Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bullet The Blue Sky and Balestra

It doesn't seem like it should be that hard: Doing an advance-lunge, extend the arm with the back foot of the advance.

But apparently, for my impaired self, it is nearly impossible. Only a millisecond off...okay, "maybe 2 milliseconds". I like to think of myself as a multitasker, but the timing of these two tasks at once seem to have me stymied. And I am quite aware of the problem, I can feel the disconnect, I don't need someone to tell me.

It brings me back to something I have been considering lately. If I know that I am doing something incorrectly, does that make it any less of an offense? Earlier this week, I knew a circular parry was coming. I was ready for it. SO ready! And then I did it and as it was happening, I could feel how wrong it was, how wide the point had gone, how completely ridiculous it looked. I stood there, stupefied. I didn't need to be told this was wrong. Does that make it less wrong?

Probably not. But this awareness of my body and the awareness of what is and is not correct has to be some small kind of victory I think. My mind is learning quickly, even if my body cannot keep up so I will take whatever victories I can. It's rather depressing for someone who has, in the past, had a great deal of pride in the abilities of her body. It's just one more reminder of how time is advancing... like hearing The Joshua Tree on the classic rock station.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Necessity of Competition (?)

I find myself looking at the schedule for the Virginia division and becoming aggravated - so little is scheduled for the new year, but I love the competitions. Even when I am quite soundly trounced, I'm having a rollicking good time. I bring this up casually while practicing and am reminded that tournaments are not the only way to measure one's success. Yes, I agree, silently chiding myself for this simple but overlooked truth. Two or three times a week I compete with my salle mates in honest to goodness bouts. Some of them are more tough than what I face in competition. And I know at least that anyone I fence at the salle will smile and be happy about shaking my hand at the end, no matter the results. But, the flip side is that, even if touches are hard fought, I know generally what to expect. Do I lose something by removing that element of the unknown? Can I grow fighting the same half-dozen people all the time? I don't know...that's why I put a question mark in the title.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tourney Reflection v. 3

Or, How life does not imitate art.

Or, Lost in Translation.

In practice I feel so fluid, graceful even. I feel confident in drills. I feel like I must look good to whoever happens by. Why then, when it comes to competition, do I feel like a flailing madwoman? Why is it so hard to translate movement - executed repeatedly week after week with confidence - to a three minute bout?

I hear myself saying in one of these bouts, "Disengage, you must disengage!". But it seems near impossible. The distance between myself and my opponent is suddenly a chasm and my arm suddenly disobedient and useless. I can't disengage. He's moving too fast, too unpredictably.

I guess I would have never made it in the military. As smart as I like to think I am, I forget what I know under pressure. Parries, which at practice are tight and controlled, suddenly fly way off course. And footwork - well...

Regardless of all these realized inadequacies and great hurdles before I even reach the rank of mediocre - I was not wholly unpleased by how I did. 3 out of 5 in the pools isn't awful is it? I like to think about that, my shiny badge of slightly-above-average and leave the thoughts of the DE for a day when my pride is running a little too high.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tourney Reflection v. 2 about we forget it happened?

No, it wasn't really that bad. I'm alternately competitive and self-pitying, we know that - bad mix sometimes. Okay, all the time.

Really though, normally I have a nice neat entry all prepared in my head before I sit down to write. Now - I got nothing. But I've started this thing - I might as well see it through. So, random thoughts...after three days of stewing.


The guy, the C rated fencer who ended up so well in the end. The one (okay one of the ones) that beat the pants off me. He was unusual looking, but he was so nice. So gracious at the end of the bout when he reached down to where I was cowering on the floor and smiled sincerely and shook my hand and I whimpered and squeaked, "Is it over yet?". I'm glad he placed so well.


I've always hated crowds, that should be no surprise to anyone. Usually I can only muddle through them by blending in and doing my damnedest not to be noticed. This is not possible when most of the people in the crowd are out to get you, as - you must admit - fencers are at a fencing tournament. The smaller tournament was better on my psyche but I can adjust. I've run in races which were hundreds en masse, and I wasn't even wearing protective gear.


