Fencing: Unless the Enemy has Studied his Agrippa

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If you’re a fan, then you probably recognized my title as a quote from The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies. In part because I was in love with Westley (weren’t we all?), and in part because it has “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”

When we were first married, I suggested to my ex that we take a fencing class together. It was something I’d always wanted to try (read: nerd), and it seemed like a good husband/wife way to keep us active. There was a weekend workshop, and if we enjoyed ourselves, we were given the option of joining the local fencing club.

Now, if you’ve never tried fencing and only seen it on TV, it looks like something pretty simple to do. But in truth, there are a number of different choreographed moves that you have to practice at sequencing properly.

The first class, after being shown the equipment and how to put it on, we were taught an attack (an offensive action) and a parry (a defensive action). Then we were taught a riposte (a counter-attack after a parry) and a counter-risposte (an attack that follows a parry of a riposte). We were lined up on either side of the room, and practiced each move in turn. The instructor moved up and down the line and showed us how to score a “hit”.

We were partnered up, but the Goblin King was not my partner because the teacher wanted us to try with other people.  At the end of the class that we were told to try out what we’d learned with all of the other students. We did a roundabout in two circles, one that stayed around the outside of the room, and the inner circle that revolved to change partners every few minutes. I was in the outer (unmoving) circle and the Goblin King became my opponent second last.

I had been keeping an eye on him, watching as each of his partners in turn looked frustrated at not being able to get through his defensive move. It wasn’t until he got to me that I realized instead of doing the moves that we’d been taught, he was just rotating the sword with his wrist in a circular motion, making it absolutely impossible to score a hit. In effect—instead of playing fair and using the moves we’d been taught—he was cheating.

[tweetthis]I watched as each of his partners looked frustrated.[/tweetthis]

I was completely embarrassed. Everyone else in the room must have realized exactly the same thing—but no one spoke out. Not one person said something to him about his behavior (until of course he got to me).

Sadly, that’s the way he appears to have gotten through life. He does things his way (usually wrong), and instead of calling him out, people make excuses. And then they don’t engage with him in that context again if they can avoid it. My problem (of course) is that I thought by “calling out the behavior”, I could fix him. And maybe sometimes (like in this instance), his behavior changes briefly (he corrected himself with his final opponent). But for the most part, I was reminded constantly reminded that his behavior is ingrained. If there’s an easy way out, whether it’s moral or not, he will take it and justify it in his own mind.

But, on the bright side, eventually I figured that out, and went on to find my own true love.

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  1. People who don’t do “right” always come up with excuses why they are the exception. Those are people i try to avoid.

  2. Behavior in sports is surely indicative of behavior in life and marriage. If one cheats there he will cheat elsewhere (likely). That’s an interesting story and kudos to the both of you for trying fencing! I tried to get my ex to learn XCountry skiing because although I enjoyed downhill I LOVED Xcountry and it was accessible. He refused. We weren’t even married a year yet.

  3. I think ingrained behaviour is difficult to crack — it’s unless that person wants to change…like really truly want to change it themselves.
    For myself, I have ingrained behaviours that i had no idea that I had. Once brought to my attention, I was like “Oh, those thought patterns and subsequent behaviours are super negative. I need to fix it” and I was able to…but that was only because I wanted to and I worked at it.
    I believe people can change but they have to want it.

    1. Author

      They not only have to want it – they have to be aware it’s a problem in the first place. I think that’s the problem in my case.

  4. I wonder so very much about ingrained behaviour sometimes, and whether the old adage ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ is true (f’r’instance). I dunno. I still have much to learn about life, and about people.

    1. Author

      I don’t think it’s always true. I think though once you get away with something once, it’s easier to do it the next time. I wonder if it’s even possible to figure humans out.

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