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#1 2006-09-26 20:47:49

Maestro di Scherma
From: Mill Valley, CA
Registered: 2006-04-06

Some Answers to Maître Crown's Questions

Maître Crown asked,

>  1. What is the purpose of a national organization?
>  One answer is to obtain discounted insurance rates.

Yes.  Insurance is indispensable.  It is still possible to get coverage through the USFA provided one’s school is a USFA member, but that has posed problems in the past.  Around 1996, in an effort to assure its fencers’ participation in the Olympic Games, the USFA attempted to swell its numbers by requiring member schools and clubs to make membership in the USFA mandatory for all of their fencers, whether they competed or not.  It was not the smartest of ideas and was doomed from the beginning.  Nevertheless, it is a classic example of the USFA’s propensity for meddling in the affairs of its members.  A clean break from the USFA would relieve us from interference of every kind.

Regarding insurance per se, one concern I have is that schools claiming to adhere to “classical” fencing may also be doing other kinds of fencing that could be potentially dangerous.  For example, a while back an individual who professed to be teaching authentic rapier “fighting” told me that along with thrust and parry he also taught kicks and punches. Then there are those claiming to teach medieval swordplay.  A hard hit with a conventional fencing saber is one thing — getting accidentally dinged on the head with a two-meter zweihander is something else again.  An insurance policy strictly for classical fencing schools would have to be drafted that addresses such issues.

Another purpose of a national organization would be to establish legitimacy for CF.  Presently, when I get new private students, the subject of the USFA often comes up.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell them anything about a national classical fencing organization (NCFO) because there is none, leaving some of them with the impression that what they’re about to learn is a small, isolated, outdated backwater of no earthly relevance.  Membership in a NCFO could do much to remedy this problem.

>  Another [reason] is to sway manufacturers that it's worth their investment
>  to produce particular products.

Yes, and that appears to be an increasingly important matter.

>  Some folks have mentioned "standardizing the rules," or words to
>  that effect. Am I the only one who knows what the rules are? As
>  far as I can tell they didn't change much from at least the mid-
>  19th century to around 1980 when the USFA/Olympic Committee
>  honchos apparently dropped some bad acid.  What rules are there
>  exactly that have to be agreed on/codified, and for what?

By and large, the rules governing fencing itself haven’t changed, but what has changed is the way they have been “re-interpreted.”  What could be useful is new wording that would severely limit the potential for “interpretations" that excuse bad fencing.  For example, the 2005 USFA rule governing the simple attack at foil states: “The simple attack, direct or indirect, is correctly executed when the extending of the arm, the point threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of the lunge or the flèche.”

Perhaps the most flagrant abuse of this rule has been justified by the so-called “re-interpretation” of the word “extending,” which sport fencers have argued should be taken to mean that the sword arm need not be fully “extended” at all, but only “in the process” of extending.  Another is the “interpretation" of the word “threatening” which, thanks to the legitimization of the “flick,” has been taken to include the orientation of the weapon in virtually any direction. 

An example of a re-wording of this rule that might better confine its interpretation to the realm of common sense might be as follows: 

“The simple attack, direct or indirect, is correctly executed only with complete extension of the sword arm, with the long axes of both weapon and arm oriented directly at the valid target, prior to the initiation of the lunge or the flèche.”

(Note:  This revision is just a hastily formulated example.  A truly useful revision would necessarily require thoughtful deliberation by a number of individuals whose different experiences would be indispensable to arriving at a definition necessary to insure that the rule be clear tamper proof.

>  If the purpose is keeping fencing alive, why do we need an
>  organization? I've kept it alive and well here in Ithaca since 1980.
>  Others have done likewise. What exactly do you think we can
>  accomplish with an organization that we can't accomplish
>  individually without one?

