Articoli di Giancarlo Toràn, La Frase Schermistica

Why Fencing?

I was on my return flight in another trip with my students to a competition, tired as one can be expected to be after having spent three days in a venue cheering on, encouraging, suffering, and rejoicing; then the group dinner, a bed in the hotel with few hours sleep. You know the feeling when you don’t sleep enough, when you are tired and the beautiful result did not come, a grey patina dulls the colors of everything. And then the questions come up. Is this the life I really wanted? Why did I choose this? Did I really choose it or it chose me? And the dumbest question of them all: how would I be now if I had embarked on a different profession?

Pippo Rizzo – Lo Schermitore Salafia – 1928

While you relish the perverse taste of depression, she or he comes by and sits by you with a long face. He doesn’t look at you in the eyes; he stares at his hands, teases his fingers… and then he tells you, “I sucked the way I fenced.” Technically speaking it is not a question. It is a statement. But then he raises his eyes and looks at you, waiting. And your stupid depression evaporates as if by magic. No more time for dumb thoughts. You are here to do your job which is the most beautiful job in the world, that of Maestro di scherma. You don’t have any more doubts.

“You did not fence badly. You ran too soon into one who is stronger than you, like a drifting mine which this time hit you. You fought but you did not make it. Apply yourself, give time and be patient, and you’ll see that you’ll become better than him.”

Just what he wanted to hear, but he needs a confirmation.

“I should have seen that he was feinting a parry and instead he wanted to stop hit me. And I fell into the trap like an idiot,” he says. “Indeed, but his execution was very good; this is his strong point. Now that you know this we will practice in the club the correct contrary actions. Next time you’ll beat him, I’m positive. We will work on the counter-time, and also on self-control, breathing, the proper stance, when and how to enter in measure. This experience will make you stronger.”

In the meantime he has made me stronger and my world regains colors. I return to my thoughts with a different frame of mind.

Indeed, why fencing?

I could have said the same things, more or less, for other sports. But if today I appreciate these things which make me love my job, when I started my career I was very removed from these considerations. In those days I was fascinated by a sport which was unknown to me, a true combat in which you could experience and express your craving for winning; an opponent in front of you who was assaulting you with determination and was hitting you, sometime quite strongly with a steel blade. But you could also defend and discover in short order that a little bit of smartness was better than a lot of physical strength. David could beat Goliath if he exploited his own characteristics: tall or short, slow or fast, sturdy or thin, impulsive or thoughtful. Each opponent with his own recipe; and the fascination lies in trying to understand it, adapt to it, or find what doesn’t work, and taking advantage.

 

 

And you must train, you must become an athlete as anyone who wants to step on the strip discovers quickly. But most importantly you must learn to know yourself and to control yourself. Opponent #1 is inside you. You realize this quickly when the other pushes you and you must decide what is best without having the time to ponder. If you let yourself get caught by panic, you’re done. You must know how to take risks, but wisely. And you must continue to learn all your life.

Today, after forty years of practice, people consider me an expert, and maybe I am, but I am well aware that this is a very relative concept. Fencing with all its facets, cultural, physical, technical, tactical and especially mental, and I’d add spiritual also, touches deeply many aspects in a person’s life. To even pretend to dominate in such a vast field is pure presumption. Anywhere you look at you see unlimited areas which need to be explored. I find this fascinating!

Let’s talk for example about culture. Fencing has produced literature—just consider cloak-

and-dagger novels and the impressive number of technical treatises written over the centuries. Art and Science, as the Maestri of yore used to say. And the chivalry with its

honor code which brings us to the fencer’s duty to honesty and fairness still valid today. And philosophy, usages and customs in the spoken language and in gestures which we still repeat today even if we don’t know the origin. Do you know why you present the right arm to a lady? Because gentlemen carried the sword on the left. And why the buttons in men’s and women’s jackets and shirts are on opposite sides? Because a man would unbutton with the left hand—the right hand had to be ready on the sword’s hilt. And why military personnel salute by raising their hand to the peak? Because the old knights, before fighting, had to show their face by raising the helm’s visor. And so on.

 

Today the sword/épée, just like foil and sabre, are no longer weapons. Bloody duels, fortunately are no more. And yet the sword still remains a powerful symbol: justice, power, honor. The sport has pushed the limits even further out in a discipline which is no longer restricted in its development by fear of dying. The risk of a hit is much more acceptable. Therefore, aside from a greater variety of hits and actions, we developed to the maximum the classic trinomial of fencing: speed, choice of tempo, and feeling for the measure—the distance.

Put all these elements together and you will not be surprised to find fencing even in management training. Thanks to plastic weapons and masks which do not require special protective gear it is possible for a manager or an employee to taste the excitement of a fencing touch. At the same time, together with the excitement you can make them understand quite effectively communication methods, self-control, tactical and strategic choices, and much more.

Let me return to the beginning, to the competitions which are just an opportunity, to the interaction with young kids who become men and women. They will forever remember, in case they will give up fencing for good that once they used to fence. And they will be a little better, a little stronger in life for all those years of training, sweat, joys and delusions while holding in their hand that metal strip. Someone may also keep a little bit of gratitude, even for me, but never as much as I feel, for all of them.

This is why fencing…

 

Giancarlo Toràn

 

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