Monday, March 19, 2018


     Somebody just put a .38 slug into the back of Mr. Toad’s brain, and I’m investigating the murder.
     I have half a dozen suspects, all of whom had plenty of motive and the opportunity to deal Mr. Toad permanently out of the game. But only ONE of them had the means -- in this case, the .38 calibre firearm. But the weapon is not at the scene, and subsequent searches, properly conducted with a warrant based on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and describing the particular places to be searched and items to be seized, turn up zilch.
     Then along comes a source who says he has in his possession the murder weapon, and bestows upon me a handgun in a plastic bag.
     “Ratty killed Mr. Toad,” he tells me. “Here’s the murder weapon.”
     Case closed, right?
     But suppose this informant is a junkie, a career criminal with a long history of perjury. Should I tell him to stick that gun into the orifice of his choice and get out of my office?
      What if he’s a pimp or a child pornographer, or worse yet, a politician?
Suppose the informant is a “known” communist, or fascist, or a member of the local PTA. Would his belonging to such a despised group be a good reason for me to give him and his alleged evidence the boot?
     Suppose the informant wants a hundred bucks for the evidence. Or what if the informant is one of the suspects who clearly has a vested interest in casting suspicion on someone other than himself? Is that conflict of interest reason enough for me to shit-can the baggie?
     Don’t be a sap.
     No matter who brings me the evidence, no matter why they bring me the evidence, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to run a ballistics test and dust it for fingerprints, maybe look for DNA.
     Either the ballistics will match the murder weapon or the ballistics won’t match the murder weapon.
     Either we get fingerprints or we don’t, and those prints will either match one of the suspects or not.
     If the gun in the bag is the murder weapon, and it has Ratty’s prints all over it, I don’t care if Adolf Htler brought me that evidence; I’m going to have a little chat with the old rodent.   If the gun in the bag isn’t the murder weapon and/or doesn’t have Ratty’s prints on it, I don’t care if Mother Teresa brought me the evidence; it doesn’t support an arrest of Ratty for the crime. In short, I’m going to assess the evidence on its own merits and nothing else.
     If you summarily reject evidence because you don’t like the person who brought it to you, or if you automatically accept evidence because you like the person who brought it to you, you’re not a detective. You're a mark.

    If your theory of the crime is “Ratty Murdered Mr. Toad” then all the evidence must support that theory.
     If the gun in the baggie has Ratty’s prints all over it -- but it’s a .45 and not a .38, the evidence doesn’t support busting the old Rat. It isn’t the murder weapon.  “If he owns a .45 he probably ALSO owns a .38,” says my informant. 
     Yeah? Prove it. Bring me the .38.
     If the pistol in plastic is a .38 and the ballistics all match up  so we’re sure it’s the murder weapon, but the prints on the gun  -- all nice and clear -- don’t match Ratty’s, then the evidence  doesn’t support an arrest.
     You have to account for all the evidence. You can’t just cherry-pick the evidence that supports your theory while ignoring evidence that refutes your theory.  Cherry-picking is what puts innocent people on death row.

     Now, what about that ballistics report?
     The fingerprints?
     How “expert” is the expert running the tests? Did he/she get his training in a one-hour on-line course from Joe’s Investigative Academy and Taxidermy School?  Or does he have hundreds of hours of advanced training and a couple decades of experience? Regardless of his bona fides, what’s his batting average? Have 50% of his analyses later been proven to have been incorrect? What if he’s positively matched fingerprints to ALL suspects who were Black but NEVER to a suspect who was White?
     When you’re relying on an expert to determine the truth of a particular fact, NOW it’s perfectly acceptable -- in fact NECESSARY -- to be sure that your expert is really an expert and conducting his part of the investigation objectively, impartially and in accordance with the best scientific methods and procedures, and not tainted by other influence.