It's nice to have your sister there because then you have someone to bring you water between bouts.


Overall, this entry has said nothing of any weight. Trust that I did actually learn some useful things. I identified a vast new array of deficiencies that need to be worked out. I saw some really great fencing. I survived - and isn't that the most important factor of all where swords are involved?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Lady's Blade, Part 2: Nature vs. Nurture

Upon admitting my reluctance to bout with children, I have been told that these reservations are unfounded. The fact that "Well, they want to beat you" seems to be provided as carte blanche to whip the little ankle-biters into submission. And, while in a tournament you can be assured I would (do my best to) whip them all heartily, I just can't bring myself to be merciless at a practice.

I have noticed the look of frustration when they find they can gain no ground. This is especially apparent with boys who cannot bear the thought of being beat by a girl - even if she is twice his size. And so, we come to an area of great contention for madam fencer. That is that battle between herself and her foe in so many pursuits: the mothering instinct. It is a battle which isn't meant to be won, but a game of careful balancing. For me, it goes something like this:

Score a couple touches. Then, respond a little too slowly and let them land a solid attack. "Oh! You got me that time for sure." (It is not condescending, but matter-of-fact.) Another touch for me. Another for them. "Okay, here we go." Of course, I must win in the end, but I find for them a look of sincere relief when I pull off my mask: it was close all along, I assure them silently.

In the vast reaches of my experience, I have found false hope to be a faithless teacher; losses will pay for themselves in time.

Coaches aside, do men have this same sort of struggle? I suppose it depends on the man. And the child for that matter. I admit I have come across some that certainly deserved a right and proper beating. For those, the nurture trigger is dampened. Let nature take her course.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tourney Reflection v. 1a

Last night I went to bed at 9:00. The truth is I wanted to go to bed at 8:30, but that seemed a little drastic. I was exhausted, but why? Does coming in third-to-last warrant going to bed two hours early? Could I have really expended so much effort in eight measley bouts to claim such a luxurious prize? The facts:

1) 16 fencers. 2 pools of eight, fought on double-strips. This is supposed to be harder as it gives you less time to rest between bouts. To me, I wished they had come faster. I found myself getting too cool between bouts and I never found myself working too hard physically. Mentally…I think I pulled my brain muscle.

2) One of my fears would be that there would be many small children. This was not the case. Most were high school kids, some adults around my age, and even one very elderly gentleman who beat me 5-3. However, in my defense, his arms were no less than six feet long.

3) I feel myself slowly cresting what I thought an insurmountable hill a few months ago. I can actually tell now what my opponent is doing. Yesterday I was losing two or three touches before I finally figured it out, but I did indeed figure it out. And of course, once you know what your opponent is doing, you can deftly foil his plans right? Hmm…

4) The answer to all life’s questions? Riposte. I apparently am failing miserably in life.

5) Soccer moms are not relegated to the realm of soccer. Unfortunately they have them in fencing too. Do you know how obnoxious the simple phrase, “C’mon! Disengage!” can get when it’s shouted EVERYTIME the action stops? Does this woman not realize that I have a sword and she has nothing with which to defend herself but a loud stripey shirt?

6) I did like the girl that I fought in the DE bout. She seemed like she would be nice to hang out with. We didn’t talk much but something about the way she said “Good bout” made me want to offer her half my power bar. Yeah…I really need some friends.

The verdict? I’ll call it a Pyrrhic victory. I took the first step. I went out and did the thing which I was fearing. But at what cost to my pride? Well, it was an early bed time, but I did get out of bed this morning, so I guess I will live to fight another day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Fencing is a sport for gentlemen and gentlewomen. There is always the saluting, the shaking of hands, the prancing about in knickers. It all lends itself to this image of fencing being the undertaking of fine and upright citizens. I tell you now that it is a very clever ruse, though I can only speak for myself. Should any poor soul happen upon the thoughts in my head while I am bouting the last thing they will be thinking is "genteel".

