Most people know little to nothing about the sword or the study of it, and most of what people think they know, isn't true.
It is difficult to understand something that is no longer common knowledge, without a competent guide, especially when that thing is frequently portrayed in an inaccurate manner.
This FAQ is so we can answer any questions you may have.
If your question is not here, please send it to us.
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Isn't swordfighting violent? I'm not sure I want, or want my child, to learn something violent.
The Sword and the Non-Aggression Principle
In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Eric Fromm distinguishes between two very different kinds of aggression, which he calls "benign aggression," and "malignant aggression."
Malignant aggression is the initiation of force — or the threat of force — against an innocent person. It's the use of force — or the threat of force — to compel an innocent person to comply with the aggressor's demands, either to DO something that the aggressor's victim has a natural/moral/legal right not to do, or to refrain from doing something that the aggressor's victim has a natural/moral/legal right to do. Malignant aggression includes the classic mala in se: assault, robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.
Malignant aggression may properly be called "violence" because it violates the natural/moral/legal rights of an innocent person.
Benign aggression is the use of force to prevent an act of violence. It includes both self-defense, and the defense of innocent others. Benign aggression cannot properly be called "violence" because it does not violate the natural/moral/legal rights of the malignant aggressor. The malignant aggressor has no natural/moral/legal right to coerce or harm innocent others.
Malignant aggression harms; benign aggression protects. Malignant aggression destroys; benign aggression preserves. Malignant aggression is the nihilistic embrace of death; benign aggression is the reverent and joyful love of life — what Fromm called "biophilia."
The discipline of the sword aims at creating individuals who utterly reject malignant aggression in all its forms, but who are ready, willing and able to employ adequate and appropriate benign aggression to quell violence and preserve life.
Obviously, we don't carry swords around, anymore. So if we must select a particular tool to use to thwart violence, it is unlikely to be a sword.
That doesn't matter. It isn't the weapon that imbues the fighter with power, but rather the fighter who imbues the weapon with power. The power does not reside in the specific techniques of a specific weapon, but rather in the body, mind, heart and soul of the fighter, in ways that are common to all weapons.
The sword is the vehicle we use for the cultivation of the capacity to act adequately and appropriately. The soul of this art is not what a person can do with a sword, but what the sword can do for the individual.
Is fencing fun?
Is fencing fun?
That depends on how you define "fun."
We believe "fun" does NOT mean: silly, frivolous, unimportant, insignificant, irrelevant, time-wasting, irresponsible, trivial, aimless, immaterial, pointless, childish, worthless, light-minded, idle, arbitrary, capricious, inconsequential, fiddling, dawdling blather.
We believe "fun" DOES mean: challenging, satisfying, relevant, worthwhile, meaningful, important, purposeful, valuable, child-like, significant, exhilarating, enlightening, self-actualizing, rich, alive, fulfilling, self-validating, true, just, complete, whole, graceful, honest, just, fair, natural, beautiful, unique, joyful, good and perfect.
So, yes, fencing is quite a lot of "fun."
What if I have fenced elsewhere before?
No matter what "fencing" you may have done before, or where you did it, it is unlikely that it was anything similar to what we do or the way we do it.
That's because almost NO ONE approaches fencing as fighting, as a martial art.
That's what we do.
Even those most similar to us — who are extremely few and very far between — are quite different.
We require an exceptional command of the basics because that's what a fighter depends on, and it has to be dependable.
For that reason, everyone starts at the beginning. I want to make sure that you have the strongest possible foundation for future development.
Otherwise, we're painting over rust.
I'm out of shape/too old/have some other concern/don't know anything about this. Can I still do it?
The short answer is "yes."
The long answer is "We're here to help you achieve the excellence you desire no matter what your style of learning, the pace of your learning, or the obstacles you have to deal with."
What is a "Maître d'Armes" and why is that important?
Fencing Master or Master Fencer?
When I was a kid, I taught myself to play the guitar. I had a fool for a teacher and an idiot for a student. I taught myself lots of things that seemed fine in the context of 3-chord rock-and roll, but turned out to be real handicaps when trying to play Bach.
I found a wonderful guitar teacher, and he taught me a hundred little tricks and secrets that I would never have figured out intuitively, all by myself. For example, are you aware that you don't have to blow into it?
It's very common in martial arts to have some kind of a skill-ranking system. That makes perfect sense. In many eastern martial arts, such as karate, ranks are often designated by different colored belts (a system devised by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, in the late 19th century).
Quite often, there are many more students in a school than there are teachers, and the more "advanced" students are put in charge of the less advanced students.
The Teacher works with the highest ranking students, while a lower-ranked student is put in charge of the rank beginners.
When a student works his way all the way up the ranks, he/she is anointed a "teacher." Now, these "teachers" may be very good at DOING the thing they do, but few — if any — have any actual training in TEACHING someone else how to do the thing they do.
DOING the thing and TEACHING the thing are two SEPARATE — though closely related — skill sets. The one does not imply the other.
Here's a little pop quiz for you. It helps if you're a boxing fan, but you'll recognize some of these names even if you're not.
QUESTION: What do Willie Pastrano, Luis Manual Rodriguez, Carmen Basilio, Jimmy Ellis, George Scott, Jose Napoles, Ralph Dupas, Pinklon Thomas, Trevor Berbick, Sugar Ramos, Wilfredo Gomez, Michael Nunn, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali ALL have in common?
If you guessed that they're all boxing champions, good for you.
