Question from the Audience: Competitiveness   16 comments

To the main point: would you be willing to start a discussion topic on the pitfalls of excessive competitiveness? I admire your self-awareness of your problems with pride and anger, as mentioned in prior postings. It sounds like you had a really bad reaction to the rules of the rapier battle. I admire your wisdom in avoiding the armored bridge battles when you recognized that you were too angry to fight well.

Without details of the “beer stories,” would you be willing to comment on what cost you pay for your pride and anger? It sounds like your extreme competitiveness has the power to take away your fun, even though it also spurs you to outstanding performance. What effect does it have on people around you? Does it take away their fun, too? Does it set a poor example for Scholars and Free Scholars?

This is a really, really good question (and I’d like to see it sent to Lucien for one of his monthly “Questions for the White Scarves”).  And it’s gonna need some Laphroaig.

First, “Competitiveness,” and my experience with it, is a far more complex and variegated mix of emotions and goals.

There’s the drive to be better and to do better.  The Bigger/Stronger/Faster/Higher mentality.  This is an inherently good thing.  Applied across our lives it makes us want to be better people.  To take those skills and assets and talents we have and do for ourselves and for the world all that we can.

However, the downside of that is the frustration of failure.  My grandfather had a saying: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”  It’s a terrible saying and I hate it.  Extrapolated out for failure, the result is “If you didn’t do it right, then some part of this equation was worthless, and it’s probably you.”  If you then failed to execute your form correctly in your fight, you view it as a failure on your part.  If you lost, it’s because you suck.  There are so many, many times that fencers (And I swear I’ll name names if you fuckers don’t stop this already) when asked what happened will say “I lost” or “I sucked.”  That’s the sort of answer you get when you think the options are  a binary “right” or “wrong.”

But remember that the laudable mentality is not “to be right” or “to be best.”  It’s “to be better.”  Anything worth doing is worth doing better: better than you did last time, better than you thought you could, better than yourself.  These aren’t superlatives (Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, Highest, Best), these are comparatives.

I feel like I’ve actually got a good grasp on this.  I didn’t always, but I do now.  What causes me to get frustrated is something else, but more on that later.


I enjoy a good, challenging fight.  While trying to stay humble I’ll say that, for me, the frequency of challenging encounters on the melee field has gone down over time.  In any given single engagement, or unit-on-unit engagement, I’m more likely to come away alive than I was X amount of time ago.  The likelihood of me being able to one-shot somebody in the other line has gone up, the likelihood of me being able to run that line has gone up, and the likelihood of being surprised has gone down.  Fish and barrels start to come in to it.

Scenarios that boil down to “fight for a long time” therefore lack a lot of the appeal they once had.  In goal-driven scenarios, the fighting gets focused and more intense.  When you’re at the center of that focus, you get to test yourself in the crucible.  When the goal is only “Kill people” then the focus becomes diffuse, the intensity drops off, and instead of being fun the fight becomes a chore.  Fighters meander back to the fight.  Fighters avoid people who keep sending them to rez.  Fighters look for chances to find quick glory rather than good fights.  I know I can keep a positive kill ratio if that’s all the job boils down to.

A “Kill them all” scenario becomes, for me, “Find some other purpose.”  Again referring back to the 30 Minute Apology Battle, I had other obligations to go attend to.  But I hit upon “Why not see how long you can stay alive, how many people you can kill, with one single life.”  And at Lay On, Celric and I went charging pall mall across the field.  Anybody can stay alive for an hour sitting on the rez line, the crucible is meeting that line head-on and seeing how long you can make it in the thick of things.

I like fighting, but I love fighting that makes me sweat for it.  My default mode is “fight,” a situation that triggers the “flight” response is enjoyable (and generally makes me laugh, see the bit about Sunday of Pennsic).

So, a chunk of my ‘competitiveness’ is really just challenge seeking.  I’ll deny it’s glory-hounding, though I’ve been accused of that in the past.  I’ve spent most of the past four Pennsics I’ve gone to in the backfield, commanding, opting to dole out the fun jobs (and the boring jobs) to other fighters rather than go seeking out the fun for myself.


