Geekery: hidden practice.

In Chris Holzman’s quick debunking of the absurd notion that there’s anything delicate in a classical Radaellian moulinet, one finds this little gem:

In the complex practices of the molinelli, the practical application of every blow and every parry is found because in the execution of various molinelli the sabre passes exactly through all the movements and positions that belong to the various blows and parries. 

Well, there’s MY sabre system in a nutshell…

Seriously.  If I talk to a real competitive fencer, and show him my system’s parries, he’ll giggle at me.  Because for said fencer, the parries constitute the techniques.  (This actually happened less than a month ago, with a fencer who’s higher-speed and lower-drag than I’ll ever be on the sport side.)  In mine, the cuts constitute the techniques, and while one is taught the parries on a static basis, one frequently is NOT taught the deep and dirty secret that makes the whole system work (and work well, to boot).

But if you had me teach you sabre for a day, and didn’t know where I was coming from in terms of background, you’d think that I’d watched too much Highlander… because I’d teach you four basic cuts, and the basic four parries, and then have you do moulinets until your eyes bled from boredom.  The second day, I’d let you walk around while doing them, in various patterns if you were learning quickly.  At the end of each day I’d step in and beat the hell out of you until you started being able to actually block incoming shots.

And then, magically, if you did exactly what I told you to do, in the space of about a week’s hard training or a semester’s club-based training (roughly 30 hrs), you’d be able to handle a sabre well enough that anything else I had to show you would be nothing other than a refinement or a dirty trick or two.  Well before that time, we’d be able to play without either you being overwhelmed or me getting bored.  What’s more, *if* you did that, and didn’t have anything else fighting over your fencing skills (say, a different system that keeps an alternate body position), you could pick it up and put it down just like riding a bicycle.  Now, if you wanted to actually get scary with it, you could keep doing those moulinets until you started to make them more and more complex, and your footwork more and more intricate with it.  There was a Polish hero in the Jagiellonian era whose name I can’t remember, who could cut a coin off of a random boy’s head without messing up his hair.  You could get THAT scary.  But the fact is, you *could* treat it like a bicycle if you just wanted to be respectable with it and occasionally have fun fencing.

IF you’d done the work.  Everything comes out of the raw basics.  My grandfather can pick up almost any band instrument and play it cold, and he can conduct a full orchestra without a score.  Me, with my deformed eardrums, I’m happy if I can so much as get an instrument in tune (and eventually hope to pick up an instrument again now that tools to help you do that cost five dollars, rather than five hundred).

He can do that because when he was young, he did his scales.  Sure, he studied theory.  But first and foremost, he did scales, scales until his eyes bled from boredom, and scales until could “vary the footwork” by literally changing scales back and forth on the instrument without so much as slowing down.

I like theory.  I learn a lot from theory, and it interests me on an intellectual level.  But if I want to learn to fence… no amount of theory is going to replace six hours standing under a tree repeating the same moulinet.

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