     Once you examine all the evidence, you can then piece it all together to formulate a theory of the crime. Your theory MUST be based on the evidence and nothing else, and you must include all the evidence without leaving anything out just because it doesn’t fit your theory.  If it isn’t Rat’s prints aren’t on the murder weapon, and a dozen eyewitness say that Rat was in custody for drunk driving a hundred miles away at the time of the murder, you don’t get to say, “I STILL think it was him. He’s a RAT.”   You let the evidence lead you to formulate a theory of the crime -- not the other way around.

     The world is full of people who want you believe all kinds of things. Some are definitely true. Some are probably true. Some might be true. Some are pure bullshit.
If you’re not going to be an easy mark for every grifter, hustler and political hack who has a nice smile and a good suit, “common sense” ain’t gonna cut it.” You’d better learn how to act rationally and not emotionally. 
     "Rationally" means you believe what is supported by good evidence and ONLY what is supported by good evidence.
     "Emotonally" -- or "Irrationally" --  means you believe what is not supported by evidence, or even what is contradicted by good evidence.
     The rubs lies in the fact that human beings (except for psychopaths) are hard-wired with emotions, installed at the factory. Emotions are universal, instinctive, automatic and effortless.
     Critical thinking is not. It’s an acquired skill, like playing the cello. It is rare, counter-intuitive, and requires conscious effort and regular practice.
     But it’s worth your time.
     Consider it intellectual self-defense.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Government of Laws, Not of Men

   You can’t uphold the law, or enforce the law, or even abide by the law if you don’t know the law. While I am the first to declare that foolish rules, like unjust laws, demand to be broken, there are some rules that exist for a very good reason and make very good sense. For example, the rules against assault, murder, robbery, rape and kidnapping seem like very reasonable rules to me. The rule against parking on the left-hand side of the street on Tuesdays, not so much.
    Likewise the rules of fencing. They exist for good reason, whether or not you have the nimbleness of wit to understand the reason.
    Neither fencers nor officials are permitted by the rules to violate the rules. Violations stem from one or both of two things: 1) ignorance of the rule or 2) An intent to cheat. There is no third option.
     Personally, I never ascribe to mere ignorance that which can be adequately explained by malevolence. In my experience ignorance is the fall-back defense of those who get caught in acts of malevolence.
    Thus let it be with Caesar.
    The following excerpts from the fencing rules, are essential for every fencer and, of course, every fencing official to know and understand, both in what they say and in what they do NOT say, also WHY they say what they say.  (The Devil will win the Heisman Trophy before I ever advocate mindless obedience to any rule!)  Indeed, one cannot possibly fence properly and well without knowing, understanding and complying with the rules. All added emphases are my own.
(*Excerpts from the Fencing Rules 2011 translated from French)

t.87-1            The competitors must fence faithfully and strictly according to the rules laid down in these Rules. All breaches of these rules will incur the penalties laid down hereinafter (cf. t.114-t.120).
        2) All bouts must preserve the character of a courteous and frank encounter. All irregular actions (fleche attack which finishes with a collision jostling the opponent, disorderly fencing, irregular movements on the strip, touches achieved with violence, touches made during or after a fall) are strictly forbidden (cf. t.114-t.120).

t.7-1   The offensive actions are the attack, the riposte and the counter-riposte.
The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target, preceding the launching of the lunge or fleche (cf. t.56ss, t.75ss).

t.10     The point in line position is a specific position in which the fencer’s sword arm is kept straight and the point of his weapon continually threatens his opponent’s valid target (cf. t.56.3.a/b/c, t.60.4.e, t.60.5.a, t.76, t.80.3.e, t.80.4.a/b).

t16-1.   With all three weapons, defense must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together.

T16-2.   The weapon must not be – either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner – transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the grip and without the hand slipping along the grip from front to back during an offensive action.

