When I’m bored, I get in fights. I do it all the time. Riding the skytrain to work or to class, killing time in lineups, sitting on the beach..anytime is a good time for a fight. At any given time I carry around a number of opponents in my head. Everyone I’ve ever fought or watched fight is in my head, and I can pull them out for a fight at any given moment. I’m able to visualize them perfectly, and place them in front of me as if they actually exist. I can watch them move, plan an attack, and observe how they react to it.
There is one guy I know that I would say is the best rapier fighter there is, currently. The first time I fought him was the day I got my White Scarf, an award for excellence in rapier fighting in the SCA. After grudge-eating a pound of bacon as revenge against the hotel’s poor buffet setup scheduling, I’d been eliminated from the championship tournament rather early. I still wanted more fights, so I joined up with the side-line bearpit tournament that had spontaneously sprung up. I went up against this guy three times, and lost all three times. I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure anyone hit him, unless he was playing around and having fun.
I resolved to beat him. In my playbook, beating someone means landing three touches in three bouts, one after the other on them. If someone beats me, I resolve to train myself and get better until I can do that. Once I’ve done that, I’ve met my personal development goal and can move on. It took a few years until I was able to really test myself against my new opponent. At a weekend event, I arranged to grab some time to get some solo sparring in with him. He was under the weather when the time came, and not as his best, but always game and willing to give it his best.
When he took his guard, I attacked immediately with a specific strategy…and landed the first shot. The second pass, he had already adapted and had a counter in mind, but I had planned for that, and landed the second shot. One more to go and I could let go of this challenge, having defeated another great goal in my life. One more…and not. He had already figured out my game plan completely, and the next touch was his. I rallied and landed the next, but never again got a second touch. I managed to balance things out for a bit, but in the end it was all him. By a large margin. That’s life sometimes, yeah? It was easily the best performance of my life, but it still fell significantly short. Mere strategy won’t do the job against a master tactician. I’m not going to ever beat him without making transcendent changes to my fencing game.
In the previous three years, I had exactly two passes with him. Before that day I had a lifetime fighting experience of being struck five times by him, without a single reply, or even successful parry to claim for myself. So how the hell did I manage to land even a single touch on him? He’d landed five touches on me, but I’d fought him thousands and thousands of times. I watched him constantly until I built up a solid model of his fight game. He became a living construct in my head, and we sparred constantly. I would develop a new technique, hone it in practice with real-life opponents, and then take it up against the construct. And usually go right back to the drawing board. It’s an approach, possibly an ability, that has allowed me at times to fight far above my level. It’s absolutely an ability I use to coach and teach. Visualization to the point of realization.
I’ve always had a knack for it, but years of traditional Asian martial arts honed the ability. Learning long and complex forms trains the eye to look for details, trains the mind to memorize, and trains the body to actualize what the mind holds. It’s a great skill for teaching because I know what to look for in students. When I want to build a model of someone, It’s necessary for me to understand their underlying structure. I look to how they step, how they hold their limbs in relation to each other, how they carry their weight, all their small and unknown quirks. I watch them move, and note discrepancies between muscle tension and limb length. I look for slight curvatures that show habitual patterns, and those patterns can teach me a lot about a person’s life, background, and emotional state. A lot can be seen in a few moments of observation, but it all has to be tested out before a complete model can be built.
These days I carry a few old fighter’s models in my head to keep sharp, but mostly I’m filled with models of students past and present. I sometimes fight when I’m bored, but more often I assemble test classes, and teach lessons. I pair my students of, one against another, and work on developing new tactics to teach in class. I wish I could teach this ability. Maybe if I ran a class on sculpting…