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Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Fencer Takes Confidence in His Skill

In A Legacy of Historical Gleanings (1875) by Catharina Van Rensselaer Bonney, we find this passage in a letter from Rensselaer Van Rensselaer to his father, Gen. Solomon Van Rensselaer, a Revolutionary War hero. The letter was dated March 17, 1829, and its author was traveling in Colombia.
One of Mr. Glen's clerks, a very clever native, sometime since after watching Cato and myself at our daily exercise of fencing, very civilly asked, if I would object to try my skill with him. I was quite glad of the opportunity of trying the science of the natives, and this man particularly as he had boasted frequently at table, of the superior agility of his countrymen at the exercise and of his own skill, I wanted to know how my broadsword would work on a pinch with the machete. The tilting match was against him, it has been repeated frequently with the same result; he could guard against all the cuts very well but two and five*, but the front give point would strike him every time. The trial has been quite satisfactory to me and to him too, for he is now taking lessons of me; but I hope and think there is no danger of coming to the real test of my skill. Another morning while Cato and myself were engaged, in our gymnastic exercise, the thumping of our sticks collected a crowd of admiring spectators round our door; among the number two expressed a desire to try my skill against their machetta exercise. I consented and was gratified to find that they could not parry a skillfully planted cut, nor guard against an occasional thrust. I was pleased as here every man carrys [sic] a machete, and as they always resort to it in a fight, the idea of being a match for the best of them in an extremity was not an ungrateful feeling.
*In fencing, the body is divided into quadrants, each numbered as to the angle of attack.

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