Ronin – On

Segue :: my reasons for chronicling (however poorly) the beginning of my fencing life was to illustrate that there has never been a “perfect” place to study around here. The fact is, if you want it bad enough, you do it yourself. I am checking many emotions at this minute regarding other local groups – it’s that kind of environment here in STL. Everybody thinks they’re the shit. Sport fencers deride traditional fencers, traditional fencers laugh at sport fencers, would-be ‘classical’ fencers hate everybody. Then there’s us right in the middle trying to figure out how Adam got on top of Fuji.

I wobbled deciding how much to reveal about Baited Blade, too. In the end I think it’s too much, but credit where its due, man. I haven’t done anything for fame or glory, but don’t take credit for what I have done. ::Don’t you recognize the P when you see it?:: But that’s the problem for many folk, too busy to really _see_ you. It’s easier to let the oh-too-sensitive-alarms go off and stereotype you out of the conversation. So I am happy for BB and JOS and everybody in the world who wants to realize their fantasies. Be want you want, when you want to whom you like. I bow to the perfection in you 😉

On with the story :: fast forwarding a few years we have a strong CFS pushing all kinds of boundaries. First fencing program to succeed in the city limits, taking other people’s students and retraining them our way and keeping them, generating revenue like gangbusters. What could go wrong? Oops…damn email. Got involved with a group of people online who think talking about fencing is the same thing as actually fencing?! Made a few enemies, learned less about the growing classical fencing community than how to repeatedly put same foot in same mouth more than two hundred times in one email-post. There was only one thing to do – go fence them. And I did, accompanied by a small posse. I have already talked enough about my experience at the Martinez Open Foil tournament in 1999 elsewhere, but we learned a few things we hadn’t expected to. Most importantly, people take this ‘master’ shit seriously. Even when they don’t personally get any instruction from the ‘master’. NB: I’m using quote around the word ‘master’ not because I disrespect fencing masters (there are actually a few of them I like) but because as I write this now the images popping into my head are from Doctor Who – and we all know who called himself ‘master’ in that show…

When we returned from NY I set about investigating an old lead received from one of my students back in the MAC (mac mac) days on Nick Evangelista. He was all over the internet having just published some books (Art and Science, Encyclopaedia of the Sword, but some of my faves were the non-fencing books he and his wife Anita did on living on the farm). At first I was surprised to get so many negative results on him. The internet overwhelmingly did not approve of Nick. I wasn’t sure why – I hadn’t read his books yet. I contacted him by email about convening a workshop here in STL. We agreed on the details and it worked very well. Afterwards, as we discussed things at dinner, I asked Nick about my fencing students and he said they looked great. I wanted more than this so we started talking about holding regular workshops – to give us all more time together and to develop a better sense of the fencing between us. We quickly developed a groove for monthly workshops where fencers experienced both group and individual lessons with Nick.

Fencing School Leiden 1610 image

digression :: I am calling him Nick here for two important reasons. the first and singularly important reason is that Nick _NEVER_ wanted _ANYBODY_ to call him ‘master’. Got that? The second reason is that our families got very close – I thought – and were all great friends. They stayed at our house over the weekend for workshops, we stayed at theirs for Christmas – it’s a friendship thing.

Almost immediately somebody from CFS realised that if we had a regular ongoing relationship with a professional fencing teacher then we were a Salle d’Armes – not just a club. We were proving by example what dedicated students of the sword did by investing in as much to study and learning as the ‘snotty nose’ does to chrome. Why was this important? It kind of leveled the playing field with other groups of fencers who had their own fencing ‘master’ (many of whom have the same beard as Roger Delgado!).

So let me briefly summarize:

  1. professional fencing teacher (master) with respectable credentials and lineage
  2. regular instruction and contact (which was making money, too)
  3. increasing positive visibility for both CFS and Nick

I approached Nick at the end of another successful weekend and basically told him it was his – tho whole kit an’ caboodle. The CFS was under his direct authority and all matters of fencing would be his to govern. In return he would continue to provide monthly instructional workshops and be our fencing ‘master’. He accepted.

And that’s when things changed.

It was like really bad luck at the table after a killing at Blackjack – and you loose everything. I’m going to take this in chunks – or chunk – because I don’t want this misconstrued as an attack on Nick. Rather, as an explanation for why the CFS is no longer under the tutelage of a fencing ‘master’, who happened to be Nick.

First, attendance at workshops started dropping like flies. I berated the CFS and told them they had asked for this and they had better live up to it. The enthusiasm for the workshops was gone. Nick even stopped wearing fencing clothes at one point. It was bad. They stopped being monthly and became more when we could ‘get up to STL’ workshops. One year Nick came for a whopping two workshops (that’s 2 lessons in one year).

I think some things may have changed for Nick personally after he moved into Springfield where he found more private students and formed a university group – curiously called the Fencing Society…

The final, surreal blow came via email during a slight center temps with Alexis and I. Understand that Alexis is very evangelical with his fencing and he does a good job at it and people respond to his good nature and charm. I think he is also becoming an excellent fencing instructor. Something he and I have always struggled with working in the university system is how to form years worth of training in a university co-ed in such a short period of time. Sometimes we are very lucky to get freshman into the CFS. And when we do that’s just 8 semesters – not nearly 4 whole years. We wanted to ensure that we were cramming as much into them in that time as possible, but we also wanted to provide for them after they’d gone and graduated as well. Alexis came up with a possible solution. Basically a fencing primer: hardcopy of drills, terminology and suggested lesson plans for continuing fencing after school and after CFS.

Nick blew a gasket. And an oil pan, and threw a rod.

I tried to mediate between them – extremely confused myself – but was very unsuccessful. Nick was clear that he disapproved of the primer and furthermore didn’t want his name associated with it. I could understand the name association on somebody else’s work more than I could the way in which he was responding to his two senior most students. It got worse. Much worse.

In the end our fencing relationship was terminated. We removed his name, as he requested, from all CFS materials and websites. Still without any reasonable explanation for why he was doing this I didn’t tell but my senior most training partners what had happened. The end of this story is sadder still because, despite trying, I have been unable to maintain even my friendship with Nick (my kids still ask when Nick and Anita are coming to visit again).

So that is the quick and dirty (internet) version of how this all came about. For consequences you’ll have to stay tuned for the next part:

Ronin – on the prowl