10 Questions with Walter Triplette

What initially got you into fencing?

Recently I found old black and white pictures of me in a zero outfit – pics taken when I was 8 years old. Likely that was the start, but in high school the dean of the school had fenced at the University of Virginia, and I was good friends with him, so we did some fencing. The hardcore stuff followed at UNC-Chapel Hill when I was on the freshman soccer team with Anson Dorrance, and messed up ligaments in my ankle, and couldn’t play soccer for at least a year. I decided to go out for the fencing team, and that began the hard training necessary to fence on a Divison 1 college team.

What is the SCA and how were you involved in it?

The Society for Creative Anachronisms is a 501-c group dedicated to historic research, done mainly by having encampments and demos while, living as one would, roughly between the years of 1000 to 1600. This, as you might imagine, involves sword fighting. I fought rapier duels and heavy armored sword and shield competitions, involving combat in a one vs. one situation, or a 800 vs. 800 situation. Both are fun and present challenges.

When did you start TCA and how did that come about?

I worked my way through college as a bicycle mechanic, and by the time I was a senior at Carolina, I owned two bike stores in two cities. After a number of years, I realized that having a national and international customer base was preferable to a local base, so I put my college education to work and opened an online mail order business in fencing equipment. At first we bought equipment from Europe and imported and distributed it, but soon we began to manufacture it ourselves in the states.

I’ve heard stories of some of your “battles”. When you suited up in armor, how tough did you go and what type of injuries did you sustain?

SCA heavy fighting is a vigorous form of combat. We use inch-and-a-quarter thick rattan swords, which approximate the weight and speed of a steel sword, but don’t cut.  We also have fiberglass spears, wooden and aluminum shields, and various other weapons that pack a punch but theoretically won’t do serious damage. I have never been really hurt, but I have broken a meniscus in my knee, broken at least one rib, broken my hand, had a few bloody nose episodes, sprained a few things, and maybe have been concussed a few times. Likely I gave as good as I got, so altogether it made for some very pleasant afternoons for those of us that enjoy friendly violence.

How did you get into teaching and what compelled you into that arena?

I became a coach because of a deal I made when I was 19. After my first year of fencing at Carolina, I was only a 58% winner, so I was pretty disappointed. A coach named Mario Deleon (assistant coach at UNC, later head coach at Duke) said he would teach me to win, and teach me for free, but I had to agree to certain things. I had to do exactly what he said, immediately, and do it as long as he said to. I couldn’t ask questions during the lesson, only afterward. Also, since he was teaching me for free, I had to agree to pass on the knowledge he gave me, and do it for free. To the brain of a 19 year old, that sounded great. He died about 10 years later, but a promise is a promise, so I taught pupils for free unless I was being paid by a school. I got my first coaching job a Duke University, and never looked back. With the help of Mario and Ron Miller (head coach at UNC-CH), who provided me with many hours of instruction on how to coach, I have had the privilege of coaching many students for many years.

What do you love most about the sport and why?

There are a lot of things to like about fencing: the intellectual challenge, the physical challenge, the understanding of history by using weapons from an ancient form of combat, and the life lessons that are unavoidable in any quest to be really good at anything. The lessons of fencing apply to several aspects of life and business, but maybe the best part is to learn that logic is the supreme weapon in combat.

Out of all that you teach, what do you hope your students absorb most?

I hope my students learn to think clearly while under stress. It is easy to think logically and concisely when in one’s study, smoking a pipe and taking notes from a book, lounging in a nice comfy chair. It is not so easy when tired, out of breath, sweaty, thirsty, fighting someone with a steel sword while people around you are shouting and stomping. The ability to focus in a situation full of distractions is a useful skill, and one that must be developed. It rarely occurs naturally.

What do you love least about fencing and why?

I have found that individual sports such as fencing and bicycle racing tend to attract a higher percentage of selfish, abrasive people than team sports such as soccer or rugby. I have no scientific data to back that up, I am just giving my ignorant anecdotal observation. The other thing I really don’t like about fencing is having a hair inside my mask, and having it tickle my nose, even after I take the mask off and try to clean the thing out, and the hair is right back at it, and I can’t see it, so I wipe the mask again, but the hair is like taxes and just won’t go away.

What other hobbies does Walter enjoy?

I used to race formula cars on road racing tracks like Road Atlanta, Sebring, Daytona, etc. and found that it was very similar to fencing. It is all about technique and keeping focus while wild things are going on. I also play World of Warships online, because it is free and requires constant planning and readjustment of the plans.

What does the next few years hold for Walter Triplette?

I was going to retire, but it was boring and then I figured out a new process for making fencing blades so I have started a forge instead. As for long term plans – after consideration of several alternatives, I decided that eventually it would be appropriate to die, as getting very very old and still living doesn’t seem appealing, although I do hate to be a conformist.

Bonus Question:

What is your favorite on-screen sword fight and why?

The original black and white (1950) version of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Jose Ferrer. It has fine technique, as well as magnificent acting by Ferrer.

We at the CombativeCorner thank Walter Triplette for granting us this interview. If you have any additional questions for him, you can comment below and we will see that he gets it, or we will squirrel it away for another interview. If you are in need of great fencing equipment, you’ll find the links below. His long-time seamstress, Starla, is now running the shop. 

www.triplette.com

www.zenwarriorarmory.com 

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