Friday, February 20, 2015

On My Pressure, Disengage

It is interesting how the "separate" parts of my life aren't really separate.

I tend to keep my writing focused on one part or another, because the people who would be interested, tend to share one or two of my interests, but not all of them.

One of my primary interests- in fact, my profession- is something most people have absolutely no awareness of.
They can't be interested in something they don't know about.
To top it off, because of some changes in the past few decades, everything most people THINK they know about my profession is completely wrong.

That's not their fault.
Again, they can only learn from their experiences, and most people believe what is shown to them, by people who claim to be experts, without having a real way to evaluate whether that person is, in fact, an expert.
Happens all the time.


Today, some of my interests are dancing together. :-)

This will take a little background before it makes sense.

By profession, I am a Fencing Master.
That is, a classically trained, apprenticed to a classically trained, Fencing Master.
One of VERY few in the world.
This has been a journey of a significant number of years.

There are quite a few people out there using the title of "Fencing Master," but they are actually fencing COACHES, which is a very different thing.
I could provide information and history on how this came to be, to anyone actually interested, but won't write it all out here.
Just know and understand that just because someone claims to be a thing, does not make them that thing.

A Fencing Master is a professional teacher of fencing.
Fencing, itself, is for the most part, no longer understood or valued, since people no longer actually depend on the use of a sword.
What remains of fencing, in the public eye, is a sport that began as fencing, but has changed over the past few decades into something that no longer resembles the actual use of a sword. It is a high speed game of tag, with no priority placed on defense, at all.

This is unfortunate.
What can be learned from the serious study of the sword is so rich, so connected to life, and so beneficial in understanding people and how they behave, that it is a shame that all that has been stripped from it, in the name of winning competitions.

Again, I could go on at great length about how and why this is so, and how what I do is NOT that, but most people probably didn't come to THIS blog, to read about that part of my life. :-)

So why am I talking about it?

Because there is something critically important that I have learned from the study of the sword, that applies so broadly to nearly everything and everyone I encounter, that I can't help but see it wherever I look.

It starts with this:
Fencing is fighting.
Fighting is combat.
Combat is a form of conflict.
Life is FULL of conflicts, both large and small, physical, mental and emotional.

The thing is, combat follows rules.
These are unbreakable rules. Like gravity.
It is important, in life, to know what rules should be followed, which should be broken, which can be bent- and which CAN'T be bent or broken.
In order to know that, you first must know what the rules ARE.
The more you understand about how conflict works, the better you will be at managing and even avoiding it.

My Fencing Master tells an entertaining story about how, when he was a young man, he and his friends had various troubles with their romantic lives. One or the other of them would go to THEIR fencing master, and describe what problems they were having in their relationships. What conflicts.
Their master would listen, and then "translate" what was happening into fencing terminology, as if he was describing a fencing bout.
Once that translation was made, it was OBVIOUS both why things were playing out the way they were, and what must be done to change them.
That didn't always mean it was easy to make that change, but it was, absolutely, easy to see what change needed to be made.

I thought that story was funny, until it started happening to me.
Time after time, examining relationship problems in fencing terms has made it clear to me what needed to change.

When I teach people to fence, I give them the opportunity to experience for themselves, the truth of the rules of combat.
They feel it in their bodies, physically.
They know it in their minds, cognitively.
And they understand it, in their hearts.

Not because I tell them so.
But because they have direct experience of it, time after time after time.

I'm going to share one of the simplest rules with you.
This being the internet, and this particularly communication being in writing, I cannot, unfortunately, provide you with the same physical experience my students have the benefit of.
You are, in a sense, going to have to take my word for it.
I think it will make enough sense to you, from some experiences you have already had, and will continue to have, that you will believe me.

A person's response to pressure is predictable.

In fencing, when you put pressure on your opponent's blade, they will, nearly every time, disengage.
The most common response to pressure is to move away from it, in some way.

In everyday life, what this typically translates to is this: if you are having a discussion with someone, and you say something that they interpret as pressure, they will disengage from the topic. They might change the subject. They might avoid it. They might even walk away.

Interestingly, you can use this knowledge to determine if what you have said to someone WAS interpreted as pressure.

Try it.
Pay attention during conversations, and especially arguments.
When someone abruptly changes the subject, interjects a different topic, needs to leave, suddenly remembers something else they mean to say… what did you say JUST PRIOR to that happening?
Chances are, whatever that was, triggered them somehow. Whether they are aware of it or not.

Likewise, if you find yourself doing that, look to find the trigger.

Besides communicating with others, have you ever had the experience of being so stressed about something that you literally could not think straight about it?
That's the same thing. Your own mind disengages to pressure. It is attempting to defend itself.

The other response to pressure it to return the pressure.
You press, they press back.
You can see this type of response in arguments that devolve from actually trying to come to an agreement, or from trying to prove a point, to one where whatever one person says, the other makes a direct attempt to be hurtful. They know where the other person's buttons are, and push them, intentionally.
You can also see it in various "rebellious" things, commonly considered to be "behavior problems." In response to pressure, people will do something that they know you don't like, or want them to do. It is an attempt to get YOU to disengage, or drop the subject or demand.


Let's take this information, and look at learning.
Specifically, at how schools attempt to teach.

Is there pressure in school?
A test?
Perhaps a high stakes test?
Maybe the fear of embarrassment at not knowing an answer in front of classmates, or the potential of being "held back" if you aren't "keeping up"?
Concern about bullies?
About getting into a good college?
About satisfying parents or teachers?

I'd have to say that yes, school is often full of pressure.

And what do people DO, when they feel pressured?

They disengage.
Or they push back.

Does either of those things further the goal of learning?


THIS is a big part of how and why unschooling works.

No pressure.
No expectations.
No fear of embarrassment.
No being held back.
No tests.
No pushing.

Instead, in fencing terms, what is necessary is an INVITATION. An OPENING.
That, I believe, needs no "translation."

When there is NOT pressure, the learner is able to CHOOSE TO BECOME AND STAY ENGAGED. (Notice that the very language used is IDENTICAL to fencing terminology. This is not accidental.)
Able to freely make choices.
Able to stay focused on what they are doing, rather than trying to get away from it.

Facilitating is great.
Helping is great.
As long as it really IS encouraging, facilitating, and helping. The moment it is interpreted as pressure (whether or not you intended to press), you'll know.

Remove the pressure.

It is that simple.

(The title of this post is a phrase often used while giving a fencing lesson, to let the student know what they will be working on next.)


  1. Fabulous connection!
    One thing (of many!) that I love about you, Linda, is that you are able to take a concept and REALLY explain it. "Explain" isn't even the right word. But you can take a person WITH you to a point of understanding something at a deeper level. Thank you so much for developing this gift. Wonderful post!

  2. Thanks, Sue!
    It's my job. :-)
    I have an amazing mentor, who has helped me come to better understand many things about myself, and about other people.
    I'm not kidding, at all, when I say that this study has affected my entire life, in positive ways. I only wish it were available to more people, in more places, so they could find the same benefits.