Relevant Factors

I’ve been asked to elaborate on an idea I had not too long ago, and I’ve found that it coincides well with a few other ideas I’ve been fleshing out recently, so all of those things are being combined here.

First, a simple assertion: height, more specifically reach, is very advantageous to fencing. Yes? I think we can all get on board with that notion. To any short people who are getting grumpy with me: I’m 5’8”, and yes, you can craft a strategy to beat a taller opponent, but the fact of the matter is that if someone cloned me and gave that clone a meaningful reach advantage, I will not beat the clone. It would be equally skilled, and have a decisive advantage.

A second: athleticism matters, and the more you have, the better. Still with me?

Good. Let’s investigate this further, and see what we can uncover through examination.

The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is something I’ve made reference to before, and I think that it remains a very useful tool for discussing a person’s relative skill level. The basic concept can be found here:

The short version is that everyone is either a novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, or expert. If you take the time to read the descriptions (and you should, since I don’t want anyone getting confused later), they do a good job of connecting to martial arts skills, or any other skills that anyone might have. They are not, strictly speaking, indicative of performance, however, which is what I’ll be addressing soon enough.

If we take the Dreyfus Model, I think it is fair and reasonable to divide each level into 4 stages, and fairly easy to do so accurately. I say this based on my 11 years as a teacher: it is very easy to grade an essay and say, “This is an A, this is a B, this is a C,” but far less so to say, “This is a 76, and this is a 77.” Within each grade, it is similarly easy to say, “This paper is a B, but in the better half of Bs, and close to a low B than an A,” which would give us a top 50% B, but not a top 25% B. An 86 or 87, but not an 88 or 89.

Still with me? The skill levels divide the same way: “Jane is competent, but closer to proficient than advanced beginner. She is also not that close to proficient, so she’s in that top half of competency, but not the top quarter.”

Since this gives us a total of 20 skill levels to measure, we can represent that visually as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Overall, this puts Jane at an 11 for the time being.

Fans of Thibault are going to be really excited soon.

The next concept I need to introduce is that of the “Boyd Belts,” which is the first topic in Ryron and Renner Gracie’s video, “Jiu-Jitsu Over 40”, found here:

I recommend watching the whole thing, as it’s all very important, but the relevant part for us is that in BJJ, age and weight matter a lot. The Boyd Belt is a recognition of that: if you are a 45 year old black belt and grappling with a 25 year old blue belt who also outweighs you by 70 pounds, that match is closer to even than just looking at skill would indicate. An Olympic champion wrestler at 126 pounds is going to struggle considerably against the last place 276 pounder, even if the skill levels are vastly different. Weight matters for that sport.

And reach matters for fencing! We already agreed to that, remember?

I happen to think it matters in 3 inch increments. I think this because my 42 inch blade won’t reach someone with a 45 inch blade, even if I do everything right, if they opt to neglect to parry and just yield in seconda around my quarta and counterattack: they haven’t defended themselves at all, but since the swords aren’t sharp, I get hit first and they might not get hit at all if they arrest my forward motion enough. Test it out if you don’t believe me.

In any case, I’m saying that 3 inches of reach is significant, and that’s why I’m using that number.

Let’s imagine, then, that Jane is fencing John, and they are both equally skilled. Jane is an 11, and John is an 11, so they go about 50-50 with each other. Jane goes and grabs a 45, so now she’s a 12 and John is still an 11, so she starts to win more. Maybe not too much more, but more. She’s now artificially more skilled than John.

John gets tired, and we have Bob step in, along with some other variables relevant to this bout: Bob is also using a 45, is 8 inches taller than Jane, and is 22 years old to Jane’s 40.

What does this mean for Jane? Well, she’s at a 12, remember? But Bob here has about 4 inches of extra reach in each arm, plus the extra 8 inches of height, for an overall reach advantage of 12 inches, which translates to 4 levels.

