I Learn Another Sword

I Learn Another Sword

Picking up from my last Memories post, we had one more thing to check off of our checklist to complete our move from Renton down to Vancouver.

I had a new job – check

We had found a new home – check, check

And a new home for my fencing – check, check, check

And now we were looking for a new church.

We limited our scope to one of the Lutheran flavors, specifically we would only consider one belonging to the Missouri Synod. We sampled one in the vicinity of our home, but nothing struck us. We widened the circle and finally landed at one on the opposite side of town.

Everything about the church seemed right to us. But especially the pastor. We had not met the like before. There was something about him that was, for the lack of a better word, ‘charismatic.’ As it turns out that was exactly the right word. He taught from the Bible, not from another book, such as any currently invogue self help psychology piece (a la transactional analysis). The style is called expositional teaching, which is done by going through the Bible text, line by line, and expounding upon its meaning, giving historical and cultural context to better understand the people written about and God’s dealings with them.

And there was teaching we had never heard before. We were taught about the Holy Spirit – something always catechized but seldom introduced into any sermon from the Word (i.e. The Bible).  A whole new understanding and deepening was opened to us. Not something brought out of a man’s imagination – for what he taught was right there in front of us on the pages of our Bible. We now had a place to call our church home.

But with it came a significant reckoning for me.

I attended one of the small group meetings at the church. We were encouraged to get to know one another better as individuals before the meeting got underway. I sat with a man of about my own age by the name of Randy. I went first. He listened to my introduction of myself as being new to the area, working for a cinema circuit across the river in Portland. And very into fencing.

He said a few words about himself, and what he did. But what he added next stopped my mind in its tracks. He stated simply that he was a follower of Jesus Christ. But more than the simple words were stated, I knew by its emphasis that it was of supreme importance in his life – taking precedence over everything else he had mentioned – indeed the governing direction for his life choices. There was not a hint of pride, spiritual or otherwise in the declaration.

It was something that challenged my life, who I was and where I was going. The unexamined life is a treadmill from one milepost to the other, and can become numbing, when one is completely focused on the self. Randy’s words had sent me into what is classically called a dark night of the soul.

I will not bore you with a litany of confessions I made before God in the privacy of my room. More importantly, at issue, was, who was the Lord of my life? Was I the measure of what is right and wrong? Or was there something or Someone outside of myself who knew better?

Not without reason is the Bible, God’s Word, likened unto a sword.

Hebrews 4:12 –

‘For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’

In my case, the Word was a scalpel (and a mirror – another appropriate and biblical comparison) that revealled the gulf between myself and a Holy God. It illuminated my need for the gift the Gospels offer – forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. His execution for my crimes.

As this work of the sword was all inward, (and I must say, continues to do so), from then on there was another emphasis to be added, a sword directed outward, in another manual of arms so to speak. In the training of another Master.

I was no longer lord of my life, but Jesus was.

No going back. No going back.

[Other posts that cover my spiritual journey:]

Three Kings Went Forth

I Can See Clearly

My Brother vs the UU Church

Moony and the Baptists

My Brother’s Accident

I Fence the Marx Brothers

I Fence the Marx Brothers

After our move from Seattle to the Vancouver/Portland area in 1980, I was looking for a place to continue my interest in the sport of fencing. It so happened that the club at which I fenced in Seattle – Salle Auriol, also had an affiliated club in Portland by the same name. (Portland’s club was coached by Yves Auriol; and Seattle’s by his brother Leon).

The one downside was the location, Vancouver-wise, that is. The studio was on the west side of Portland. I drove into my job in the heart of downtown Portland. So I was commuting mainly on the I-5 corridor – to and fro. No big deal. But on the days I fenced, it meant an extended trip further away from home – up the hill on the Sunset Hwy, past the Zoo, past the exits to Beaverton, and off on the exit to NW Cornell Road, where the meetings were held in an athletic club.

But it was worth it. Not only was it good exercise, something of great value for an office-bound cubicle dweller, but also the challenges of fencing there improved my form and fencing abilities.

