The Swordsman

“I see you have studied the works of Camillo Agrippa.  Have you always used the rapier?”


“Ummm… I don’t know anything about “Camino A Grip A”.  Is that a street in San Juan Capistrano?”


“No.  It is a school of Italian sword fighting from the sixteenth century.  I noticed you were shadow fencing here at the gym and you were deploying an Agrippa technique.”


“Oh, no, not that.  I was stretching out my thighs.”




“You know how to do sword stuff?”


“Fencing.  Yes.  I’ve studied it.”


“Wow, I would like to learn that.  Does it take a lot of practice?”


“A lifetime.”


“Can you just teach me how to poke someone with a sword.  That should be all I need to do.  I do have a samurai sword thing over my fireplace that I got from the mall back in the nineties.  Could you teach me that?”


“Ummmm… probably not.”


Swords have always been romanticized in both literature and theatre.  They are simultaneously an expression of power and intellectualism.  The power should be obvious.  The sword is not only a clearly visible tool that suggests to the ruffians of the world that this is an individual not to be trifled with, it also is a standard of leadership.  The saber drawn by the cavalry officer as he charges his horse toward the enemy has caused a route time and time again.  


Intellectualism, requires some assumptions.  To become competent with a sword, you need to be trained.  To train, you need to expend both time and money.  Mastery of the sword also requires mastery of the individual.  You must be dedicated towards a long-term goal, and willing to train not just the body, but also the mind.  


Additionally, manipulating the sword is really not the point (no pun intended).  Defeating your opponent with the sword is the ultimate goal. This requires an understanding not only of physics, but also kinesiology, psychology, physiology and, of course, philosophy.  


Today the sword is not really a weapon of personal defense.  (Oh, though it could be!…  Perhaps minor offenses in public might be mitigated by the presence of a sword!)  The sword, for all intents and purposes, has become a tool for competitive sport.  


Many colleges and local clubs offer fencing programs.  Fencing, while not identical, bears many similarities to the combative arts of the past.  Like all combative arts programs someone needs to initially teach you how to do it, someone to coach you towards mastery.   The fencing coach enjoys a certain training expectation by the students.  They come to the arena knowing, almost a priori that their task of developing mastery at skill-at-arms will not be an easy one.  They sense that theirs is a sport of dedication and intense instruction before ever picking up a foil.  The idea that pure mastery would be achieved by simply standing in one place and poking a punching bag with a sword over and over again seems contrarian on its face.  


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They, of course, would be correct in their suspicion of the trainer’s curriculum.  Clearly learning how to fence simply must be more dynamic than simply learning how to poke with a metal stick.  Mastery of skill-at-arms is ultimately mastery of tactics.  


Firearms training is different though.  Many people seek out training in firearms because they simply want to learn how to make the gun go bang.  That is fine, and we, of course, encourage any formal firearms safety training, but this is the equivalent to purchasing a piano for the singular purpose of learning how to play Chopsticks.  Yes, it can be done… but misses the point.  


Mastery at skill-at-arms requires competent knowledge of the underlying weapons platform, but it also requires knowledge and, frankly, mastery of tactics.  


The police department offers its officers continual training in a field called “defensive tactics”.  This is broad-spectrum training.  It involves everything from lethal, less than lethal, chemical, and physical control and restraint techniques.  It also involves environmental exploitation, geometric manipulation, and good old force projection studies.  


This is a far cry from standing in front of a paper target and putting random holes in it.  The primary raison d’être for Artemis Defense was to instruct students on tactics.  Shooting mastery is necessary, of course, but tactics win battles.  (Actually strategy wins battles, but that is a subject for another blog.) 


The use of our simulators was specifically designed for three purposes:  stress inoculation, tactics development, and judgmental use-of-force.  


The one area we always felt we needed greater training tools was tactics.  What we had was good, and it certainly provided training points, but we knew there must be something better.  


There wasn’t.


So we made it ourselves.  


Over the last couple of months we have been deploying our VR Orion Technologies tactics simulator at Artemis.  The feedback, both on the part of our instructors as well as our clients, has been tremendous.  Finally, we can operate in a completely immersive environment… but, more importantly, we can study ourselves and our body positioning in debriefing sessions.  Diagnostic tools that simply did not exist are now available to us to help our clients (and frankly ourselves) continue our never-ending pursuit of mastery of skill-at-arms.  


You have heard me preach regularly:  “Train constantly, consistently, repetitively and with purpose.”  This is not a suggestive course of action; it is a fundamental requirement for those who have elected to bear arms for self-defense.  Like for the swordsman, the competition and venue awaits… yet here the stakes are considerably higher.  Would not training, at least to the same level as the fencer seeking a trinket for her shelf, be a necessity for the gunfighter?

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Comments (6)

  • Timothy George Reply

    Perfect alignment and comparison Steve. Loved it, so very true.

    07/28/2021 at 07:44
  • Olaf Kilthau Reply

    My father fenced in Germany until he was about 18 years old. He showed me some movements when I was a kid…very difficult! The Orion system is great and we’ve used it once. We plan to use it more!

    07/28/2021 at 08:24
  • Eric C. Reply

    This is one of those moments when you see/hear/read a comparison that is so simple that you wonder “Why the HELL didn’t I think of that myself?” I’m stealing this, and using it constantly, consistently and with purpose. 😉

    Thanks Steven!

    07/28/2021 at 08:33
  • Bret Parker Reply

    Stick them with the pointy end, first, before they stick you. Stick them consistently, repetitively and with purpose; heart, neck, eyes. Explore new ways of training to enhance your basic abilities. The way is training.

    07/28/2021 at 08:51
  • Bill Farone Reply

    Artemis is the counter to the “spray and pray” defensive tactics that I see at the range. Putting holes in paper as fast as you can at 3, 5 and 7 yards does not help you learn how to remove yourself safely from the threat. The strategy of planned withdrawals from the scene of potential harm and the close encounter gunfight is vastly underrated.

    07/30/2021 at 16:38
  • Hugh Everhart Reply

    Steven, I enjoyed you discussion of fencing as I “trained” for 2 years in college and was blessed with an instructor who was a Southern France National Champion. What I enjoyed most about the sport was that no body type was preferable to another. Big and tall? Better reach but a bigger target. Smaller competitors had shorter reaches but were smaller targets. Talk about a great equalizer. So it came down to speed and control. Making it very much like shooting in both respects. So, natural talent helps (I had great reflexes) but there was no substitute for training. A further comparison comes to mind… the epee is a weapon of finesse/accuracy, like a pistol or rifle, but the sabre is a weapon of brute force, like a shotgun. Thanks for bringing back the good memories!

    08/06/2021 at 19:28

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