Martial Challenges

Recently a group of Academie Duello members participated in a rapier tournament at Ursulmas, an event hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism in the state of Washington. The tournament was based around the concept of martial challenges that the organizer called “labours”. These challenges pitted individuals up against an opponent who outmatched them in some way, whether with a challenging combination of weapons (such as an opponent with sword and shield while you had only a single rapier), or with a special ability (such as an opponent who would only acknowledge hits to the head). In spite of the logistical challenges the tournament faced (a lineup of 70 fighters waiting to face a single challenge), there was something interesting and valuable about the concept of meeting and eventually besting a particular obstacle.

I know as I watched some of my students face a particularly tough challenge — as many as 15 or 20 times — that when they overcame it, there was an acute sense of satisfaction. The psychological journey was an important one; it was edifying to observe each of them move from frustration, to resoluteness, to despondence, to rallying, and eventually to satisfaction and relief as they bested the challenge.

Tough trials are like this, both within and outside of the martial setting. Facing and overcoming such obstacles takes a particular brand of internal resoluteness that is only developed through facing and besting such challenges. Having to meet and work with your own psychology is important to long-term performance and movement toward your goals.

I recommend creating opportunities to face such challenges. Whether it is creating a specific training goal, setting your sights on a particularly tough opponent, or engaging in a formal martial challenge, there is much value to the journey. The key is to not let yourself off the hook. When you decide on a challenge, hold yourself to it. You need to truly face the pressure to reap the rewards of your labours.

p.s. There is absolutely nothing that says you must face a challenge alone. Success is often created by leveraging all of the resources and support you have available. Bring your challenge to your community and see how they can help you meet it.

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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