While in a bout, all thoughts of what is decorous or lady-like go right out the window. There is a great deal of cursing and vague threats. Every touch is punctuated by a stern but silent epithet, very often involving the letter 'f'. When fighting someone better than I (usual), I ask myself burning questions like "How the hell do I hit this guy?". If the guy happens to be way better than I, and I know I am about to lose badly, I might scream like a little girl in the world of my head.

Likely none of this should be going on in my head of course. I know I should be concentrating wholly on what I am doing, where my point is at, maintaining proper distance, etc and etc. But sometimes a well placed curse is just good for the soul. I will always shake hands afterward, and be sincere in my congratulations, in the tradition of a true gentlefolk. But also, isn't it like a true gentlefolk to quietly wish a pox upon the house of thine enemies? Yeah, I thought so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Lady's Blade, Part 1

When a man lifts a sword, it is a mark of power and an expression of virility. The author assures her audience that the simple action of a sword being swung by a worthy man is enough to make her tingly all over. For the sword is a tool designed, crafted, and used by men. Of course, dear audience, we speak of the sword in the context of history at this point, leaving the modern sporting arena to for discussion another time. Thus the sword has been a tool for achieving whatever man desires: power, land, religious converts, and yes, even tingly women.

So we are used to seeing a sword in the hands of a man. It is natural and to be expected. (The author wishes to point out here that even if it is natural, it's still hot.) However, in the hands of a woman a sword becomes a whole other beast. The woman herself often becomes a beast, though in a cunning and fiercesome manner rather than hulking and grisly.

Women, for the most part, are not wired to claim power with the same forthright audacity as a man. If a woman picks up a sword, you can be assured that she too seeks her own kind of power. Though the sword be heavy, and bear a hilt not meant for fair hands, she will raise it with finesse. And though she may assume a defensive stance at first, there will be a certain light to her eyes that says, "Yes, I am going to kill you. But won't you be surprised when you find out how."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Two-Way Strip; One-Way Mind

I've been thinking I ought to rename this blog "Fencing is Hard," because just about every topic I think up is about that in some way or another. Every obstacle I come across in my training comes back to this one basic tenet of my inadequacy.

It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that one of my biggest problems is keeping track of everything that's going on at once. This problem manifests itself, for instance, when I am trying to work out a strategy in my head and, whoops, I forget about defense: 'Touch' to the other guy. This has happened more times than my pride will allow me to admit. It's frustrating, but worse, it makes you look sorta dumb.

So, yes, fencing is hard. Let us take as an example a fairly basic fencing attack:
Advance, lunge, disengage, hit

Sounds simple. Heck, it even looks simple from a distance, but let us now consider the actual workings of the mind necessary in order to properly execute such an attack.

Move forward while keeping careful track of the distance between you and your opponent. Execute your lunge making sure to that the stretch is not so long as to throw you off balance, but long enough to actually reach the target. (Special note to the author - make sure you toe is actually pointed in a useful direction). Make the attack with the blade, being aware all at once of: what part of the anatomy you want to hit, your opponent's expected reaction, your opponent's actual reaction or lack thereof, any parts of your anatomy you may accidently leave open to a counterattack, keeping movements of the hand and the blade small and precise movements and finally - contact (there's always hope right..and I'm pretty sure there are about 100 other things I should be thinking of). Oh yes, and in case this doesn't work out, you much be able and conscious of the best escape route should your stellar swordsmanship fail you. Or, you know, your shoe comes untied or something.

Now, for the sake of comparison let us consider also a fairly basic move in another sport. Sticking with what I know, let's say, cross-country running. Run run run, jump over a ditch, run run run. So here's how that goes:
Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, tighten ponytail, left, right, left, right, get ready.....LEAP....left, right, left, right, oooh...a bird, left, right.....

Well, you get the idea.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Yorktown, 23693

So here I am in Virginia. I've been trying to wait to write till I had resumed fencing, but I imagine that's going to be at least another month. Which is disappointing to me; I honestly miss it. I kept my gear out of storage, but I haven't actually done any practicing yet besides a few half-hearted advances and retreats. It's not the same without a club. It's not the same without the people that got me interested in the sport in the first place. I know that there will be another club and I'm sure there will be other people, but until then I am awash in a sea of latency.

