal law passed in the 70s)—but under the Volkshochschule system, I can. I have had to function in an open-enrollment regime in which classes are pay-as-you go—oh, yes—but also subsidized by the Stadt (city) and above. Which is to say, I do not have the sanctions available that exist in a proprietary salle. In fact, I’m restricted, and even so I brought the problem to the attention of the school administrator supervising us. Of course, the group can informally have them. But they have no “real” standing unless you are “socialized” into the group. We all have pitched in and achieved a high degree of cohesiveness and I am amazed. Frankly, I do not know of anything quite like this elsewhere. People in an English-language--dominated movement seem to have not a clue to legal, administrative, and cultural differences from the USA. This is a German, not an American group, and I’m proud of that.
We are very, very new. Now, I sat down and planned not only a curriculum but also a development program. You can bet your boots I worked that out! The initial enrollment was way ahead of my projection (270% in fact). This created a problem in providing the instructional quality and level I planned. I had to scurry to maintain it. Immodestly, I sincerely feel I did and more. It was initially complaints from students that confirmed things that did not seem to always occur when I was observing; one thing all of us noted was a tendency to undertake certain things apart from the group with the same more vulnerable but male students including some with great potential. We have “sergeants at arms” to whom a habit of stopping activity and carrying on with a loud voice was most annoying, especially when I was giving an individual lesson. Compliance with them is voluntary. Not with me in practice. I would have to stop a lesson, amble over, and in a quiet voice call things to order. The students always responded positively. He would apologize and go back to his thing. Had you—or anybody else--been a fly on the wall, you would not have faulted my courtesy.
My point here—instructional issues aside—is that this guy knew what he was doing. For the students, and even when he knew I was watching, control of the salle was not an issue. He was, like a school kid, testing boundaries of authority and co-opting it. That wouldn’t have bothered me if he were polite, a teacher interested genuinely in the students. You can believe me or not about this, but I am so dedicated to what we do, if he were the better fencer and teacher, I would be obligated to let him run the show. I wouldn’t have liked it, but I am sincere when I write: My students come first. Not me. Instead, he became a potential threat to the future of the group: I was looking at a potential retention and replacement nightmare, plus the disruption of the curriculum.
Look, I understand completely your objections, Adam. We will be taking steps to prevent this from occurring in the future. Our legal status is being established. We can negotiate our relationship with the school and the city. The issue of my certification has been discussed, since though I'm authorized by my Master to teach, that doesn't cut hot butter here. We plan following the recommendation of someone you respect highly, but in the meantime, frankly, I have no worries about the DFB because we are confident in the quality of what we—not just me—do. My new board has made suggestions that left my throat lumpy. They do not think I am an ass. I think they know how devoted I am to them, warts and all. My students, though an ocean away, are regularly told about your ideas, Nick’s of course, and the reputation of Maestro Gaugler’s courtesy is by them held in awe. I also let them know I am an ordinary, fallible mortal.
But I can’t help thinking the larger issue raised here is, in fact, a profound one, a word I’ll repeat again. With your indulgence, it’s worth the space here. At what point does the obligation to take a stand against something very wrong then contaminate what we imagine we stand for? I think immediately. On any scale. No exit. Precisely because values are real.
My hero, one of them—yes, I have heroes—is Socrates. To the amazement of ancient Athenians, he argued that to do a bad man harm only made him worse and meant a good man harmed himself. He could’ve easily escaped the hemlock, but did not because he owed Athens all he was and so had to obey her laws. Or so Plato has him say.
But then there’s a very saintly German, Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who famously wrote:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
I am not saying, of course, our situation was that cosmically extreme (I think it could get that way in the USA, and many will not acknowledge that) and I am not about to trivialize Niemoeller, who was executed for his resistance. His was passive. Light-years—heck, megaparsecs--beyond anything I could imagine. But I will say that fairness, justice, honor, courtesy are learned, and acquire their cumulative effect, in the ordinary, the mundane, the day-to-day. In the salle, too.
When we learn those lessons, we also learn that choices are not easy. Sometimes we must “look like an ass” to others because we feel the contradictions in our acts of resistance but nevertheless must choose. And risk erring when we do. In fact, we must choose, and supposedly freely. We should not look to what others say or what we think they think. If we do, we either won’t do anything (usual) or our choice is forced (as it usually is). Yet we also being language-critters have an obligation to explain ourselves. The Declaration of Independence says that, too. The same is true when we ignore an insult out of common sense even though we might seethe inside. I have done that and been called a coward. Even though I knew better, I knew I looked like one. You just can’t win!
It is easy to personalize motives and intentions, to ascribe, say, matters of race, culture, gender or hidden motives of ego to those choices. To equalize, especially in the every day, affront and response. This is very easy in the USA, where “market models” of supposed “self-interest” guide even the ideas of people who think they are progressive, in my book. It’s a hammer to knock someone with and feel clean. It is, alas, the equivalent of the fencing disarm. It is the infinitesimal accumulation of this failure to engage contradictions that has led to some very unpleasant consequences on a very large scale in the fairly recent past. (I know this is the simple equivalent of telling someone every vote counts.) I see no difference between the virtuous abstainer and guy after the main chance or strutting and fretting his nanosecond. We’re mortal, we screw up, but have to hope for the best ...no, try for it, always uncertain we’re right. Otherwise, we’re little dictators, shrieking at people like the CFML flamers.