T18-5    The order “Halt” is also given if the fencing of the competitors is dangerous, confused, or contrary to the Rules, if one of the competitors is disarmed or leaves the strip, or if, while retreating, he approaches too near the spectators or the Referee (cf. t.26, t.54.5 and t.73.4.j).

t.19       Fencing at close quarters is allowed so long as the competitors can wield their weapons correctly and the Referee can, in foil and sabre, follow the phrase.

t.34-1.   By accepting a position as Referee or judge, the person so designated pledges his honor to respect the Rules and to cause them to be respected, and to carry out his duties with the strictest impartiality and absolute concentration.

t.46-1.   The foil is a thrusting weapon only. Offensive actions with this weapon are made therefore with the point and with the point only.

t.61 The Epee is a thrusting weapon only. Attacks with this weapon are therefore made with the point and with the point only.
t.52  When using the apparatus it should be noted that: b) the apparatus does not indicate whether there is any priority in time between two or more touches which it registers simultaneously.

t.55  The Referee alone decides as to the validity or the priority of the touch by applying the following basic rules which are the conventions applicable to foil fencing.

Respect of the fencing phrase

1.     Every attack, that is every initial offensive action, which is correctly executed must be parried or completely avoided and the phrase must be followed through – that is to say, coordinated (cf. t.7.1).

2.  In order to judge the correctness of an attack the following points must be considered:
            a) The simple attack, direct or indirect (cf. t.8.1), is correctly executed when the extending of the arm, the point threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            b) The compound attack (cf. t.8.1) is correctly executed when the arm is extending in the presentation of the first feint, with the point threatening the valid target, and the arm is not bent between the successive actions of the attack and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche.
            c) The attack with an advance-lunge or an advance-fléche is correctly executed when the extending of the arm precedes the end of the advance and the initiation of the lunge or the fléche. 

         d)    Actions, simple or compound, steps or feints which are executed with a bent arm, are not considered as attacks but as preparations, laying themselves open to the initiation of the offensive or defensive/offensive action of the opponent (cf.t.8.1/3).

3. To judge the priority of an attack when analyzing the fencing phrase, it should be noted that:
            a) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is not in the point in line position (cf. t.10), it may be executed either with a direct thrust, or by disengage, or by a cut-over, or may even be preceded by a beat or successful feints obliging the opponent to parry.
            b) If the attack is initiated when the opponent is in the point in line position (cf. t.10), the attacker must, first, deflect the opponent’s blade. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade (cf. t.60.5a).
            c) If the attacker, when attempting to deflect the opponent’s blade, fails to find it (dérobement), the right of attack passes to the opponent.
            d) Continuous steps forward, with the legs crossing one another, constitute a preparation and on this preparation any simple attack has priority.

t.57    The parry gives the right to riposte: the simple riposte may be direct or indirect, but to annul any subsequent action by the attacker, it must be executed immediately, without indecision or delay.

t.58    When a compound attack is made, if the opponent finds the blade during one of the feints, he has the right to riposte.

t.59    When compound attacks are made, the opponent has the right to stop hit; but to be valid, the stop hit must precede the conclusion of the attack by an interval of fencing time; that is to say that the stop hit must arrive before the attacker has begun the final movement of the attack.  


Judging of touches

t.60 The Referee should apply the following basic conventions of foil fencing:
1) When during a phrase, both fencers touch at the same time, there is either a simultaneous action or a double touch.
2) The simultaneous action is due to simultaneous conception and execution of an attack by both fencers; in this case the touches exchanged are annulled for both fencers even if one of them has been touched off the target.
3) The double touch, on the other hand, is the result of a faulty action on the part of one of the fencers. Therefore, when there is not a period of fencing time between the touches:
4) Only the fencer who is attacked is counted as touched:
            a)   if he makes a stop hit on his opponent’s simple attack;
            b)   if, instead of parrying, he attempts to avoid the touch and does not succeed in so doing;
            c)   if, after making a successful parry, he makes a momentary pause which gives his opponent the right to renew the attack (redoublement, remise or reprise);
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a stop hit without being in time;
            e)   if, having his point in line (cf.t.10) and being subjected to a beat or a taking of the blade (prise defer) which deflects his blade, he attacks or places his point in line again instead of parrying a direct attack made by his opponent.
5. Only the fencer who attacks is counted as touched:
            a)   if he initiates his attack when his opponent has his point in line (cf.t.10) without deflecting the opponent’s weapon. Referees must ensure that a mere grazing of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade;
            b)   if he attempts to find the blade, does not succeed (is the object of a dérobement) and continues the attack;
            c)   if, during a compound attack, his opponent finds the blade, but he continues the attack and his opponent ripostes immediately;
            d)   if, during a compound attack, he makes a momentary pause, during which time the opponent makes a stop hit, after which the attacker continues his attack;
            e)   if, during a compound attack, he is stop hit in time before his final movement;
            f) if he makes a touch by a remise, redoublement or reprise when his original attack has been parried and his opponent has made a riposte which is immediate, simple, and executed in one period of fencing time without withdrawing the arm.
6. The Referee must replace the competitors on guard each time that there is a double touch and he is unable to judge clearly on which side the fault lies.