I kept tabs on the goings-on of the Nationals in Sacramento. I looked for names that I knew and I offered my silent little cheers. It is true what they say about the small community of fencing. I think perhaps, if I can resume regular training...if I am as good as I think I can potentially be...I will see some friends again, down the line. I wait expectantly for the announcement of the location for next year's competition.

Luckily, I have been able to keep myself from being totally dormant. I jog a little, take the dog for late night walks, play a little driveway hoops, and some softball. Today in fact was the final tournament for the softball team that adopted me so late in the season (lucky my dad is the coach). And yes, we won the tournament. But I played one game last night and three games this afternoon and let me say this to you: Sweet lord almighty, I am sore. I am sore and I am sunburned and I just want to go to bed. I was also very dirty until I hit the showers. The breeze was nice to cut through the typical Virginia heat, but it meant that I had that softball field clay dust all over me.

Regardless, there's something satisfying about calling an end to a day which allowed you to sweat out all your aggressions. A line drive into left field alleviates, at least for the trip around the bases, the stressors that weigh upon your mind. The snap of leather when you make a good catch takes your breath away just for a second; but it is a second of elation and self-satisfaction when otherwise you are full of doubt. There are similar moments in fencing, and maybe that's why I am missing it right now - during a time while stressors and self-doubt are abundant.

So I will go to bed tonight - weary, but in a good way. Naturally in the morning I will be sore as hell, but ... I'll worry about that tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2005

AFK...way AFK thoughts...from Virginia.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Blast from the Past

Since I seem to be blocked lately, thought I'd pull up an old ghost. This was actually about running, but it's generic enough for this forum I think.

~January 27, 1999 2:10 AM

The pounding. The perfect, patterned pounding.
And breath. Detached but present; labored but euphoric.
The music of the marvelous invention that is the human body.

The subject matter? A goal that grows farther away the more I strive to reach it, but that only makes it more desirable. It is perfection, or rather, the perfect meshing of spirit and body into an orchestral masterpiece. But I did not compose it, nor did any of us. It resides in that great library of the soul that contains the music that controls every aspect of our lives, for each moment is a step to the Dance. We are merely conductors, choosing how to perform each measure.

So I have chosen this song at this moment. And here I am, surrounded on all sides by straining chords of muscle, all warmth and needles, each desiring to move in a different way and direction than I will them. But it propels my spirit forward; with the struggle and excitement of uncertainty , it rages against the cage of the mortal body towards that one goal, common to all my brethren conductors. And if any one of them tells you it is not Perfection, he is lying. For, with the ground at our feet and infinite sky above; with the melody and rhythm of the sport encompassed within the length of our limbs, what else is there to seek, but Perfection.. The overture. The finale.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Yes, Corona, we will take your advertising $$

What a good day it is outside. I've decided now that I shall champion the cause for outdoor fencing. Wouldn't that be marvelous? - a strip by the sea - having to factor in wind speed when executing your disengages. Of course, the jackets will have to go in favor of 350N tank tops if we're going to capitalize on some of those marketing dollars that go to beach volleyball now. There might be a little blood, sure, but we don't want sissies in the Seaside Fencing Federation anyway.

Of course all of this is just an amusing way to avoid what I should really be thinking about. Yeah, footwork. I have such a hard time dealing with such a simple and concrete subject - at least as much on paper as in practice. But if you can't think about it, how can you train your body to do it? It just seems like it should be so simple. Mobility is already ingrained into the body so it seems like it should come naturally; but now it must be done differently, so it must be thought about. This is a line of reasoning that is getting me nowhere except back where I started.

And, while in the SFF bouts will actually take place in a large circle to provide that extra edge of excitement that cable tv viewers demand, for now footwork is limited to a subset of the human range of movement - forward and back. Which makes my failure to grasp the subject even more frustrating. Whether it is because or in spite of the wide array of ways to accomplish moving forward or back remains to be seen.