The 20 year gap in age… I’m not so sure, but I think I’d give 1 level per 5 years of youth: at 35, 30 and 40 seem very similar, but 20 seems sufficiently far away as to be worth a couple of levels. A good case exists for combining age with athleticism somehow, so I am open to ideas here.

Now we know that Bob is not coming into this on equal footing with Jane. She’s actually a more skilled fencer overall: Bob is a lower-end advanced beginner, at about a 6 on my scale up there. All else being equal, Jane will mop the floor with Bob.

All else being equal.

In reality, Jane, with her 45, is a 12. Bob, with his 45, height, and youth, starts out at 9 (height + blade + age, 4 + 1 + 4) and then gets to add his paltry 6 in skill to that to make him a 15! Jane is in trouble, and this is assuming she’s equally strong, athletic, etc.. There could be dozens of variables at play in reality, and the purpose of this is a rough approximation, not a hard, scientific calculation.

Jane is in trouble.

Fast forward a decade or so, and imagine that Bob has worked really hard to become an expert. Bob’s skill is now at a 20, but he’s still adding points for his height and reach. If Sally is also 30 years old and also at skill level 20, but is 5’1” to Bob’s 6’2”, Bob gets a free 7 points for his height (13 inches taller + 6.5 inches of arm length /3), and since Sally uses a 40 inch blade, Bob gets a total of 8 or 9 points on her, depending on how you want to round.

Sally versus Bob is a 20 versus a 29. It’s the same as if Sally met someone more physically equal, but with the skill level of Jane: an 11 versus a 20.

No matter how skilled you are, an opponent with equal skill will push their number higher and higher by being taller and more athletic. A 25 year old, 6’6” competitive gymnast with a skill level of 2 is going to blast past someone a foot shorter who is more typical in athletic conditioning, even if they’ve reached Competence.

What does this all mean for us? It means a few things, besides telling us things we already know about practice and genetic advantages.

Significantly, check out the average height of your White Scarves, OGRs, Bronze Rings, etc.: of the 59 in Atlantia, I think about 45 of them are taller than me, and most of them are above average male height. Most of the ones who are my height or shorter are women, who account for only 9 or 10 of the total number of White Scarves.

This is why this is a big deal: the standard SCA training method of “show up and spar” is detrimental to women as a byproduct of being detrimental to shorter people. This is true even if we remove all other considerations: socialization, athletic ability, athletic history, etc..

Our practices are terrible and actively contrary to every useful learning model. We know this. It’s not a debate that SCA practices are mostly really bad. These non-methods favor taller, stronger, and younger novices, since they start out incrementally ahead of all of the other level 1s. As a consequence, they have more early success, get more positive reinforcement, and get more encouragement and attention.

And the people who aren’t that get left behind and left out, or never start in the first place. Our lack of training hurts our growth because people who could become great never do.

54 comments to Relevant Factors

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Thank you, Maestro Dante. This explains much of my personal experience and frustration. Other problematic SCA ideas are that you should learn from everyone and that you should pick someone whose body type matches yours to learn from. The second idea is a problem because short and/or stout people, as minorities, will have fewer people to learn from. The first idea is a problem because it ignores incompatibilities in learning and teaching styles.

    I think learning styles are another factor in natural advantages. Some people can easily visualize, mentally replay, and analyze movement. Others, like me, cannot (though I can learn more easily when the movement is set to music, as in group dance). The first type of people get much more value out of sparring.

    • Dante di Pietro

      Thank you. 🙂 As a short guy, relative to much of my opposition, I’ve had to learn to operate within those constraints to the best of my ability. I’m rarely the best physical specimen on the field.

      I think it’s important to draw the distinction between “learn from everyone” and “don’t have a primary source of instruction.” The former does not imply the latter.

    • Ruairc

      We had a long conversation about this over post-practice dinner one night.

      I’m of the opinion that a truly excellent teacher, with a deep understanding of the art, will be able to account for these factors when teaching, and will be able to teach you a style of fencing suited to your physique even if he or she is built differently. Merely adequate teachers will only be able to teach people who are physically similar to themselves.