t.75 (sabre)
3. An attack with a lunge is correctly carried out:
            a) in a simple attack (cf.t.8.1) when the beginning of the extending of the arm precedes the launching of the lunge and the touch arrives at the latest when the front foot touches the strip;

t.79 (sabre) b) When a parry is properly executed, the attack by the opponent must be declared parried and judged as such by the Referee, even if, as a result of its flexibility, the tip of the opponent’s weapon makes contact with the target.

t.82    Fencers must observe strictly and faithfully the Rules and the Statutes of the FIE, the particular rules for the competition in which they are engaged, the traditional customs of courtesy and integrity and the instructions of the officials.
            2. In particular they will subscribe, in an orderly, disciplined and sporting  manner, to the following provisions; all breaches of these rules may entail punishments by the competent disciplinary authorities after, or even without, prior warning, according to the facts and circumstances (cf. t.113-t.120).                     

t.821                               Fencing etiquette
t87-3) Before the beginning of each bout, the two fencers must perform a fencer’s salute to their opponent, to the Referee and to the spectators. Equally, when the final touch has been scored, the bout has not ended until the two fencers have saluted each other, the Referee and the spectators; to this end, they must remain still while the Referee is making his decision; when he has given his decision, they must return to their on guard line, perform a fencer’s salute and shake hands with their opponent. If either or both of the two fencers refuse to comply with these rules, the Referee will penalize him/them as specific for offenses of the 4 group (cf. t.114, t.119, t.120).
Protests and appeals

Against a decision of the Referee

1. No appeal can be made against the decision of the Referee regarding a point of fact (cf. t.95.1/2/4, t.96.2).
2. If a fencer infringes this principle, casting doubt on the decision of the Referee on a point of fact during the bout, he will be penalized according to the Rules (cf. t.114, t.116, t.120). But if the Referee is ignorant of or misunderstands a definite rule, or applies it in a manner contrary to the Rules, an appeal on this matter may be entertained.
3. This appeal must be made:
         a) in individual events, by the fencer;
         b) in team events, by the fencer or the team captain.
This appeal should be made courteously but without formality, and should be made verbally to the referee immediately and before and decision is made regarding a subsequent action
4. If the Referee maintains his opinion, the Head Referee has authority to settle an appeal (cf. t.97). If such an appeal is deemed to be unjustified, the fencer will be penalized in accordance with Articles t.114, t.116, t.120).

     Prior to around 1980, these rules were universally accepted. Those who fenced in any other manner were simply consider very poor fencers.  But there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth that fencing was not as popular (read that “profitable”), not a “spectator sport” as, say, football. Apparently, no one pointed out that the best fencing is  sly and subtle, and such nuances are difficult to observe and appreciate from 50 yards away, while drinking beer, eating a hot dog or performing a wave.
     So the gauntlet was cast: how can we make fencing more like football?
     Along came lights and whistles, and colored uniforms, and video re-play, and big, wild, loud “fencing.”  Farewell, Bach, hello Death metal.
     However, as more an more people were recruited into fencing (in the vain hope of finding a champion in the rough who would produce a gold medal for the good old USA), more and more very poor fencers were produced, accumulating at the bottom of the pyramid.  Not only unskillful, but with no particular affective loyalty to the long-established “code” of gentlemanly (or ladylike) conduct. 
     But, as they say in football, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the ONLY thing.” HOW you win isn’t part of the equation. If you can cheat and get away with it, well, then it isn’t really cheating. And especially not if everyone else does it, too.

