So at fencing practice last week, I tried out some of what I talked about in my previous post on fighting. Today, I’d like to talk about how the experiment (Axesperiment?) went. I noticed at fighter practice, after my knight talked to me, that suppressing emotions wasn’t enough: I ended up thinking “don’t feel for this person” more than I thought about fighting, with predictable results: I didn’t fight nearly as well as I know I can. So at fencing practice the next night, I tried a slightly different approach. Rather than feeling and working on keeping those emotions under control, I worked on not feeling at all. The results were interesting.
I became much more stoic (not unexpected), but also more focused. Whereas in the past I often had other thoughts running through my mind, there was nothing else save for the fight. It made me feel almost reptilian. I found myself being more mindful about what I was doing, making sure I had a plan when I stepped into range, and taking the time I needed to formulate said plan (out of range, of course). It was definitely a more cerebral fight. Not all the time, mind you, as old habits die hard, but when it worked it seemed to work well. One of my opponents mentioned that she could feel herself being analyzed as I stood there. An interesting experience, from my end.
I did find it a bit challenging switching between personality modes on and off the field. If my opponent stopped to talk, needing to respond would often break me out of the proper headspace. This time, however, rather than going right back into the fight I would take a step or two back and mentally reset. After that, the killer was back. I have also noticed that getting hit or losing can jar me out of that place too; this is where “not feeling” starts to differ from “suppress feeling.” With the latter, it was a struggle to get back into the proper mindset, and it would often throw me for the rest of the engagement (pickups, tourney, etc.). But those emotions were not there to distract if I took a moment to expunge them. So I would do well to remember it’s not a race.
I also tried using cues to help me focus, one of them being when I put on my mask. A fencing mask, even though the mesh is largely see-through at such a close distance, does change the way the world looks. Things are darker, and your breath feels different in front of your face. I forsee this working even better with my heavy helm, which given it has a small eyeslit in an otherwise close-faced design, changes my field of view even more noticeably.
The mask is also anonymizing, for both you and your opponent. But that is an advantage as well; the removal of as many cuse that say “human” makes it that much easier to think of your opponent as meat. I found the effect worked best when I focused not on my opponent’s head, but at a point about a foot (30cm) in front of their chest. This allows me to use my peripheral vision to catch movement from the limbs, and reduces the focus on human-defining features like faces.
So I would say that the first night of the Axesperiment (the stupid name amuses me) was largely a success. I hit one person a little hard (empathy came right back), and wasn’t the most forgiving fight for less experienced opponents. But it showed me that the idea definitely has potential, even if it ends up being just another tool in the box. Oddly enough, even given how easy this mindset was to achieve and maintain in fencing, I’ve had trouble doing the same in heavy. But writing this has helped me think through some of the issues, and given me a more permanent record than my brain (which sometimes seems like an Etch-a-Sketch). I’ll let you know later how it went at heavy practice.