      We have very, very few excellent teachers in SCA rapier – maybe one or two in Atlantia.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    I certainly agree with your point about having a primary source of instruction. It appears to me that novice fighters who “have more early success, get more positive reinforcement, and get more encouragement and attention” are also more successful at gaining primary sources of instruction, e.g., becoming personal students of a senior fighter.

    Also, do you have tangible evidence that lack of training hurts growth? I ask because the present system, at least in Atlantia, seems to be working OK overall, whatever negative effects it may have on some individuals.

    • Ruairc

      Working okay relative to what?

      Consider Dante’s point. What proportion of White Scarves benefit from physical advantages? What about the people who consistently win tournaments?

      If “natural athleticism” is a MUCH better predictor of success than “technical skill”, I’d say our training methods are pretty crappy. The whole point of training is to allow the less athletic to overcome the more athletic (or to overcome someone of equal athleticism).

      • Tibbie Crosier

        “Working okay” in that we have many highly skilled fighters at all ranks of the Academie and more coming in on a regular basis and rising quickly through the ranks.

        If I didn’t make it clear enough already, I agree strongly with Dante. The issue is very personal for me. But how would you convince the other MoDs, White Scarves, and the Crowns that we have a problem? What does the Kingdom or Academie lose by not having greater numbers of Free Scholars, Provosts, and Masters of Defense?

        • Ruairc

          “Highly skilled” is a relative term. What sort of fighters would be produced with better training paradigms? Would they be good enough to wipe the floor with the likes of Dante and Celric? Are our WS really that good, or do they only appear that way because we haven’t yet made anything better?

          This is unanswerable until we try different training.

          From an HMA research perspective, we know that fencers in period were strong and trained hard. There’s no reason to suspect that our desultory training can achieve similar results. For me, better training methods are not just “reaching higher” – they’re necessary to achieve my goal of recreating period combat with as much authenticity and confidence as possible.

          There’s no reason that “things are good as they are” should argue against “things could be better.” If my gripes with the SCA could be summed up in one phrase, it would be the former. That’s the path to stagnation and complacency.

          • Tibbie Crosier

            Dante and Ruairc, do you foresee being able to demonstrate your training theories by training a test group of students by your methods and comparing them to a control group of students doing conventional SCA training?

          • Ruairc

            In a word, yes. Having as small numbers as we do, there’re going to be too many other variables for this to be anything like scientific. But I plan to encourage my non-SCA students to come fight SCA when they’re ready, and will be interested to see how they do.

        • Brian

          Do you believe we have too few WS? Or free scholars?

  • Ruairc

    I’ll note that this idea dovetails with my previous post: athleticism is important. Making yourself taller is not really practicable, but you CAN make yourself stronger and faster. Developing that is a good idea.

    I’ve noticed something interesting in my two-years-ish of single-sword only: fighting a dagger-wielding opponent isn’t all that much different, in terms of expected outcomes, than fighting an opponent using single sword. However, if two novices fight – one with dagger, one with sword alone – the dagger guy tends to win a lot more.

    I wonder if some, or all, advantages have diminishing returns as skill increases, such that a 20 vs 24 is not at all the same as a 1 vs a 5.

    • 5 is 500% better than 1, whereas 24 is only 20% better than 20. 🙂

      That might not hold up exactly, but the idea is a sound one, I think.

      The loser is always the first person to make a mistake ***that their opponent can capitalize on***. Lower skill = more mistakes, higher skill = greater ability to capitalize. 24s still blunder, but a 5 probably can’t make anything come of it.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Dante and Ruairc, have you read Terasu’s post under HMA: Strength Training about the differences between dojos and the SCA? How can the SCA, as a volunteer organization in which people do not have to pay fees for practices, offer the same quality of training as a school/dojo with paid instructors?

    • Dedication to that goal and probably 10-15 years of cultural shift and experience.

    • Ruairc

      My answer was to join just such a dojo, and set myself up as an instructor (nobody else knows anything about rapier), and lead by example.