     In time, those very poor fencers became very poor officials, who redefined fencing by a deadly combination of incompetence, negligence and arrogance.
     The inevitable result was the savage dumbing-down of fencing, until it bore utterly no resemblance to either a frank encounter or a courteous one.
     And that is where we are today.

Sometimes, when you change a thing enough from it's original conception and form, it ceases to be the thing. The above photo is a picture of my new guitar. I've customized it a little.

-- aac

Thursday, December 28, 2017


     In art, I use words as I please, to mean whatever I like, and I’ll invent a word if I feel it necessary. But in science I prefer to be precise, clear and consistent. I strive never to use one word to describe two different things, or two different words to describe the same thing. When using a common word in a specific way as a “term of art,” it never hurts to define your terms. So I shall.
     The use of the word “man,” as in swordsman and horseman, is currently unfashionable.  In the interest of inclusiveness and equality in diversity, various alternatives have been proposed. I thought I should explain why I would employ such a “politically incorrect” term as “swordsman,” so as not to give offense when I do.
     The word “man” has it’s origin in the root of the Sanskrit  “manas,” the Indian word for “mind” or the “eternal thinker. “Man” is not synonymous  with “male,” but rather with “human being.” When writers mention “man’s inhumanity to man” they don’t mean “Males’ inhumanity to males,” implying that the females of the species are neither guilty of inhumanity nor targets of it, , but rather  “human beings’ inhumanity toward human beings.” If a plague wipes out all “mankind,” both males and females of the species will vanish.   When the Oracle at Delphi admonished, “Man, know thyself” the admonition was not only to those human beings who happened to have a penis. Really, it seems to me either quite “dumbed down” or smarmily disingenuous to equate “man” with “male.”  I think it’s much more about grinding a political axe than it is about semantic clarity, but then, I’m suspicious by nature.  
     Let me be clear on this point: I am aware of the ill effects of patriarchy on both men and woman, and I abhor them. I have always believed in the complete social, economic and political equality of the sexes. I taught sabre to women long before the Powers That Shouldn't Be finally "allowed" women to fence with the sabre.
     I use “sword” + “manas”/man, meaning “mind,” to say that the swordsman is a human being whose consciousness is integrated with the use of the sword and is thereby altered.  Horse + “manas”/man, or “horseman,” denotes a human being whose consciousness is integrated with that of the horse and is thereby altered. You could say that the “horseman” is one who is so intimately connected to the horse, that they are now part horse and part human. Likewise, the swordsman may never again be “whole” without the sword.
     Some people have suggested using “person” instead of “man,” as in chairperson, or waitperson. “Person” comes from the Latin word “persona,” which was the mask an actor wore.  So the “chairperson” is someone who puts on the  “chair” mask to run a meeting; a waitperson is someone who puts on the mask of waiting, usually between auditions. “Person” seems to me superficial and, temporary, and not at all the sense I want to give you in describing the martial artist having a peak experience via the practice of the sword.
     Instead of bowman we could say “archer,” instead of swordsman we could say “fencer,” instead of horseman we could say “rider,” but these things all merely describe what someone does, not what someone is. That is, they describe physical activities, not altered states of consciousness. Fencing is external to the individual; swordsmanship is internal. Riding is external; horsemanship is internal.
     Maybe we need a new word. 
     If someone invents a better one, one that makes sense, one that has the right denotation and connotation, and rolls trippingly off the tongue, I’ll happily adopt it.  Meanwhile, I will use “man” as term of art with the specific denotation and connotation herein described.
     No offense intended.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

