After having been a princess all my life, I decided to take up sword-fighting! Or, more precisely, Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).
Did you know that this was a thing? There are currently thousands of people around the world who have taken to reviving the art of historical fencing, using the manuals left by the masters of the 14th and 15th centuries. The modern iteration of the art is a couple of decades old, and people are starting to become quite decent at it. There are groups practicing in just about every major city. Our group in Reno meets twice a week.
Now, why would a doctor be interested in wielding a sword? For me it’s because, at its core, sword-fighting is a mind game. Mind games are ideally won by smarty-pants like doctors.
I’ve been at this for about six months. Previously, I’d watched my husband pursuing the art for the whole nine years I’ve known him. He’s taught groups in Reno and Vegas, practiced with others all over the west coast, and even trained in Scotland for a year. I had been dragged to practice occasionally, but I was never really interested in swords before… I don’t know, I guess I don’t have a tolerance for standing around holding a sword while someone explains stuff for several minutes at a time. My idea of a workout is sprinting on a treadmill while listening to lectures or memorizing flashcards—a doctor’s got to use her time effectively.
But that all changed when my husband came to a deep understanding of the art and revamped his curriculum for beginning students. All of a sudden I had a really good teacher, and as I started to study, I realized that the same skills I’d picked up in medical school applied to fencing.
Contrary to what movies would have you believe, sword-fighting is much more sophisticated than whacking people with a stick of metal. It boils down to the intellectual task of understanding the principles of Physics and Geometry. (Sound familiar? It’s the same reason that I chose Radiology as a career.) To successfully implement these principles, one must not only train the body, but must also train the mind. It’s a matter of critical reasoning, of correctly assessing the situation and remembering the algorithm for the best response, and especially of doing all of this faster than the opponent. As an intern in Internal Medicine right now, “critical reasoning” and “algorithms” just about sum up what I do in the hospital every day! And as more and more people figure this out and incorporate the thinking game into their HEMA practice, the art will only become more intriguing.
Plus, swords are really photogenic.