When I first set foot in Letterman Fencers Club in 1964 it was little more than a year before I began asking its teacher what provisions he would make to assure the club’s future survival.  Up to that point the club, located in a gymnasium on the Presidio of San Francisco, had existed only through the good graces of the U.S. Army, who had favored its instructor with the space on account of his service to the post hospital.  It was clear to me that the arrangement could not go on indefinitely.  After his health had degenerated to the point where he could no longer go on, the instructor imported teachers from outside. None of them proved adequate to the task.  Now, the teacher and his club are both dead.  As an Army veteran I might have been able to appeal to the Army and rescue the situation, but in my wildest dreams I never imagined that even the U.S. Army would lose not only the gym, but the entire Presidio!  No school can go on forever, but I believe the survival of what they teach and practice is more likely if there is a central body that can provide guidance, assistance and continuity for those willing to pick up the torch and carry on.

>  What's wrong with having several small organizations? Let people >  choose which one to join.  I trust I don't have to point out the
>  tremendous dunghill were all stuck in as a result of the
>  consolidation of power in a monopoly.

There’s no question that the USFA has left classical fencers with an unpleasant odor in their noses, but it could be that with a collection of small organizations what we would just as easily end up doing is trading one big dunghill for a wide collection of smaller ones.  Regardless of which way we might go, we would always have to guard against the “dunghill factor.”  Speaking for myself, the one thing I find most attractive about a single organization is that it could serve as a central, unifying body that could assure that a classical fencer from New York, Chicago or Philadelphia could walk into a classical school in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland or anywhere else, pick up a foil or saber and enjoy an evening of intelligent thrust and parry without having to debate what constitutes priority, argue over the requisites of a valid hit, deal with yet another “interpretation” of the rules or otherwise engage in the realm of the absurd because of his adversarys’ insistence that “We don’t do it that way here.”

>  Perhaps a very loose association, formal or informal is all that's
>  required?

For the moment I don’t I see any particular problem with a “loose” association.  Such an association, hopefully led by those with a genuine knowledge of what it is that constitutes “classical” fencing, would serve to assure that classical fencing be clearly defined. 

>  2. Who runs this hypothetical organization? Who's a member? Are
>  there different classes of membership?  Voting/non-voting
>  members? Officers? Structure?

I imagine the answers to these questions would initially come from those dedicated (or insane) enough to take up the task of forming the organization. 

>  3. Who's a Fencing Master? What credentials must one have? Must
>  a person have stood before an examining board of peers and
>  been endorsed by them? Or is it enough to be given the secret
>  handshake by your teacher?  Would this organization set criteria
>  for teaching credentials? And if so, how would that be
>  managed/enforced?

Perhaps this task should fall outside the province of a NCFO, just as the USFCA is outside the province of the USFA.  Likely instituting it would be a terrible burden, but if we’re to survive beyond ourselves, someone, sometime, will simply have to bear it.

> It would be grand to get together with some other professionals,
>  drink champagne, swap teaching techniques, tell stories, etc. It's a
>  big continent and we're spread pretty thin. But it involves a big
>  chunk of time, energy and money.

>  Airfare is nothing to sneeze at and travel time/expenses are
> considerable . . .

I fear more than most of us could likely come by just from giving lessons.

>  So, I think, before we run too far or too fast in any direction, we
>  should decide where it is exactly that we want to go.

>  Just my opinion.

>  AAC

I share it.




#2 2006-09-26 22:05:41

Adam Adrian Crown
Maître d'Armes
From: Ithaca, New York
Registered: 2006-04-04

Re: Some Answers to Maître Crown's Questions

Thanks for sharing your further thoughts on this idea.
If we keep in mind how things went to hell in the recent past with the USFA, I think we should be able to formulate an intelligent plan.

Here are a few of my ideas on it:
1. "Classical?" 
I'll do a big mea culpa for inadvertantly lending respectability to  just-plain-wrong- and-stupid fencing, by using the terms "classical" and  "olympic" to distinguish real fencing from trash, as if they were two different but equally valid approaches. They're not.
I think we should consider abandoning the term "classical" as a title. Use it in the description and explain it, fine.  All kinds of people have defined "classical" fencing to suit themselves. I'd say, consider cutting it loose.
There's only fencing.
If you violate the foundational rules of fencing, you're not doing "another style" of fencing; you're not fencing at all.

2. I'd recommend that the organization get set up to fulfill the function of certifying fencing instructors right from the beginning, and I have some pretty stringent ideas about what it should take to be certified.
I have some pretty strict notions of who should be called a fencing master too.
And no one's going to like it.