Among the major factors for this were two of its main members, the Marx brothers, Robert and Michael. Robert was the older of the two, by a couple of years, taller than six feet and skilled in the use of the epee, a heavier weapon than the foil. Michael, an inch under six foot was a master with the foil. At the time he was the current US National foil champion, and had been since 1977. And he was also on the 1980 US Olympic fencing team.

(You may or may not remember, but the US teams did not compete in those Olympics set for Moscow because President Carter called for a boycott that year after Russia invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. So Mike did not compete until the LA games in 1984. His brother Robert was also a member of the team in ’84, competing in the epee events).

Anyway, I did get to fence the Marx brothers in 1980. And in a tournament.

It wasn’t for any national standings that I can recall. Purely local, and perhaps just an exhibition. It was held on the campus of the Lewis & Clark Law school.

I faced off a dozen or so fencers on that Saturday morning, including the Marx brothers. They beat me of course. But I beat all the other contenders, placing third for the tournament. (Bronze?)

It was exhilirating.

My interest in fencing faded away shortly after that. I had been challenged and began to train in the use of another sword.

But more about that later – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.

Swashbuckler

The long drawn out rasp of metal on metal accompanied the image of the sword being drawn from its scabbard. So began Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Throughout the title sequence a series of stop action multiple images of two figures locked in combat beautifully set the tone for the next hour and an half.

I was standing on the stairs of one of the exits, checking something behind the screen, when a customer who had recently entered came bounding up these stairs to bump the exit door open and let his pals in. I stepped forward and told the “doorman” that he could join his friends outside. Too bad, they missed out on what was going to happen next.

My friend Dave liked the film too. And it may have been the reason behind our seeking out a fencing club to join. We found one that met in the community center in the Green Lake area north of Seattle.

As for all beginners, there was no jumping into things the first day. Nor the second. Nor any time soon. Basics had to be learned first. How to stand. How to move. Forward and back. The stance at first was awkward, and self-conscious, but as you began to move, it became the most natural thing in the world. Your favored foot was pointed forward and your other heel in line with the front one and pointed at the perpendicular. And you sat into a crouch, with both knees bent, and with your weight balanced over the rear or anchor leg. The lower half of your body was changed into a giant spring, so it was explained. And you felt it, especially in rapid movement.

Then practice, practice, practice. Lunge and recover, lunge and recover. And then we were taught how to hold the foil. (Dave preferred the pistol grip; I preferred the regular). Lectures followed on the geometry of fencing. Everything comes down to two points: the point of your foil and that of your opponent, your line of attack or parrying of his.

I kept waiting for a reference to The Three Musketeers, but was surprised when the instructor mentioned a sequence from another film instead. He was demonstrating the balestra – a movement used to close distance quickly between yourself and an opponent. It is a fast hop, followed by a lunge at the other fencer. This was a movement that Basil Rathbone employed against Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood. I remembered seeing it, but it was all so fast – a blur really – that it took this extra knowledge of what the move was to understand what had taken place.

[Actually at the time I was more fixed on another realization. When I saw Robin Hood – at the Harvard Exit, of course – it was double billed with another Flynn flick, The Adventures of Don Juan. Watching them back to back you notice things. In Robin Hood, I saw a scene in which a drawbridge drops down and a number of riders charge out in pursuit. The exact same footage was repeated in Don Juan. It was my introduction to library footage. Say the director or the editor needs to fill a gap in his story, rather than setting up everything for another shoot, you just see what you can use from what the studio has in its “library.” In this instance the makers of Don Juan (1948) went back and borrowed this footage from the older film (1938).]

The Three Musketeers had a long run at the UA Cinemas, from the end of March 1974 through to September. And I was able to check in often and observe the swordplay. About the time it left, I was also leaving the UA (that story later) and moving on to the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. And you bet I was back when the sequel – The Four Musketeers – opened the next year. And I kept on fencing, even when we moved down to the Portland OR area. But that’s another story for another day – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.