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#1 2006-04-06 15:35:46

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

Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

Here's the story.  In 1996, the librarian at San Jose State University to whom I submitted my thesis knew nothing about the arrangement Dr. Gaugler had established with the library when he was still on faculty.  She expressed bewilderment and confusion, doubtless because of the use of several terms which meant one thing to Dr. Gaugler and yet another to the library (Dr. Gaugler is multilingual).

For one, graduates of the program receive a document testifying to their completion of the program.  Broadly speaking, such a document may be referred to as a "diploma,"  but strictly speaking, it is a "certificate." For another, although the dissertation candidates write may be referred to as a "thesis," the library views a thesis as a written body of work leading toward an academic degree.  Dr. Gaugler's program does not grant academic degrees.  Last, because graduates of the program are fencing "masters," the view evolved that these people were submitting a "master's thesis" to satisfy a requirement for a "master's diploma."  Of course, this is not the case.  Consequently, after Dr. Gaugler retired and most of those supportive of him on the library's staff also left, the library ended its practice of accepting these theses.

Frank Lurz

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#2 2006-04-06 21:47:46

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

Thanks for the low-down on that one, Frank.
I wonder if, perhaps, we ought to use different terms. It's not the first time there's been confusion about it. I've haven't seen very many fencing master "theses" but only a few that I have seen could properly be called a "thesis" in academic circles.
Any thoughts on that?

AAC

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#3 2006-04-07 11:11:49

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

I was unaware of confusion in the fencing community about theses, but I'm not greatly surprised by your less than enthusiastic view of the academic caliber of some of them.  Sadly, most Americans do not possess the writing skills they should.  That includes, I'm sorry to say, many of today's college graduates. 

With respect to fencing theses per se, I have had some concerns for a variety of reasons.  Principal among them is the fact that while there is a good deal of literature on the subject upon which to draw, most of it is in languages foreign to most Americans, and the cost of translating what one might need could easily be prohibitive.  Hardly more practical would be to dedicate the years and expense necessary to learn a language, and the notion that one can simply sit down and thumb through a dictionary to translate archaic French or Italian literature on a specialized subject into modern English is at least as unrealistic. 

Another concern is that I don't see a particularly close connection between one's ability to write a thesis and one's skill as a fencing master. I don't know when or where writing a thesis became a requirement to teach at the master's level, but it's clear that there were many capable fencing masters throughout history who never wrote a word (good thesis topic there).  To be sure, writing on the subject of fencing must be encouraged as there is much yet about which to write: inconsistencies in fencing theory, additions to that theory, fencing technique, pedagogical problems, observations and advice, psychology, the training of teachers, etc., etc.  Moreover, fencing history isn't altogether dead — yet.  We are a part of it and are still making it.  It should be preserved.

Perhaps articles for reputable fencing publications edited by knowledgeable individuals would be more useful. "Fencers Quarterly Magazine" comes to mind.  At this point I'm far more concerned about turning out teachers.  If classical fencing is to survive it must grow, and it can't do that without more properly trained, qualified teachers.  There are far too few of them, and as they die off they are not being replaced.  Everything should be done to facilitate turning out as many as possible, and although I would mourn the loss of the thesis requirement, I nevertheless see it as an impediment to a far more important goal.

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#4 2006-04-07 11:26:31

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

Good thoughts, Frank.
Especially your point that many fencing masters -- such as Telligory and Jean-Louis -- never wrote about it. When I see the fencing books today, what they contain and who wrote them and contrast that with the people I know who are teaching, I must accept the possibility that some of those who write most about fencing are not necessarily the most qualified to do so.

I have long suspected that the "thesis" requirement was contrived to assume the mantle of respectability rendered to academics but not to "in corpore sano," endeavors, setting aside for the moment the matter of body/mind integration. Or, viewed another way, it may have been an attempt to inflate the stature of fencing teachers in some way, to gild a lilly.

I certainly agree that a good article would be much more useful than a bad thesis. I am, indeed, strongly considering dropping this requirement for my own students.

AAC

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#5 2006-04-07 15:40:04

RHogg
Member
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

I've been speaking with some French teachers and they call their equivalent of the thesis a  "memoire"... maybe that's a better choice of words?

I wonder, however, how many potential fencing masters are deterred or scared off by the thesis requirement?

Certainly problems with reading languages can be a major obstacle, but I would think that a classical fencing master should be able to read and interpret the fencing literature, which is in those languages.  A master who can't read at least one other language -- be it german, french, italian, or spanish -- would be limited.  Translations are great, but things always read better in the words the original author used... and most people I know who are interested in seriously pursuing "la maitrise" are also interested in the languages. 

To me it seems important that masters be able to read and interpret fencing texts -- the thesis, or memoire, or whatever you want to call it is a way of training them to do that... maybe what's needed is more guidance with the research and the writing, rather than abandoning it altogether?

And I do think there's something to be said for taking one's ideas about fencing and putting them down on paper, even if that paper turns out not to be so well-written.  I've done a lot of work with writing pedagogy, and it can be a very useful tool for formulating and organizing one's thoughts.  Whether this need be formal or not, well I suppose that's not up to me to judge right now! :)

I guess it's pretty clear I'm a writing teacher by now... though I'm just thinking on paper here, not really trying to argue any point per se...


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#6 2006-04-07 22:45:22

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

I have learned from Vinnie Bradford that the usfca has approx. 40 papers on file at the olympic training center. Many of these date from the late 70's students of M. JJ Gillet in Ithaca.
I've asked for further info re: obtaining copies.