3. I'd recommend that only fencing masters may be officers and that only certified instructors of whatever rank may vote. I'd also recommend rule by consensus and not by majority.

4. I think top priority must be insurance. This will allow what you so correctly noted as the critical step of completely severing all connections with the USFA mess.
I think it might be worthwhile to explore insurance for related weapons such as the long rapier, but that will require developing safety standards and might have to wait.
I personally can no longer bring myself to refer to THAT THING THEY USE as a sabre.
We use something a lot heavier -- and truer --which I believe is actually safer since all known fencing fatalities, as far as I can determine,  have involved broken blades.
The ones we use are NOT going to be breaking.

5.  As far as "standardizing" the rules, I think any pre-1980 rulebook with one or two additional clarifications is all that's needed.
Incidentally, I believe the rules stll actually say what they've always said. In French the meaning seems clear, though I'm by no means fluent, in the -- what is it: past participle??? --- "the arm having been extended."
"The building of the bridge precedes the cars crossing," would be a similar phrase, no?
You tell me: do we START building the bridge before we let cars try to cross, or FINISH building it.
To "interpret" this rule in the current fashion one must be illiterate in at least two languages.  I prefer to think of these folk as disingenuous because I hate to think anyone could actually be that stupid.

That's off the top of my head.
Now let's see if it's off with the rest of it.




#3 2006-09-27 09:03:12

From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Registered: 2006-04-20

Re: Some Answers to Maître Crown's Questions

Maitres Crown and Lurz,

thank you. You are beginning to put your finger into the wound that some of us beginners in this world of traditional fencing have felt for a long time. As such, I have hope that yourselves and other masters can work to heal it.

If it is not too presumptuous, I would like to add my thoughts, if I may.

Your point about 'Classical' fencing is spot on. You mention the distinction made once between 'Classical' and 'Olympic'. It is a truer distinction than many acknowledge, although not simply based upon good and bad fencing... there are 'classical' fencers of similar backgrounds who fence well, and those that fence poorly, and yet are still vastly different from Olympic fencers. The distinction comes in the competitive focus. Since you declare on your website the brand of Classical fencing you teach to be a 'martial art for incurable romantics', I shall take you at your word and assume that when you and I speak of Classical fencing, we are thinking of a martial art... not a game played for points. It is a very different thing to train someone to play with the foils to win a competition than to teach a person using the foils as a mere training aid that they may learn to defend themselves with a sword. So much so that this competitive bent has altered the foundational rules of Olympic fencing. As such, Olympic fencers have become very good at Olympic fencing. Their Masters are very good at teaching Olympic fencing. They are excellent fencers and fencing Masters ... for how they understand fencing. The problem I see is this competitive bent. It corrupts martial reason. Even if one is trained 'classically' if he uses this fencing purely competitively - i.e. to win point based upon arbitrary rules, his fencing will be corrupted, it will change. Aldo Nadi was an example of this by his own account - a student of Classical Fencing who converted his art to meet the demands of the arena.

The point I am making with this is that I feel your distinction is still appropriate and while it is tempting to want to throw out the term due to the the large number of practitioners who have diluted it to meet their own ends, I implore you not to. There is no guarantee that any other term you use would not also be sullied. It is better to work to more precisely define what is being taught under the banner and to then distinguish these further.

This can only be done by getting as many people who proclaim to be masters of 'Classical Fencing' together to discuss.

It was mentioned by one of you gentlemen that the Masters know what each other is teaching. Respectfully, having spoken with and trained with several Masters, this does not seem to be the case. Masters are often surprised to hear what another is teaching as 'Classical'.

Over the years, I have oddly become an apologist for Classical Fencing. Explaining the topography of the Traditional fencing world to sport fencers has taught me much about both. As such, I present here my observations... PLEASE, do not take them for gospel. I am no Master... just a zealous student. Rather, I offer these as a starting point for further discussion.

