Prepping for the wedding, my brother complained. The kilts were on and, after weeks of frantic work, looking good and fitting just right. We’d just had a wee little of an exceptional aged rum, and were at the last step of preparation before heading out the door to the wedding.
I was strapping on my favourite sword…a nice sharp modern take on the US 1860 heavy cavalry sabre. Chris was wearing his amazing antique infantry officers sabre. Todd was looking at the sword I had given him, a Hanwei Practical Mortuary sword, and asking “Why isn’t mine sharp?”
I told him he hadn’t earned the right to wear a sharp. He hadn’t trained to use one, so he didn’t get one. Sure, he’s an accomplished martial artist. He’s even trained in Balintawak Arnis, a weapon style…but it’s not the same thing.
My wife, amongst her many other skills, is a spinner. She can take a grubby, stinky pile of sheep hair and turn it into a fine, strong spool of thread. And she can take that thread and weave it into cloth. She can dig up plants and make horribly smelly concoctions that make that cloth just about any colour she wants, and then cut that cloth into clothes for me to wear.
It’s a neat skill. It fascinates me, so I like to get her to talk about it. She explained it, I watched her do it, and I tried it. It wasn’t easy. Knowing how to spin wasn’t the same thing as being able to spin. Someone can explain the whole process to you in great detail, but somethings you only learn by doing. The hands themselves have to learn. There are subtle mechanics that you only learn after a hundred meters of spinning, and every hundred more meters something new is learned.
Abby Franquemont refers to it as “The Lore Of The Hand” and it’s an important thing. In SCA heavy fighting we use the phrase “Helm Time” for things you only learn with your helmet on, fighting. You just can’t be taught some things…but you can still learn them. It’s still a knowledge that can be passed on, but only from someone who has the hand lore. Courtney can explain a lot about spinning to me, but some things she can’t explain until I’ve hit a certain point of practice.
In what must be one of the best blog posts ever written, Abby talks about the importance of passing on such skills. It’s an incredible piece of writing, and every year or so I go back to read it again. It reminds me of why I not only train in swordplay, but teach it. I think swordplay is one of those skills of civilization that should never be lost. The book knowledge that has been reconstructed is a good thing, but it doesn’t equal the hand knowledge. That sure and steady feeling of a good blade in the hand, and the confident awareness of exactly what you can make it do? That’s my thing to pass on.
It’s my bit of the mosaic of civilization to carry forward to another generation. My thing to preserve against a potential nightfall. And yes, I do think everyone should study swordplay…Can’t wear a snazzy sharp dress sword correctly, otherwise…