The field smelled of recently cut grass. For a Texas fall day, the weather was remarkably cool, somewhere in the mid-seventies, but under all the layers of armor and a face mask, I still felt like the main course on Thanksgiving Day. At least there was a slight breeze, and I was faced into the wind as I stepped through the ropes and into the ring.
My opponent, a fellow I didn’t recognize, was already there stretching and practicing point-control drills against the pole forming the corner of the ring. He was taller and probably twice my weight. The red scarf tied around his arm told me he was a Cadet, a special student of one of the highly skilled fencers. That did not speak well for my chances of winning.
The marshal called us over and extended his six-foot rattan staff between us. I squared off with my opponent and adopted the erect posture of La Destreza, wishing I could have seen my opponent’s reaction through his face mask. Translations of La Destreza were almost unheard of, and only a handful of people knew anything about it. Fewer understood how to defend against it. That alone gave me a slim chance of defeating my opponent.
The fencing foil in my right hand pointed directly at my opponent’s mask, and my left hand was drawn back almost to my shoulder with my other foil parallel to my right arm. The profile I presented to my opponent gave him little target to aim for. Once my opponent grabbed a short cloak, he settled into the half-crouch of the more typical style. The marshal checked our readiness and lifted the staff out of the way. The bout was underway, and I waited for my opponent’s first move.
For me, motivation has never been an issue in academic matters. In school, I was particularly hard on myself about making good scores on everything. I felt a keen sense of failure any time I scored less than an A, not because of parental consequences but rather because I wanted to ace the material every time. Failure to understand something aggravates me even now.
Outside of academics, the situation is different. I still feel particularly driven to succeed, but my body does not cooperate sometimes. My hip and shoulder partially dislocate now and then, which feels really good when it stops hurting. As a result, I am often not active in sport-related things. When I decided to try out Renaissance fencing, I had a suspicion I would try it for a week or two then give up. I ended up staying involved for a few years, and I only left then because my job had become insane.
I found the study aspect of Renaissance fencing intriguing, especially after I learned about La Destreza, a relatively unknown style. I liked the challenge of figuring out 17th Century Spanish documents and using drawings and partial translations to find out how to move. I was never entirely sure I had the style correct, but I got as close as my friend and I could get.
Even though I did fairly well in our weekly sparring practices, I had only a couple victories in tournament bouts. Most of the time, my opponent took me out in very quick order, but I had a grand time while I could play.
For the most part, since victories and awards were minimal in my experience, my motivation was intrinsic (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011b). I was interested in learning La Destreza because I enjoyed the study of it. Getting an award or greater recognition would have been nifty, but that was not what drove my study.
According to the Layers of Diversity model as described by Ginsberg, who I am as a person is quite complex and includes things like my personality, geographic location, hobbies, and work situation (Laureate Education, 2011a).
In the above example, I was a fencer. This was a changeable identity that had to go away when my job took over my free time, but at the time, there were few who studied La Destreza because source material was hard to come by and difficult to translate. The uniqueness of the skill made it a greater curiosity and challenge for me.
Being a woman was another identity that affected my pursuit of the skill. In our fencing group, men outnumbered women three to one, and the ratio was often more lopsided than that in tournaments. Although I never felt the stereotypical feminist “I am as good as a man” drive, there were additional challenges to being scrawny female. My opponents outweighed me and were much stronger than I was. Sometimes, even if I got a parry in place in time, they could muscle their way through the parry and hit me anyway. That motivated me to learn how to rely on speed.
A third identity that applied to my situation was being disabled. There are some things I just cannot do. There are days I cannot walk well, let alone take up a foil and spar. Disabilities drove my motivation by encouraging me to find ways around my limitations. I used those times when I had trouble moving to another purpose such as taking care of other things to free up fencing time for later or working on my rough translations of one of the fencing manuals.
The Victor Was . . .
Once the marshal’s staff cleared, my opponent circled while I pivoted to track him. He threw a couple feints, but his body posture told me he was not going for an actual attack. I waited. La Destreza always worked better from a defensive position. After circling a couple times, he tried an attack, aiming a blow under my right arm. A circle parry and a step to the side took care of it. He retreated out of range and started swinging his cloak in a figure eight loop. I smiled. His maneuver looked pretty, but it left him momentarily blinded twice each revolution when his own cloak passed in front of his face. I timed my shot, then, relying on my speed, stepped toward his off-hand side and struck with my foil just as the cloak passed in front of his face. The point hit his chest, a kill shot. The bout was mine.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Layers of Diversity [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_4065756_1&content_id=_13502902_1#_13502965_1&courseTocLabel=Access%20Resources
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Overview of Adult Motivation [Video webcast]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_4065756_1&content_id=_13502902_1#_13502965_1&courseTocLabel=Access%20Resources