Book Review: The Inner Game of Fencing
Submitted by Silfren the Singer
Originally published in Punta Dritta June/July AS XXXVI (2001)
The Inner Game of Fencing - Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit -By Nick Evangalista,
Master's Press Chicago 2000 Paperback
The Inner Game of Fencing is a book aimed at people who fence, and who are inclined to think there is more to fencing than scoring hits.
It is aimed at the modern fencer - it talks of modern weapons and modern techniques - but I think it has a lot to say to SCA fencers both novice and experienced.
This isn't a book about how to do. It's a book about how to think and how that affects your doing. It is a book of philosophy and attitude.
When he talks about form and why it is important, the examples are modern, but the SCA fencer can see the point. When he talks about the foil and right of way rules, an SCA fencer can see what he's getting at even though the rules don't apply. He does use a lot of modern French terminology, I had to refer to the glossary rather often, but the meat of the book isn't about the terms or the use of foil.
The book consists of one and two page mini essays. Each one a thing to think about. Form and Technique. Defensive Balance. Achieving Offensive Efficiency, What Do You Look At?, Patience in fencing, Practice: Vital vs Urgent. Developing Parries. And so on, there are about 100 of them.
Evangelista is trying to impart the idea that fencing isn't about winning, it's about fencing. It's about self control and discipline and learning and relaxation and patience and accuracy. He goes further, he says that until you understand this, and incorporate it, you won't be a fencer, just someone poking with a sword-like-object.
He speaks of the importance of form, of the need to understand why you do everything. Of how to build your strategy when you fence, how to feel out the opponent, how to construct an attack. How to approach practice, how to approach competitions, dealing with losing and with fear of hitting or being hit, what to watch, the importance of selfexamination, and many other useful things.
All of them in the mind.
He spends time on bad fencing too. Mostly aimed at the modern sport fencer but the types are universal and I've met them in SCA fencing too! The "winning is everything" types, the macho types, the ones into intimidation or manipulation, the ones full of excuses about why that wasn't a good hit, the ones who just do the same thing over and over and never get anywhere.
I found the book very much in accordance with my own ideas. Not surprising, my fencing master is a classically trained man with very much the same views about fencing as an art and a discipline and a discovery.
What it did for me was to make me re-examine those ideas. And give me a guilt trip too! I know the concepts, but I haven't really been implementing them, I've been lazy.
Reading the book has inspired me, and given me things to think about, ideas to dwell on, maybe even some things to aim for.
True to the author's name, it gets a bit evangelical in spots, the man has seen the light and wants you to see it too. It's not overwhelming in that regard though, and a lot of what he says is useful, you can take it and think about it and use it. There is more than fine words, there's usable information.
Who should read the book? I think anyone who views SCA fencing as more than a bit of fun with swords, or different to a sporting competition.
Old farts who have lost some of the joy they used to have in it, and young students who are feeling a bit discouraged that they are not doing as well as some others. Anyone who is wanting to go that bit further, and isn't sure why it isn't happening. Teachers who want to inspire pupils and get them thinking about fencing rather than winning.
It isn't a book that will improve your fencing instantly, but it may well enable you to get more out of it.