Risk of death. It’s on the waiver. Always has been. You can die while practicing our art. It’s not even remotely likely, but it’s still a risk everyone of my students has to accept when they train. It’s more likely that you could flip a penny once a day for the rest of your life, and have it comes up heads every single day. Actually a lot more likely. If I flip a penny right now and it comes up heads, what are the odds it will be heads next time? Fifty percent. Same odds every single time I flip it. Those odds never change. But the more we flip the coin and get heads, the more we come to expect tails. We expect life to be fair and balanced.

Safety is something you can’t take for granted. You always minimize the risk of injury. Common sense has it’s place. You wear a mask, you wear gloves, you blunt your edges and the tip. You protect your throat with a rigid gorget. You might want to go past that and cover yourselves head to toe in the best protective gear money can buy. Use stiff foam weapons instead of steel…or soft foam to really be safe. You can be even safer by just using a computer to simulate fencing, but I’m trying not to be too ridiculous here.

Smoking kills. We tax tobacco, and locally it’s practically illegal. People still smoke. One of my best friends died in a horrific head-on collision on a motorcycle, months after graduating high school. I still crave the feeling of ripping around tight curving canyon roads on an over-powered bike. Rock-climbing is nothing but pain and fear mixed into a cocktail of exhilaration. Shredded fingers, vile hygiene and a constant…realistic…fear of death doesn’t stop the local hills from being swarmed on weekends. But somehow it’s wrong to fence in a t-shirt.

One of the last presents I got from my best friend, before she died from cancer, was two Cuban cigars…romeo number two’s, my favourite. Yvonne was opposed to tobacco, in that special way only someone fighting cancer can be. She accepted that I liked to indulge myself, but eventually her quiet disapproval had won me over, and I stopped. So I was surprised by the gift, and I told her so. Her answer was a lesson. Death comes for everyone, but we have to earn the life we live before she comes. She knew I’d given up cigars because of how she felt, so she knew I understood the risk. And knowing that, she knew I would savour each  cigar. Knowing the cost, I would put much more value into each moment of smoking. She wasn’t giving me cigars, she was giving two moments of intense living, two moments of being perfectly in touch with what it meant to be alive. Two moments to savour what it means to be alive, to know that it is a transient thing, and that I should resent every thing that takes me away from such knowledge. Those two cigars, from her, were a gift of life. She knew that no matter what else happened in my life, she could guarantee me two moments of actually being alive and in the moment.

It’s important that we understand, and are educated in, the inherent risk of swordplay. And with that education, we are free to chose our level of risk. We are free to accept our own risk of injury as adults. You don’t have the right to tell me that my swordplay should be safer than any other activity. You can tell me I can’t play with your group, and that’s fine…but don’t expect me to approve of you telling me my choices are wrong. Standards differ from place to place, and are often a reflection of personal experience. The tale of your penny flipping teaches you to expect an outcome, but that’s a lie.

If I flip a penny every day for the rest of my life, every day it’s a fifty-fifty chance of being heads. If I flip 24 000 pennies at the same time, the odds of them all being heads is incredibly small. Understand the difference. This is why I will always shy from promoting full effort blows and full armour. It promotes ignoring the moment, it promotes mindless risk taking for minor gain…and plays the odds (it’s the real failure of modern fencing…the true home of the double-touch.) The armour will fail someday. Freak chance will happen. I prefer my students always fence with a respect for risk, always understanding that even the blunted sword might kill them, and their own sword might kill their companion. A modicum of control and caution should always be present in the handling of sword.

After all, they are supposed to be sharp…