Gala Nights

Two fencers face each other on a narrow strip, in a darkened theatre. Two champions vying for a moment’s supremacy, while a hushed crowd of over a thousand watch. I loved that image when I first read about it, from the turn of the previous century. It spoke to me a of a time long lost, when the art of the sword was respected, when a skilled fencer could be known. One of my goals when I started Academie Duello with Devon was to try and make that time come back.

I was only able to attend the Saturday night Gala at the recent Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium. I would have loved to have spent the entire weekend there, fencing everyone I could and enjoying the classes, but time and money spoke against that. In the end, though, it didn’t matter that much. I got to see something more important to me…a hint of that dream coming alive.

Spectacular exhibition bouts, with a variety of weapons. Classical Italian Dueling Epee, sabre, early German sword and buckler, Spanish swordplay of very high calibre, and a lovely demo of a rapier bout done under a form of classical fencing rules. Performances not only worthy of a stage, but capable of holding the attention of a large, even uneducated, audience. And just pure eye candy to the educated. If you weren’t there, you really did miss out. I expect video should be online soon, I did see a few camera’s in attendance. I think it’s telling that there was a wonderful performance of a well choreographed and rehearsed stage fight scene earlier in the evening, and a good as it was, it wasn’t as visually interesting as the real bouts were. The same fighters, bouting later in the evening, reminded me of watching panthers first playing, and then hunting. Same animals, same actions, but a world of difference.

Watching the different weapons at play made me think about my own goals as a teacher and fencer. For years, I avoided rapier teaching due to the expense of the weapons themselves. Longswords, arming swords and sabres were cheaper…I could afford to buy loaners for my school. Canes were even cheaper, even if the pace of classes made them disposable consumables. With Valkyrie, I’m going back to my roots and sticking to rapier as a core weapon. I’m not going to change that, but I’m remembering that there is no reason to be limited. Specialization is important to learning, but cross-training is important to development. I think the future might hold some weekend longsword and sabre sessions for my students…

Which brings me to my point for the day. One of the more abrasive things I discovered when I was in the SCA was a mutual antagonism between stick and rapier fighters. There was a clear polarity. One was better than the other, and you were on the side of which ever one you practiced. An utterly stupid way of looking at things, but I see it cropping up in the WMA world, like an infection. Longsword is better than rapier. Rapier is better than classical fencing, which is better than sport fencing. All other weapons are for kinky fetishists or deluded role players….sorry, “traditional martial artists.”

Rules for tournaments have to follow the same progression. Real men fight full contact. Foam is for losers. Everyone cheats so no honour system will ever work. The after-blow is good, and evil. Judged bouts are cleaner, but not martial. Your realism is my larping. Competition will sportify us and dilute the art. The art is weak without competition. Let’s make sides, so we can hate each other and finally find something we can openly despise, alongside the scattered people that feel like we do.

The internet is letting us slowly build communities build around affirmation, around those things that tell us our personal beliefs are correct. There is no push, no reason, to seek verification…any sort of test that what we believe is actually right. I find a thousand voices that agree with me, and ignore the millions that disagree…or chose to be silent rather than deal with quotemongers…those that argue by dissection. Compromise has no place in a black and white world, and we haven’t yet let the internet be more than binary.

I’m okay with claiming the whole world of swordplay as mine. I look forward to someday taking lessons in foil. Why should I despise any sword art? What is really beneath me? Am I so much better than someone else merely because of some pasted-on cachet that my choice of weapon conforms on me? Does excelling in one ruleset make you better than someone who can perform well if not perfect under all rulesets? Why should I miss out on any learning opportunity, just because someone else thinks it makes me weak? I work to free myself of my own opinions, why should I care so much about the opinions of others?

If I felt that way, I might have missed out on some excellent conversation with two fascinating longsword folks. I’m not willing to give that up. The fellowship of fencers, regardless of weapon or approach, is a precious thing. Our practice of swordplay, in class or online, should respect that.

 

2 Comments

  1. I recall reading once in an old black belt magazine something to the effect of:
    “But if I train in more than one martial art, I’m diluting my skill set! Becoming a jack of all trades and master of none!”
    “Nonsense. Combat is your trade, and you would be wise to master it in all its aspects.”
    And outside of that, where did this/these schism(s) come from? I can’t speak for any but myself, but the guiding thought when I first took up the art was “swords are cool”. While I’m not sure how one would change the community as it stands, I think I’ve got the right outlook on approaching new weapons and their respective arts.

    My two cents, anyway.

  2. Tribalism is very ingrained in us, and it seems too easy for people to start saying “my weapon is the true art” or some other such nonsense.

    I think people have a preference for weapons and weapons that they have no interest in. But when pushed on the why of their choice instead of just saying “because I like it better” they say “because it’s the best” and things go down hill from there. At VISS on Friday I was glad to see a lot of cross-polination, I hope it was the same at the rest of VISS and at the Gala.

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