Spent a little while this morning watching video of myself sparring with Jordan last …Summer? Wow..that long ago? Tempus fugit, not just for other people. I’ve been talking with people lately about the development of style, personalization vs strict form, and things like that. It’s always interesting to look at yourself fighting and see if what you believe about yourself is true. It rarely is, for anybody. That’s why the best in the world pay for coaches. It brings out the whimsy in me when I think about all the moderate fighters who think they are above instruction, when the very best depend on it constantly.

My style of fighting with a rapier is based on what I learned so many years ago in unarmed combat: I am smaller than everyone else, and weaker. I am physically inferior, and will never get around to spending as much time training as anyone else. I have zero native athletic ability. This was true for many years…until I took up powerlifting I was sporting a 28″ waist, and my chest was about the same. Learning to fight from that point of view taught me some habits that dictate my style to this day.

I try to never do things the right way. My experience has always been that everyone else will be much better at things than me, so I have to find another way. If I adopt a certain guard and the other person assumes the same, I assume they are better trained in that guard and more capable than me. So I will adjust my position out of that guard to remove the advantage of familiarity from my opponent. I will still try to attain the advantages of that guard, but in other ways.

For example, in the first action of the following video, I have lowered my sword from a strict terza while keeping some of it’s lines. Since I am not engaging Jordan’s blade, I lose all the advantages of contact and disengagement. I cannot easily manage the position of his blade. I use subterfuge instead. By keeping my blade low, changing the tempo of my approach and my height, and altering the extension of my blade as I approach, I am able to keep his blade where I want it, easily catch his low-line attack, and enjoy placing a leisurely attack to his inside line.

The next two attacks are all tempo-based. I bounce and indicate aggressiveness, move in at angles, and finally throw a fast movement feint…faking a charge.  What I really want to do is get his sword up where I can engage it with my dagger. I also want him as open as possible, so I can bring my sword under his. By pausing my forward motion just slightly, I am able to come in behind his blade while staying out of range of his attack. Same thing in the next attack, but a little more obvious. By selling the big scary cut, I am able to choose my timing in reaction to his counters, and deliver a slow and well placed cut to the throat.

The next pass is all about the measure. I sit just outside of measure, because I know Jordan is catching on to my antics. He has a great knack for pezzing me but good as soon as I get cocky. I have to change up the game on him constantly. I know he’s a little frustrated at this point so I want to put him in the aggressive position. My idea is to counter his lunge with a falso expulsion, but I see a better opening when he moves to the side to set up his attack. A small step to the side opens his guard, and puts him an “empty” tempo. His sword is effectively still so I am able to to a little Marozzo and extend into a falso-to-falso engagement (like a schielhau for you german longsword folk) and push a little cut to the bicep through.

At this point Jordan figures out the game, and uses position against me to shut down my antics. He starts to dominate the space, without engagement, and incorporates better movement. My final attack lands, a cut to his arm, but I collect a solid thrust to the side of my mask for my efforts.

The entire engagement could have been done in closer lines, ala Capoferro. It would have been tighter, faster and overall more decisive…and I probably would have lost every pass. Bluntly, I would have lost because I continue to be an idiot. I am no longer a tiny, skinny little guy with no training. I’m actually extremely strong for my size, quite fast, and have a bucket-load of technical skill. I know this, but the minute I pick up a sword I lose all confidence in my ability, and resort to trickery. I shortcut my own progress as a fighter by not believing in my own abilities, and constantly lose fights because of it. I’m easy for even beginners to beat when my ego takes a dive. And it usually does.

It seems kind of silly that four or five years of being a teenager and the butt of everyone’s jokes can still fuck you up thirty years later. It does, though. Not in everything…I can count my losses and wins in life easily, and I know the balance is towards happiness. But we only change by building successful new habits, and by dropping the bits of the past we no longer wish to carry with us. It doesn’t matter that I put myself down last time I picked up a sword. I need to forgive myself for that, and let myself start to practice being confident next time I pick up a sword. Failures are really only lessons when we learn to let go of all the emotions associated with them. Fencing is still the best classroom for me. It’s got the strictest teacher I’ve ever had, and she only cares about me learning to live correctly. Hard lessons, but I wish I could have them every day.