This past weekend I went to an SCA event where some wonderful friends received well-earned awards. I also participated in 2 fencing tournaments where I was very pleased with how I performed (understatement). I placed 2nd in the single rapier tournament, where only single rapier was allowed as the name implies, and 3rd in a mixed styles tournament, where you had to pick from a hat for each bout to find out what your off hand weapon would be (dagger, case, soft parry i.e. cloak, ridged parry i.e. buckler, single rapier, or opponent's choice). The caliber of the competition was probably some of the most qualified that I have fought and the take home message for me from the day was that I am on the right path with my La Verdadera Destreza (LVD) practice.
Other than the results of the tourney, one of the things that stuck with me was a conversation I had with a fellow fencer after the tournaments. This person told me that he was very happy to see someone succeeding with Destreza. He said that when he started fencing, he originally tried practicing Destreza for about 6 months. During that time he was continually told by other fencers that the style did not work and that was why most of the people in the area practiced an Italian style or Olympic off shoot instead of Spanish. Eventually he became discouraged and started practicing Italian instead of Spanish, but still tries to incorporate some of those early ideas when possible. I told him that I was sorry he encountered this and in fact I heard the same thing when I started along this historical path.
I vividly remember the day at practice that I was told by someone that exact thing and how an experienced fencer told HIM that he shouldn’t practice Destreza because it didn’t work and that I shouldn’t waste my time on it. Thanks to my previous knowledge of how muscle memory is built and the words and help of some other experienced fencers whose opinions I valued, I completely ignored this guy and used his words to fuel my desire to practice harder. Those friends and also my own experience in the martial arts are what kept me going.
What I want people, especially those just starting out along this path, to get from this post is:
La Verdadera Destreza DOES WORK!
(If practiced correctly of course)
If you want to follow this art (or any historical art) you need to ignore those doubters, keep your head high, and keep chugging along.
I told this person I met over the weekend that my experience with LVD fencing was very similar to my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) experience. For those not familiar with that martial art, it is a grappling / wrestling style of fighting that is one of the foundation styles for mixed martial arts (i.e. UFC fighting). While some of the martial arts I practice use forms or kata, BJJ was like fencing in that it is results driven. You drill first, then practice full out with your opponents and either what you drill works or it doesn’t. The learning curve for that art is very similar to LVD. I tell people you spend the first 6 months of BJJ tapping out to just about everyone, wondering how on earth did that 200lb. Brazilian man just get on your back. “Tapping out” to your opponent is what you do when you are being choked or locked and it is how you indicate you lost and are about to possibly lose consciousness or have something broken. I say, “You know what the sound of learning is…. Tap, Tap, Tap”.
LVD is very similar to BJJ in that I spent at least the first 6 months getting stabbed a lot. Each poke was like a tap in BJJ… it was the sound of learning. I was drilling like mad, be it footwork or blade work. I was working on standing straight, holding my arm straight, moving fluidly or at least on a circle and in angles when attacking, and integrating the concepts of distance and blade work into my head slowly. Eventually some of that training became instinct and I could disengage those parts of my brain to focus and refine other movements. When that started happening, I noticed I was getting stabbed less and less.
Just like I remember the day that I tapped someone out in BJJ, I now vividly remember the day that, without conscious thought, my blade was able to execute one of the 4 generals of LVD in a bout (it was the general of narrowing or “General del Estrechar” to be exact). It was euphoric and it felt like Christmas morning when it happened. For the rest of the practice I was stabbed repeatedly in new and unusual ways, but you know what… you couldn’t take that moment of an actual result away from me for the world.
I will not lie. It is not easy to practice an art done by very few people that has very little information translated into English. This is also why I run the LVD Resource List to let people know that they are not alone and that there are masters and materials available to help guide their journey.
I am also very happy to tell you that Destreza, both the Verdadera and the Comun styles, are getting more and more popular as time goes on and there is more material out there each year. At Pennsic 45 this past summer the “By the Book Tourney” had to have a separate Destreza pool because there were so many of us (7) studying the art. This warms my heart and hopefully it will help others understand that this is a growing field and we who walk this path are not alone in our practice and study.