Finding Your Centre - The Day Before the Tournament

This afternoon we finished up our final day of training for the Duelling Arts Rapier Tournament at the Vancouver Club. This is part tournament and part spectacle; a hand picked roster of 8 senior Duello students will be fencing in a series of matches over the course of an evening of fine dining and cocktails, all with a Victorian flare. In amongst the swordplay, which takes place on a raised stage, there will be demonstrations of longsword and sidesword, opportunities to wield various weapons, and a champagne sabreing area with your choice of weapon.

Though this tournament is very much an in-school event, it still provided an opportunity for students to train for an event that would call on them to fight at their best. We have trained nearly every weekday for the past month, outside of already packed class schedules. It has been a lot of fun for me as an instructor, coach, and as a practitioner. It has also been quite the experience for everyone participating; both fun and challenging.

Today at the end of our last training session I asked everyone to share how they were feeling about tomorrow’s event. Whenever you’re asked to answer a question about your feelings about the future, they are always heavily coloured by the moment. If you’re in a confident and happy state, you’re more likely to feel optimistic about a future event. If you are feeling exhausted or disappointed, you’re more likely to feel low. Yet I think the question is still worth asking.

Amongst the group there was quite a diverse set of answers and expressions from tired and exhausted to excited, to confident, to doubtful and worried. Events in front of crowds and your peers always carry weight and that’s part of what makes them challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile as places for learning.

Coming into the tournament tomorrow it will be important for my students to find their centre. A few words of advice I had for them.

1. Don’t rush and don’t get rushed.
Take your time in the big moments. Whether it’s a tournament, a job interview, a date, or a performance. There’s nothing gained from going fast. Know that your audience will stay with you, if you stay with you. Pause and stay present. I find it can be useful to come in with a short mantra or a word to repeat slowly to yourself in times of transition to remind you to stay as quietly in yourself as possible.

2. Take a breath.
In fact take many breaths, each time you feel rushed, and even when you don’t, allow yourself to take a large relaxing, in-through-your-nose-out-through-your-mouth-fill-your-lungs-and-let-it-all-go, breath.

3. Centre yourself on your own objectives.
Place your focus on something that only you can bring and only you can challenge. There is always the competition you can have with yourself. Whether you choose to practice a particular technique, face a particular challenge, or stay centred on a particular virtue, choose something that is unconnected with the performance or direct influence of others.

4. Accept that emotions happen.
In the moment and afterward you may feel everything from extreme happiness to anger, regret, and disappointment. Knowing that this happens can place you in a better space to accept it when it does and know that your team mates, friends and family will love you anyways. One of the worst things we all often do with our feelings is not only feel bad but then feel negatively judgmental about feeling bad. A double-whammy of challenging emotion. Remember you’re never in this alone and you have a team who will be with you even when you take your knocks.

Good luck to everyone participating tomorrow.

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.
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