Like those whom Maestro Lurz chides for celebrating battle without knowing it, those who fault even small-scale choices based on Big Values generally haven’t made big choices. (I obviously am not including you here. I hope that’s seen!) In fact, they tend to avoid them, looking to perceived self-interest themselves and claiming not to, it’s the other guy, you know: The Communists, the Socialists, the Trade Unionists, the tree huggers, the hajis. Terrorists, liberals and white guys are also on the list, depends on your agenda. There’s a reason Anne Coulter makes the big bucks, leveling all. That devalues the reality of my inner conflicts, and basically says ideals don’t have a reality difficult and painful even in everyday life. In other words, I’m silenced.
But if we can’t make those hard choices, knowing we sin when we do, or unable to admit it or even be allowed to sincerely do so, inevitably, what happens when the really big choices come along? I have been beaten over the head and shoulders as you know by people on CFML who insist fencing and politics do not mix, even though the history of fencing shows otherwise. Yet you have—and this makes my already great respect higher by powers of whatever--a protest statement on your salle homepage. A statement in support of natural rights against tyranny. Adam, I’m with you all the way. We here openly stand for Enlightenment liberalism, and draw on the ideas of Germany’s leading philosopher, Juergen Habermas. This is a strong position to take and against the current today on both sides of the Atlantic. When we salute, we also express a stand against tyranny in all forms—including the soft ones of political correctness, left or right.
I’m glad I sent my post, even more delighted by your reply. I think this issue cuts right to the heart of the state of fencing today, but fencing to me condenses very Big Ideas and Values. What does it stand for? Does anybody know how hard it is to make values work? But back to Socrates: There’s a line of interpretation I buy that says the people who accused him were diverting attention from their support of the little nasty junta that ran Athens after the Peloponnesian War. Socrates actually stood up to them. (I like Chis Amberger’s essay on him, by the way…Socrates in a book about Secrets of the Sword?)
But I’m no Socrates. I have the same stains in my drawers as everybody else. None of us can escape those stains. I do not have the fortitude of a saint like Niemoeller. I’m a fallible man aware of his weaknesses. (WARNING: Don’t anyone pull the ol’ transactional analysis/pop-Freudian double bind that I really don’t mean what I say, I’m just a WASP male tooting his virtue. Like the disarm, I know how to elude it.)
I think to fight when it is necessary for what one believes in is no easy choice to make. I’ve made it in more dangerous situations than a fencing salle and paid for it even when I won.Felt shame often, in fact. But I’m with the guys who invaded Attica, captured hoplite armor, occupied Mounikya, an incredibly steep hill—I’ve climbed it—overlooking Piraeus. (At its summit is the ruin of the Temple of Artemis Socrates and Glaucon were returning from when waylaid into the symposium that became The Republic). Anyway, these exiles waited and out came the Thirty Tyrants. Xenophon tells the story. Imagine a steep hillside road, old men, women, kids on the roofs throwing rocks and crockery and tiles, ullulating just like you can hear in the eastern Mediterranean today, javelins and slingstones flying. Neither phalanx attacked. A soothsayer with the exiles announced they could not charge until one of them was killed, so he threw himself on the Thirty’s spears. Up went the paean. After the bad guys’ leadership had been killed, including two of Socrates’ former pupils, Critias and Charmides, for whom dialogs are named, the fighting stopped, and as Xenophon relates, the two sides mingled, talking…about how they came to such a sorry pass. They fought and realized they must talk. They could not have gotten there without a fight among “democratic” citizens exploited at the end of a terrible war. They were terribly fallible. They restored the democracy of Athens. But there are people today who dismiss Socrates as a nutcase. Me, at the Temple of Artemis I sent up a prayer to the memory of the unnamed “mantis” or soothsayer.
The salute—Besnard’s “reverence” of another kind—has a context that seems different but affirms actually the universality of the values I am suggesting: How to handle uncertainty of communication among gentleman-equals on the white ground. (There’s a literature about this, but no matter. Enough philosophy and history!) Fencing, to me, is the use of the sword in a disciplined way. The sword is a weapon. It involves risk-taking, and is clearly a way to reducing violence to a form of communication—the phrase d’armes. It means paying attention to others even in conflict. The sharp point is always there. There is moral and physical risk. We never know if we are “right” when we use it, or if we will win, and anybody who says they are totally certain when they do is indeed an ass. My antagonist was an ass. Alas, I felt—aware of the dilemma—I had to descend to a teeny-tiny Piraeus. That ain’t the Socratic irony of pretending to not know. I’m stuck. I really don’t. Whew!
Last edited by wleckie (2006-07-03 00:55:54)
Personally, I guess I'm more Spartacus than Socrates.
Not intimate with the socio-political stucture you function under, I can't comment much further, I'm afraid.
