This weekend our sister-school, Barbasetti Military Sabre since 1895, based in beautiful Prague, Czechia, will host its annual event: SabreSlash! Day one consists of classes; day two presents a cutting event, the Zabłocki Sabre Tournament, and the highlight of the day, the Moustache Challenge, easily one of the more difficult historical fencing contests.
This year Michael Kňažko of Barbasetti Military Sabre is joined by another close friend, the excellent Patrick Bratton (Sala della Spada, Carlisle, PA). Patrick will be exploring Radaellian actions on the blade. They are joined by several other instructors, including Maestro Leonid Křížek (CZ), and Leonardo Britto Germoglio (D). Here is the full program:
SabreSlash 2022 program:
Saturday, October 1st – ”Actions on the blade in Radaellian sabre”, workshop led by Patrick Bratton, Sala Della Spada, Carlisle, PA, USA.
– “Akademische Fechten”, workshop led by Leonardo Britto Germoglio, Germany.
– “Molinelli in Barbasetti sabre”, workshop led by Leonid Křížek, Barbasetti Military Sabre (since 1895), Prague, Czech Republic.
– “Sciabola in Mano, controlled and conserved strength for cuts and thrusts”, workshop led by Michael Kňažko, Barbasetti Military Sabre (since 1895), Prague, Czech Republic.
Sunday, October 2nd – “SabreSlashing with light sabres”, test-cutting workshop
– “SabreSlash Moustache Challenge”. All gentlemen are encouraged to attend the event wearing a fully grown Ferdinando Masiello style moustache. The wearer of the most classical moustache will be awarded a very special prize.
– „ Zabłocki Sabre 2022“. The biggest Barbasetti sabre fencing tournament since the legendary 1895 Prague military fencing tournament organized by k.u.k lieutenant Dominik Riegel. The winner of the tournament will receive a brand new Swordsmithy practice sabre.
With our tourney coming up—an invitational sabre match—I’m always conscious of how difficult these things are to do. I’ve either fenced in or judged a lot of tournaments, both Olympic and HEMA, and with each new historical tourney I’m struck by a disturbing fact—pound for pound, a tournament in HEMA and one in Olympic circles are not so very different. In both, too many fighters are playing the system, and worse, too many have zero regard for being hit. In both tournament worlds there is also a tendency to take medaling as the litmus test for excellence. Placing well can correlate with skill, but it’s not a sure thing. There are a number of reasons why this is so.
Everyone likes to
win. Emerging the victor in a bout, or better still a tournament, is a nice
feeling. It’s validating. It is important, however, to put any such victory in
context and remember that however well one does, victory on its own does not
mean mastery. There are several reasons for this and if you’re serious about
your development as a fencer you need to know this. You ignore it at your
peril, at the risk of further improvement, and it can easily lead to a false
sense of ability with all the ego problems that creates.
There is always someone out there better than
you are. This is just true.
Theoretically, out there somewhere, there is one fencer who truly is better than
everyone else, but see point two 😉 A
prime example of this is a close friend of mine—we’ll call him
“Dennis.” He’s a beautiful fencer, tactically brilliant, graceful,
powerful, the kind of fighter who makes you look even better than you are when
you fight him and he’s destroying you. Yes, that good. In the early 00’s, he
entered an epee event open only to fencers ranked B or higher; most everyone
there was an A-rated fencer. As this was epee, that ranking actually meant
something too–epee is the only weapon of the three to have retained much of
its martial ethos. No one there knew Dennis, and they expected to clean the
floor with him. He beat every single one of them, badly, and they were really
ticked when they realized that this was just something he did for fun, that he
wasn’t a “normal” tournament guy; he fenced enough to keep his
rating, but otherwise he’d just as soon be working on other hobbies. Dennis is
a good example of the unknown ego-check, of the truly gifted fencer out there
who is, quite literally, better than you or me.
Great fencers have bad days; poor fencers
good days. No matter how
good someone might be, even the best fencers have an off day. If this day
happens to be on a tournament day, chances are good they may not clear the
pools. In like guise, the poorest noob may end up taking the day. It just
depends. Maybe they just had more fire and the better fencers either
underestimated them or misapplied their skill. Maybe the directing was crap.
Maybe it was a combination. One can’t take anything for granted.
Tournament victory is only as good as the
quality of the pools. Not
all gold medals are the same. Medaling in a minor tournament with twenty
fencers of basic skill is not the same as medaling in a tournament where half
or more of the fifty competitors are truly skilled. Herein is one major problem
for WMA—what defines skill? Many people equate tournament victory with it, but that’s
a false equivalency, one only embraced by people who don’t know better or who
benefit from the fallacy. This is hard to combat because the same egos that
benefit from this, who derive their value from it, are quick to say any naysayer
is suffering sour grapes. Sort of makes discussing and fixing that,
demonstrating the problem, difficult.
Skill vs. Attribute Fencing One of the elephants in the ring is the issue of attribute fencing versus a more comprehensive skill-set well-applied. To be fair, most attribute-fencers have skill, but often this is a specific set of skills that exploit their reach, speed, etc. to the exclusion of a more comprehensive game. The thing is it works. If you’re fast, if you have reach, if you hit harder and intimidate people, it will take you pretty far. People medal and win tournaments all the time armed only with a few tricks that they have optimized. The confidence that comes with that cannot be underestimated. The test though, for those fencers, is what happens when they run into someone whose skill-set is broader, whose experience is deeper, and who knows how to nullify the advantages their opponent’s attributes offer. If attribute fencers are lucky, they’ll meet that opponent; if they’re smart, they’ll learn something from it.
Gaming the Tourney is another major issue. This isn’t new and
it’s not confined to WMA, but a major problem for Olympic fencing as well other
sports. There are advantages to winning, and so, some people are willing to do
whatever it takes to make it happen. For just a few examples, be wary of anyone
hosting a tournament that only enlists directors and/or judges from their
school or who stack staffing in their favor.[i]
Related tactics include attempting to intimidate officials and other
competitors, arguing for rule changes that favor one’s approach and fencers,
and hard-hitting. These kids don’t play with others, and worse, can give a
tournament, even a region, a bad rep. You don’t want that.
I’m not saying don’t fence in tourneys—you should if you want, they’re
fun, but, you should go into them with your eyes open and for the right
reasons. Not to wax too Miyagi, but primarily a tourney is a place to test, in
real-time, your skills and tactics; it’s a lesson, a chance to learn, an
opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. It should also be fun. The
illusion of mastery, and especially of tourney gold as evidence of it, is a
problem for any fencer who truly wishes to improve. Mastery is less a
destination than it is a goal which pushes our training, which keeps us honest,
which keeps us striving.[ii]
This doesn’t mean don’t do your best, that you’re not trying to win—you
can’t test what you know if you’re going through the motions. The pressure, the
chance to think on your feet, to adapt, and all within seconds is a fantastic
way to see how well we apply what we’ve learned. If it all works, and you grab
that trophy, great! It is healthy, maybe after celebratory beers, to reflect on
the nature of the competition, to weight that against the heft of the medal
around your neck. That awareness shouldn’t detract from victory, but merely
inform it, and, better prepare you for the next one.
[i] This isn’t universally true of course. In small tournaments, especially where there is no one else to staff, one has little choice but to use who is on hand. Whenever possible, SdTS tries to enlist friends from other salas to help direct–our judges are pulled from the competitors.
A black belt in TKD, for example, has
demonstrated that they are now ready to begin to study in earnest; a fencing master,
in a slightly different way, isn’t necessary the best fighter, but a teacher,
someone who has command of a particular pedagogical approach and is capable of
teaching other teachers.