Yes, yes. I know the solution. Starts with a 'Pr', rhymes with cactus.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tourney Reflection v. 1

While I often say to myself that I don't have much of a competitive spirit that often changes once I actually find myself in a competition of some sort. So it was with no small amount of pleasure that I left my first tentative venture into competitive fencing with a second out of six placing. Better than the medal (which is really cool) though, is the experience and I have slowly been trying to sort out the lessons learned to identify pitfalls.

1. Stay in control. When a move does not go off as well as I plan, I have a tendency to panic and fling myself back and away in order to regroup. Not only does this look ridiculous, I am sure, but it also separates my mind from my body and the task at hand. If I could teach myself to calmly retreat out of danger, I'm sure it would leave me more prepared to execute the next move.

2. Be patient.
2a. Don't hesitate.
When I get those reconciled, I'll let you know.

3. Don't forget about defense. More than once, I got so caught up in executing some bit of strategory that I forget how close I actually am to the other person and...Yeah, touch for them.

4. Yes, still the footwork.

The disconnect is there between the body and the mind.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Just for fun

Saw Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith last night. It was fun. I'm a big fan of any movie where a lot of stuff blows up. But in addition to explosions, this movie happens to have a lot of lightsaber fighting. And I find myself musing...There's a lot of lessons that fencers could learn from this movie. To save you the $8.50, I've compiled the following educational list:

Lessons Fencers Could Learn from Revenge of the Sith

  1. Billowy cloaks make any bout look more dramatic.
  2. Decapitation may seem like an exciting way to end a bout, but usually it's a decision that'll come back to bite you in the ass.
  3. Choosing a Sith Lord as your coach may seem tempting, but it's a slippery slope, my friend.
  4. Anger gives you focus and strength. Unfortunately it also leads to the Dark Side. But hey, it's your choice.
  5. If you are bouting on a narrow metal pipe hundreds of feet above a of river molten's a very important time to remember your footwork.
  6. If your opponent is a maniacal droid with four blades to your one, defense is a good strategy to start out with.
  7. When swinging your weapon around complicated computer consoles in a foreign language, be careful! Random keystrokes often trigger self-destruct sequences.
  8. Force Push is an effective way to maintain the proper distance. It's tricky to master though.
  9. Yield to the higher ground.
  10. Never underestimate a little guy. Especially not a little green one.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

So that last post was pretty worthless; it's been sent back to Very Rough Draft Land till it learns to say something useful.

Instead I would like to share a charming analogy I heard on NPR this morning. Incidentally the commentator was actually sharing the analogy in relation to writing her own blog, but it made me think of fencing. It could be applied to many things.

A young girl clings to the edge of pool, frequently shouting to her mother, "You must keep an eye on me, I cannot swim!" But as she begins to get distracted by the other children and to join them in play, she remembers less and less often to remind her mother that she must be watched over. At last it is the mother who shouts to the child, "Look, you are swimming!" And sure enough the child finds herself gleefully paddling out in the middle of the pool.
Now you say to yourself - what does fencing have to do with swimming? And I tell you...well, very little, but this is an analogy after all. There is a natural progression to learning any new sport which begins with the fundamentals and cautious learning, proceeds slowly towards testing the waters of competition and ends - hopefully - with a confident new athlete. I feel I am on the threshold of that first area, tremulously peering ahead of me to the next stage.

Give me drills to do. I'm good at drills. Teach me the skills and then drill me.
A tournament you say? Well...I don't know about that.

Competition, while it ends with simple, cold numbers showing how many touches you made and how many touches were made against you, is, after all, a lot more than a score. It is undeniable proof of how well you prepared: how well you learned your drills, trained your muscles, prepared your mind. And if it can be used to prove, then it can also be used to disprove.

Perhaps I am not cut out to be a fencer after all.

