I have spent some time in a single group following their rules and guidelines as to how I should fence. In more recent years I have begun to engage with other groups who have similar but differing perspectives on the same activities. This has resulted in some interesting scenarios and some opening of my mind as to how swordplay works. This blog is focussed on the idea of cross-training with other groups and how this can benefit the swordsman regardless of the weapon form which is chosen.
The most useful benefit in engaging with other groups in swordplay is experience. It introduces the fencer to another approach to the same or similar weapons that the individual may not have experienced before. All which is learnt in this particular scenario is useful for the future of the fencer regardless of whether any blades are actually crossed. This leads to another aspect of the experience in that not all groups will have the same approach in their training or their goals and seeing swordplay from a different perspective can also be useful for a different approach in their own dealings. No group should be judged from the outside, all have something to share with regard to this, and the experience of engaging with these other groups can only be of benefit to the fencer and the wider fencing community.
In that even sword groups who share the same weapons do not train the same and sometimes they do not even have the same overriding principles behind their swordplay, the experience of crossing blades with different schools can show the fencer different problems and approaches which can be presented in the actual form and conduct of combat. This can only benefit the fencer as it may give them some ideas about how to solve similar problems in future encounters with other fencers as well.
Experience in crossing blades with other schools gives some idea about how they approach the combat form and this can be intellectually stimulating in a big way, especially if the system being used is different from the system that the fencer is most commonly used to. This experience can open new ideas about how the weapon can be moved and also how the body can be moved in concert with the weapon.
Elements from other schools can even be incorporated into our own fencing allowing a broadening of the style being used and this is most useful. It is useful as it increases the knowledge of the weapon and also gives the fencer the benefit of a different point of view. All this can be useful if the fencer is willing to use it.
There are some schools of swordplay which have a very rigid approach and there are others which are much more relaxed and fluid in their styles. Both types of school have benefit to the fencer and the wider community. A school may have chosen to focus only on one weapon form or even a single teacher in a single weapon form. Regardless of how rigid the school is knowledge can be gained about what is being taught and this knowledge can be used to benefit the fencer even if it is only from a purely intellectual point of view. One of the important things to examine when looking at a rigid school is their point of view, why they have chosen to approach their swordplay in this manner. The answer to this particular question can be very revealing and will explain the reasons for their particular approach.
Some schools are substantially more fluid in their styles, they do not choose a specific weapon nor a particular school of thought. For these schools they take what they can from all weapon forms and all schools and pool it into one universal approach to swordplay. For some this will cause problems for them in that they cannot point to specific source material for every technique which is being demonstrated. Such an approach is more practically based and seeks the truth of the weapon through its use in a more holistic approach to swordplay, and this has its benefits. Being untied to a specific school/master/approach they can explore swordplay in a very practical method taking and leaving from what can be found in documentation. This usually results in a very rough and ready approach, but an intellectual side cannot be denied as this is actually usually based on a conglomeration of different approaches.
Cross-training and social sparring with different schools can only benefit the fencer, regardless of whether any of the new techniques learnt can be brought back to their original school. The experience of crossing blades with another swordsman from a different approach can only enhance the experience and knowledge of the fencer and encourage them to seek more. Threats about brutalising or mishandling a style due to its contact with others should be put behind for the experience gained by the fencer in the approach to the swordplay.
We should all seek out those people who study the art of the sword and engage with them in a positive function. Friendly bouting and sparring can only do the fencing community good, especially where this begins real dialogue about swordplay in general. The important thing throughout this is that the players involved in this interaction need to be open-minded enough to see the benefit in the first place and willing enough to put themselves out of their comfort zones enough to be able to participate completely. Often some negotiation is required for two members of disperate schools to safely engage in swordplay, but the achievement of such negotiations along with the resulting social and intellectual potential is something which every scholar of the blade should find worth in.