      Few instructors (even at real dojos) make any significant sum. Most teach for the love of it. Sound like the SCA? We can become that, if we want to. The fact that we don’t want to (not yet, anyway) is what drove me to seek answers outside the SCA.

      • Ruairc

        Also, if I’m honest, frustration with the fact that a gold scarf doesn’t have the clout necessary to effect a cultural shift.

        • Brian

          Why do you believe the color of someone’s scarf impacts their “clout”?

          • Dante di Pietro

            Oh wow, it does. People’s clout can also affect their scarf color, sure, but there are ranks and we’re conscious of them. Reputation counts most, but there are plenty of people who pay attention to ranks. It was the “Provost General” at one point, remember?

            I think the point is not that there aren’t “enough” of whatever rank, but that it would be better if more people were more skilled. There will always be a bell curve, but the 50% line can be at 95, 100, or 105.

        • Dominyk

          Um, I would disagree with that. I saw a number of cultural shifts made by Gold Scarfs. I helped with a couple.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Dom, we also came up during a massive WS exodus where only a handful were active and no one was elevated for like 3 years. That helped us out a lot, along with the fact that we were winning everything at the time. There’s no greater clout than success.

          • Dominyk

            Well then what would you say is the alternative? Winning still gives you clout, even with more (a lot more) WS being made. You will either be elevated(clout) or be respected for your success(clout). I’ve seen both happen.

          • Ruairc

            It’s harder to win than it used to be.

            This is a good thing, sure. But it does mean influence is harder to come by, on that road.

        • Wistric

          Yeah, I seem to remember having an impact when I was a free scholar.

        • Ruairc

          I’ve seen WS and now-OD’s change their practice structure and move in a direction of greater rigor and excellence, and everyone runs with it. I’ve tried to do the same down here, and it has met with stiff opposition from the baronage on down.

          I’m willing to admit that the point of failure may be me. But I’ve also asked several others what I could do differently, and the response has amounted to “what you want isn’t compatible with our Dream. Things are good as they are. Do more of that.” This is impossible to answer.

          So I stopped trying to change the SCA. I’ve been a lot happier since.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Dante wrote: “This is why this is a big deal: the standard SCA training method of “show up and spar” is detrimental to women as a byproduct of being detrimental to shorter people. This is true even if we remove all other considerations: socialization, athletic ability, athletic history, etc.”

    Do any of our female White Scarves agree with what Dante wrote?

  • Dominyk

    I tend to disagree a little bit. I would say that our unorganized practices tend to favor athletes. Athletes usually have a good idea how to practice and to learn things themselves. That there are more males with athletic proclivities than females isn’t the fault of SCA rapier or it’s practice’s.

    Furthermore, if I take a gender neutral look at who succeeds in rapier I find two major factors. One you have already hit on is natural physical advantages. The other I don’t really have a name for, it’s the people who take ownership of their own training. The ones who study without being assigned, track down teachers and get lessons from them, who expand their pool of opponents, who figure out how they personally learn best, who track their progress, and those have a clear definition of success. These are the people who succeed, despite whatever disadvantages they may encounter. I frequently hear non-successful fighters(especially ones who have plateau’d) wishing for a more dojo like environment. The ones who break through the plateaus, regardless of gender, are the ones who figure out what they need and then go out and get it for themselves.

    Anecdotally I know of two female fighters who have moved to Atlantia and were excited that they could “just go do that?” without any expectation being put on on them. They both quickly blew through plateaus because they were able to go out and learn how they were comfortable, they were able to be proactive in creating their own training.

    Obviously this can be a double edged sword, some people are naturally passive and wait to be spoon-fed training.

    • Tibbie Crosier

      Dominyk, I agree that motivation plays a large role in success. Caitilin certainly exemplifies what you’re talking about. I don’t think that motivation and structured training are mutually exclusive, however. Take a look at Terasu’s replies in the HMA Strength Training thread below. His previous martial arts experiences and his expectations for potential students involve both.

