The Philosophy of the Sword

As a fencer, I find myself deeply rooted in the philosophy of what I am doing when I practice. There is measure, tempo, beat, rhythm, commitment, and balance. There is work, and there is pleasure. There is purpose, and there is recreation. While reading like something written by Lao Tzu, there is a definite wisdom to be had when practicing the Art of Defense, or any martial art; it is the wisdom of perfecting a skill.

In the modern world, we value competence, even when we don’t admit it. When we lack this competence, we look for other values to replace this core one, or come up with alibis for why we can’t become competent. This set of excuses does not work in martial arts, whether in forms, or in competition. This is because when practicing a marital skill, the exact level of competence in the art becomes readily apparent. In fencing, which is marked by speed, grace, precision, and calibration (control of how much power is in a blow) it becomes inescapable.

The sword is a weapon; in fact it was the first weapon that was designed specifically with the purpose of fighting other people. To date, it is the only personal weapon that can be used for no other purpose effectively (with the notable exception of the cutlass, which Americans call a machete when not used in warfare). To the fencer, however, the sword is not just a weapon; it’s a part of their being. To quote Lt. Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode “Reunion” when introducing his son Alexander to the Bat’leth, a sword unique to that series:

“No, no. Do not think of it as a weapon; make it part of your hand. Part of your arm. Make it part of you.”

This is what every fencer strives for; they seek to make the sword an extension of themselves. Fencer or Fighter becomes an integral part of their identity. This is because they are learning to do something that by its very nature is hard to do. It takes years of practice to perfect the art of defense; and I doubt there are any masters that would state it’s possible. However, in attempting to achieve that perfection, the fencer learns something that many of us have lost:

Perseverance, grit, and the pride of competence.

While I am not suggesting that everyone should go out and learn how to use a sword (although I do encourage you to take up a martial art for at least a year), I would encourage you to think about what such a philosophy of competence could do for your life.

In the meantime, I will continue working toward finding competence in my own art, even during these interesting times.

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