Poking Each Other With Sticks Since 2006


Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what type of fencer you’ll become.  The teacher can only lay the foundation and (with hope), inspire the student to not only embrace the art, but continue, enjoy, and strive to improve in skill.

Most fencers today (in my opinion) see fencing as a quest to score a touch, at whatever cost.  In the bigger picture, they want to win the bout, and even bigger yet, become a champion.  But there are champions, masters and master-champions.  The difference is in those with the genetic advantage, athleticism, and motivation to succeed (champion).  A master consistently refines himself, and is often considered a “technician and tactician” of the artform.  A master-champion is both of these; proves himself/herself time-and-time-again through competition and shows great sportsmanship in both winning and defeat.

Many fencers will simply choose which one they wish to be, whether consciously or subconsciously.  Others will only become fencers (through the dent of work & play).  The rest will be bad fencers.

Aldo Nadi (possibly the greatest fencer who has ever lived) said,

“Every fencer must have within himself/herself a touch of the gambler.”

The movie Top Gun we had two fighter-pilot rivals played by Val Kilmer (call sign: Iceman) and Tom Cruise (call sign: Maverick).  In this movie, Iceman is said to fly, “…Ice cold. No mistakes. He wears you down, you get bored, frustrated, do something stupid and he’s got ya. (Goose)”  Maverick at one point says to his flight instructor (regarding combat and instincts), “You don’t have time to think up there.  If you think, you’re dead.”

These are two different men, with two different styles.  Obviously the popular and lead role is Maverick, so you grow to like his “fly by the seat of your pants” – rebel ways.

Although the act of thinking requires energy and time, the masterful fencer, thinks… he’s always thinking.  In most cases, your opponent will have talents beyond yours (at least in some area).  Finding weakness, openings, breaks in timing and (most importantly) understanding and utilizing your (physical and mental) abilities in the arena of sport is what leads to masterful champions.

One may think that Iceman represents the “Old School” ways and Maverick “The Modern,” but this isn’t “exactly” the case or analogy being made.  As Maverick may have a certain level of “genius” and of “danger”, he “puts himself out there” and fights with passion – something all fencers can and should use.

However, it is most wise to consider the “Old School/Classical” ways to exercise the proper form, technique and training methods that (highly) reduce the element of danger.

In reality, if your life was on the line, who would you want as a wing-man?

Iceman or Maverick?

and importantly to your growth as a fencer, “What type of fencer to you want to become?”


TOP GUN (1986) – Rated PG.  Directed by Tony Scott.  Paramount Pictures


2 responses

  1. I once heard a coach of mine tell students that they were fencers as soon as they walked through the salle door. In a way, I think this is true. You could say the same about a musician. You are a musician the minute you get an instrument and start to play. In either cases that may be true, but how good a fencer or musician are you going to be?
    In the “Maverick” comparison, you talk about “flying by the seat of their pants”. If you are on strip and fencing in this manner you are one of two things. You are a new fencer or one who has never had decent training. Can someone that fences like this beat a low level to low intermediate fencer? At times they do. The reason is that their technical and tactical skills are so wild and unpredictable, that it confuses a low level fencer. You are trained to fence other fencers who are also trained.

    In the “Maverick” comparison, there is mention of “not having time to think”. A decent fencer is always thinking. He is doing reconnaissance on his opponent, searching for weakness, using time (I am talking epee here.) looking for a way to control the bout…to train his/her opponent to react in a certain manner….waiting or baiting them to make a mistake he/she can capitalize on. However, there are often times when you and your opponent are both in attack distance and there is no time for conscious though. (Here again, I am I have epee in mind.). That is why decent Olympic fencers drill and drill on technical actions and until they become a part of autonomic memory or muscle memory. Now you can drill and drill and make something a part of your muscle memory, but if you are doing it wrong…….what have you created? The same thing holds true for bouting. If you continue to bout over and over without correcting mistakes you are making or without someone that can actually show you or train you how to correct the mistakes, then you will always fence at the current level that you are fencing.

    If you think you can drill for a couple of weeks on a technical action and make it perfect, odds are you are wrong. I worked on doing a beat; pick…… take the blade in eight and lunge in opposition to the thigh drill for four years and I still do it wrong. Maybe I am slow. On the other hand if we are fencing and your point ends up resting on my belle guard for just a fraction of a second, I will do circle six in opposition and I will hit you. There is no conscious thought in this action; I have drilled to point where this is an automatic reaction. And thank goodness…..because there is no time for conscious though.

    To suggest that “Ice Man” represents classical fencing (Forgive me if I misunderstood this.) is not accurate. In fact, I would say that he represents the Olympic fencer. If you look at classical fencing in the first half the 19th century, before the advent of electrical scoring equipment, their actions were beautiful and precise. (Maybe even a little slow.) Why were they this way? Because they had to be that way so the judges could see what they were doing. In essence…..it was all about getting that point. Yes…they got points for good form, but this was self perpetuating type of thing. Exaggerated or “ perfect form” made the job easier for the judges….and it was beautiful to boot.

    November 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    • Jim, thank you for your comment. We welcome your thoughts and expertise. I am in agreement and I believe we share the same opinion on fencing throughout. However, I know there are a lot of fencers out there “target-hunting” and put themselves in “dangerous positions” because they feel it is advantageous (or it has worked so well in the past). I also know that with the mindset comes “the lack of thinking” and the “inner tactician” remains silent.

      In teaching, I encourage my students to (at first) create a dialogue with yourself and in time, the mind becomes so sharp with tactics/action/response that it creates uncanny speed. I’m still working on this myself and I find it an essential exercise (at least in the beginning).

      The analogy doesn’t necessarily suggest (although it may sound) that “Ice Man” represents classical fencing, but moreso he represents the consummate tactician that skillfully uses his intelligence and the rules set forth for his safety and the safety of others by masters of the past. Maverick represents the guy who “goes with this instincts” and at times may neglect the rules (possibly falling into an ill position momentarily) to surprise the opponent in the end.

      Some of the fencers fencing today have a touch of both of these men. But personally, I’ve always respected the tradition and insights of those who came well before me… and hope to continue in this tradition and this sport for as long as I am able.

      November 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

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