      I agree that structured training probably makes less of a difference for the most successful fighters. Those people would succeed under any circumstances, as you say. However, it might make a difference for middle and lower levels of fighters. The Atlantian Rapier Army benefits if our chumps are better trained than the East or Middle’s chumps. 🙂

      • Dominyk

        I read Terasu’s response, what do you think the differences are between sca fencing and eastern martial arts?

        My main point was that I didn’t see it as a gender bias. Our system favors the people who proactively identify what they need to train and then figure out a way to get that training. This is partially because there is no ONE TRUE WAY, everyone will be different. Which is why I don’t see a ton of benefit in a dojo style training system where everyone does the same things. Structured programs HAVE to be tailored to the individual. If I set up a school where I only taught everyone to fight the way I do, which is the main thing I am an expert on, then I would get very few students. And the only students who would be successful are the ones who can move and think like me.

        Traditionally we have had baronial practices that teach the basics. And then people go to events for competition but ALSO more exposure to fighting styles and teaching during the pickup fights.

        • Ruairc

          Are you asserting that you can only successfully coach people who can think and move like you? I daresay that suggests a very limited understanding of fighting.

          Dojos teach styles of combat not out of blind adherence to tradition, but because they work. Individuals can always tweak things to maximize performance according to their own idiosyncrasies, and good instructors can identify those and guide them before the students themselves even recognize their innate advantages or proclivities. I don’t see how you can argue “figuring things out for yourself” is better or more efficient than “someone with years of experience can get you 70% of the way to your maximum potential”, much less “and, if they’re good, give you tools to achieve the other 30% besides”.

          You might as well say “the best way to learn a musical instrument is to teach yourself”. That’s an objectively terrible idea. Just because some people do succeed, when self-taught, doesn’t make it a good modus operandi.

          • Dominyk

            No you get an instructor to teach you how to play the instrument and read/write music. YOU have to compose the song.

          • Ruairc

            It takes years to master an instrument … and not everyone is a songwriter. Some are (merely?) very, very good at interpreting the works of others. They’re still professionals.

          • Dante di Pietro

            For reference, I am talking about training at an entry level: novice to advanced beginner, where raw physicality is most apparent. Once you have knowledge of fundamentals and how to apply them, you have to have initiative and take ownership of your own progress to varying degrees.

            My point is that two new people thrown together to spar on week two have a significant risk of being one new person in a month. Not everyone will have equal outcomes, but we could have more successes overall, to whatever potential exists.

          • Tibbie Crosier

            Dante, thank you for being specific. It would be easier to make structured training the norm for new fighters than for already-authorized fighters.

    • Ruairc

      Figuring out your own training is always going to be a more difficult road than having a knowledgeable, competent instructor to guide you.

      I’d suggest that it’s also less likely to produce superior performance. There’s a reason that professional athletes have coaches.

      Calling it “spoon-feeding” is demeaning.

      • Dominyk

        Difficult yes. Also more effective. There is no ONE TRUE WAY once you get past the basics. Different things work for different people, you HAVE to be the arbiter of your own training.

        When I was on that “difficult road” I had not shortage of competent instructors willing to give me advice. But I had to parse through the advice and apply what was useful to me and determine my own training based on that. Same with professional athletes, the routines that the coaches put together for them are highly specialized.

        Spoon feeding is accurate. Once you get past the basics you have to chose from the buffet. Choosing a school could be a good option, but it’s not THE option for everyone.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Ruairc and Dante, I believe that you are not advocating forcing all fighters into the same structured training regimen but advocating structured training for those who would appreciate and benefit from it, is that right? Dominyk is right that aspiring fighters have to pick from the buffet of training options, but expanding the buffet might be a good thing. With the new Order of Defense, for example, we have the option of peer-associate relationships in rapier.

    • Ruairc

      Nah. Some people won’t care about getting better, or will be headstrong, and will want to do their own thing. Fine. Let them.

