I have just returned from a trip to the USA, centred around Lord Baltimore’s Challenge, a rapier-themed event held in, you guessed it, Baltimore, and organised by David Biggs.
Because of the vagaries of international air travel, I flew to New York on Wednesday 3rd, and took the train down to Baltimore on the 5th. This gave me a full day in Manhattan, which I spent hanging out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Jared Kirby, and then in the Morgan Library.
Oh my. The Met is huge, and has everything.
Even Christian Cameron in a glass case.
(Note, probably not actually Christian)
Before going to visit Christian, I paid homage to the Studiolo of Gubbio. I remember it from my last trip in 2001 as a woodworker’s explosion. Hot damn that’s some fine marquetry. I love my study, but wow, this is in a different league. While chatting to Jared about it I spotted the garter symbol (the ring-shaped object on the left in the picture), and said that the owner of the studio was probably a Knight of the Garter.
I’d forgotten, or never quite made the connection, that the Studiolo of Gubbio was made for Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino! Father of Guidobaldo, to whom Vadi dedicated his treatise!
Father and son are shown here, but this is not the same study, obviously.
I should probably do a “Guy's guide to the Met” or somesuch as I could rhapsodise on about these museums for pages, but will move swiftly on to the event…
I took the train down to Baltimore on the Friday, and we began at about 9 on Saturday morning with a rapier and dagger tournament. I was ring director for three pools, and began each with this address to the combatants: “I am drunk, blind, and biased against you. Make it so even an idiot like me can see your hits. I’m not interested in trying to figure out what might have happened- if it’s not clear, I’ll throw it out and you’ll have to try again.” This established my expectations quite clearly, I think, and certainly I saw a lot of clean fencing.
After lunch I judged three or four pools in the sidesword tournament, which was fun to be a part of. Things were running on the late side by then, and I was not needed for the sword and buckler tournament, so I went back to my hotel room (chauffeured by the excellent Conner Craig, who looked after me the entire weekend) and got a solid hour’s nap. That restored me for ring-directing four pools and several elimination matches in the final tournament, sudden-death single rapier. Oh my we got through a lot of fights (on average there are 15 fights per pool, and a further 8 elimination bouts (I think) per tournament). Though at least one of my pools had seven fencers, so 21 bouts.
What stood out for me though was the honourable nature of the fencers. By the end of the day if a fencer disavowed a match-winning point, or called a match-losing point against themselves, I just took it for granted, because that’s what had been happening all day. It was a delight and an honour to be part of it.
Organising tournaments is not my thing- waaay too much work! But it’s certainly more fun to judge or direct than to simply watch, and while it was a very long day (we finished just shy of 8pm), it was very good fun.
On Sunday I had my classes. We started with an hour of learning how to develop fencing memory (as detailed in The Rapier, part three: Developing Your Skills Workbook), and then I taught a subject I’ve never actually written down, nor covered at an event before: Controlling the Story. This is my approach to eliminating expectations in yourself (to prevent the possibility of being surprised), while creating them in your opponent (to be able to surprise her). I think I’d better write it up somewhere in full, do you agree?Tom Leoni visited the event at lunch and gave a fascinating lecture on the Vienna Anonymous, a fascinating manuscript that is essentially a fencer’s notes on Fabris and Capoferro, dating from the early 1600s. The whiteboard looked like this when he was done:
Immediately after that I taught two hours of Problem Solving, running the students through my approach to training by systematically finding and solving problems. Of course I was then buttonholed by students wanting advice on various aspects of the art… which meant I missed all of Devon Boorman, John Mackenzie Gordon, and Mike Prendergast’s classes
One of the greatest pleasures of events like this is putting faces to names. Quite a few names I recognise from email exchanges or attendance on my online courses came up and introduced themselves. (If you were thinking about introducing yourself but didn’t, next time please do!)
The next day David the indefatigable squired Mike and I around DC: the mall, the Air and Space Museum, and then the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
Holy shit. The plane the Wright brothers built and flew in at Kitty Hawk, in 1903. The Spirit of St Louis, the first plane to cross the Atlantic. The X-1, first plane to break the speed of sound. They have a goddam Moon Lander.
The following day I went back to Manhattan en route to JFK, with enough time to visit the Fountain Pen Hospital (fellow pen geeks writhe in envy), the Public Library to see Winnie the Pooh, and then the Frick Collection, because why the hell not.
They have, among a million treasures, Holbein’s portrait of Thomas Cromwell. But the buggers don’t let you take photos (unlike every other museum I went to this trip), so I scalped this off t’internet.
Home at last yesterday, in time for my younger daughter’s sports day- literally straight off the train from London, no shower for the wicked.
All in all, a wonderful trip, and the event itself was an absolute gem. Thanks particularly to David and Alix, Monica for the food, Lisa for the tea and general organisyness, Conner, my ring judges, and the attendees who made the event such a delight.