Fencing is a gentleman’s sport.  Of course, in modern time this idea has been, thankfully, expanded to the ladies, as well.  In keeping with this notion of a gentleman’s sport fencing, particularly foil fencing, has been called, “…a conversation with blades.”

This is seen on the foil piste when the rule of “right-of-way” forms and characterizes the movements of foilists.  Each opponent acts in his turn.  If one player is on the offense then the other must be on defense.  This stricture arose from renaissance fencing masters who preferred their students survive a duel rather than die in confrontation.  Cynically, when a student died so then would the fencing lessons and subsequent payments.  Additionally, a master’s good reputation could be extinguished if his student performed poorly in the duel to death or “first blood.”

Thus, maestros developed the rigor of best practices that survive today when fencers are playing for tournament points.  Right-of-way, or priority, is established by the fencer who first extends his foil’s point toward the target–or–whichever fencer has the last parry.  Without priority a fencer does not have the right to score a point.  Certainly, counterattacks score, as do attacks into preparation, but these actions  punish outright misses of the target and poorly crafted attacks.  This simple but sophisticated series of actions create a conversation, of sorts.  There is a back-and-forth to foil fencing that is beautiful and thrilling to watch at its best demonstration.

I have thought that many verbal conversation between gentlemen could profit from this idea.  How many times have I interrupted (counterattacked) a speaker when I should have kept my mouth shut?  Of course, I have been on the receiving end too.  I can’t tell you how frustrating is is to be making a salient point only to be interrupted clearly demonstrating that my opinion is not valued.

Gentlemen could learn from a “conversation with blades.”  When a friend is speaking it behooves the gentleman to actively listen.  When speaking a gentleman should expect similar treatment.  A “conversation with blades” should infect our communication skills and make us better conversationalists.

Mark Brandyberry

Foilist at River City Fencing

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