(The Meadowdale High School Fending Team, 1977. Mr. Weidner is lower left hand corner and I am upper right hand corner.)
I was saddened to hear this week of the passing of one of my high school teachers. Robert Weidner taught speech and journalism for many years at Meadowdale High School in Dayton, Ohio. I had Mr. Weidner for speech. He taught us not to memorize our speeches, but to jot down on index cards brief reminders of the points that you wanted to get across. To this day, I can talk for 30 minutes using three index cards.
But, Mr. Weidner was more than my speech teacher, he was also my fencing coach. While my dream was always to play baseball, I did not make the cut for my high school baseball team. So, wanting to do something sport-wise, my junior and senior year I turned to fencing which, interestingly enough, was a varsity sport in Dayton Public Schools. This tuned out to be a lot of fun and allowed me the opportunity to earn a gold “M” which is buried somewhere in my basement like a long, lost treasure. When conversations turn to high school and what activities one participated in, I still enjoy throwing out that I lettered in fencing and have yet to hear anyone respond, “that’s funny, so did I.”
Mr. Weidner attended many class reunions and I had the privilege and opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes at the last two that I attended. Over the last few years I received emails from him on a regular basis, the most recent coming last week. He was also kind enough to read this blog and comment on it from time to time.
Fencing has been called “The noble science of defense.” It has never been that popular of a sport and most people’s knowledge of fencing has been derived from old pirate movies. My two years with Mr. Weidner allowed me to learn a little bit about this storied sport. While it has now been almost forty years since I picked up a foil and put on a mask, I have remembered those lessons that fencing taught me, some of which continue to be useful today:
- Fencing bouts begin and end with a salute. The first to pledge honor, to try your hardest to win within the rules. The second is to acknowledge your opponent and thank the other person for their efforts. While we may often find a battle in our daily lives, we can approach them civilly and recognize that just because someone is an adversary does not make them an enemy.
- An adversary is to be accepted on his own merits, without bias or prejudice. In a bout all that matters is your skill and the skill of your opponent. Even though a fencing bout is a “fight” it still, by rule, “must preserve the character of a courteous and honest encounter.”
- Honesty is important. “Touché!” means “I have been touched!” In fencing the person who receives a touch is to acknowledge it openly.
- Responsibility is expected. Just because an official is judging a match, the fencer is not relieved of his obligation of honor – nothing and no one can absolve you from personal responsibility for your own actions.
- Either you make your point or your opponent will make it for you. You may be so busy trying to impress your opponent with your moves and skill that you provide the opportunity for you opponent to score.
- Perhaps the most difficult way to make a lap on the outdoor quarter-mile track is to do it with one foot perpendicular to the other. Training can be slow and painful, but it is necessary.
- You can expend a lot of energy in a small space in a short amount of time. (A fencing strip is only about forty-six feet long and about six and a half feet wide and a match might take less than ten minutes.) Sometimes you have to be prepared to give it everything you have for a short time.
- There is a difference between “ego” and “honor.” Ego says “Whatever I do is right.” Honor says “Whatever is right, I will do.”
- Fencing, in essence, is an exercise in critical thinking. One must develop an ability to sort out truth from appearances and do it under adverse and rapidly changing conditions. In other words, fencing teaches one to think on your feet.
“Touché” means “I have been touched.” Thank you, Mr. Wiedner, for touching my life and the lives of all your students.