But what's the other important thing they all have in common?
They were all trained by Angelo Dundee.
Know how many professional boxing titles Angelo Dundee held, himself?
Know how many times he was a top contender for a title?
Know how many professional fights he had?
Angelo Dundee did not become a great boxing trainer by being a great boxer. He became a great trainer by watching great trainers at Stillman's Gym, and devoting himself to the art and science of training boxers.
You could say that Dundee was a "Boxing Master." Not a "master boxer."
When I was studying under Maitre d'Armes Jean-Jacques Gillet at his American Fencing Academy, we weren't there to become great fencers, we were there to become great teachers.
Our definition of a fencing master was someone who could teach any person (young, old, male, female, athlete, non-athlete) how to use any sword (foil, epee, sabre, longsword, rapier and dagger, smallsword) for any purpose (recreation, sport, theatre, or earnest combat).
We used to say that a true fencing master was someone whom you could lock in an empty room with some strange kind of weapon he/she had never seen before, and by the end of the day, they could train you to wield it effectively.
I've been self-taught and I've been trained by a pro. I've been a student many, many times, and a teacher for quite a while. I can offer you this recommendation from my direct experience: If you want to learn something, find someone who knows how to teach it, and do whatever they tell you to do. Get the best teacher you can right at the beginning so you don't have to try to "un-learn" bad habits later.
I wish someone had given me that advice early in my ill-spent youth.
Would have saved my pucker.
What style do you teach?
There are no "styles."
There is only what works and what doesn't work given a specific set of circumstances.
It doesn't matter who, if anyone, did it before, or when or where.
Ever ask a carpenter what style of hammering he practices?
Form follows function.
A tool is designed to be used in a particular way to do a specific task.
That's why you don't use a screwdriver to pound nails, or hold a hammer between your teeth.
The function we focus on is combat - how to use a real sword in a real fight, in such a manner as to optimize your chances for survival.
We also explore how those foundational principles relate to other kinds of confrontations.
Technically, we teach "applied behavioral hoplology," the study of human behavior in combat. The sword is simply the key that unlocks that door.
How much does it cost?
My family was dirt-poor, and I never got a chance to do anything unless it was available for free.
I still carry a grudge about that, and the way I get even is to make sure that no one who is sincerely interested in learning this art is prevented from doing it just because they can't afford it.
My "going rate" is high.
BUT I'm amenable to all kinds of "work-study" arrangements or barter.
Don't be afraid to ask.
Current rates are $25-$30 for an individual lesson, and $50/month for membership in the salle d'armes.
How are individual lessons different from a class? Are they required?
Individual lessons are the absolute best, most efficient way to learn, and learn quickly. It's 100% individual attention, taking into account what you must learn, how you best learn it, and at what pace to proceed.
You get immediate, consistent feedback, and not even the slightest flaw evades detection.
We don't "require" anyone to take lessons, but the truth is that no one ever achieved a high level of expertise without them.
But most beginners aren't ready to benefit from individual lessons.
Beginners need to focus on the basics of balance, line, focus and distance, learning to control their own bodies before trying to control the sword.
These fundamental skills can be taught in a class situation, and require a LOT of practice time outside of class.
We created the etudes so you would know what to practice.
When you have acquired those skills to reliable degree, you're ready for individual lessons.
Lessons are extremely intense and demanding both mentally and physically, and are therefore relatively short - rarely more than half an hour, and "normally" around 20 minutes.
You could say that classes provide a "rough cut;" lessons provide a fine polish.
Will there be sparring in this class?
Sparring (or "bouting," as it is called in fencing) is a privilege you must earn.
It cannot be purchased nor is it attendant upon your age or the length of time you've been studying.
First, you must prove yourself to be a SAFE opponent, in sufficient command of fundamentals that you will not cause an accidental injury.
You must also prove yourself to be a COURTEOUS opponent, displaying impeccable gallantry at all times and under all circumstances.
Finally, you must prove yourself to be a COMPETENT opponent with sufficient skill to have some hope of effectively defending yourself.
The IYB Intro class will not include any bouting, or any partnered bladework between students. It is not possible to reach the level of being able to do so safely in such a short period of time.
For other classes, it depends on the individuals, not the class.
Is it safe?
Neither is crossing the street.
But you take every reasonable precaution to be sure you don't get run over.
What we do is lethal in reality.
So how do we make it as safe as possible to learn and practice?
There is an antagonistic relationship between verisimilitude and safety.
You can make it very "real" and very dangerous, or you can make it very safe but very unrealistic.
How do you balance those competing values?
We prefer to err on the side of safety.
We use specialized equipment including protective wire mesh masks, padded jackets, and soft-tempered, flexible blunt blades.
But the most important safety factor is the skill and judgment of the participants. This is why we NEVER let unskillful beginners "spar." It's an accident begging to happen.
This is why our practice is quite regimented and disciplined, "by the numbers." No one zigs while everyone else is zagging.
And this is why we strictly enforce our code of conduct which includes both safety and courtesy.
Do you compete in tournaments?
Mastering others is easy. It's mastering yourself that's difficult.
Though we sometimes use bouting as a part of our training, "beating" other people in order collect trinkets and trophies is antithetical to our purpose.
We "compete" against ourselves.
We "compete" against an IDEAL.
Can I observe a class?
Contact the instructor.
IFV Inc is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt not-for-profit educational corporation.
Located in Ithaca, NY, the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes region.