The drive to do better, and challenge seeking, at most make me go seek out different opportunities to do better or find a challenge.  My frustration and anger come from other sources.

I was raised with an over-developed sense of What is Right and Just.  Sweetums points out to me pretty frequently that I am just like my dad in this way.  When things aren’t Right, and he and I don’t have power to change things, we get frustrated and angry.  I watched my dad deal with it growing up, and watched how much it frustrated him.  I see the same insistence on justice, and the resultant frustration, in myself (like, when I’m typing up the Weekly Warfare and analyze my reactions in hindsight).

Marshals making stupid decisions, or changing rules mid-fight, or enforcing rules that don’t exist (ohmygod, armored marshals’ point must burn in hell), is not Right, it is not Just.  Except I don’t have power to stop them being stupid, ergo frustration.  The vast majority of my anger with situations on the melee field comes from this.  Somebody being stupid, and I can’t stop them.

The most grievous sin I’ve ever committed on the rapier field was due to somebody changing the rules all of a sudden.  I was supposed to get my gold scarf the next week.  I got it 52 weeks later.  I was suspended from fighting for a month and from marshaling for three months.  Being pissed off at the marshal and at the rules being changed was not worth it.


I’m also possessed of a glorification of Honor.  I’m okay with dishonesty (Ruairc and I had a long discussion about whether or not dishonesty was ever valid, me arguing that it was).  However, there are elements of our society that are points of absolute honor, either you have it 100% or you have it 0%.  One of those is shot calling.  Honorable shot calling keeps us safe more than anything else, because the other choice is “Hit them so hard they don’t want to hit you back.”

You can question a person’s shot calling (see my trip to Marshal’s court) without problem.  Hell, Jean Paul did a better job of it with me than I did with a fighter I talked to on the side of the field after one of the battles.  Sometimes the fighter (like me) didn’t notice and will say, “Oops, my bad.”  Sometimes the fighter noticed the hell out of it, including noticing it fail to hit them point on.  Continuing to question, though, then questions their honor and becomes rude.  The spark in the town battle for me was somebody saying “I thought I got you,” me saying “There was no contact at all,” and them saying “Okay” but stepping behind their line and saying (loudly and to a marshal, it looked like) “I can hit him harder if that’s what he needs.”  At that point you are well in to questioning my honor.

I probably take too strong an offense at this: In the past, I’ve been on the verge of offering to go blunts-off with somebody who kept questioning my honor.  I didn’t.  But it was going to be my answer if he asked one more time.  That is not a good thing.  That sort of short-tempered approach to defending one’s honor resulted in tens of thousands of dead French, Italians, English, Spaniards, and Germans in the 16th century.  We should be reproducing the best parts of the Renaissance, and that is not one of them.


All of this I am aware of.  All of this is what I’m thinking about when I tell people it’s a bad idea to use me as a role model.  It fed in to my decision to become a cadet and apprentice to Dame Roz: She has that same insistence on The Right and The Just, she burns with anger as fully as I do when they’re transgressed, but she practices more moderation and self-restraint than me.  I hope to develop that same moderation and self-restraint that she has.

When I’m cranky or frustrated, it spreads through those around me.  If I’m pissing and moaning, it rains on the parade of those others who, rightly, like to fight and are enjoying the fuck out of getting to fight.  So again I would recommend not taking my path.  It’s not a good one.




Posted September 7, 2012 by Wistric in Musings

16 responses to Question from the Audience: Competitiveness

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Tibbie Croser

  2. Pingback: Tibbie Croser

  3. Pingback: Alric

  4. Pingback: Tibbie Croser

    • Pingback: Wistric

  5. Pingback: Tibbie Croser

  6. Pingback: Dante di Pietro

    • Pingback: Wistric

      • Pingback: Ruairc

        • Pingback: Dante di Pietro

          • Pingback: Tibbie Croser

          • Pingback: Dante di Pietro

    • Pingback: Tibbie Croser

      • Pingback: Dante di Pietro

    • Pingback: Tibbie Croser

      • Pingback: Dante di Pietro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *