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Fencing

By Mark Crocker

(Re-print from an issue of Pencil Stubs Online lost in the Fall of 1999, sadly the accompanied pic has not been recovered)

The other night I was watching Braveheart, and Mel Gibson asked "what makes a man noble?" That got me to thinking.

Why do I fence?

You know, that was a good question. Why do I fence? Well, thinking long and hard, I came up with a number of thoughts. My first thought was because I love the sport. My second thought was because it keeps me in good shape. But itís more than just because I enjoy the sport and more than because it keeps me in good shape.

It seems to me to be harking back to a time that held a sense of duty, a sense of honor. The rules of fencing are clear on this matter: That you treat your opponent with both honor and kindness.

Over the years I have fenced all over the world. The most enjoyable match I ever had was against a young lady when I first started fencing back in 1983.

I was stationed in Germany about a hour away from a little town known the world over for its fencing prowess. Hieldberg. I had been fencing for about a month at the time. And, I was feeling very full of myself. (Hey, I was young).

On this afternoon a young lady that I thought was as new as myself showed up. She was about 5 ft tall and stunningly beautiful. After a few hours of working on my form and doing some drills the class was over and we had time to fence or leave. Normally, I would leave and ride back to my base. But on this day I was feeling pretty good and brave. (My German was, and still is, not that good.)

I walked over to this stunning young lady and asked if she felt like sparing. After the help of a friend that spoke both English and German, she agreed. In the next 2 1/2 minutes, I had my ass kicked so hard that to this day I still have foot-marks on my butt.

Not only was she good, but she was by far the best fencer I had seen to that point. Her form and speed was beautiful to watch. Not only did I get a lesson in swordsmanship but also a lesson in honor. After the match she offered to take me out to dinner. And to spend her free time helping me to become a better fencer.

From her I learned that winning is not the most important thing in fencing, but how you treat your opponent. Dueling our very short match she had given me every chance to score a point. But the fact that I could not was due on my part to not understanding that honor and kindness.

But one of the most shocking things that I learned was that the Maestro's daughter (yes, she was the daughter of the maestro) was not only a great fencer but very kind hearted. Also the fact that her kindness was not because she was taking pity but because of her sense of duty. I just wish I could speak German better.

But what did I learn from this short match? At the time, I learned very little. But now, years later, thinking back on that one match I know what I learned. Not only did I learn about honor or kindness but I also learnt not to take people as I first think that they are. And that one thing, stands out more than anything.

In fencing, you have two people standing face to face, or mask to mask, with each one having a sword in their hands. You see how each person treats the other. Most of the time, with honor.

And what if they don't treat each other with honor? Well, Iíve only seen it once. That was in my first full tournament. But, Iíll save that for another time.

So, after thinking back on why I fence, itís partly due to the love of the sport, partly due to how it keeps me in good shape. But mostly, on how I now think of others. In a way, fencing can be a very spiritual sport, after all, it was once a killing sport. And each time I fence, I can't help but think about that.  

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