Two years ago today I had my first KdF class. Two years have passed in my own timeline since I first began to practice in Prospect Park, in the mornings atop the knoll in the ring of trees.
A lot has happened since then. I've moved to Charlotte. I have students of my own. I own a sharp sword - the first weapon I have ever owned - and I own it on my terms. I've practiced with the langes messer and dagger, two weapons that I would never have thought I would be attracted to, and discovered that I really like one of them (the dagger) and really hate the other (the messer). I've started learning the use of the sidesword, a weapon I've wanted to learn for as long as I've wanted to learn longsword, which is the first time I've tried to learn a weapon without the benefit of in-person instruction.
I've attended two major tournaments and two minor ones. At one of the major ones I made it to the finals in the dagger tournament, I actually won a medal in a rapier tournament, and I made it to the eliminations in longsword.
Am I any good?
I don't really feel like it, to be honest. There are others from AHS who have been practicing for as long as I have, or very shortly longer, who are better than I am - better in technique, better in cutting, better in sparring. I suppose it is natural to compare myself to those of my peers whom I know to be the best. As for my students, I am not as far ahead of them as I would like.
Am I better?
I have now executed cuts that I couldn't execute a year ago. The progress hasn't been entirely forward, but it has been forward in the aggregate. I understand the art better than I did a year ago. Whereas a year ago I could more or less explain pretty much all of the hauptstücke, I can now just explain all but a few of them, at least in a much deeper way than I could a year ago. And I understand the foundational concepts of the art better now too. I no longer think in terms of tempi, the Italian concept that forms the basis of so much modern fencing theory, and instead think in terms of vor and nach, the Liechtenauerian concept that serves the same purpose. I can exert pressure ... not well, perhaps, but much better than I could a year ago. And I can feel pressure better than I could, which is just as important.
The reasons I fence have changed somewhat. I started fencing as a thing for me - a corner of New York to make my own. I needed that, to keep me from succumbing to depression. I needed a tribe, and fencing gave me one. I needed a reason to exercise, and fencing gave me one.
I still fence for those reasons. The thing that keeps me eating well (well ... better than I otherwise would) and exercising is the need to do honor to my weapon. Here in Charlotte most of my tribe are students. And there are certainly times, even here with Thayet and Meshparjai, when I feel the weight crushing me down like one of Rodin's caryatids and I just need to feel Ruusaan's grip in my hands.
I also fence to teach. I'm still a lawyer, but I can teach through my fencing. It isn't really the same teaching peers as I think it would be teaching those younger, but it's still teaching. It gives me a chance to work on curriculum and lesson design, as well as my presentation skills and pacing. And this, as much as holding the sword in hand and hammering body and will to the demands of the art, helps to center me.
I am thirty-four now. The five years will be up when I am thirty-seven - too old, in all likelihood, to ever be a truly top-tier fencer in the competitive world. But I find that I remain determined to be a swordsman. It has morphed from an exploration of force into its own thing - I must fence because I must. I will be a swordsman. I am a swordsman - I'm just not a good one.
Three years to go.