“So and so never fights; it’s because they suck.”
“I totally beat that teacher, he has nothing to offer me.”
“I can kick their butt so I think I have as much to offer as they do.”
“Don’t listen to them, they’ve never won a tournament.”
This is why I won’t fight with you. This is why many instructors and leaders in many martial arts communities do not fight at all. At least not in public view.
When a young guy comes up to me, thumping his chest, his armour on, his sword in his hand, throws down a glove and tells me he’s here to beat me, to see what I’ve got, to see if I’m all I’m cracked up to be… I have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Why should I fence him?
I fence to:
- enjoy myself
- challenge myself to become the best I can be
- practice and explore the art I love
- share with others
- learn from others
- genuinely connect with brothers and sisters in arms
I don’t fence to prove myself. I have no need to prove myself nor do I have anything to gain from proving myself. None of these ends are served by fencing in this way with this brash young man.
When I started in Western Martial Arts about 20 years ago, I too was a young man and I felt that I had a lot to prove. I fenced in many tournaments and I sought out the best fighters I could find and all I cared about was beating them. If they couldn’t beat me I wrote them off. What could they possibly offer me?
In this time I became a respected victor and a sought after teacher but yet I never satisfied the demon of proving myself. In fact the more worthy I seemed to others, the more others began to call on me to prove myself to them. “Lets see if you’re really so good” people would say to me. The nature of sparring began to change for me. While in my “proving myself” mindset, fencing became about maintaining the self-value status quo. If I lost the match, my opponent could parade around telling everyone how they had beaten me. If I won, it was simply the expected outcome.
This type of fencing had less and less to offer me. My opponents could fight like mad with no fear for error — their only need was to beat me. I had to attempt to be the perfect fencer, not just winning but doing it in exactly the ways I taught, attempting to be resistant to the most meticulous of critics. I was trapped inside the bonds of excellence with no room for expression, no room for exploration, no room for sharing, no room for learning, no space for connection, and certainly very little enjoyment.
Fortunately I grew up. I stepped away from this type of fencing. I found a real goal and a real purpose:
To be the most excellent human being and martial artist I can be and to help others be the most excellent martial artists and human beings they can be.
I realized that there was very little value in spending time in this environment others were now demanding of me. There are so many better ways to share with someone and to learn from someone. I realized to achieve my goal I needed to learn more and prove less. I needed to have a much higher value experience from the time I spent with my fencing partners.
Now when I meet this young man (be he an old man or a young woman, a newbie or someone of repute) I say “Lets take this proving off the table”, “Let me show you a better way”, “Lets not beat each other, lets meet each other.”
We can start slow and enjoy the dance of the swords. We can move in earnest and invite each other to bring everything we’ve got. We can play and challenge ourselves to find the prized techniques. Together we can fully explore what each of us has to offer this experience and what each of us has to gain from it.
Now some might say “Not so fast. If you’re going to be a teacher, if you’re going to say that you have something to offer; then you are expected to prove it! In earnest, blade in hand, to stand to any challenge issued.” Some might say “It comes with the territory”, “don’t be a wussy”, “put up or shut up.”
I have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
You have nothing to lose yet still nothing to gain.
What I value in my teachers is their ability to teach me, not beat me. If they can help me be a better martial artist, a better person, come to new insights, new realizations, open up new doors for me, inspire me, help me learn new techniques, and connect me with principles; then they have something to offer me. It doesn’t matter how they do this. Some indeed give me value by fencing me in earnest, blade in hand – excellent – I love to fight and learn; For others it’s standing beside me whispering in my ear while I fence someone else. Perhaps it’s unlocking a manuscript for me and showing me how it’s done. Maybe it’s doing slow play with me and bringing me through their art with grace and subtlety. Perhaps its a lecture where their words give me the movements. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, my goal is to learn and to receive all the value I can.
If you’re judging someone for not proving themselves ‘to you’, if you look at contributors in our community who have written books, shared articles, taught great classes, fenced great passes, and shown their value in so many ways, and all you can say is “prove it by fighting!”. Then you need to put your narcissism and narrow mindedness in your pocket, it’s getting in your way of truly being your best and it’s getting in our community’s way of sharing it’s best.
Open yourself to being a student and you will learn. Open yourself to every teacher and you will learn. Seek value in others and I mean really curiously look for other’s gifts and insights, then figure out how to get everything you can from everyone you can. Start celebrating the art and not the ego. Then you’ll be ready to truly find excellence.
Now I’ll fight with you.