You think now that I have forgotten all about my little swimming analogy in favor of self-pity, but just give me a second. In spite of the preceding gloomy thoughts, betraying the nature of my internal struggle. In spite of the creature of fear always slinking along at my heels like a hungry dog. In spite of these things, I am slowing letting go of the edge of the pool.

There will always be moments of struggle, losing a foothold, gasping for breath but as years wear on those moments become farther between and you gain the confidence you need to recover from them and learn from them. Maybe someday I will be surprised to hear someone say, "Look, you're a fencer."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Okay, not so much about fencing.

This post began with a great deal of sarcasm and included a silly proposal for a new product "Mask Time" which would make me instantly wealthy. However, since I'm quite happy with my humble life as it is now, I'm scrapping the whole idea. The results are that there is nothing redeeming in this self-indulgent post. But I figured - what the heck - I've been at a loss for words lately.

Everything builds up to everything else until it's all a precariously balanced microcosm upon our shoulders. And as much as we'd like, we're not John Galt and we can't shrug off responsibility to steal off to a guarded utopia. There are worries and joys, failures and reward and usually they must all be dealt with at once. Usually I deal with them in the car, as I spend so much time there, and devote the rest of my time to numbing distractions. But the niggling little world on my shoulders is always there, flicking me in the back of the head. That is, except for one instance. Donning a fencing mask provides two luxuries which can't often be afforded in a normal grown-up world: insulation and tunnel-vision.

For precious minutes, one is allowed - encouraged - to ignore everything but whatever is directly in front of them, directing attention to a single purpose. For entire minutes at a time, there is no work, no love, no frets...True, there is the occasional violent poke, but it's a fair trade I think. You are spared these fleeting moments to be selfish and live in the moment.

I know. I'm stretching the limits of metaphor here with this little jaunt down Optimism Lane, but it has been mentioned to me that fencing fills a niche in one's life. At first, I readily agreed. I have a mountain bike that has never been on a mountain. I have skis which are still pretty from their first tuneup. I have rollerblades with fewer miles on them than a three-toed sloth on Lithium. (Here some might say that what I have is too much disposable income.) But now I have a jacket, no longer crisp with newness; a foil with the bell scratched all to hell; and an arm covered in bruises. But fencing hasn't filled a niche - I have no niches, my life overflows for lack of niches - fencing creates a niche. A pleasant hollow space 14 meters long and 2 meters wide where I have only one thing to worry about - myself.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Look at the lovely picture I made. As Dave Letterman said, there's just no "off" position on the ol' genius switch.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Hold Please

I haven't forgotten and I haven't stopped writing , I've just been busy and my mind has been been turned to other matters. As soon as I can harness my thoughts long enough to write anything worth putting out here, I will.

Here, have a nice song lyric:

Trapped in this snare with too much dreaming to bear
Fearful and frantic, hopeless and a romantic
Inspired but tired, I run this wide-open course
Like the sagging spirit of an older horse

-Carbon Leaf (lyrics and listen here)

Monday, May 09, 2005

No Cutesy Title Today

Don't have much to say, but upon reflection yesterday I realized I have already contradicted myself in the short space of time that I've been keeping track of my fencentric thoughts. I have chronicled both a lack and a propensity of focus when bouting. Feel free to apply whatever snide comment you have handy about women being fickle creatures.

I could attribute this inconsistency to the strengthening of my mind, but well, I would be lying. I suspect it has more to do with the difference between one night and another. That is, I attribute the tenuous line I walk between confidence and diffidence to be largely controlled by my opponent. It's not losing that troubles me, it's chagrin which, aimed at me, inspires greater fear than a hand and half broadsword might against my foil.

Part of the learning process. Builds character. Etc. I can live with that I guess.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


When I get ready to bout and I'm waiting for the command to Fence, I'm furiously sorting through the limited list of attacks that I know and trying to decide how to proceed. Usually, in my head, it comes down to "I have to surprise them". And I consider this route so often that by the time it's over, whether I've won or not, I'm saying to myself that I rely too heavily on this element of surprise. Historically speaking, surprise attacks have been relegated to the likes of pirates and highway bandits. And while pirates are pretty damn cool, resorting to the tactics of ruffians and philistines leaves me rather intellectually unsatisfied. I like problem solving.

