I was a fencer in college. I’ve tried many sports over the years, but nothing ever fit my personality as much as fencing.
For one, it’s an individual sport. Those always appealed to me because I can’t handle multiple moving parts of anything. I’ll never be a juggler.
Two, it played right to my introverted nature. You only have to deal with one person at a time. No talking. You even get to hide behind a mask.
Third, my love of fencing dovetailed with another fascination: Things from the ancient world surviving into the modern era (benign things only, natch). Tossing coins in fountains. Tombs discovered for the first time. Certain trees.
Fencing is one of those things; a sport that mimics sword fighting, which has been for a minute or two.
The modern sport of fencing is fun but completely harmless. The weapons are flimsy, the points dulled. So I found these 17th-century illustrations from Ridolfo Capo Ferro’s fencing instruction fascinating.
That sword through the eye? That’s skill.
Here’s a nice splattery one:
I did a lot of research into old duels. I won’t roll out that whole ball of yarn here, but I will share my favorite historical duel with you.
In 1808, Parisians Monsieur Le Pique and Monsieur de Grandpré found themselves in competition over a dancer at the Paris Opéra. Whether or not the dancer cared about the rivalry is unknown, but the two hotheads chose to resolve things with a duel.
They considered the standard duel too pedestrian, so the men constructed identical hot air balloons. When completed, they gathered weapons and took them up. On reaching a height of 900 yards, a signal was given, and the two men tried to shoot each other’s balloons out of the sky.
Grandpré won the day. He punctured Le Pique’s balloon, which plummeted to the ground and killed Le Pique on impact.
The dancer, I like to imagine, had already moved on.
Duels are hard to come by these days, and with good reason. There is a local woman—a fellow kickballer, nameless here—who has challenged me to a duel roughly 17 times. I have returned the challenge an equal amount.
All the challenges have been accepted, but no duel has taken place. Dueling was outlawed in the late 1800s, and we haven’t figured out a way around that.
I sometimes wonder if there is a connection between my love of one-on-one sports and my love of writing. Some have compared fencing to chess, and writing can feel like a chess match between me and the reader.
I make a move; the reader counters by trying to lose interest in the story. I change direction; the reader tries to lose interest again.
Have you ever been insulted to the very core of your being? Wished that our draconian dueling laws were a little more flexible? Wanted to meet your nemesis on a dewy green field at dawn?
No? Me either. But there’s a first time for everything.