AAC

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#7 2006-04-08 12:34:36

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

RHogg wrote:

I've been speaking with some French teachers and they call their equivalent of the thesis a  "memoire"... maybe that's a better choice of words?

I wonder, however, how many potential fencing masters are deterred or scared off by the thesis requirement?

Certainly problems with reading languages can be a major obstacle, but I would think that a classical fencing master should be able to read and interpret the fencing literature, which is in those languages.

That's asking quite a lot, and were it a requirement for fencing masters in the United States, I daresay the breed would disappear overnight.   As a matter of record, between six and thirteen years ago, five master candidates in Dr. Gaugler's program successfully completed the three-year course of study in all three weapons and passed the written, oral, and practical examinations. Nevertheless, none were certified upon completion of the program because of the thesis requirement. Of those five, I know of only one who eventually finished his thesis and one other who possibly has done so by now.

One can reasonably argue the need for those with a serious interest in fencing history to learn the languages in which the treatises they study were originally written, but the same ought not to be expected of fencing masters.  Their job is not to translate and interpret texts, it's to teach fencing.  As long as the line of instruction remains unbroken, as it is for foil and saber, I can see no overriding reason why they can't do that.  As for other weapons in which the teaching line is broken, I have little to contribute other than that learning to fence strictly from a written text poses its own perils.  (I know of one individual who learned the Italian school of foil fencing solely from original texts — and teaches the ceding parries incorrectly.)

Frank Lurz

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#8 2006-04-10 13:43:59

RHogg
Member
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

franklurz wrote:

That's asking quite a lot, and were it a requirement for fencing masters in the United States, I daresay the breed would disappear overnight.   As a matter of record, between six and thirteen years ago, five master candidates in Dr. Gaugler's program successfully completed the three-year course of study in all three weapons and passed the written, oral, and practical examinations. Nevertheless, none were certified upon completion of the program because of the thesis requirement. Of those five, I know of only one who eventually finished his thesis and one other who possibly has done so by now.

As long as the line of instruction remains unbroken, as it is for foil and saber, I can see no overriding reason why they can't do that.  As for other weapons in which the teaching line is broken, I have little to contribute other than that learning to fence strictly from a written text poses its own perils.

Dear Maestro Lurz --

You're right, it is asking a lot -- it's definitely a shame to hear about those folks coming so close, especially as extinction is certainly a danger.  I'd say  it's less of a danger now than it was in the early 1980's thanks to a lot of hard work by some really talented people, but of course the more dedicated, talented people we have devoted to the cause, the better the future looks.

And I think we'd both agree that there's far too much emphasis on the texts these days, and I think most people hereabouts would agree that the line of instruction is what's important.  As the saying goes, a donkey hauling a load of holy books is still a donkey; fencing texts must be informed by a sophisticated understanding of fencing theory as well as a highly attuned kinesthetic awareness -- otherwise you're just play-acting -- and that sort of thing only comes from training with a qualified, professional teacher.  But with all the fencing masters around here, there's probably no need to go into a diatribe on that.  Suffice it to say that it's the line of instruction that makes GOOD reconstruction possible, though it's up to the individual master to determine whether they want to engage in that or are interested mostly in teaching the material from their lineage.

But even with the texts taking a secondary (if not tertiary) place, they are useful to inform and complement the master-to-master relationship and I would hate to see them left on the shelves (not that this is what you're arguing).  I think they're especially useful when the student has had enough experience to begin formulating their own ideas on fencing, and they might help promote some diversity in a population that, right now, is the antithesis of diverse.  Classical fencing has gone through what biologists would call a "population bottleneck," since we've gone from hundreds of viable lineages to a number I can count on one hand.  My Maestro says that when you become a master, you have to take what you were taught and make it your own, and I see treatises as a helpful tool along those lines... e.g., maybe Barbasetti has a few lesson ideas or a pedagogical approach that my own master never chose to use, but that I nevertheless find useful.  Would your argument be that it should be up to the individual master or master candidate to decide upon this for him/herself, rather than the examining committee?

I suppose, on that line, one could say that it's up to each examining committee to make their own determinations, since different programs are bound to have different interests... it's nice to not be in France where there's no choice except the state-approved curriculum...

It's just a shame there's not more available in English, either in the form of translations or good secondary sources.  But of course, the more you translate, the more wackos there are out there who think they can pick up a book and be Zorro or Sir Lancelot, and that brings on a whole host of problems on its own (which I know this community is well aware of)... though that problem might be eased in this country if there were more professionals around.

On a side note regarding your post, I wonder how many masters or student masters feel a pressure to have "their own weapon" that they've reconstructed that no one else has?  I know I've scanned the treatise titles once or twice thinking "What should my weapon be?  What can I do that no one else has touched yet? "  Now that I think about your words, it seems to me that this is exactly what I should NOT be doing.

Best wishes,
Russell


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#9 2006-04-22 06:50:05

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

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

Thanks to Mr. Tom Lillibridge of Kansas City, Mo, we have just acquired a number of fencing master papers that might be interesting reading. We'll try to track down the authors and, if they grant permission, we'll post thir work on this site.

AAC

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#10 2006-04-24 10:17:59

RHogg
Member
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: Fencing Master's Theses and the SJSU Library

That's great!  Thanks to Mr. Lillibridge...


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