For a couple of years, I stayed with rapier and dagger.
I was, you might say, "highly resistant" to the idea of studying foil. For one thing, there were the aforementioned white suits and the silly postures.
But worse- it was in French.
I'm not learning any French. I've spent most of my life avoiding learning any French. I took Spanish, and liked it. I refuse to learn French. It's about as frou-frou as those little flimsy foils.
But the master would occasionally suggest- just suggest, mind you- that I "drop by" one of the foil classes. Or that I go watch a tournament. He said I "might like it."
Eventually, I weakened.
I went to a class to "take pictures."
As it happened, he was not there that evening. I watched, I photographed, and it was mildly interesting.
I was invited to one of the introductory classes. Again, I went to "take pictures." A nice, safe, non-French thing to do.
But this time, something interesting happened.
By chance, the class I visited was the last of a series of introductory classes. It was held in a local gymnasium. There were around 25-30 children in the class, ranging in age from about 7 to about 12, I think.
At the beginning of the class, as they all arrived, they came in, sat down in a line, and waited for the master to arrive. Silently.
Remember, it's a gymnasium full of young children. And at first, without the teacher present. They entered, they sat, they waited. Happily. Patiently. Quietly.
Having three rather enthusiastic children of my own, I could not help but notice this odd behavior. It caught my attention, that's for sure.
Then they went through the warm up- the very same sequence of exercises I had come to know and love. Some footwork.
And then, something I will never forget.
It being the last day of class, they each had the "opportunity" to get up in front of the entire group, ALONE, and perform the skills they had learned. An "etude"- much like a kata in karate.
At that time, I would rather have walked barefoot on broken glass than get up in front of a group to do anything.
Each of the children got up there, and did their thing. From the first one, it was clear that they did not all know this etude very well at all. I was horribly uncomfortable about this. Embarrassed on the student's behalf. I hate seeing people uncomfortable or embarrassed. I detest the kind of movies that use this as the principle form of humor. It's not funny.
So the whole time the kid was up there, I was squirming. Worrying.
To my utter and complete surprise, things did not go as I expected.
For one, the other kids were respectful. Quiet and attentive, no snickering or giggling. They politely applauded as each of their fellow students finished his or her performance.
Each student stayed standing after the performance, to receive feedback from the master.
Uh oh. What on earth was he going to say after some of these unskilled "interpretations"?
And this is where it all got my attention again.
He was encouraging. Genuinely pleased with each performance. He gave personal, to the point, honest appraisals, with a couple of suggestions for what they needed to practice, and he did it in such a way that they all smiled, they were all HAPPY, for goodness' sake. Up there alone in front of a crowd.
I knew two things, right then.
One is that he was, indeed, a master.
The other is that I would NEVER be able to get up and do that. Period. Not happening.
I went home. Found myself oddly compelled to attempt that little etude myself. Could not get it out of my mind.
At my next lesson- supposedly still rapier and dagger- he asked for feedback on what I had seen. We discussed it briefly.
And then he handed me a foil, and asked me to show him what I had learned.
HOW DID HE KNOW?
How did he know I would go home and practice the etude?
Now wait a minute, here. Something very fishy is going on. He KNEW, I swear he did, that if he ever got me to go to that class, I'd be instantly hooked.
And he was right.
Suddenly, I was studying foil. In French. Ouch.
Not long after, I witnessed something that would change the way I viewed foil forever.