How to Win Duels and Make Friends

Sativa Leonard, October 28, 2019

Once a week I spend a couple of hours trying to stab my classmates.

I’m a part of the historical fencing club at Marlboro College. On Tuesday evenings we get together to learn techniques, practice our form, and of course stab each other. All in good fun!

We start off with a lesson. First how to stand, then advancing and retreating, how to move towards and away from your opponent. Then parries—how to block an attack—and voids: how parry, dodge, then counter attack. Parries have eight positions—prime, seconde, tierce, quarte, quinte, sixte, septime, and octave (or first through eighth, in English)—the first four of which we use in our lessons. They differ by what position you’re holding your sword to best deflect an oncoming attack. My favorite so far is the prime parry, because it tends to be the most difficult and awkward to learn, so it’s quite satisfying to master it.

Then the fun part, sparring. We start off with a game of Bear Pit, where one player is the “bear,” and the other players line up to spar against them. Any nonfatal “injuries” the bear receives, such as a hit to an arm or leg, renders that limb useless. The bear keeps these injuries, match after match, until they are killed by one of the opponents. If you can forget your compassion for bears for a moment, it’s always hilarious to see a “bear” who’s lost all their limbs except one arm, kneeling on the floor to fight. It can also be quite intimidating to actually fight that bear, both since you’re forced to play offense and because it’s easy for them to stab up at your torso.

I remember my first time in a bear pit. It was during my Bridges trip, titled Fun and Games. The OP Director Nick Katrick was the bear, and I was utterly annihilated. He started off with a cape as a side arm, waving it like a torero to distract me. He kept the point of his sword near the ground, which I thought was odd because it would be easier for me to see his attack coming. I was wrong. He was so fast that he could flick his wrist and stab me right in the face before I could even think to move. We eventually got him on both knees and one-handed and he was still taking us all out one by one.

Sparring with historically appropriate weaponry is a fun way to take a break from school work and burn off my latest comfort food. Best of all, my friends are good sports about my stabbing them.

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  • Historical fencing club squares off.


(a mostly random selection of Marlboro microdestinations)