The Importance of Discombobulation   Leave a comment

First of all, let us make one thing clear up front: “discombobulate” is a great word and tremendously fun to say. It is one of those rare words that does exactly what it means if you say it too fast or too often.

It is also a pretty terrific thing to do to your opponent. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if I could discombobulate my opponent with an action that it would be a clearly superior action to anything that did not discombobulate. Can anyone argue with this? Will anyone say in the comments below, “No, I would not want my opponent to be uneasy, confused, distressed, and off balance”? I imagine not. It seems irrefutably obvious.

I use this particular word because it exemplifies a problem in thinking that comes up entirely too often: we get attached to an idea, and then we interpret our experiences in such a way as to support that original idea. We should, instead, be constantly examining and reexamining our ideas upon the introduction of new evidence, lest we go too far down the wrong path.

Somewhere, there is a fencer named Wayne who is studying the works of Nicoletto Giganti. I know this because he is mentioned, by first name only, in the Mediema translation/interpretation of Giganti that came out earlier this year. I bought a copy as soon as it was available, and sat down and read it in an afternoon. The case study of Wayne, I think, serves as a microcosm for the entire book.

A book which, by the way, I am glad exists and am glad to own. Differing versions can often make some passages more clear, even if only because a translation is inherently imperfect and sometimes we read things as other than they were intended. My favorite example of this is Thibault’s use of “two feet” of distance (hint: it is not 24 inches) that vexed me for two hours while I tried in vain to construct a circle. Had it been translated as “two shoe-lengths”, much frustration could have been avoided. In any case, creating a work and making it public does open one up to criticism, but a critic need not be excoriating in the process.

Mediema talks about a stesso-tempo response to a lunge as “splitting” their tempo, and interprets this to mean attacking during their recovery. That is certainly a tempo, and it certainly works. I’ve done it. You probably have, too. It is, however, inconsistent with (to my current knowledge) every single other person working from this manual or any other in the Italian traditions. Everyone else, including me, understands a single time counter to a lunge to mean that you should lunge into their lunge, displacing their sword and hitting them while they are fully committed to a forward action.

Maybe everyone else is wrong, and so am I. This is a possibility. Sometimes that happens. In the interest of fairness (and also, in the interest of not being wrong), I did consider this possibility, but was able to discard it for the time being based on reason. First, a parry and then a lunge during my opponent’s recovery is a dui tempi response, and second, it means that my opponent essentially gets a free attack on me before being threatened. This is contrary to good theory, where it is obvious that the best thing would be to offend and defend with one action, preferably as small of one as possible. This is irrefutable: achieving the same goals with fewer actions and less effort is better. In this case, it’s even safer!

But, in all the time it took to translate a work and practice it to the point of confidence, that seems to have not come up. That may very well be the case; numerous groups of people work in relative isolation to outside influences, and I am sure that I have some weird habits that probably evolved from the context of my fencing. I’m good at avoiding shots aimed at my toes, for example, even though such an attack would be absurd to even consider in a sword fight.

Here’s the thing: even if Mediema did not have outside influences, one of his students figured it out: his name is Wayne, and he lunges during your lunge. It is described in the book as being very “discombobulating”! (pg. 35) Here we have a clear case of a misinterpretation that is still good enough an idea to get positive reinforcement being met by a correct interpretation that should be immediately recognized as superior, yet is not. It’s even acknowledged, with language that conveys its superiority, and is then discarded! I can only theorize, but it seems to be a case of someone becoming too attached to being “different”; the sheer volume of anti-Leoni remarks in the work suggest this.

If nothing else, take this with you: never become so convinced of something that you ignore new evidence. It may not be compelling evidence, and it may prove to be unimportant, but it all warrants consideration.

Be like Wayne.

Posted December 9, 2014 by Dante di Pietro in Giganti, Italian Rapier

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