June 21st, 2004

Pandas can't talk

Bear Necessity

[06/20/04 - Father's Day]
In my dreams I was a cast member for an historical reality series, and a time came when a bear had to be killed. The killing wasn’t in defense of hearth and home from a marauding beast. The animal was a friend, particularly of me, and it was decided that the task fell to me. I was given a large club and sent into the cabin where the bear was being kept.

When I entered, the bear lumbered over to me, and I did my best to offer soothing words and beg forgiveness for what I had to do. I knew the club wouldn’t work and decided to use my bare hands and break his neck. And of course, I fucked up, but there was no going back. As I worked frantically to finish the work, the animal suffered needlessly and I started screaming over the horrible thing I had been forced to do. The bear was a friend. I didn’t want to kill him. I didn’t want to hurt him like I did.

Of course, this is about the time when I woke up. My whole day yesterday just felt off.
Pandas can't talk

SCA Fencers Make Very Good Stew

For yhlee and everyone else who might appreciate a fencing yarn.

Back when I was still fencing, the Boston Fencing Club began to share their space with the local SCAdian wireboys fencers. This arrangement worked reasonably well, though there was always an undercurrent of competition between the two groups, fed largely by the SCAdians’ constant chatter about how sport fencers weren’t learning any "real" skills and how SCAdians would have the advantage in duels because they were never conditioned to the linear confines of the strip. This went on for a couple of months before a friendly challenge was issued – a series of round-robin bouts using SCA fencing rules, the losing team forced to prepare a feast for the winners.

My opponent for sword and cloak made a point to identify himself as "Maestro –" when he shook my hand. I had to know how he had come to such an esteemed rank, and when I asked he told me, "In order to become a maestro, you must win tournaments at SCA events in each of the four main dueling styles."1 I congratulated him and explained that I had been fencing for about two years and hadn’t competed outside of the bouts we had in class after drills. I might have imagined it, but I could have sworn he looked even more cocksure as he donned his helmet.

We saluted and I dropped into an Italian-style fencing stance – left foot forward, sword in my right hand at a mid-guard with my arm bent so as not to give any sense of my full reach. I held the cloak in front of me loosely, with the intent of using it as a parry or, if the opportunity presented itself, to fling it to distract my opponent. The Maestro stood nearly straight up, with his blade slung casually to the side and began to twirl his cloak in a figure eight in front of him.2 This surprised me a little since the rhythm3 he established not only afforded a limited window in which to launch his attacks, but, more importantly, also caused the cloak to cover his vision completely at two points in its arc.

He began to circle around me and I adjusted my stance to face him, answering his probing attacks with easy parries as I got a feel for his pattern. Then, at a particularly opportune moment, I thrust at his face with a cross-step and a lean. He couldn’t react to the attack because he just didn't see it coming. I was satisfied that I would have driven the blade through the back of his skull.

The next point was a replay of the first, though here, he advanced behind a swing of the cloak, and so was unable to react when I sidestepped left and tagged his bib just below his jaw.

For the final point, he had given up swinging the cloak around and adopted a stance similar to mine. In response, I changed my tactics as well. Rather than wait to counterattack, I went instantly on the offensive. I faked forward and left just as I flicked my cloak at his face and his reaction was so extreme that I was able to do the chevron-shaped belly cut that Andy4 had taught in saber practice.

The Maestro was beaten. As he shook my hand he mumbled something about letting his guard down. He wouldn’t admit that he had been utterly out-fenced by a novice.

This bout was largely representative of how the matches ran all day.


1These are: 1) Single Sword, 2) Sword and Dagger, 3) Sword and Cloak, and 4) Case (Two Sword).
2I learned on a recent retelling of this story that the figure eight is a standard technique that's taught to SCA fencers for sword and cloak. The intent is (supposedly) to confuse your opponent.
3Repetitive movement in melees is almost always a liability. In some few cases this can be overcome, but only if the maneuvers that spawn from the movement are so unexpected as to be improbable (as is the case in high-level capoeira, for instance.)
4One of the BFC instructors who had studied at the Salle d’Armes de Paris, amongst other places.