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.