Botte Segrete and the Real Eye

I still dream about learning the perfect attack, even though I know better. Most fencers do, even if they don’t think of it with the same words. The old fencing masters used to teach, for a hefty fee, a secret blow. An unstoppable strike. Arturo Pérez-Reverte even makes one the a central part of his excellent book “The Fencing Master.” The aging master has a secret blow that he has only taught to few students, and when a murder happens that he can tell was committed with his secret blow, he has to figure out who the killer is.

There was a new fighter way back in the old SCA days who showed up and tried to make his mark. He took the basic lessons, did the rudimentary practice, and started to fight. Going up against some of the top guns, he grew frustrated. Getting hit over and over can do that to you, understandably. He eventually pulled aside the top fighter, and demanded to know the secret to beating him. And apparently, “practice” wasn’t the correct answer. This guy was convinced that there was a single technique, a method or approach he could use that would allow him to instantly win all his fights. He was also convinced that everyone else knew it, and they were just not telling him.

We can laugh at the naivete, but we all fall victim to a degree of that thinking. It can be a light thing, when we start to focus on one aspect of our fencing to the exclusion of everything else. It becomes the sole source of our victories or losses. If I work a certain lunge, then my losses are because I am not doing it right…I drop my wrist to low, my measure is off, my footwork, my balance, etc…We focus on what we need to do to improve that technique, because it’s the thing has become our path to winning.

It’s not a bad thing to pay attention to one thing for a while. Improvements in one area can help our overall game. It becomes a bad thing when we start to see everything in light of the one technique, and forget the rest of our game. Or worse, we start thinking that there is one thing missing from our game. That we are losing to many fights because we haven’t picked up that one thing, that one combination or pattern that will work reliably on everyone. It’s almost a tangible hole we can feel in our style, and we start to dig around looking for that thing that will make it all click.

Some people are attracted to historical fencing methods for similar reasons. They are looking for the magic style, the secret supreme martial art. Or once they are involved in training, they start thinking about the perfect interpretation of one master, who obviously must be better than all the others. Or maybe, they think, everyone else has misread how a blow is meant to be performed…and maybe if it is seen in new light, they will have uncovered the real secret to unlocking the master system.

Sometimes we can think of the secret blow in an individual sense. I like to try and find the one magical tactic that will work against one special person. I study people and how they fight, and conduct elaborate bouts in my head to try and determine how I can beat that person everytime, by exploiting all their weakness and strengths. It’s good to have a casual understanding of how to understand someone’s fight game, and create workable tactics in short order…but it’s easy to go overboard. People change, and at some point it’s more important that we change ourselves.

Change isn’t easy, especially for fighters. Even a little exposure to martial arts and athleticism can show us the value of putting up with things sucking for a while. We learn that pain and suffering can teach us lessons that nothing else can, and they need to be endured even when we think that it’s stupid and we know a better way. We can spend months throwing ourselves against the brick wall of a technique, waiting for the eventual payoff. We can forget that we know better.

Those techniques we work hardest at can become a set repertoire, a series of habitual fighting ticks that define us as fighters. They become our strongest weapons, but they are also the key that our opponents will use to defeat us. You can’t really stop this from happening. It’s human nature to be only be able to own so many techniques at once. It’s in our nature to carry our habits and express them in our actions. Trying to overcome that nature is another kind of Botte Segrete, and is to be avoided. I used to say that the only real Botte Segrete was practice, but I’m a more experienced fencer now. I can see how practice alone is no real solution. It can easily serve to reinforce our own bad practices.

To be a complete fighter, we need to understand our own weaknesses. We need to see ourselves the way our opponents do. See our own openings, our own tics and flaws and habits. We should become experts at attacking a doppelganger of ourselves. When we understand all the best ways to attack ourselves, we start to know how any opponent will think. Without knowing anything about who we are fighting, we will already know what attacks they are likely to use. Our own weaknesses become our best secret attack…but only when we take our blinders off, strip out our ego’s, and learn to see who we really are.

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