Open Wounds

words

T is for Traverse

"I thought you said re-verse." "Traverse, Traverse!"

“I thought you said re-verse.”
“I said, Traverse, Traverse!”

Traverse

…is a defensive (mostly) move to the side. It’s an evasion of the blade by displacing your body left or right. In an advance you move forward. In a retreat you move back. In a traverse you move your front foot to the side while you parry. Then you keep going sideways and get the hell out-of-the-way.

Traverse left, parry two.

Traverse right, parry seven.

Attacks with the point tend to be direct, giving fencing a linear feel. The feet are lined up one behind the other and most movement is forward or back. Side-movements like traverses and voltes give transitional rapier and small-sword fighting more dimensions.

Broadsword and rapier fighting can be more circular. The stance is more squared off because it makes it easier to cut and move with a heavier weapon when your feet are both facing forward and your hips are squared to your opponent. Both feet advance.


R is for Remise

Come on!

Come on!

Remise…

is one of my favorite fencing terms.

It means to attack and attack again. If your first attack misses or is blocked you do not retreat or recover. You attack again without pause. That is a remise.

It requires great confidence and nerve, sometimes leg strength for a double or triple lunge. If you pause after missing the first time and hesitate, even for a second, you lose the initiative. The remise is finished. So don’t pause. Keep going forward and attacking until you touch your point to his chest (or wrist, or arm, or head, or, or, or…). It is thrilling to do and a bit frightening to have done to you.

To defend against the remise you retreat, parry, stop thrust, or some combination of these three in order to stop the juggernaut. Cut into his attack. Get out of distance. Make him pause and hesitate, so that you can take the initiative from him.

My books original title was Remise. My publisher said it had to be changed. “It is a French word,” she said. “Nobody will know what it means.”

Open Wounds is more brutal but Remise is elegant violence.

Here’s my main character, Cid Wymann learning about the remise from his old Russian fencing master, Nikolai Varvarinksi.

->—

Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz, Chapter 17

->—

“Aldo Nadi says—”

“I am not Nadi,” Varvarinksi shouted and threw his glove onto the ground. “You want to take lesson from Nadi you find Nadi!”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Kónchit’! No more questions. You learn. I teach! Remise is attack, then attack.”

“What do you mean?” We had been working on parry-riposté drills, Nikolai pushing me to parry later and later, and to riposté faster and faster.

Nikolai picked up his glove and épée. He cinched his leather wrist strap tight and secured the grip against his palm. “With foil you extend arm before attack. Da?”

I nodded and rolled my eyes, having heard his explanation of foil what seemed like a thousand times before.

“Good,” he said, ignoring me. “You know difference between foil and épée?”

“Yes, yes,” I said, nodding and mouthing the words with him.

“If you parry, I withdraw arm, extend again before I attack in redoublement,” he said, showing me with his blade in quick, sharply etched movements.

“That sounds French,” I said.

“Quiet!” he shouted and launched an attack at my chest so quickly I barely had time to parry. Only instead of relaxing his arm back into en garde he kept his arm extended and attacked again to my hip. I stumbled back just in time to parry his strike in seconde and retreated again, now off balance, parrying another attack to my shoulder in sixte, only the third time I was too slow and his point touched my upper arm. Nikolai didn’t stop. His momentum threw him forward and pushed his point into my flesh. I tripped over my feet and fell to the ground. My arm felt as though it had been pierced.

“Remise!” he said, looking down at me, anger seething out of his lips.

“Remise,” I repeated, my own anger building in return. I touched the bruised skin of my arm. There was some blood where the point had hit. It was sore and would be black and blue in the morning. “Remise,” I said again, quietly. The world slowed down and my senses expanded. I heard the rasping sound of gravel shifting beneath Nikolai’s front foot and the dull thudding of my heart. His breath was ragged. A high-pitched buzzing floated by one of my ears and passed around to the other.

It seemed impossible for such a large and out-of-shape man to move that fast. In drills he pushed me with his own attacks, but they were timed and rhythmic, beautiful in their own way and mesmerizing in their patterns, but never blinding in speed. I’d thought he was fast enough to touch me only if I made a mistake. Now, watching him walk awkwardly away from me, his shoulders slumping forward, his belly hanging again over his pants, my anger grew. “Why don’t you try that again?” I said, the words seeming to elongate out in front of me as if in a dream.

Nikolai stopped in his tracks, then turned to face me. “You want to fight me?” His words were crisp, dangerous.

“Yes,” I said.

->— Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz


L is for Lunge

The Lunge

The Lunge

Sometimes I spell it lung or lungee. I don’t know why. Perhaps because it’s late and it’s been a long week. Perhaps you know what I mean.

A lunge is an attack that elongates the body and subsequently the blade towards your opponent with the hope of skewering him. Okay I’m feeling a little aggressive so we’ll work with that. From en guarde you extent your sword arm then the front foot kicks forward and up while the back leg straightens advancing your blade toward your opponent with the hope of skewering him. I know I said that twice but the image stays with me.

The kick is up, the lunge is Good!

The kick is up, the lunge is Good!

There are two cool ways to practice lunging. One is to have someone stand in front of you just out of reach with a glove in their hand. From en guarde you have to wait until the glove drops and then lunge and try to grab the glove before it hits the ground. The second way is to place a quarter under the heel of your front foot and when you kick your front foot forward and up you have to lift your toes first and push hard with the heel to send the quarter skimming forward. This practices the explosive part of the move.