(Of course, a few nights ago I then read an article - which I don't have with me now for reference - stressing the importance of using surprise in your bouting - so what do I know.)

Let me be clear, if your opponent knows what you're going to do, then he's probably going to stop you, so surprise is important, but I'm certain that it must be coupled with some bona fide strategy or else you just look spastic. So...what to do. Do most fencers know what attack they will try as they are preparing to bout, or is it always wait and see? It will take some study I think: to compile lists of possible situations and the appropriate actions to take. A veritable rolodex of attacks to flip through when you're facing off. Naturally, that's all the while reacting and responding to the opponent's own methodology. Every bout must be taken one second at a time - or sometimes, halves of seconds.

Hey, and that's another thing I like about fencing. It's one of the few activities where I am truly truly focused. It's not possible to let your mind wander - and for me that's a good thing - cause my mind has a terrible sense of direction and when left to wander will usually end up in the Pit of Despair (or, at the very least, the Indentation of Ennui). But I digress. Fencing allows me to focus and makes me euphoric at the same time. Like Ritalin and Paxil in a little white coat. And isn't that a nice thought to end on.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

No Jeeps on the Piste

Well I took a lot of notes over the weekend as I jetted about here and there. Following is a compilation of those where I can still read my turbulence-jostled handwriting.

After reading the article "On Mastering Fencing" by Nick Jamilla I am compelled to think on the instructor/student relationship which seems paramount to learning fencing. Perhaps one of the reasons it seems to warrant a good deal of thought is the marked difference in the instruction of fencing and the coaching of everything else I have been involved in. There are no whistles, no strained screams from the sidelines, no being chased by a Jeep (yes, I did have a track coach who would ride on our heels in her jeep and beep incessantly).

Learning fencing is not just about running faster or making more baskets: Jamilla calls it a transformation of the student under the guidance of a master. Further, he says it is a relationship of trust; and while I have desired in the past to please certain coaches, the element of trust was not so pronounced, or even necessary. Also there is the element of docility on the part of the student. Now there's something that's easy for me - too much so some might say. But faced with someone with a dedication and love for the sport, I can't help but want to absorb everything and will eagerly do so to the point of bursting.