What a Drag


     I play guitar a little bit.
     There’s a piece by Bach I’m working on. I play some blues. I love flamenco. I play most every day, practicing one thing or another. Depending on my mood, it may be classical stuff, or jazz or a bunch of different things.
     When I work on that Bach piece, I don’t wear a white-powdered wig and a long frock coat. 
     When I play the blues, I don’t break out my black-face make-up, shades and stingy-brim fedora. 
     When I play flamenco, I don’t change into a flat-brimmed sombrero, and high-heeled botas.
     You know why not?
     Because playing music is about playing music and playing it well. 
     I’m not practicing the guitar as an exercise in fantasy role-playing, wearing just the right cliché costume for the part. That’s what “air guitar” is about. I don’t want to pretend to play the guitar, I want to actually play the guitar.
     When I play JSB's Chaconne in d minor, I’m not trying to “re-enact” history. I’m playing a piece of music that is just as beautiful and poignant today as when it was written back around 1720. I’m not expressing Bach’s feelings. I can’t. I’m not Bach. I’m expressing my own feelings through Bach’s music.
     If I were to don a white powdered wig to play my Bach piece, would that make my performance any better? Would it render my interpretation any more accurate or “authentic?” Would the piece be any more poignant?
     I think not.
     When I play Born Under a Bad Sign, or T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, should I dress up like Dan Akroyd’s stunt double in a Blues Brothers re-make? Should I put on some Al Jolson black-face make-up? Will that give me a better, more “authentic” sound?  
     I think not.
     I’m not Black. But I’ve sure enough had the blues. 
     Unless I’m getting paid to be an actor, I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not.

     "Okay," you might inquire, "where are you going with all this?"
     Funny you should ask.
     Why is it that just about everyone who claims to be a “serious” student of the sword, finds it impossible to resist playing dress-up? I’m not talking about fantasy role-playing outfits like the SCA. I’m talking about people who claim to be serious students of the sword. They get into their pseudo-medieval attire for long sword, break out the facsimile doublet and trunk hose for rapier, and don their stiffest 1890’s drag to do “classical” fencing.

     Does it make their fencing any better, more accurate, more authentic?
     You know what we wear in my salle when we practice long sword?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     Guess what the uniform is for rapier and dagger?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     Classical fencing?
     Baggy grey sweats.
     We wear what’s comfortable and functional, and yes, we wear what’s protective, too -- a mask and padded jacket. But we don’t do the costume party thing. We don't play dress-up. Period.
     You know why not?
     Because practicing the sword is about practicing the sword and doing it well.
     We’re not learning how to pretend to fight using the sword, we are learning how to actually fight using the sword.
     The sword is every bit as demanding and deadly today as it was in 1660, and the principles of technique, tactics and strategy that the sword can teach are just as vital and relevant today as they ever were.
     We practice the sword to make ourselves better human beings, to change the way we live in the world, and thereby to change the world.
     We’re not “re-enacting” history. We’re making it.
     The sword isn’t about the past.
     It’s about the future.
In Ferro Veritas.
-- aac

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Guitar Contest

            The guitar is a very popular instrument, lots of people play it and it’s been a valuable part of our life and culture for a long time. Guitar-playing skill is something we’ve come to value, because we appreciate the talent and effort it takes to be excellent at it, and also for the richness the music adds to our lives. We love the quality of a memorable melody, the subtle shades of emotion created by astute and articulate harmonies, the primal, enchanting use of rhythm.
     So to recognize excellence in guitar-playing, and to encourage its continuation, we decide to have a guitar-playing contest.

     Someone suggests that we should just let the audience vote. But that would only determine which music is the most popular, not necessarily the best musically. So we decide that the best judges would be the contestants themselves.
     They listen to each others’ playing, evaluate it, discuss it together and arrive a general consensus on who the best player -- or at least, the best player of the moment -- is. While they are candid about the flaws in a contestant’s playing, they are also effusive with praise for others’ talents and modest about their own. The friendly, collegial nature of the contests becomes legendary.
     Guitar fans of all stripes flock to the contests. Even those who don’t personally know any of the contestants. One thing they can be sure of: no matter who eventually wins, they will hear some wonderful guitar music during the course of event.

