September 18, 2007

"Is that what you're thinking?"

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Brad Pitt as Jesse James:

"You gonna be like me... or are you going to be me?"

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...which brings to mind a lesson I received a few years ago...

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Several years ago when I was fencing at Culver City's Westside Fencing Center, I squared off with someone new on the piste. It was a guy who had much more experience than I had, an accountant who competed in tournaments. We shook hands, stepped back and put on our sweaty helmets, squaring off in the en garde position. In any encounter, especially in the first encounter, fencers are assessing the capabilities of their opponent. As in any martial art, it's a contest where you look for patterns so you can disrupt them with an attack. Knowing your opponent is doing this as well, you try to throw them off by simulating patterns so that they might create a pattern when they attack into your pattern. That's when you can attack into their attack... provided that you first defend yourself with a parry, the one rule that makes the sport of fencing sensible.

Mutually assured destruction is a no-go among rational actors.

I don't know where my head was. I was thinking of my opponent's superior experience as a fencer and a character in the salle. I was thinking about the fencing club, the special and strange Westside Fencing center with the odd assortment of instructors, a panolply of characters straight out of central casting.

I advanced and my opponent retreated keeping distance, the cardinal rule in fencing. He adjusted his foil, I compensated. Then I started to mimic my recent instruction from the head coach Ted Katzoff, imitating his posture, a floppy hand and stomps with his feet. I said to my opponent: "This is the Katzoff style.", thinking I could get a chuckle out him.

My fellow combatant stopped and straightened out of his en guarde position. He took off his helmet skewering me with dagger eyes and said: "Is that what you're thinking?", with a slight aura of disgust. He popped his helmet back on and settled back into the en garde position.

A good hard touch.

Chastened.

A memorable lesson it was.

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(Image Sources: Pitt and fencers.)

Posted by Dennis at September 18, 2007 5:59 AM

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