I’ve Never… learned how to fence.

“If you never have you should,
These things are fun and fun is good.”
— Dr. Seuss

Sword fighting is awesome and I’ve always wanted to learn how to do it properly. This past winter I got off my lazy ass and signed up for an 8-week fencing course not far from my place in Toronto. The studio certainly wasn’t anything fancy – just a small building tucked away in an industrial area of North York.

The instructor was a heavily-accented man named Igor, who was on Canada’s Olympic fencing team in Beijing a few years back. Since retired, he now suffers through teaching terrible students like me, desperately praying they don’t stab their eyes out. My beginners class only had six people in it, which allowed for some more one-on-one time with our Olympic athlete teacher. Sadly it didn’t help me much.

When I signed up for the classes I had modest expectations of how much I would learn. Here’s where I assumed I would be at the end of the eight weeks:

Close. This is actually a more accurate representation of my skill level following my training:

In each hour long session, Igor would teach us the different fencing techniques. Positions, parries, thrusts, footwork, etc. Everything was done a methodical, step-by-step process designed to really help us retain the instruction.

We would then face off against a fellow student and alternate performing whatever move we had just learned. We weren’t fighting yet, just getting a feel for and mastering the moves.

I had some trouble picking up the moves. It wasn’t because they were necessarily complicated. A big problem was that I was left-handed and everyone else was right-handed. Igor told me that on the world stage, lefties actually had an advantage, but I just found it ridiculously confusing. Any time Igor would teach a move, I would need to do it in reverse. Although challenging, I would eventually get the hang of doing the move backwards and felt confident that I had mastered it.

That was of course, until the last 10 minutes or so of class when we would be allowed to fight each other. All the methodical training and techniques flew out of my head the second Igor told us to “Fence!” The finesse, the strategy, the smooth moves, the nimble footwork – all this was replaced by a panicked voice in my head that screamed, “STAB HIM! STAAAAAAAAAAAB HIIIIIIIIIM!!!!”

And so, I would charge down the court, swinging my sword like a madman. The results were unpredictable and ineffective. I stabbed one of the guys in the crotch once; I stabbed the floor a couple times; and even managed on occasion to somehow stab myself. I didn’t lose all my matches but certainly enough to readjust my expectations of how good a fencer I would be after the eight weeks.

Learn how to (sort of) fence. Check.

Duane Elgin, author of “Voluntary Simplicity”, talked about the “invisible wealth of experiential riches.” My “I’ve Never Club” is inspired by this idea and chronicles my reflections on the novel things I’ve done recently.


Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to purchase a copy.

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