     Then to make it less of a “burden” on the contestants, and also to add to the stature of the event, we decide to have non-contestants judge the event. We recruit as judges renown guitar teachers,  famous composers of guitar music, and perhaps even some past winners of the contest. Each of them has a slightly different preference: one is a classical guitarist, one is a jazz guitarist, one plays flamenco. But they all still agree on foundational elements like melodic quality, harmonic quality, and rhythmic quality.

     Despite the subjectivity of the process and the lack of absolute and universal agreement, the whole contest thing works out pretty well overall. Excellent guitarists get a little bit of fame and fortune, and fledgling guitarists have a little added incentive to practice --- hoping to playing well enough to enter the contest one day.

     The system certainly isn’t perfect. There aren’t always enough good judges available, it’s hard to get them all together in one place at one time, and it’s pricey to cover their expenses for the job. And there’s that subjective factor that leaves fans of certain players or certain regions or certain styles of music disgruntled when their favorite fails to win the first place prize.  Mind you, a lot of these fans aren’t really fans of the guitar, or guitarists, or even music, but they are most definitely fans of winning; they derive vicarious egotistical satisfaction from having “their” guitarist or “their” town or “their” musical style win the prize.

     Someone -gets the bright idea to eliminate the “subjectivity” from the judging by inventing a machine to take over the job.
     The machine they create does not have the capacity to evaluate melodic quality, or harmonic quality or rhythmic quality. The machine can only measure decibels and count the number of notes played per measure.
     So that becomes the criteria for winning the contest.
     Not melody.
     Not harmony.
     Not rhythm.
     Just how loud you can play and how fast you can play.
     The loudest, fastest guitarist wins the prize.

     Young, up-and-coming guitarists begin to abandon melody, harmony and rhythm because these elements are no longer relevant to winning the contest -- and the fame and fortune that comes with it. They focus on what’s important: play loud and play fast.
     Guitarists who retain an attachment to melody, harmony and rhythm lose interest in the contest now, not just because they can’t play loud enough and fast enough to win it (which is what the louder-faster players claim) but because it simply isn’t pleasant to either play or to listen to. Indeed, they don’t consider it music at all, but noise.
          Playing with articulate melody, adroit harmony, and captivating rhythm requires a much longer time, and particular precision of effort.  Only a relative few can dedicate themselves to it.   But the ability to play loud and fast can be accomplished in very short period of time and almost anyone can learn to do it. So it becomes very popular and guitar playing gets “democratized.”  The louder-faster group points this out as a great progress. “More people are playing the guitar today than ever before,” they cheer.
     Because the loud-fast guitarists don’t have to invest that same time and effort as the “traditional” guitarists, they have no idea what that process entails. They therefore tend to grossly under-estimate what’s involved and grossly under-value it. The result is that the loud-fast guitarist has no particular admiration, regard or respect for traditional guitar players -- or for their own ilk, either for that matter. Their behavior toward each other deteriorates to an infantile level of brooding tantrum when they lose, and displays of narcissistic self-adulation when they win.
     Audiences begin to stay away in droves. A few spectators still attend to “support” a friend (or their guitarist from their town…) but no one comes to listen to the music anymore.  There isn’t any.
     Eventually, all the “traditional” guitarists either retire, or die off. A whole new generation of loud-fast guitarists is born who have never heard any other kind of guitar-playing, can’t even imagine that another kind of guitar-playing  could ever have existed.
     Every once in a while, someone may refer to the “old-fashioned” way of guitar-playing,  a quaint and silly practice based on some odd notions of obsolete things called melody, harmony and rhythm, beyond which we have now thankfully evolved. And all the “modern” guitarists can do is shake their heads in wonder that their foolish forbears could have been so caught up in irrelevancies.