I do want to be sure I'm understood, though.
I believe in tolerating no violations. Not the written rules or the unwritten ones. Not by some sap in the salle d'armes, not by some poltroon in the White House. The time to knock the stuffings out of the Brownshirts is when they beat up their FIRST Jew -- a little late when ovens are working overtime. I believe one can indeed be courteous too long if that means courtesy INSTEAD of action.
I do believe in standing up immediately and in no uncertain terms.
Every microcosm reflects the macrocosm.
Everything is connected to everything else.
There are no unimportant details.
Therefore, you must act within your sphere of influence to be sure that right is done. The ripples from that pebble can go a long way on the pond.
So I did not mean to suggest you erred in taking the offender to task -- only that I, personally, would seek another way to do it. I would not like to elevate him to the level of gentleman by crossing blades with him, an honour he did not deserve; nor would I sully myself to fence with him. Seems a bit like an expert boxer trading punches with some jerk in a bar. Or maybe some clown running his mouth at me -- but what he doesn't know and what I DO know is that I have the moral equivalent of a .45 in my waistband.
Something like that, anyway.
BUT I don't much care to second-guess the one on the scene, either.
You always have to do what you believe is right in the best way you can.
I'm reminded that in an informal group I once practiced with, there was such a fellow. The other members simply refused to work with him. It was a strange thing to hear a dozen people decline to practice with him, saying I'm too tired just now, or I've pulled a muscle, I think -- and then go practice with someone else so that he knew, despite the exact words, that he was being shunned. I almost felt sorry for him. He left for a time, but when he returned he behaved quite well, having decided that belonging to the group was important enough to change for.
Well, I also believe I've pretty much exhausted my thoughts on this one.
Perhaps someone else will weigh in with a fresh idea.
all the best,
I agree we've exhausted this one. Frankly, I think the exchange has been an important one in many ways; but then, why wouldn't I? I started it! :) I think the depths of the ideas represented by what we do rate it, that it's time we took ideas and action with the seriousness they deserve, and--in my case, surely--acknowledgement of uncertainty. Of how actually hard it is to make decisions. As you should know from something I sent you and Linda offlist (to be published in print later on, not for distribution), I find even the act of teaching fencing extraordinarily difficult and full of uncertainties. But among the "double binds" of the sort I mention in that little essay, it's alas impossible to write or talk about it without seeming be absolutely sure! Thanks for the chance to exchange views in a serious and thoughtful way. I think we need that, and not just in the fencing room. I hope readers can spot that this "symposium in brief" (well, I wasn't so brief) is different. There's a reason you are held out to KFS beginners as one of a very few models to emulate, and I ain't blowin' smoke here.
In considering the need for disarming actions in dueling practice, an excellent example can be found in a 16th-century duel between an elderly gentleman named Matas and a much younger man. Matas disarmed the youngster, but instead of killing him, simply chided him, saying that he ought to learn how to use a sword better, and not to pick fights with experienced swordsmen. Naturally, this advice infuriated the kid. As Matas turned to mount his horse and depart, the kid stabbed him in the back and killed him.
This preamble serves well to introduce the disarming actions presented in Masaniello Parise's "Trattato Della Spada." Published in 1883, this treatise is still referred to as the "bible" of the Italian school. In lessons # 22 and # 24 Parise speaks of the " Battuta atterrando" and the "Guadagno di spada" (the "grounding beat" and the "taking of the sword"). In "The Science of Fencing," Maestro William Gaugler refers to these respectively as the "vertical disarmament, which drives the hostile blade vertically downward (toward the ground), and the "spiral disarmament" (both left and right). Listed among the actions on the blade, these are violent actions, and for them to be successful more force than usual should be used. However, it is not so much force as it is skillful application of proper technique that is the real key to their success. If executed properly, they can tear a weapon from an adversary's grip and send it sailing. Nevertheless, in and of themselves, these actions are useless. In each case, Parise directs the student to follow through immediately with a straight thrust. When used in this fashion, they are seen (in the Italian school) as being no different from any other action on the blade.
As for the usefulness of disarmaments in the fencing hall, that depends upon the rules governing play. In competitions held on the west coast of the U.S. during the early '60s, touches delivered immediately after a disarmament were allowed. I don't believe these particular actions have any pedagogical value as they aren't designed either to exploit or reveal a fault. Moreover, because the mechanical advantage they employ greatly exaggerates the forces involved, they can be very hard on a pupil's hand.
Is it possible that the disarm could be used by a student simply and for the direct purpose of stopping the engagement? I speak only within the context of Master Crown's salle here. Though I have no experience here, it seems that it might be used as a tactical advantage. A "weaker" student (and by that I mean someone who is not as technically advanced) with a solid knowledge of the disarm, might be able to gain advantage, or at least level the field for a moment by stopping the phrase. Allowing time for the "weaker" student to stop and recompose themself might go a long way. Also, it might concieveably allow them to make more simple direct actions from the start i.e. give them some control of the tactical situation, if only for a brief instant. Just a thought.
Last edited by FozzyBond (2006-07-16 11:03:11)