Ronin : Preamble

This entry is to pave the way for forthcoming explanations for why I am now a masterless swordsman. I feel honor-bound to make some kind of explanation public so that the word can be officially “out there”.

As a preamble, let me start by saying that like many in this country, I found my way to fencing by humble means. Specifically, a continuing education class offered by a school district. The class cost about $80 and was approximately 8 weeks long (use of approximations is due to the fact that A, I didn’t pay for the class, and B, was just 13 at the time). The class was taught by the then North County Fencers Club (St. Louis, Missouri) as an exchange for using school space for fencing. I used a similar model years later as an instructor for another fencing group. I later learned that the job of actually teaching these students was not a highly regarding task and usually fell to the person who couldn’t contrive a reasonable excuse not to do it.

learn fencing image

The instruction was basic fencing formed around a then deflated French system of defence. In this small group lesson environment we learned the stance, basic footwork, and basic blade work. Taking into account the time spent talking, getting equipment and waiting for your turn to do something we come up far short of even a projected 8 hour lesson!

Afterwards students were invited to join the club and fence. Period. No further lessons – just out and at’em. Bob was the instructor at this time. Do I consider him my fencing teacher? No. More like a fencing-big-brother who took me outside one day and played around with a new toy. After he went back inside I had to figure out how it really worked.

At that point I was 8 weeks older and fencing men (mostly) and women at least twice my age. It was chaotic and it was fun. I bought my first weapon – an Italian foil from Santelli (mostly Negrini parts). Nobody else in the club had one and few had even seen one in person. By then (mid-eighties) most people had switched to pistol grips and a few were holding on to the French; the standard then, as now, in most starter packages.

I continued fencing there through high school and college until I dropped out for a while. University life was fun for other reasons. But there was a “moment” for which I stopped fencing. In retrospect my brain must have been encouraging my already sensitive and depressed psyche, but I recall a very palpable sense of negativity – so much so that I walked through the door at the front of the gym one night and immediately turned around, walked out and drove away as fast as I could. That period lasted about a year, maybe more. Approximations at this point in the story are due to expected 18 year old in college factors.

NB: by this time I had some fencing assets: speed, ability and passion. My debits were largely: ignorance and lack of training. This is another reason why not calling Bob my first teacher is an act of friendship, or charity. If he had been my first teacher he would have been responsible for the large gap in my fencing knowledge.

Getting back into it happened when the first alternative to the St. Louis Fencers Club (as it later became) arrived on the scene. Bob had been starting up a small group of new students (who he was actually teaching) further out in the county in an apartment complex. As the second senior-most fencer in the group it was a fun and easy atmosphere. I learned more about how I was fencing at that point by working with the neophytes and also learned that fencing doesn’t belong to any person nor to any one group – its portable, you can take it with you!

After another brief hiatus for travel reasons I returned to find Bob teaching his neophytes in a different school but in similar ways as described above. An important caveat here is that Bob had been using equipment loaned to him by STLFC to teach his neophytes. One night we all sat around lamenting that liaison and thought about severing it. Bob mentioned that if he ever started his own club he would name it Baited Blade. It occurred to me that the only thing preventing us from doing that was getting a minor amount of work done. The wheels turned and next week I announced that I was collecting membership dues for the new club and that our first act of autonomy would be raising funds until our own equipment could be bought. Before I knew it I was coordinating dues, purchasing, and classes. Nobody said, “Hey, wait a minute there bud – I wanna do that!”, or, “Dave, what can I help with?”. I learned my next lesson: if you want something done, do it yourself and don’t wait for anybody to volunteer. With raving success behind me (we were able to collect enough dues to buy that equipment and gladly give back the loaner sets to STLFC with the assurance that we would never need them again) we fenced and I set my sights on the next project: a better location for BB (as we called it per Bob’s request).