Saturday, October 14, 2017


     One of our essential training elements is the “bout,” a contest between two fencers, each of whom attempts to touch the opponent without being touched by the opponent. 
     Bouting is “flashy” and exciting and can be a lot of “fun,” too.  It puts your skills and spirit to the test. In some part of us it represents the obligatory show-down between the hero and the villain, the “moment of truth,” the climax of our favorite swashbuckling novels, films and TV shows.
     It is, in this sense, the pinnacle of our practice, like a musician stepping up to play a solo. 
     Here are the things you must do in order to participate in bouting.
1) You must demonstrate that you will be a courteous opponent.  Your conduct must be impeccable at all time, under all circumstances. You must be composed and gallant, allowing no expressions of emotion to sully the bout, whether positive or negative, neither elation or disappointment.

2) You must demonstrate that you will be a safe opponent.  Injuries are not an inherent part of fencing. They are always a result of fencer error. You must be able to avoid such errors. You must control yourself, executing actions in a safe manner, at the correct distance without excessive force.

3) You must demonstrate that you will be a competent opponent. You must have some hope of being able to defend yourself, so that you will be a worthy opponent for your adversary.  You don’t get to play in the band if you don’t know how to play your instrument!  You MUST master these techniques, at an absolute MINIMUM:
1.     Straight attack, disengage attack executed on a perfect lunge
2.     Parries of 6te, 4te, 7me and 8ve
3.     Direct ripostes and disengage ripostes from each of the 4 parries
4.     Parries of 6te and 4te in the lunge
5.     Direct counter-ripostes and indirect counter-ripostes from 6te and 4te, while in the lunge.

     There’s more, of course.
     MUCH more: compound attacks, counter-attacks, contre-temps, parry combinations, preparations of the attack, prises du fer, yielding parries, the remise, reprise, redoublement…
     But these 5 kinds of actions are enough to enable you to BEGIN bouting. You won’t be terribly interesting. You won’t be dashing or brilliant. But at least you won’t be completely lost, standing there with that deer-in-the-headlights look, hopelessly unable to get out of your own way.

     We typically don’t keep score in bouting, because it inhibits the student. But periodically we do hold a “recital” in which, for more advanced students, we do keep score, and we present awards for the best performance.

     There are significant irreconcilable difference between classical fencing and the sport called “fencing,” of which technique is only the least important.
     The sport is simply about winning a contest. And apparently, it doesn’t matter how you win. You can fence poorly, you can behave obnoxiously. You can score by accident or you can score by cheating. They don’t care. It’s only the final tally that matters. We disdain this approach because we believe that it rewards the worst in people: mediocrity dishonesty, and narcissism. In the sport venue, it doesn’t matter at all what kind of person you are, only whether you “win.” Winning is the “be all” and “end all” of what they do.

     Classical fencing is the exact opposite.
     You must fence properly and you must conduct yourself courteously. If you fail to do either of these things, you will be disqualified.
     You cannot score by accident or by cheating because we enforce the rules strictly, impartially and without exception. But, more than that, the classical fencer has no desire to "win" by fluke or by cheating, would renounce any doubtful touch, refusing any unfair advantage. A victory, to be celebrated, must be unblemished. It's not enough for your performance to be better than you opponent's; it must be the best performance of which you are capable.
     We reward only the best in people: excellence, honesty and gallantry.
     In classical fencing, it doesn’t matter at all whether you win or lose, only what kind of person you are.  In a contest between two people, one of them is going to win and one of them is going to lose, but BOTH of them can display excellence, honesty and gallantry, win OR lose, and we accept nothing less.
     In classical fencing, winning is not the end, itself.
     It’s only the means to an end.
    That end, our goal, is to cultivate in every individual a strong healthy body, an acute and agile mind, a gallant and gracious manner, and a joyful and dauntless spirit.   The classical fencer must be gracious and dignified in defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
     We hope that by populating our planet with more such individuals, we will create a little bit better world.

- aac