During my undergraduate days, I took a few semesters of fencing to earn my physical education credits. I took that and ballroom dancing. I guess I figured both would come in handy if I were to apply for a job as Zorro, a pirate, or one of the Musketeers. For the record, I was a terrible fencer. Also for the record, I was the most sought-after partner in the ballroom dance class. What can I say? I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Competitive fencing is nothing like swashbuckling or the swordplay you see in the movies. There are long periods of deliberate, measured, uneventful maneuvering until somebody sees an opening and lunges. Bam. It’s usually over before the buzzer stops buzzing. The VP debate last night reminded me of all the fencing matches I competed in, and usually lost badly. Both Ryan and Biden chose their words carefully, circled each other strategically, and looked for an opening which never really came. Like a fencing match, it was terribly boring to watch – long periods of nothing with only an occasional lunge or parry. Both men made an equal number of attacks, and both successfully parried throughout the evening. No buzzer. No hit. No great, memorable “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moments.
If I noticed any real differences, it was in their choice of weapons. Ryan fought with a foil, the lightest and most precise of fencing weapons. He went after specific targets, attempting to hit Biden in vital areas that would kill a man if it were a real duel. I’m not sure any blows struck with much effect, but it did require Biden to respond in kind. More importantly, it showed that Ryan would not be toyed with. Its like those scenes in the movies where the two antagonists try a few probing lunges and jabs to establish their prowess with the blade. Ryan wanted to show he could fight. He succeeded.
Biden chose a much heavier weapon, the saber. The saber is designed for slashing and hacking, and taking off a man’s arms and legs. Its designed to maim rather than inflict a swift death. Biden continually tried to break Ryan’s concentration with a series of feints in the form of guffaws, chuckles, exasperation, and interruptions. He wasnt trying to refute anything in particular. He was executing a strategy to get Ryan off his game, make him drop his defenses, and create an opening. Biden was hoping that Ryan would lose his cool, get angry, get flustered and say something silly. The intent was to inflict damage on the Romney/Ryan brand so people could say “Ryan’s not yet ready to be President. He’s too young. Come back in a few years young man.” But Ryan didn’t take the bait. His discipline and training prevailed. It was like a scene from Return of the Jedi, with an evil Emperor Biden saying through rotted teeth “Take your weapon and strike me down. I feel the hatred within you.” But Ryan, master of his own emotions, passed the test.
Fencing is a boring sport. For that matter so is politics. They only become interesting when somebody gets hit. Last night was a draw with few fireworks and little blood. The competitors have left the arena, but left their weapons on the floor for Tuesday night.