Courage and Collaboration: Why sabre makes you a better person.

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Why learn sabre?

You can get into a lot of hand-waving aesthetic arguments about the beauty and elegance and history of fencing and whatever, but that’s a hard sell to make to someone who’s not already committed. There’s plenty of books and blog posts out there arguing about how it makes your kids (and these arguments are almost always about kids) more resilient and focused and so forth, but that’s true of pretty much any sport,  or really any activity where you actually have to put in the hard yards to get good.

What makes sabre special?

Element One: Decisiveness

Sabre is fast.

Shockingly, almost incomprehensibly fast.

It’s the first thing we hear from pretty much every raw beginner who walks in our door with Zorro fantasies and sees an Olympic bout on TV for the first time.

Oh my god, it’s so fast.

Often followed by:

You can’t see what’s going on!

This is, perhaps correctly, held up by critics of sabre as a reason the sport isn’t a mainstream spectator hit: it’s too damn quick for the punters to follow. We’d argue that a decent slow-mo replay system solves that issue pretty easily, this being the year 2018 and 120fps cameras being as common as rats, but that’s not what’s important here.

The fact that’s it’s too fast to see is one of sabre’s great strengths. It takes place outside the time frames where seeing and thinking are useful concepts.

What sabre teaches is decisiveness.

It teaches the ability to make fast choices based on incomplete information. There is no time to see. There is no time to be cautious, to watch, to hedge, to wait for more data to come in. You have to take what little information you have, and you have to act on it with utter conviction.

In an ambiguous and chaotic situation, where every move is against an opponent with hundreds of different tactical options executed in literally millions of possible combinations of space and time, with a decision time measured in milliseconds, you have to be decisive, and you have to be brave.

You need to let go of self-consciousness. The fear that you’ve made a stupid choice, that you’re not being sophisticated enough, that you’re not “fencing smart”. You need to let go of doubt.

It’s one of the oldest tropes in the book: you can’t fight with your brain. You have to fight with your heart.

You have to let go.

Element two: Collaboration

This is where we get to throw a bomb:

Sabre is not an individual sport.

Yeah, we know, there’s Olympians and whatever out there writing about the noble purity of the solitary pursuit of competitive glory through discipline and self-mastery. And it’s a bunch of hogwash.

This isn’t swimming or cycling or athletics or shooting. You can’t go hide away from the world with your clock or your target or your yardstick and just grind until the numbers improve. You cannot master this game alone. You can’t even master it with a coach. You need a group. A group who trust each other, and bring each other up.

Sabre is collaborative.

This is tied inextricably to Element One. You can skip and run and pump iron and jump on boxes and flip tires and do footwork patterns and hit target dummies to your heart’s content. You can have the greatest Maestro on earth run you through the fundamental lessons of technique until your sword hand falls off. None of this is going to make a lick of difference if you don’t know how to fight. You have to face the chaos and the complexity and the staggering speed of it all, and learn how to act boldly. How to have courage.

You can’t learn this without a group of training partners who you trust. It’s not enough to have Coach or Federation herd the top people into one room. A group of fencers who fundamentally treat each other as rivals will spend most of their time eying each other off, hiding tricks, trying to figure out how to get an edge on their closest enemies. If you let go in training, you’re just a poor naïve fool who’s going to get rekd at the next selection comp.

And if you can’t let go in training, you’re going to lose as soon as you face an opponent who can.

If you want to master this game, you need a true collegial partnership with a group who have each other’s best interests at heart. You need to give each other space to take risks. You need to take pride in each other’s success. You need to be honest with each other about what it takes to get better. You need the kind of variety and challenge that only comes from unfiltered combat against other intelligent opponents with their own styles, and you need a hell of a lot of it. A tournament every couple of weeks ain’t going to cut it if you really want to make the grade.

These relationships can’t be imposed from outside. You need to nurture them yourself.

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When you’ve got all the above right, you don’t think about how many World Championships the other guy has won. And then you can hit the bastard.

That’s why sabre is worth learning. Would you like to master the skills needed to form deep bonds of trust and mutual advancement, and to and act with confidence in the face of uncertainty? We may just have an answer for you.

If you’re already on top of that stuff, we guess you can go surfing.

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