I got a lot of benefits out of being trained in the survival of the fittest school of fencing. Challenge matches against other martial artists are a breeze. I’m used to the crazy, the insane, the unexpected. When I was learning rapier, lessons were rudimentary at best. Drills were a thing done sporadically, and all of it was seen as a thing between you and some good sparring. Learning was a thing to get past as soon as possible, and all added up not more than a few hours of inconvenience.
On any given night, you might be fighting a pudgy newbie fresh from the gaming table, or a cagey tournament champ with close to twenty years experience and a chip on his shoulder. You never knew who you were going to face, you never knew what the person behind the other sword was going to bring to you in the next second or two.
It was a tough environment, and you learned fast. You either got good, became a person who improved all the time, or resigned yourself to being chump fodder for everyone else. I wasn’t good, so I became one of the people who focussed on self-improvement. I took lessons from everyone who could hold a sword. I harassed and learned from the best, going out of my way to track them down, one after another. Sometimes all I could learn was that it sucked to get stabbed in the face repeatedly. Other people were able to take the time and transmit some truly great lessons. Mostly, I just learned to judge my opponents for weaknesses, and to try to exploit those weaknesses as quickly as possible.
It was frustrating, coming from an Asian martial arts background. I was used to structured environments with a real legacy. I may have objected to the stifling rules and interpretations, but I enjoyed the feeling of progression with an end result of total knowledge. The Darwinian approach was making me a better fighter than I had ever been, but I still felt like I had gaps, but I had no real knowledge of how to fill those gaps. I mean, how was I supposed to know if I had openings in my style that were going unfixed just because my random selection of opponents only included people who never went for that opening?
Studying the period manuals gave me a sense of completeness. Darwin plus a system…how could I go wrong? Well…maybe four and five hundred year old books are not going to be the best pedagogical resource. Helpful, yes. Invaluable for sure. But they still left all the work up to me. They were a good crutch, but in the end, still a crutch. They got me up to walking unsupported, though…and I would not have been able to do that on my own.
So tonight in class we start out at level one, and I start to see if I can begin again, filling in the holes in an orderly progression. I suspect the experienced fencers will find it frustrating but do-able, and the new fencers will find it easy…we’ll see…