When I first came to New York, I gave myself five years to get any good at fencing. It has now been fifteen months, and I am headed to my second competition at the end of the month. I've decided to participate in four tournaments at Iron Gate Exhibition: dagger, longsword, "mixed weapons" (really a series of competitions all involving one-handed swords), and basic cutting. This will be the first time I've competed in a dagger or one-handed tournament, the first time I've competed with a steel longsword, and the first time I've competed with a sharp sword. I am, in other words, jumping in with both feet, and we'll see how I do (perhaps later I can share my thoughts on why). But this seems like a good time to ask: how is it going? Am I getting any good?
Somewhat to my surprise, I find myself able to answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative. Liechtenauer divides his unarmored longsword art into seventeen hauptstücke, high-level concepts that group together several individual plays or techniques. I've now at least seen all seventeen, can explain them all at least superficially, and I am starting to be able to apply them when analyzing other people's fights and in my own fighting. Occasionally I can even make some of them work. Five of the hauptstücke are special cuts, and I can execute about half of them with a sharp sword against a resistive target almost all the time. In fact, there are thirteen cuts on my "to do" list (there are others that one can do with a longsword, but these thirteen will do for now), and I can reliably cut about eight of them (eight and a half, if that's a thing). My fundamentals are definitely better than they were a year ago. And I find, as I contemplate my first steel tournament, that I am willing to fight anybody. I don't necessarily expect to win, but ... I'm confident that I won't completely embarrass myself. In cutting, I am by no means capable of fancy or complex feats, but I feel that what I am capable of is solid. The gap between my sparring and my cutting is narrower than it was, and I feel like the one informs the other.
I'm not really good yet, by any means. When it comes to dancing, there are a few dance forms in which I feel like I can dance with a partner of any skill level and any training background - anybody from anywhere - and make the experience uplifting. And as for other dance forms, while I may find them scary, I am confident that I have the skills to pick things up quickly enough that I can at least make it workable in short order.
That's pretty much what good means to me in fencing: I want to be able to fight anybody from anywhere, at least with my chosen weapon(s), and make the experience uplifting. I don't necessarily have to win (in fact - post for another time as well, I suppose - the more I learn, the more complex I find is the line between the martial and the non-martial), but I want my opponent to come away from the fight feeling like my fencing really brought out the best in them. And I want to be able to pick up any weapon and be able to at least make it workable in short order.
And ... while I'm not there yet, you know what? I think I am getting there. And hey, there's another forty-five months to go.