Under the 'Classical' banner I see the following camps:

European Martial arts of the 1800's - practitioners in this camp teach and practice fencing focusing on the weapons and pedagogy developed and taught during this 'Classical Era'. They define the era as ending with the Olympic era... noting that popular conceptions of fencing had moved from it being viewed as a martial art to it being viewed as a game, despite the fact that a few martial practitioners continued to practice and teach.

Early Competitive fencing - This can actually be drawn into two sub camps - those who include fencing prior to the Olympic Era and those who only focus on fencing of the Early Olympic Era. In technique, these may be similar and indeed share a similar 'classical' look to even the practitioners of the previous group. However, the competitive focus is still primary here. These groups are fencing as a game, just using old rules and techniques as well as the worn phrase 'as if they were sharp'. The problem is, competitive fencing corrupts the 'if they were sharp' intent. This may be seen in slight variances in technique to optimize fencing for play.

Mid 20th century fencing - Well into the competitive era, fencing here has changed subtly for the purposes of sport. The rules are mostly the same as in the beginning of the Olympic era, however the high stakes nationalism and competition has driven a specialised training and technique change to optimize fencers for the sport, not a serious encounter. Members of this group become disenfranchised when the last thing  they view as connecting them to fencing's roots - i.e. the rules, begin to change. There seem to be many 'Veteran' fencers in this group who then turned to use the 'Classical' term to distinguish their competitive fencing from the competitive fencing which was developing in the USFA... both are still competitive.

Dry modern fencing - believe it or not, there are some people who use the modern rules and techniques, only with dry weapons, and call themselves classical.

SCA fencing - There are some SCA groups who manage to practice with more classical weapons, usually to inform their desire to fight with rapier or smallsword. These are often lead by people who have had little to no fencing training or experience outside of the SCA and one or two workshops. Some even refer to themselves as Masters. A subset of these are recreational fencers who are more interested in fantasy than the hard work of fencing practice. They may have graduated from a workshop or cyber-course - with recognized Masters, only to turn around and don knee pads and slide across the floor at each other wielding foils. Fencing for these groups is really a romantic outlet... fantasy play. Nothing wrong with that... but they call it 'Classical'.

For the person who understands these distinctions and knows which one he or she is really interested in practicing, it is easy to walk into a practice and determine at a glance what type of 'Classical' fencing is really being practiced. The problem is, beginners rarely are informed with such ability to distinguish ... they come to a practice much as Maitre Crown suggests: thinking that fencing is fencing. For these, the next generation of martial fencers, I argue that we need to not throw away the term Classical Fencing, but more uniformly define it (at present each master seems to have his own definition). Get a consensus. If necessary, come up with further distinctions so that everyone can have a category to fit their fencing into without simply lumping it under 'Classical' fencing. And then, something which will send ripples of fear to the furthest reaches: begin the process of accreditation. This will help beginners, and truly, those who earnestly wish to follow a path of traditional martial study should not fear, even if they are not accredited right away, such a process could show them where they are lacking and what they need to do/change to become accredited. Perhaps they shall discover that what they want to do and 'Classical' fencing are two different things (as at least one formerly 'classical' master discovered). They can then begin down the path they truly wish to follow. There should be no fear in self improvement and self-discovery. Truth and true distinctions can only aid individuals on the path to enlightenment.

And of course, the only ones who can do this, who can start any of this discussion are the Masters. But they can not do this if they continue to avoid each other. I am certain that feelings will be hurt. It most certainly won't be resolved in one meeting. I am certain their will differences of opinion. That does not mean that it is not a discussion worth having, worth starting... in fact it is a discussion owed to the present and future students of 'Classical' fencing everywhere.

As regards Masters not being able to foot the bill to travel to such an important  professional convention ... I think M. Lurz is right, most should be able to afford this from what they already do... after all, masters expect students to travel across the country to study to promote and continue fencing ... I think the Masters could do the same on occasion... for the good of fencing, and indeed for the good of their students. And if a national group could be formed, perhaps in the future, it could develop funds to pay for such conventions - including airfare for masters... just another reason to begin discussing the possibilities ASAP.

Those are my observations and thoughts.

I leave them for you to dispute, discuss, tear apart, reconstruct, and revise - as long as we continue this important and constructive discussion.


Last edited by cfaustus (2006-09-27 09:03:33)



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