Doing things wrong

A sometimes-heard phrase around the Academie is “doing things wrong will help you figure out when something’s right.”


This is an often-understood but rarely appreciated concept. Truly understanding when things are most-definitely wrong will  provide a deep understanding about when things are right.


Think of all the things that you’re doing right. Now here’s a question: how do you know they’re right?


I’ll clarify what “right” means. Doing things right in the context of fencing means that you’ve done your two jobs: you’ve defended well and you’re in a position to strike. More on this in a later post.


I find it valuable to do – even things that I believe are done properly – grossly incorrectly every now and again so that I can tune them to where I really want them to be. Granted we can all be pretty certain when we’re doing something especially poorly. It’s the last 5% (or whatever) that can give us difficulty. Still, I find that moving through a state of “definitely wrong” can really help me to find what’s right.


Here’s a simple example that everyone can practice:

  1. Agente steps to misura larga and finds the Patiente’s sword on the inside
  2. P disengages to strike on the outside
  3. A strikes through seconda in contratempo

Where you can really play around is in step 3. Try having your tip so off-line that you have no hope of striking in contratempo: all you’ll do is parry. As you change the angle of your sword you’ll find, among other things, new opportunities may present themselves (a strike in dui tempi, for one). As you get even more precise with your movement you’ll begin to see the small changes that you need to perfect your action.


In 3 weeks time: the chicken head.


devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.