Apropos of my discussion of sprezzatura, last night I had the joy of fencing someone significantly more skilled than I. He made the moves with textbook precision, so that the names floated into my mind: sixe, counter-sixe, fleche, all those old French names I don’t actually know how to spell and barely know how to use. (But I am improving; I am going to get a book of the art of fencing, and learn at least how to spell them; this matters to me.) He played with me in the way that doesn’t condescend but teaches, inviting me to attack him, making my wild malformed blows come into approximate focus. Every once in a while I made the point.
I’m pretty sure he was simply seeing if he could set me up to respond in a certain way, and conceded the point when I did, because the real win was his. When I won the point, I knew perfectly well it was not my doing, except insofar as I’d found the right move to respond to that parry, that attack. Sometimes I did; sometimes I didn’t. One time, attempting my own move, I skewered myself on his foil.
What a brilliant lesson — not the parries (which I could hardly replicate moment to moment, let alone the next time I go), but the invitations to attack where the winning move is won by both. One of my characters in my story is like this, winning by seeming to lose; it was wonderful to experience it in practice. It could be infuriating, but it wasn’t. It was exhilirating.