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  • James Aichinger

Get To The Point

Fencing - the noble art of sticking them with the pointy end.

See also: that really cool looking sport that I can't figure out because everything's happening too fast and everyone is shouting.

Close Quarters Fencing - Copyright Mac Morgan 2018

Author, master-of-arms and world's greatest lover. I'll give you a hint, I'm only two of them. I'm releasing a book, ergo I am an author. I was a nationally-ranked fencer and have won competitions in all three disciplines, ergo I am a master-of-arms (although it's no a protected title so who cares).

By the way, anyone who points out the hilarious pun of fencing (root: defence, the art of swordplay) and fencing (root: defence, the art of building walls to protect one's land) deserves the slap around the face with a kevlar glove that they normally get.

Yes by the way, that is what is in a fencing glove: kevlar or some similar high-tensile polymer. The kit that we wear is rigourously tested in order to minimise the chances of us killing each other to an acceptable minimum. It doesn't mean you can't break someone's rib though (a story for another time).

Fencing has its roots back in the 13th century with specialised schools for double-handed swords. Fencing as most people would think of it (with a one-handed point weapon) dates back to the invention of the rapier around the 18th century during the Renaissance. At this time nobles would learn swordplay in order to use it in duels, or to kill one another on the battlefield.

Historical fencing, however, bears about the same semblance to the modern sport as a flintlock musket does to a .50 Barrett sniper rifle.

Swordplay in the old days required strength and endurance and while today these traits are still necessary, the field of play has moved more towards precision and speed.

Go through your wallet, pick out the smallest coin you have and look at it. A competitive fencer can hit it wherever you place it on your body in a fraction of a second. It is in fact one of the most common practice exercises a coach has for a student.

Good fencers lunge forwards with the same acceleration as a WRX car taking off from a start line, and we need that speed because when we do attack we often have less than half a second to cover the distance to our opponents before their block is effective.

As if that isn't enough, our opponents only have to hit us with either six-hundred or nine-hundred Newtons of force to score a hit off of us (or if you are a sabreur, any non-blocked contact at all).

All of these factors have turned fencing into a hybrid game of high-speed chess and chicken. Everyone is waiting for their opponent to make an unexpected move whilst marshalling their own strategy to earn a hit.

So why am I talking about this? This is a book blog, not a sports blog. As I said at the beginning: get to the point.

The nature of the weapons has changed, but the nature of the fight has not.

Fencing has always been and always will be about the people. It is a directly competitive sport, where it is just you and your opponent. It is about understanding your strengths and limits, while determining the same of the person opposite. This means that fear, surprise and mental resilience are as much your weapons as the sword resting in your hand.

And that is what my writing is about, the daily struggle; understanding and exploring these aspects of our humanity. They are not, by themselves, good or evil. They are there to keep us safe, to give us strength when we need them and hope when all else has failed. But they do not define who we are. It is always our choice.

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