      I suspect, however, that the majority will have a greater appreciation for a structured practice, since it’s more likely to result in improvement, and people like getting better.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    How much have all or any of you surveyed Atlantian fighters at the Free Scholar level and below about what *they* want from training? How much have you talked to female Atlantian Provosts and Free Scholars about whether they perceive a gender problem? If the people you want to help don’t see a problem, how do you convince them that there is one?

    I know Dante did a survey earlier this summer; how many responses were there, and from what ranks of fighters?

    • Ruairc

      I’ve spoken a great deal with local fighters about what they want from practice. There is a definite division between the “get better” and “just have fun” camps (maybe 50/50?). We are now at a point where everyone can get what they want, but that’s at least partly because I worked to create a satisfactory space for the former.

      As far as a gender problem, based on previous conversations, pretty much everyone seems to think that one exists (although they differ on specifics).

      • Tibbie Crosier

        Regarding a gender problem, if so many people think there is one, why can’t they (other than Dante) be brave enough to bring it up in public for discussion?

        • Terasu

          Can you be more specific about a “gender” problem? Are you referring to how women are treated in rapier or about their success in comparison to men? I, personally, have not seen any mistreatment of females in rapier.

          As for success, I am going to be straight forward and honest, women are at a disadvantage in rapier. They are typically shorter, weaker, and have less reach than men. They will often use lighter weaponry, which gives them less blade presence, use a epee style which focuses on speed and measure instead of blade control, which can be limiting against a very technical fighter. Not that there aren’t a number of great female rapier fighters, they have a rockier path to climb than men.

          Now I am assuming that women want to be treated as equals on their path in rapier. So they will be compared to men of equal time frame for our hobby. Provided they are both as dedicated, it will be tougher for a female due to the men having natural advantages. Using Dante’s scales from above, it can be tough. Do you feel that women want to have their own path to travel that is outside of the men’s? I have yet to meet one that does. You might even get stabbed if you brought it up to Caitilin.

          I feel that women in SCA rapier are just as capable as men despite the advantages. I also feel that most are not being given the proper training they need to be as successful as the men. They are being taught how to fence like men and not how to use their natural advantages. I will even blow our own horn here in Stierbach, last evening we had 9 fighters show up to a practice everyone knew would be rained out. 4 of them were female, 3 rapier fighters were fighting cut and thrust, 1 of those were female with some of the other females were interested in trying it in the future. I have actually seen less resistance from the females in learning C&T than the males.

          • Tibbie Crosier

            Terasu, you wrote: “I also feel that most are not being given the proper training they need to be as successful as the men. They are being taught how to fence like men and not how to use their natural advantages.”

            Can you elaborate on how women are being taught to fence like men, why you think that is problematic, and what kind of proper training you think will make women successful? Also, what do you think are women’s natural advantages?

        • Gawin

          I think what Dante is suggesting is that we lose the less athletic, shorter, people early before they become particularly involved. This affects women disproportionately, so ultimately the people who are left either didn’t perceive our training approach as a problem, or found it to be surmountable. Those who ultimately had a real problem with it quit.

          When this discussion does come up, we often point at the gender ratio of the WS, which in Atlantia is 15% women (9/59). However, if we look at the Sea Dragon, the numbers aren’t much better. The Sea Dragon is 22% women (19/86). So, either we aren’t recruiting women as newcomers or we’re seeing a disproportionate drop-out of women before they reach the Sea Dragon.

          My own experience with being involved in practices suggests that it’s the latter. Over the course of about 2 years, we had 10 new people show up that I can recall. 5 of those were women. Similarly, in my group in Iowa, I have 6 women and 5 men who are interested in doing C&T. This is certainly anecdotal, but I think that at the lower-end, we have much more even gender ratios than is reflected in our award structure.

          Now, if we look at HEMA groups that do a lot more drilling than sparring, we end up again seeing more even gender ratios. Triangle Sword Guild (the HEMA group that Ruairc is involved with) is 30-40% women IIRC. Just last night I was reading an article about Greg Mele’s group in Chicago ( that is 40% women.

