Swordplay: Why do I do this?

It’s Saturday night and I am lying on my bed (writing this post). My entire body aches. I’m trying to identify any major muscle groups that don’t hurt right now. Even my finger muscle hurt (in my forearms). What have I done to myself?

Today I had a sword lesson. Actually several.


After spending several months searching, I finally found a sword instructor willing to teach me the longsword as well as the entire discipline of the western martial arts. Such instruction is hard to find, because most current sword instruction out there is primarily in sport fencing. I’m not interested in sport fencing; I don’t want to go to the Olympics. I want to know the entirety of the western martial arts, or historical European martial arts, or the knightly arts of swordplay. This includes the longsword as well as smallsword, rapier, saber, and foil fencing. But it’s a martial art, not a game of who can touch whom more often. There’s the mentality with it, and the rigorous discipline.

I found an instructor willing to teach me the longsword, but only after teaching me the more applicable skills of classical fencing. Everything I learn about classical fencing will parlay into the smallsword, then ultimately into the longsword. But no longsword until I master fencing and the smallsword.

I’ve accepted this. I have no argument. The longsword is a very specialized weapon. Certainly not something one might ever carry on one’s hip on a day-to-day basis. Fencing teaches a sound basis for all manner of swordplay. Necessary things like balance and footwork, and more fundamentally an awareness of where your body is as well as the point of your sword.

I have been completely delighted to begin the journey into swordcraft. The only challenge is that this instructor is two hours drive away from my home. While lessons and classes are conveniently on Saturday, it is still not practical to take a lesson each week. Instead, I make the trip once or twice a month, join in two consecutive classes (one beginning, one advanced), then take a private lesson. That’s two and a half hours of fencing fun. It makes the trip worthwhile, but it makes the body very, very weary.

Why, then, do I do this? That’s a lot of driving to beat the crap out of myself. And, as I’ve noted, I’m actually not learning exactly what I set out to learn in the first place. And seriously, what good is it to learn the sword anyway? At least Karate can be used in self-defense, but it’s not like I’m going to now start strolling down the street with a sword on my belt. Right? Is this not just a waste of time and money?

The reason is simple. It’s not just because of the sword. It’s not just the romance of it, or the coolness factor. In practicing swordplay, I’m learning a lot about myself. What am I actually capable of? What can’t I do, and how can I compensate (I’m 40, I don’t bend like I used to)? I’ve learned that I have a lot more strength than I thought. I’ve tapped into that endless energy that I recall from my youth.

These are powerful things. It helps me slog through a brutal week. It gives me the strength to say ‘no.’ Or to say ‘yes’ when it needs to be said. It makes me feel like I’m in control of my body and emotions like I have never felt before. Undoubtedly, these feelings will get better.

I’m sore today. And I’ll really hurt tomorrow. But it’s totally worth it. If I could do it every week, I would. I feel good about how things are going. I feel like I’m improving and developing. It’s a wonderful way to feel when you’re middle-aged and have been thinking like it’s too late to start something new.

Totally worth it, indeed!

4 thoughts on “Swordplay: Why do I do this?

  1. It’s not a waste of time and money if you’re learning something. I admire you for putting in the time and effort to learn something unusual. Besides, with the rarity of swordsmen these days, it’ll make you an expert in something besides grinding up teeth. (grin)

    Karate might not be so useful in self defense as you think, at least not the way it’s taught in many (most?) programs. I have a friend who teaches at the Air Force Academy. She’s studied both karate and “street fighting” (as she calls it) and written a bit about them. Karate teaches forms, styles, and discipline, but it pays little attention to what’s likely to happen in a mugging. Karate is to self defense as fencing is to what you’re studying. It’s not useless, but it’s left to the student to work out practical applications.

    If you have to study fencing anyway, is that something you could do at a studio closer to home so you could focus on the advanced training with your current instructor?

  2. I’ve thought about getting a local instructor, now that I have a better sense of what’s going on. Truth is, I don’t think I have time or money for additional lessons. My instructor gives me things to work on that I can do at my own pace. Plus, he knows where this is going, whereas a regular fencing instructor might not. The goals would be different and the instruction would be necessarily as well. I don’t want to muddle two different styles of training. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and inadvertently ‘burn-in’ bad habits. I may change my mind later, but for the moment am happy with the current arrangement. If I did decide to add local instruction, I would discuss it with my instructor first. I wouldn’t want to undermine his authority…

    I definitely also want to learn some hand-to-hand methods. Certainly more practical than carrying a sword all the time. My sword instructor has a black belt in Karate. I’m sure that if I asked, he would give me individual lessons in practical ‘street fighting’ as well. This is one of the many reasons why I really like working with this guy!

  3. Your teacher sounds like a pretty open-minded person. That’s good.

    Do you have a sword yet? I used to shop at a place called The Steel Source near Rochester that sold mostly replicas and fantasy swords, but they also sold “combat ready” swords for training and sparring.

  4. No sword yet. My instructor has specifically told me not to get one yet. He doesn’t want me distracted by the shiny thing. Instead, I have a lovely dowel that I use. I need to put a guard on it.

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