Home Fencing
"Points of Departure" by Bob Fenster, SC Sentinel

Blackburn credits that decision with changing the course of his life.

"I reached the peak of my emotional life at that time, at 26, " Blackburn said, 'and it was important that I had him then because I could have gone off like a Roman candle, and he gave me something slower and calmer.

"He was kinder and gentle than other teachers, and I was impressed by that.

"All my other teachers were rough and tough, and made you want to be as tough as they were.

"But I think the most mysterious thing about you is smiling.

"If you can smile, then you have shown a level of comfort that someone of great prowess can't do because they can't let down the tough-guy shield."

Spiraling intricacies

Fencing is an Olympic sport derived from dueling ( with epee, foil or saber), in which points are awarded for sword strokes where death once judged the competitors.

As a sport, it's difficult to see what's going on in a fencing match because the moves ficker, always shifting, a rapid chess game in motion, in which every attack has a counter and everycounter move counters.

On the surface, it's not at all like his other art form. Below the surface the two martial arts are connected by a philosophy of physicality

Tai Chi has been popularized in Anerica as a form of yogic meditation and a safe calisthenics for seniors.

But an ancient Chinese art of energy, tai chi suggests paradoxes simliar to fencing: move and counter, attack and defense blending together in constant motion.

To the practitioner, tai chi may reveal itself to be about unexpected relationship: of your heart to your hands, your feet to the earth, energy to release, simplicity to intricacy.

"I have found more philosophy through the movements than through and words," Blackburn said.

But he admits that "it"s very difficult to really see tai chi.

"A lot of prople say they teach tai chi, but tai chi can't be be taught.

"It's even difficult to give it to someone because they have to see it in themselves."

"The students have to see it in the teacher. If they don't know what they're looking for, they're not ready to see it.

"My feeling is if you come in contact with it, you will get something, some taste from it, and then you will want more and more."

The quick and the slow

In 1975 while a student at UCSC, Blackburn began to study fencing, fulfilling that dream of the little boy watching swashbuckler movies.

How did Western fencing fit with his Eastern martial arts traning?

"The sword is an extension of the hand," Blackburn said. "There's a lot you need to do with your body before you pick up an instrument, to experience the energies you will go through before you pick up that extension."

Blackburn experienced that duality with another weapon, and learned how it can shape the man.

'Tai chi is the most medicinal and most lethal of the martial arts.' Courtney BLACKBURN

"I practiced the staff in tai chi, which is like the pike in the western world," he said. "To master the staff molds you."

He's been teaching tai chi for 20 years and fencing up at UCSC for five years. He's now added a fencing class for kids, which he teaches at the Vets Hall in downtown Santa Cruz on Friday afternoons.

"If I start them loving something so soon, they will find a wealth of opportunities in the future," Blackburn said.

Blackburn teaches with the kind of innovation and dedication that children love in a coach.

When one teen-age student retreated too much in bouts(an endangering move in competitive fencing), he had the boy fence with his back to a wall.

"Ilove fencing because it brings people together on a coed level, the large and the small, the quick and the slow," Blackburn said.

other side of medicine

While fencing is an intensely competitive sport, tai chi seems to be completely noncompetitive.

"It's not true."Blackburn said. "Just look at the number of tai chi teachers teaching their own thing.

"Tai chi is the most medicinal and most lethal of the martial arts.

"The lethal is the other side of medicine. What can cure you can certainly kill."

Although tai chi is performed in slow motion. "it is full of explosive power, in short bursts of energy," Blackburn said.

"I want my students to see that the martial arts are not about fighting, but about not getting hurt.

"Being a tough guy is not a martial art. There's no art. That's fighting. But harmony can only exist when you bring peace and violence together.

"I try to give my students an overall picture of health. It's about having good intentions and hanging outwith the right people who have good intentions."

Blackburn has even found a way to bring that harmony into the clash of fencing.

"When I fence, I don't just want to win. I want to have a conversation with the blade.

"I don't care if we never finish. I just want to play. I don't want to drive it to the finish. I just want to be involved."


If you're interested in either art, you can leave a text, call or voicemail Courtney Blackburn at 831-428-3689.