I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try! | Persistence in Fencing

I’ve always been a strong believer that you can learn about fencing anywhere. The things you learn at work, at home, at your grandma’s house, or walking down the street may be hiding exciting principles you can apply to your owning fighting or fencing philosophy.

A case in point would be what I learned from Sesame Street.

With a little kid running around, Sesame Street is one of our preferred media because of its high quality and because I’ve always been a fan of the Muppets. Plus, you might be surprised at how deftly these monsters teach impactful principles that we should all keep in mind. Like what to do when you run into a problem. Take a look:

I don’t know about you, but the idea of persistence comes to mind, and the ‘I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try!’ formula is such a clever way of how we should be thinking through challenges or questions at fencing. Let me demonstrate through a situation you might find yourself in at practice.

I Wonder…

Imagine yourself in a situation where you keep getting sniped in the head. Fight after fight, you realize that a good portion of fights end with you receiving a headshot. Rather than losing hope, beating yourself up, and calling it quits, start to wonder.

“I wonder why I’m getting hit in the head so much….”

The moment you start to wonder, you’ve opened your mind to the possibility of a solution. This problem isn’t permanent. It’s just a challenge. You may not have an answer right away, but maybe it will encourage you to think about it more or go talk about it. This then leads to the next step…

What if…

You’ve wondered and thought. Pondered and poured over the problem, then whether it’s your own idea or someone else’s you end up with a ‘What If”.

“What if I’m getting hit in the head because I’m leaving my head open!”

Eureka! A potential solution! It isn’t the answer. It’s just an answer. Being open to any number of solutions removes the fear of experimentation. You can think of an idea and begin imagining ways to implement it. Test your theory! There’s no wrong answer when it comes to experimentation because the point is to see whether an idea is right for you or not. This is why we have the final step…

Let’s Try!

You’ve identified a problem. Thought of a potential solution. But let’s not stop there. We’ve got to put them into action and try.

“Let’s try keeping my guard up a little higher and see if that works.”

Now you have a plan and maybe it will work. Wonderful! Or maybe it won’t. Darn! It doesn’t matter because either way, you know what to do next.

If your idea worked, then you’ve solved your problem and can move right on to the next one. If that idea didn’t work, you just start again: “I wonder… What if… Let’s try!”

Your persistence in finding solutions to your problems will lead you to the results you’re after. It’s also nice because there are many different solutions. There isn’t one trick or one answer to any problem. Maybe it’s your guard. Maybe it’s your range. Maybe it’s both for you and neither for someone else. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve actively addressed your challenges and have a mindset to overcome, rather than being defeated.

A More Complex Version

At my first Uprising, I was really struggling against fencers wielding longer swords. I had just gotten Charlotte, my first short sword and I was playing with a 34″ blade while there were fencers out there swinging things closer to 42″ or even 44″. By the end of the first day, I was acutely aware of how those extra inches impacted the fight because I could not get anywhere near them before dying. It was really frustrating!

Damian, my master at the time, recognized I was having an issue and even though we didn’t know about Sesame Street’s “I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try” formula, Damian pulled me aside and this is how we addressed the problem.

First, Damian talked with me about what I was experiencing and the things I was noticing or getting frustrated about. I told him that every time I approached another fencer I’d die before I was ever in range, which then forced me to stay out of range. I didn’t like this either because I felt useless in the fight.

“Well, have you considered if it’s because you have such a short sword and everyone else seems to have long swords?” [I Wonder…]

He then reminded me about how every inch matters in fencing and those inches add up. He then gave me the option to get a longer sword, which I wasn’t really used to fighting with, or we’d have to find another solution.

“If you can get inside their range and close that distance quickly, you might have a chance.” [What If…]

We then talked about a couple of different techniques on how to bypass a person’s range. You can beat their sword out of the way and rush in. Maybe try maintaining contact with their blade and push it out of the way. Try stepping offline and moving in as they strike. A bunch of different ideas bounced around during my lesson with Damian. He then grabbed his longest sword and brought me over to the bridge, where he challenged me to put those ideas into action.

“Alright, we’re going to keep fighting until you figure out what works for you and if you can get inside my range.” [Let’s Try!]

We fought on that bridge for almost half an hour during the melee lunch break. I’d dance around looking for a way in and then get gacked in the face. I’d try beating Damian’s sword to the side and then get gacked in the face. I tried maintaining contact, he’d disengage and I’d get gacked in the face.

Eventually, I started combining a few of the ideas. Damian pointed out more opportune times to rush in. I realized I’d have to be faster or slow down. Through trial and error, I eventually figured out how to get past his range. It didn’t always lead to a kill, but I did it! We’d proven that I could get in close enough for a kill, at least some of the time. Now it was just a question of practice and seeing if I could pull it off more often and against other fencers.

That took time. I still got gacked in the face many more times by the end of Uprising and I wasn’t proficient at bypassing a fencer’s range when I got home. But I’d taken the first steps to get there. My persistence paid off and with Damian’s helpful guidance, we worked through a problem I was having using techniques that could be taught on Sesame Street.