Playing with swords
Eric Myers and Puck Curtis
The phrase “martial arts” doesn’t usually conjure images of leather and steel, but two local fencing instructors are hoping to change that. Eric Myers and Puck Curtis are recent graduates of the San Jose State Fencing Master’s program, where they each earned the rank of maestro. They run the Sacramento Sword School in Curtis Park (http://sacramentoswordschool.com) and teach how to “use a sword in the same manner as centuries of fencers whose life and honor depended on it.” They recently discussed and demonstrated their style and overall badassery.
Can you explain what classical fencing is, as opposed to modern fencing?
Curtis: Swordplay as a martial art, rather than swordplay for point fighting. Like the difference between boxing and a martial art like jujitsu. One is clearly a sport and one is self-defense. We’re more interested in the self-defense aspect than we are in winning gold medals.
Where did your fencing experience come from?
Curtis: Historical fencing. I fenced with a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. I’ve been doing that since ’92. I still fence with them, but I really wanted to find a much more rigorous approach to the teaching and training, so I went to a classical school that traces its roots back—arguably—to the 1600s.
Myers: I started fencing in ’84, and my early fencing was actually classical.
And now you are both maestros. Can you explain what that means in this context?
Curtis: We are both board-certified instructors, so we’ve been trained to teach. We trained for years to do this.
Myers: A fencing master is experienced at teaching an entire system, and also at adapting the teaching style and the fencing style to the nature and abilities of the student.
Curtis: And tactics—decision-making inside a fight, what you can do, your training taking over. The fencing teacher also has a sense of strategy or overall planning for the fight. That is terribly useful and will allow you to beat people that have a lot more advantages than you have. I was recently in a prize fight in September—a public fight—and I sat down with the other fencing teachers in our school and we said, “OK, this guy’s about this tall and will be carrying a weapon about 3 to 4 inches longer than mine. What’s the plan?” And we kind of hashed this out, and it worked like clockwork. It went really well.
Is there a specific type of fencing that your school is focusing on?
Myers: The type of fencing we will be focusing on is Iberian fencing from the 16th and 17th centuries, but we will also explore the fencing from some other time periods and cultures.
And I understand Curtis’ wife is translating a lot of the source material you will be using?
Curtis: Yes, we have a syllabus written by a fencing master in Spain in 1618, and it’s the first time this material has been translated into English. That’s kind of going to be our focus.
Were the writers of these works teaching for the sake of combat or more for the art?
Curtis: These guys knew what they were talking about. We have verifiable stories on record of fencing teachers from the period taking on multiple opponents. One fencing master, Fiore, went through seven duels without armor and emerged from each one victorious. Unscathed.
And those were to the death?
Curtis: To the death.
I can see why you guys like this stuff.
Myers: I think the really neat thing is that this is a Western martial art. It’s part of our culture. I don’t have anything against the Asian martial arts, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s only option. This is a living tradition. We had martial arts really common in our culture until the early part of the last century.
Is that why you guys are passionate about it? Not necessarily for history’s sake, but to keep the art form alive?
Myers: I think I’ve come to that. I mean, I’m like so many other people when it comes to swords. They’re exciting and they’re fun. You have to try really hard to not be able to sell a sword fight. Everyone wants to see one. If you pick up two swords and just start facing each other with them—anywhere—people are going to stop and form a crowd around you. They want to see a sword fight.
It’s interesting for me see that there’s as much finesse involved as I picture there being in something like a Samurai sword fight.
Myers: [That’s] another thing that you can think about: Why do you need that finesse? There’s all kinds of stories about battles lasting, not minutes, but hours or all day—sunrise to sunset. You can’t do that if you’re tired after the first five minutes. You have to be in shape and you have to conserve energy. You have to preserve your own skin, and you have to be able to do it until everyone’s dead or subdued.
What’s that cool mask you’re using called?
Myers: A mask.