Forgive me Maestro…

Forgive me Maestro, it has been 130 days since my last fencing bout…

I’m sitting here after AWMAC 2018 feeling very despondent, and it’s taken me most of the day to realise what the problem is. I’m feeling like a failure because I barely did any fencing over the 3 days of AWMAC, a conference in which I did most of the prep work in the lead up to it! I only bouted with 2 people over the course of the event, and for some reason it’s making me feel like a failure, and the feeling has been there gnawing at me for weeks.

Stopping to think about I really don’t consciously think I’m a failure because of the very successful event we ran. We got 150% turnout compared to AWMAC 2016, and we got people from all across the country, and 1 guest from Singapore! Everybody complimented us on the event, and the number of times I heard “don’t thank me, thank Rick because he stepped up and just made it happen!” I also happened to run the most populated class throughout the event (Marozzo’s dagger presa) which had around half the attendees turn up for. Totally unplanned and unexpected, since we all expected the longsword class in that time slot to be the popular one. That there is I think my clue for what is going on.

I am a chronic introvert. Conferences are a personal nightmare, with the expectations of networking, small talk and chatting, basically interacting with lots of people, and I’ve become exceptionally overloaded with human interactions over the course of the event. There are 4 things that stand out for me from the event, my 3 classes in the schedule, the private lesson I gave to the Singapore chap, and Matthew Boyd’s English Wrestling class. What do you notice about these things? Most of them are when I was in control of the situation!

In the 2 group classes, and the private lesson, I’m the one controlling the social interaction. I’m able to manage my emotional energy so that it’s not being bled dry, and I get a lot of satisfaction coming back to me as I see people just get it during my one-on one work with people. The wrestling class was just me and and a friend working together having fun learning some new cool material. Again a controlled emotional energy set up. The rest of the time it felt like it was too much work to interact with people. Somewhere along this fencing journey, I’ve become not a fencer, but a fencing teacher because it’s so much easier to control my emotional energy levels!

My introvert nature is actually my secret weapon, and most successful tool. The deep thought and quiet contemplation of what I’m reading and researching to develop a holistic understanding of the material, and the constant reflection on what I’m doing have all gotten me to this point in my fencing career. It’s why I can just watch someone and point out an issue they are having, and help them fix it to become a better fencer. (For example, many people had a lot of problems in spadone because their leading hand was gripping the sword too tightly.) I’ve gotten amazingly good at the whole teaching thing apparently, which I never expected would happen, but somewhere I lost my joy of just fencing. Maybe I’m over analysing everything and always feel like I should be on as a teacher. Maybe I’ve just untrained my ability to read the opponent when I’m in front of them, and replaced it with the outside observation ability I use as a teacher.

I’ve always joked that fencing is like sprinting whilst playing chess, but I’ve lost my taste for it. I’ve done very little bouting in the last 12 months, and most of the time I’ve been bouting as fencing teacher not a fencer. What’s the difference you ask? Well as a fencer you try to win, but as a fencing teacher you set it up for the student to win. I do stuff at 110% of the ability of the person in front of me, so that they have a good chance to hit me if they do everything right. I’m applying pressure so that they can improve, but I’m not really trying hard to beat my opponent, just to make them work. It’s a little demoralising though as a fencer, because you always get hit a lot if you can’t switch that teaching mode off. I think subconsciously I may have been avoiding the whole bouting thing because I’m feeling very unhappy about my current fencing ability, it’s just not where I want it to be.

Oh and as I said I’m an introvert, and I’m not going to come up and ask people to bout. I’ll stand around waiting for people to ask me to bout. I did have a few people ask to bout, but we didn’t make it happen. My issue was they caught me when I was busy doing something else for the event, and we never set a time to catch up, so of course I avoided it because my introvert nature was very overwhelmed by the number of people I was dealing with. So to those of you who wanted to fence with me and missed out, I’m sorry. It was all me and had nothing to do with you, or me not wanting to fence you.

Looking around, I saw there were a few people like me just standing back, so it’s obviously not just me having issues. There are a few ways you can help people like me though, so here are a few suggestions.

  1. If there is someone you particularly want to fence, and they are standing off to the side – ask them quietly if they want to fence. Being invited can break an introvert out of the social paralysis. I’ll we stand waiting for people and never interrupt them.
  2. If they say they are busy, and you really want to fence them, ask for or negotiate a set time that you can both play. My introvert brain will help me avoid catch-ups, but it will also make me keep appointments. Social interactions are scary, but my sense of propriety will make sure I turn up to honour the agreement.
  3. Set up the bouting space so that people can just jump in without having to find themselves a bouting partner. I’m probably going to do this for a bouting evening at AWMAC 2019, where we divide the hall into 3 or 4 spaces for bouting, and each space will be a different weapon, and we cycle through people rather than forcing them to find a bouting partner. Make an inclusion place rather than a “challenge” space.

It’s been kind of crazy to realise that I’m avoiding bouting, because it’s a lot of strain on my emotional energy. It’s also made me realise that it has carried over into my classes, which I’m going to have to redesign to incorporate more bouting into my class structure. After all we actually learn this stiff to put it into practice, and if I don’t make an environment where that happens it’s a disservice to my amazing students.

Being an introvert can be crazy making at times, because the world really has become geared for satisfying extroverts. I think I need to go reread “Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I need to remember that my brain chemistry is different, and that I can’t just pretend that I’m the same as other people.