Being 6’5, one becomes pretty used to comments about height, and the inevitable question of “Do you play basketball?”
“No, do you play miniature golf?” has become my favorite response, but seriously, I don’t play basketball, or football. I tried both, and I’m pretty terrible. I do, or did, play hockey, I might say, which seems to satisfy their curiosity for a moment, though I always feel bad saying that. Sure, I played something that had the word “hockey” in the name, that is the bastardization known as “floor hockey,” but if someone called on me to demonstrate something as simple as skating in a straight line, I’d fall every six seconds. Floor hockey, on the other hand, is played on a floor. You know, something that humans can walk on without strapping blades to their feet.
But I digress.
The sport that I got the most into in college was fencing, including taking a class for a couple of years and competing on the team in a few tournaments. And while I would be the first to admit that my footwork never proceeded beyond “terrible,” I was quick enough in my upper body to consistently stay one of the better students in the class. It helped that the majority of students switched to the club when they reached a high enough level and quit the class, following the eternal hatred between the class and the club, but shut up. I was good. I have a lot of pictures of me winning, but they’re all, um… on a different computer. But I swear they exist.
Oh wait, here’s one!
See that sweat? That’s the sweat of victory.
Apparently most fencers begin with foil to “learn style and grace” before moving onto the more savage and haphazard weapons, which someone failed to mention to me until I was a fully savage and haphazard swordsman, but I quite enjoyed it. Saber (or sabre, if you’re the kind of person who cares) was my sword of choice, and I mentioned off-hand that I was a “trained sword fighter” enough to annoy most of my friends and coworkers, and I always missed it when I was forced to stop going for lack of time.
But we’ll come back to that.
The day began as any normal Saturday, with the apartment waking up late and joining in a feast: my host sister Andrea had made lasagna (delicious), and she had a friend over to join us for lunch. Lunch was delicious and the conversation interesting, but as Andrea began and finished her 2-liter crate of wine, her breath audible and her eyes glazing over, I knew I had to get out of there.
After she staggered to bed, I grabbed my book, Naked by David Sedaris, and headed out to the nearby park to read. My friend’s boyfriend had come to visit and, discovering that she and I had a mutual love for Sedaris, she had asked her boyfriend to bring the book down for me. I had only read a few short chapters so far and was eager to finish. I sat and read, drinking in the beautiful day and watching what I’m pretty sure was a mock Harry Potter-style dueling club practice (long robes and wands included), and read for the better part of two hours.
As I put the book down and walked around, I heard strange collision noises from another part of the park and, investigating, saw two 20-somethings swinging swords back and forth, parrying and attacking. I saw a pile of equipment behind them next to another group of people, including a characteristic fencing helmet, though their style was completely different from anything I’d seen. The swords themselves, long wooden longswords held in two hands, did not allow the quick, artistic movements of fencing, instead relying on strength and endurance of the fighter.
I started chatting with one of them and another guy came over, speaking perfect English and explaining that this was a sword fighting club, and would I like to try? Duh.
I quickly found myself in a sword fight, a 10-pound longsword in my hand, my sunglasses and Sedaris book swinging back and forth in my pocket, oblivious to the fact that they could be destroyed with a simple swing of my opponent’s sword. The sword, which I had to hold in two hands, my right foot back instead of forward, had an even distribution of weight, rather than the base-heavy model of a saber that allowed for its quick flicking nature. Still, a fight is a fight, and it’s amazing how quickly the instinct to block your head from a heavy wooden stick comes back.
The fight itself went well. I apparently had a good deal of muscle memory still in my body, though nearly all of the muscle itself had left since my fencing days, and I managed to continue fending off my opponent.
“Look at him,” I began to hear from the side. “Don’t look at his sword, look at him. Not his eyes, look at him.”
It was not at all obvious who our observer was talking to, but after I dispatched my rival with a quick parry and shot to his arms, I looked over and saw an older man standing, watching us.
“Did you see what he did?” he asked my now-armless foe. “He beat you, by blocking and being patient.”
I began chatting with him, a man named Hans, who said that he had been a Danish Navy brat, born in Chile but raised all around the world. The group, which Hans seemingly had stumbled upon just as I had, was a thrice-weekly fencing club, and they invited me to come along. Alvaro, my former foe, showed me their collection of equipment, and lovingly showed me his sword.
“This one somebody bought for me in the U.S., and it’s light and better weighted than the others,” he said. “The other ones are heavier, and harder to use.”
Some of the group members were pretty well practiced, he said, and pointed to one guy.
“That guy, over there,” Alvaro said. “He’s really good.”
Well, I asked, do you think he’d want to fence?
Thirty seconds later I was dodging Alvaro’s wonder sword, held in the hands of my new opponent, a large and unwieldy stick in my hands. We parried back and forth, jumping all around the park, dodging stray dogs and potholes, each suffering no more than a glancing blow off of our leather jackets.
Still, having a heavy sword can have its advantages, I discovered, when Alvaro’s wonder sword shattered mid-attack, half of it splintering and flying off from the force of my block. My foe immediately stopped and, seeing the splinter of wood left in his hand, immediately looked contritely at Alvaro. I followed, apologizing for my part in the destruction, explaining that if I hadn’t blocked, my head would be in much worse shape than his destroyed sword.
“Hey man, shit happens, don’t worry about it,” Hans said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “Just think, you’ve made some buddies, and now they know you can block.”
I continued hanging out with them for the night, Hans promising to lend me his body armor with his dubious claim that it would fit me.
Pretty random, but very fun.
It seems I’m going to be missing the next few practices, however, as my friend Kendal (the photographer that covered the protest with me) invited me to go to Argentina tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to go to Mendoza, famous for its wine and relaxed nature, and with a few of my classes canceled this week, I figure now’s as good a time as any. Return date isn’t quite certain yet, but see you in a few!
Jason Mraz, musician
Reading (in general)
ps. Thanks for the wonderful response on the postcard business. I’ll be doing them over the next week or so, and sending them out as soon as they’re done.
pps. On further review, I saw a few typos in my previous post. Apologies, word nerds.