The lunge is a quick and efficient attack that can use all kinds of combination attacks with it including deceptions of the blade, feints, beats, and glissades. Usually books talk about three types of lunges, the demi (or short) lunge, the grand lunge (it is what it sounds like), and the standing or stationary lunge. You can throw in the passato sotto or rear lunge (which is really an evasion – a duck) also as a personal favorite. In the passato sotto rather than lunging with the front foot kicking forward, you duck and kick your back leg back, extend your sword arm while you bring your free hand to the floor for balance. Your opponent runs on to your blade – always helpful.

Did they lunge in medieval times with long swords and broadswords? Nope. They would use the point only after their edges were dull and they got tired of trying to crack each other’s metal shells and started trying to stick the point into the creases between the plates in the throat and the underarm. Who needs a lunge for that?

Besides the lunge wasn’t even invented until the 16th century, when they figured out that the point of the blade moves faster than the edge. Think about it. It does. And you can see a cut coming but just looking at the point it’s harder to figure out distance or target to defend against. Oh and the Italians invented the lunge. Capo Ferro’s prints are the first to document it. Gotta love that guy.


Chasing the Moldy Warpe

Product Details

Reading Railsea by China Miéville is like taking a course in world-building.

I loved this book. It is the kind of book that took me 50 pages to get hooked on but I was intrigued enough from the opening line to get there.

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

Spectacular opening line.

The reason it was challenging to get into was the same reason it was so fascinating. Miéville creates a world that is told to us by a narrator using a language similar to English but different enough from it that I stumbled through it until I caught its rhythm. I can truthfully say there are a number of things that I read that I truly still do not understand after finishing the book but I don’t care and it in no way took away from the beauty of the book for me. Actually I liked it even more.

Yes, it’s a dystopian world and I like them. Period.

Yes, it has to do with trains and trains are cool.

Yes, it has to do with Moby Dick and the searching for a philosophy or white whale. I liked Moby, even the whale parts.

And yes, the main character is not a superstar, gun and sword wielding hero. He’s pretty mundane, and every-boyish and that’s what makes him so wonderful.

Look at what Miéville does with point of view. It’s 3rd person omniscient through Sham (the bloodstained boy) Ap Soorap’s perspective through the half-way mark and then the narrator tells us it’s time to switch – as if he’s an actor talking to the audience and breaking the 3rd wall. Then the story splits into three stories until they all converge back into Sham. It’s an incredible narrative risk that works spectacularly.

So listen to his narrative. You don’t even need a context:

“No such animal’s crossed our paths,” she said. “Be assured I know now your vehicle’s name, & at the first sign of that beckoning metal in a sinuate mustelid eruchthonous presence, I shall take careful notes of locations. & I shall get you word. On my honour as a captain.”

And then there’s this one from captain Naphi about her “philosophy” the great moldy warpe Mocker-Jack:

“How meanings are evasive. They hate to be parsed. Here again came the cunning of unreason. I was creaking, lost, knowing that the ivory-coloured beast had evaded my harpoon & continued his opaque diggery, resisting close reading & a solution to his mystery. I bellowed, & swore that one day I would submit him to a sharp & bladey interpretation.”.

He uses the symbol & instead of the word and, and then two-thirds into the book explains why he does.

From word choice, to the rhythm of the narrative, to the way characters speak, to the characters themselves. This world is built from top to bottom and bottom to top. Read it as a reader for pleasure. Read it as a writer for a course on world-building. Read it for the bloodstained boy and the moldy warpe.


It’s shit or it’s good. You tell me…

Steve Jobs

I’m reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m almost finished with it. It took me half the book before I finally got to the point where I had to finish reading it. The first half of the book stopped myself repeatedly from throwing the book out the window. I kept telling myself to keep going. Just a little bit further.

I picked up the book because a friend of my son’s named Austin, (age 11) a real entrepreneur himself, read most of the audio book and recommended it to me. He knows I like Apple computers. I’d also heard it’s a good book on leadership, a text-book of sorts in the making, and I teach leadership and team building workshops so I figured, what the heck? Maybe I could use it as source workshop material. Besides… I love all things Mac.

So why was I ready to throw the book out the window? Jobs was an asshole. A big one. He had few social skills and saw the world in black and white with very little grey. Things were either shit or good. It was that simple. Oh yeah, he was also a design, marketing, and creative genius. It’s amazing how so much can be forgiven if you are a genius. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not but it happens, frequently with brilliant individuals (usually men). That’s why I didn’t give up. That’s why I’m almost finished with this fascinating, frustrating, throw it out the window, book. I have also cried and laughed while reading it remembering where I was in my own personal timeline when each of the Macs appeared. I owned the Macintosh SE/30 as my first computer. When I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, it was my desktop computer for four and a half years. I wrote my first novel (still in a closet somewhere never to see the light of day again) on this same machine. I have owned a Mac and written on one ever since.

Reading how smart Jobs was in creating products (simple, elegant design and fewer products each done perfectly) and the way he orchestrated his comeback is compelling material. I’m eating it up. I wish he had been a nicer guy. But isn’t that the key to good storytelling? The contrast in personality and the ability to get things done? Would his story be more compelling if he’d been a nice guy and a genius? More havoc necessary!

I’ll tell you how the story comes out when I’m finished. I know we all know the ending but who knows what surprises are still in store for me. The story of Jobs and Apple is brilliant. Isaacson’s book carries it off. As long as you don’t throw it out the window before you are swept away.