          In other words, if what Dante proposes is true, then we would expect a higher rate of drop-out for women than men and we might also expect that the women who do not drop out may be unaware of the problem or may simply lack the tools, clout, knowledge to identify what exactly the problem is. Tibbie, I think that your experience with rapier may have lead you to a somewhat unique perspective. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have certainly been far more tenacious than most in your continued desire to train and participate in rapier despite a lack of success. To your credit, I think most people would have quit long ago, and would therefore, not be around to discuss this issue at all.

          • Tibbie Crosier

            Gawin, thank you very much for the compliment. I earned the Sea Dragon (more than 7 years after I started fencing) for my tenacity, not my success on the field, since I don’t have any. Yes, I do see myself as an exception. Yes, I have been frustrated with the training system. It’s not so much lack of teachers, since I’m in an area packed with Provosts, Free Scholars, and now Masters of Defense, as the “jigsaw puzzle” system of teaching, in which I get little bits of advice from a multitude of people, much of which seems contradictory. At the deepest level, they’re saying many of the same things in widely different ways, but it’s taken me years to understand that. I’m still struggling to get a few minutes of regular individual training from a single instructor, week after week, at practice, so that I can learn in an orderly progression. It has taken me years to get to a level where I can actually learn from sparring with other Scholars. I quite understand why people drop out, and I’ve been tempted to drop out several times.

            I am pessimistic on the gender problem. Women who compete against men will enjoy less success, but the success they do achieve will be more meaningful. I don’t see how training can overcome physical disadvantages, except for women who are already athletically gifted, like Caitilin. I would love to be proven wrong about all of the above.

          • Gawin

            “I am pessimistic on the gender problem. Women who compete against men will enjoy less success, but the success they do achieve will be more meaningful. I don’t see how training can overcome physical disadvantages, except for women who are already athletically gifted, like Caitilin. I would love to be proven wrong about all of the above.”

            The “athletically gifted” didn’t just magically get their physical abilities. They got them through training. Certainly there is some aspect of predisposition that is present even in small children, but the reality is that the people who we see as athletically gifted adults spent their childhood training, it’s just that this training looked more like tree-climbing and playing tag than it does weight-lifting and running laps. Coming to this activity as adults, we’re certainly behind. I spent middle school and high school weighing over 300 lbs. Benjamin spent it running 50+ miles/week. Will I ever be able to run as fast as Ben? Only if I break his kneecaps. He has a several thousand mile training advantage over me and he continues to rack up the mileage. That is despite the fact that height matters for running too and I am significantly taller than Ben.

            Your comment reminds me of an email thread that you started a year or so ago about fixed vs. growth mindset. I avoided commenting at the time, but I was disappointed in that thread because it treated fixed and growth mindsets as equally viable approaches. They are not, these terms exist precisely because the fixed mindset is considered to be pathological. It doesn’t reflect reality, and supporting it usually requires one to ignore things like the fact that the “athletically gifted” have simply done their training while you weren’t looking.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Gawin has the right of what I am suggesting.

            I would also add that I was a fat kid who was rather bookish, but played some sports kinda sorta OK for a long time. I credit soccer for my field awareness. It wasn’t until I took up wrestling that I became “athletic,” and even then I didn’t do well for the first 3 years, then finished my senior year 22-7 with 21 pinfalls. Growth!

          • Ruairc

            Randy Packer’s philosophy is to take people off the street, and first turn them into athletes before turning them into fighters and fencers.

            There’s a lot to be said for that – and, critically, this approach includes the mindset that a sedentary childhood doesn’t doom you to a non-athletic adulthood. But Packer’s approach does require that you make up the difference with sweat and dedication, all while being coached by an expert to get the most out of your training hours.

        • Terasu

          My back ground is even crazier. I started out when my Aunt used to drop me off at a friend’s work place because she couldn’t afford to pay a babysitter. He happened to teach Karate(Isshin-ryu I believe). I was four. Over the years I dabbled in martial art but never took it seriously. I played baseball since I was 6, soccer since I was 8, and dabbled in football. I started becoming serious in martial at 10 when I started studying Tae Kwon Do. I began competing in contact tournaments and forms.