And now my thoughts escape me... Need to go back to writing during the day

~~~~random change of topic~~~~~

Alright the other things that I jotted down notes on seem suddenly incongruous. I'll save them for another day.

Warning: Non-fencing related anecdote ahead. Feel free to stop reading. I'd just like to get it down on "paper".

Seated in seat 1C on a recent flight out of Philadelphia, I was privy to a whole new world I had not yet met. The soap opera which is airline personnel. I listened surreptitiously as our flight attendant and the gate attendant had a heated conversation about Philly's new turnaround time for aircraft which were arriving and then departing again. Our stewardess was obviously quite put out by the whole thing. Once the gate attendant left she resumed her pre-flight duties with ferocity: viciously wiping down counters and beginning a pot of coffee all the while shaking her head and sighing in frustration. But then a strange thing happened - as the plane began to taxi, she calmly put her things away and even started to hum. Once we took off she was a changed beast, calmly sitting in her little jump seat, reading a magazine and rocking her legs in time to her own humming.

As I thought about this creature - more at home in the air than on the ground - I couldn't help but wonder where I will at last feel at home. When at the very same time my roots begin to happily uncurl in the soil of one place, the time swiftly approaches while I must move and once again with trepidation test new ground and hope that it is fertile.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Imagine this...

I don't get angry when I lose - certainly not. I get angry when I lose because of my mistakes instead of my opponent's merits. That seems reasonable right. Because what I love is the discipline and the finesse and if I get skewered in the chest because I'm thinking too hard about something else - well that's just frustrating.

And that's the other thing, I haven't decided yet if I think too hard or I don't think enough. Last night I tried to quiet my mind in a bout by drowning out my thoughts with a bit of upbeat music (Glad Tidings by Van Morrison, if you must know). Well, that didn't work either. It's finding that balance.

Finding that balance is everything. Physical balance, I'm pretty good with - thank you yoga - but my mental balance is equal to that of a bloated hippopotamus on rickety scaffolding. I cannot find any quiet in my own head. I lay awake last night well past midnight thinking of everything, but mostly fencing. I try music, I try praying, I try visualization, but I can't shut my head up. (I haven't tried drugs yet, but I've heard good things.)

Oh yes, visualizing. That's a term I've heard repeatedly in any sport I've done. "Visualize the entire race - decide where you'll start your kick - see the other runner's sucking wind in the last 200 meters." "Visualize your shot - feel it leave your hand - watch to the hoop - get the rebound!" And now, for fencing, visualization is also touted to be a helpful as well. So I try it - I begin a bout in my head. I execute some fine disengages, breathtaking lunges, but eventually my rabid, untameable imagination takes over, which means the bout usually ends up in a fist fight or even in a more heated engagement, the details of which are not appropriate to discuss in mixed company. I mean, because, let's face it: fencing is sexy.

So - visualization - that's something I'll have to work on. Along with keeping my toe pointed straight, more striking lunges, distance, tempo, strategy, parries *here, the orchestra swells and we cut to commercial*

The point here is that I am very aware of my limitations and what I need to improve upon. But I still need to find a way to improve upon them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Skill Application - or, Please Parry

It is rather obvious to me that one of the greatest obstacles in understanding how fencing works is transferring knowledge from practice and drills into an actual bout. I can do drills and do them well (I think) all day long. 1) Memorize a pattern. 2) Do it slow. 3) Do it fast. Even when working with a partner it's no problem.

But see, where fencing deviates from other sports that I have been involved in is that the drills are a far cry from the real thing.

If I want to improve my flyball-catching skills then someone hits me fly balls over and over and I catch them. In a softball game the balls will come at about the same speed as they will in practice.

If I want to improve my field goal percentage in basketball, I'll make a 1000 shots a day. And in a game, the hoop is still in the same place and the ball is still the same size.

(Of course there are other factors to consider as well and I admit to over simplifying to help me make a point, but who's writing this thing anyway?)

But in fencing...Well, you know right? Different opponents who have different target areas and different action and reaction times. Which brings to me to today's title (at last). Sparring against other beginners is frustrating. How am I supposed to learn to be all tactical and whatnot and learn to apply the move I just learned if my sparring partner doesn't react to it?

Look - I thrust, you parry, I parry back and hit you real quick!

No parry.

Now, I understand this is the nature of learning and I do not claim to be innocent of this inaction myself. But this is why it is infinitely more satisfying to spar with a coach. But I think I will save coaches for tomorrow when we also delve into how it is that coaches seem to be such handsome people - and are, of course, impervious to flattery.

update on my right foot: it still won't point straight.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Starting Somewhere

Since I cannot help but think of this sport all day anyway, now at least my thoughts won't be lost. Whether that's good or bad is yet to be seen - I'm guessing neither.

Why did I choose the title "Derobement"? Well, not because I wanted to expound upon the move or even because I find it interesting.. No, simply because I thought it would be a funny title for a fencing blog. Double meaning. Get it? Don't worry - I'll probably think up something better soon. I guess"Conversation of the Blades" is too predictable?

The real purpose for this blog is because I have become completely obsessed and consumed by this sport and I need an outlet. My relationship with the sword has become complicated as I both love and fear everything about it. Perhaps I fear it because I recognize that it has the power to completely overwhelm me and maybe it's already happened. I hunger for mastery while proficiency is still a distant horizon. But there is a wall - even before proficiency may be reached - I become unsure of myself at the call of "Allez" and that's what I need to understand and overcome. I am by no means a stranger to fear and indecision in any part of my life, but if they can be conquered upon the piste, then that will be enough for now.

In the future, I promise not to be so melodramatic and write more about the sport itself. I hope you (whoever you are) can forgive me this one lapse.