"Pointed comments" on a completely different topic.

Different Points, and an old life lesson made new

Today, "pointed comments" on a completely different topic.

I've been fencing since a teenager, and I still do when I get a chance. In recent years I've spent less time fencing and more time as a referee, volunteer webmaster, and officer of a state fencing organization, but I still pick up a blade when I can. I fence all 3 modern weapons (foil, sabre, épée ), but am primarily a foilist.

Fencing is an extremely technical athletic activity (as well as very physically demanding), so fencers typically take lessons from a fencing master throughout their careers. Some people do fine without this, but I find that my actions get less precise without lessons or at least a drilling partner. Also, I enjoy the concentrated effort and focus involved in a lesson, and take esthetic pleasure from executing an advanced skill correctly and in tempo.

Yesterday, I took a lesson with a fencing master I've never worked with before. I've done this many times in my career as I moved to different clubs, training with fencing masters who taught traditional French or Italian styles, or the modern international style developed and strongly influenced by Eastern Europe (There are national schools with differences in footwork, hand position, and tactics, and fencing has changed a lot since I was a kid. Today there's more emphasis on footwork, and differences in how an attack is set up and refereed. I have an open promise to a school team-mate of mine to blog on this, so that may come later.)

My rule when doing this is: in the lesson, do what the new fencing master tells you to do. Either you're willing to train with this person or not. There are people calling themselves fencing masters with whom I would never associate myself, and there are fencing masters who are the Real Thing, but sometimes you just don't want to change your technique. When I was in graduate school I switched from foil to sabre, just to avoid tedious conflicts between the Italian style I'd been taught in New York at Giorgio Santelli's club, and the French style taught at Cornell.

If you do decide to train with someone, I think the right rule is to follow his or her instructions even if it conflicts with what you've been taught previously. For example, other teachers may have made you keep your arm in a guard (parry) position, 1/2 extended, and with the weapon pointing at the opponent's eyes, but the new one has you bring the arm closer to the torso, and with the weapon closer to horizontal. On-guard position, cues, signals, and even nomenclature used may be different.

So, here's the first observation: Every time you train with a new fencing master (substitute in your own life whatever kind of learning you do some area - martial arts, painting, violin, whatever), it's an overlay with the experiences you have previous teachers, who may have taught you differently. I've found is that I've learned something from everybody I've trained with. It doesn't take away from anything - instead it adds a new weapon (pun intended) to your arsenal.

Second observation is that it takes time to assimilate new material. It will feel awkward, and you'll automatically go back to your normal practice, so it takes effort and can be frustrating. If you try to apply this in a bout with an opponent, it may not work right away, and you'll go back to your "bread and butter" techniques and tactics (call that your "legacy system" :-) ) Even if you've rationalized it completely, even down to the technical benefits you might get, your reflex actions are trained to do something else. If you try to apply it too soon it won't work for you yet - and you may want to give up on the new material.

Instead, patience and persistence are needed: the answer is to train in the new material until it comes naturally to you, and then learn to apply it in fighting situation. Eventually it will become natural - and you'll find that you'll have both your old techniques, and new ones in your portfolio. Ultimately, you'll see beyond the differences between the styles you're learning to the much larger body of material they have in common, and be able to apply all those parts where they make the best sense.


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