Sorry for the delay. A recent email prompted me to renew this poor attempt at making the personal fencing history of my last ten years worthwhile – or at least up to date. So I press on and maybe come a little closer to some kind of conclusion.
When we last left our story the foetal Baited Blade was poised for great things. Autonomy, funds, personnel, equipment, it was all in place. To say that finding a home was easy would do me a great disservice. This was no easy task. At this time many municipalities were under the stress of litigation for accidental liability for swings in public playgrounds; the idea of strangers wielding swords was met with open contempt, if not ridicule. Weeks were spent writing letters, sending faxes and following up phone calls with phone calls. Finally a positive response and a scheduled meeting – the sweet taste of success was so close.
But first a short caveat: many years earlier in my preteen years my mother, sister and I joined St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At the time it was everything that I could have hoped for in a Christian Church: the Anglophile bachelor priest, beautiful pre-war architecture and a fondness for what some American Anglicans call “high church” mass. Unfortunately, the local community was unable to support this anachronism and the Diocese agreed with parish leaders to liquidate the physical assets. The municipal government of Overland bought the property and in a somewhat fitting gesture converted old sacred ground into a resource for the larger community – the Overland Community Center.
It was to the Overland Community Center that I returned to so many years later and not my old St. Paul’s. Walking past the old church bell in the foyer I met with the Director and negotiated a deal that would enable BB members the right to free access in exchange for offering classes through the Center who would benefit solely from the fees collected. An ideal situation which lasted for some time during which membership tripled. New students responded to Center class offers and from the local advertising I had planned. In this atmosphere I experimented with curriculum, students and my own training needs. Dozens of classes and students, t-shirts, tournaments and pounds of paperwork later I found myself in grad school, married and expecting my first child. Things were getting hectic, but I was doing 100% of the work at BB on my own. Now, let me give credit where its due here: I fully acknowledge and appreciate the individual effort of each and every BB member at that time who participated and supported what I was pushing. But when it comes down to the bare bones responsibility came down to one person, moi.
My first excursion in teaching outside of BB was at the Missouri Athletic Club. Some good people, the rest mostly those I wouldn’t normally find myself in company with. My classes did not draw a lot of attention from a mostly social organisation that offered its members normative athletic activities like basketball, weight room and a swimming pool. it was rumoured that August Busch’s personal bodyguard taught Judo there. I saw him one night walk past the door and recognized immediately a person with purpose. At nearly the same time I received the go ahead from the Program Director of Saint Louis University’s Simon Recreation Center to teach a beginner’s twelve week course in fencing. I allowed the MAC program to conclude naturally and kept up my pace with both BB and SLU.
I have left out my brief, unpleasant stint as an amateur/professional competitive fencer in the USFA. Suffice it to say that in my first regional tournament I qualified for Nationals where I learned the reality of modern sport fencing. After returning from our “San Francisco” vacation I was adamant about making fencing applicable, meaningful and affordable to anyone who was willing to learn. This was the mission behind much of my work at BB. If you are one of the sport fencing polemicists who argues that you can’t find me listed in the roster of competitors for July 1997 San Jose, I have pity for you.
What a difference SLU made in my fencing life. The response to the class offering was staggeringly positive. In less than a year I had a cadre of students who, under the leadership of Alexis La Joie, created the foundation for the Classical Fencing Society at SLU. It was during this time that I experienced high creative collaboration: feedback, involvement, a degree of thirst for knowledge drove me faster and harder to my limits as a teacher and fencer. Meanwhile, Alexis was pushing pen to paper and creating a student organisation recognized by the University. Student purchased their first equipment sets – my first undeniably autonomous success. If any other attempts to lay claim to my BB accomplishments, not a person can come close to doing so with what I was able to do at SLU. Again, let me say with great joy, that without the drive and contagious enthusiasm of Alexis it would not have been possible.
At once I began to compare and contrast my original environment of BB with that of my new home at SLU – it was a no holds contest in which SLU beat BB bloody. Where BB failed to provide support and encouragement, SLU and the budding CFS were brimming. Now a new father in the job market I assessed my options and decided that it was time to let somebody else take control of BB – I simply could not do both. Meetings were held, people spoke up and decisions were made. the short version is that things continued to progress as you might imagine and I simply left BB to concentrate 100% of my efforts on my new family at SLU. Mind you, keep these things entirely clear in your mind:
1) when I left BB they were still on good terms with the Community center and enjoyed the original arrangement for fees and classes
2) they had all the original fencing equipment that through my efforts they acquired
3) while it is true that some of the members who lived in the city limits chose to follow me to SLU, BB still had a larger membership than before
4) there were still adequate funds in the coffers as well as other resources of print material and fencing pedagogy
In other words, I did not sap BB of anything when I left. Whatever happened to it after 1997 was not of my doing.