          When I moved to Europe at 13(for the third time), I had access to less common martial arts, starting with ninjutsu, taijutsu, and kenjutsu. Three years later and I began studying Tang Soo Do, aikido, judo, muay tai, and anything else I could get my hands on. I was also competing through Highschool and even considered trying to go professional. MMA was very young at this time. I was still playing regular sports and got into indoor soccer, which is a more hockey-like version of soccer.

          Moving overseas, for the fourth and final time, I began teaching hand to hand and self defense to G.I.s stationed in Augsburg. I also started working security and bouncing at the Officer’s club. I did this off and on for the next 9 years or so. So, all in all, SCA rapier has been difficult for me for I have had to untrain a lot of habits that have become natural to me. I still attack with my rapier like I am trying to punch someone, but I have an athletic back ground that makes it easier for me to learn fighting systems quicker than most. Melee is simple to me because it’s like a lot of other sports I have played while C&T falls more into the weapons training I have already learned. The best thing I did pick up over the years was the ability to train effectively and learn how to go at my own pace, but the last thing I would ever do is try to teach someone how to “fight” like me. Instead, people need to learn how to adapt and play to their strengths.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    I understand and agree with what you’re saying about the value of training in improving athletic gifts. I would never suggest that the most successful fencers haven’t worked very hard for their gifts. But, as Gawin indicates, that training needs to happen early in life. Giacomo started fencing as a kid, for example. So, perhaps we need to recruit more people who have that prior athletic experience and training. As Dominyk indicates, those people will already know how to succeed in a new sport.

    • Gawin

      I think the point you’re missing is that you don’t actually need to be a super-athlete in order to be successful and that likewise, athleticism can be overcome by fencing skill.

      The woman in this video is an olympic athlete, for instance:

      Fencing isn’t a sport that requires extreme levels of strength/endurance/athleticism, and I think it’s worth noting that she isn’t really more “athletic” than many of the fencers we have in our kingdom. Indeed, if we compared her against the men, we’d find that almost every single one of them would have more physical strength. We probably have several people who can run faster, go longer, etc, but the reality is that she’d beat us all pretty handily because well, she’s really good at fencing.

      It is certainly the case that you need some basic level of fitness in order to be successful in SCA rapier, but beyond that, skill ends up mattering more.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    I still think it’s valuable to talk *to* fighters, not just *about* them, like we do on this blog. Novice fighters, female fighters, short fighters, everyone. If people have dropped out of rapier, find out why. If they have stayed with rapier, find out why. What are their goals? What do they want and think they need? What do they find best or worst about rapier training? If they don’t fight in tournaments, why? If they don’t fight in melees, why?

    From my own experience, I can say that I learn best from instructors who are willing to *listen* to me, even though I’m less successful and knowledgeable than they are. I think the “gender problem” has a certain amount to do with communication styles. What the instructor or senior fighter says and what the student/novice hears are sometimes quite different. Even more so if the student/novice is not used to martial artists/athletes.

    • Ruairc

      I think everyone commenting here talks *to* fighters. Just not on these webpages (because few novices show up ’round these parts).

      I ask my students about their goals and what obstacles they perceive every few months to make sure we’re still on the same page. Hell, tonight, I was asked “that HMA club you’re a part of … should I go train with them?” and the first thing that came out of my mouth was “what are your goals?”

      My students consistently say that they want to improve, and that they don’t find disorganized sparring to be a good path towards improvement. So we do other things, they are satisfied, and everyone wins.

  • Tibbie Crosier

    I haven’t made it clear, but I absolutely agree about the benefit of structured training rather than disorganized sparring. I myself would certainly benefit.

  • […] As previously observed, our teachers and teaching, in the SCA, are generally not very good. As a result, the most successful fencers tend to be those with the most innate advantages – talent, height, etc. […]

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