Friday, December 29, 2006

Another Year, Another Zip Code

** Watch this space **

I haven't stopped fencing or writing. The new year will bring new posts.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wait and Hope

It's been hard to have a mind turned towards anything except selling this stupid house. So far I've had two lessons this week and in both I've felt like I was stumbling around like a sedated rhino. I've been back and forth on going to the Kickoff this weekend; normally I think of fencing all the time, but it just seems like lately my heart hasn't been in it, hasn't been in anything. But I'm going to beg one more lesson on Friday and then go fight. There aren't many chances to fight only other women and I think it's important to test myself.

Last night I lost to my best sparring partner three times in a row 5-4. I don't often beat him at all, but three times (count 'em) it came to 4-4 and I couldn't pull it off. He is an excellent fencer, but I think I will fall back on blaming my defeats once again on my failure to analyze a bout DURING the bout.

When it comes to the strip, I live in the moment. There is no notion of past or future any more than there is a notion that we ought to stop the fighting and talk things over instead. My husband, who does not understand that his mental acuity far outstrips mine, explains to me rather simply that all you need to do is: Decide what you're going to do, decide what you'll do if that doesn't work, decide what you'll do if it works halfway, decide what you'll do if your opponent attacks first, know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, etc.,etc. Then you're ready for En Guarde.

But once the director calls Fence, I have a terrible time containing any information except for the action which I am executing at that very second. Bringing into play what has happened previously in the bout and what I will do should my execution not result in a touch happen only accidentally, if at all. My hope is that as executions become automated and I don't have to think about them specifically, there will be more room in my head for thinking about their causes and consequences.

Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,--'Wait and hope'.
Alexandre Dumas (1802 - 1870), The Count of Monte Cristo

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Passing time..

These came from an email containing military quotes, but I found some of the applicable (and fun) for fencing too:

If the enemy is in range, so are you.
Infantry Journal

Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid.
David Hackworth

If your attack is going too well, you're walking into an ambush.
Infantry Journal

Never trade luck for skill.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Oh! I forgot to say. Sabre is fun! Hopping about and whacking people in the head is tops with me. Even if I couldn't break into the top five .

The Winding Stair

It's amazing to me that it's been nearly a month since I wrote. In my head, somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-9 minutes has passed. I recollect some catchy phrase about sands in an hourglass and days of our...well, you know.

The thing is, I was just starting to find my groove again; I felt like I'd just clambered up onto the next giant step on the stairway to competency. My lessons had suddenly become more difficult. Maitre called it "ratcheting down" to another degree of detail. But now I'm dangling off that step by my fingertips, praying that I don't tumble all the way back to the bottom.

The ringing of the division bell has begun...
(Pink Floyd)

North Carolina? Really? Oh.

Let me be clear. I'm not good with change. I'm not good at meeting new people. It was hard enough to start at the Salle, small as it is. The thought has actually crossed my mind that perhaps I could continue my training without a club to practice at, but that's silly. The thing is, I have this desire and unfortunately that desire depends on outside forces: training help, practice partners, structured practice. I hate it when I can't do something on my own. And, there's always the biggie: What if they don't like me?? Sorry, couldn't suppress my inner 12 year old.

Fencing is supposed to fill my well of bravery so that I can draw on it elsewhere in my life. I
guess I need to build up some stores while I'm here, fill a few jugs, the bathtub maybe.

I just hope they don't make me start from the bottom.

Friday, August 04, 2006


The topic of goals keeps coming up lately. I had recently read a couple articles about goal setting when I walk into the Salle this morning and Maitre asks me what my goals are?

"Make it past the first round of DEs," I say. "Finish painting my upstairs bathroom?"

I was serious on both counts, but as I've been reflecting on the subject in earnest, I find I am somewhat dismayed at myself. In the words of someone infamous (or perhaps not): If you aim for suck, you're going to get sh**. Obviously this person was not such a well-bred lady as I, but I hope the point is clear. I make a lot of self-deprecating jokes, which is okay, but I've begun to think that I don't see far enough past them. When I fought Scott O'Neal (A06) in the first round of DEs in my first epee tournament this year I smiled prettily at him and said "Hi, I'll be your speed bump this afternoon". (Indeed, he beat me 15-1.) It was cute, but I hope that next year, I am at least a curb to him.

Now my unharnessed imagination has a bit of trouble drawing a line between real goals and never-in-any-life goals. But I've tried to rein myself in a little bit and have come up with the following list of realistic, but tough, goals. With you (whoever you may be) as my witness to hold me to them:

  1. Go to an NAC this year and not make a complete fool of myself. Memphis would be great, but I haven't finished paying off Nationals yet. Maybe Atlanta in March.
  2. Get a rating
  3. Finish in the top 8 in a Virginia Epee event
  4. Successfully fleche in a competition (I did it at the Salle last Sunday. It could happen)
  5. Make my footwork feel more natural.
  6. Remember to use footwork when it counts.
  7. Write a book.
Okay, that last one is a little OT, but rounds off my lofty aspirations nicely.

The next list to make is what I actually need to do to reach these goals. Once again, I am committing these to virtual paper in the hopes it will make me adhere to the plan.
  1. 3 days a week - cardiovascular conditioning (not fencing) to lose weight and build leg power (running/biking)
  2. 2 days a week - stretching/strengthening routine (yoga/pilates)
  3. Fencing at least 3 days a week
  4. 25 bouts a week at least
These don't seem out of reach to me. The last couple weeks I have stuck to them nicely. It will be harder come winter, but not impossible. And at the end of the season if I have met one or more of the goals...well...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The introspective epeeist

I fought the first bout of the match and closed it out 5-1. Unfortunately, our lead was whittled down when I came up again, but I was able to retain it by finishing my second bout 6-4. My final bout (second to last of the match) was against who I suspect was their strongest fencer. She had beaten both of my teammates and against them had fleched successfully. I knew she was going to fleche if she had a chance to move forward, so I pressed her as much as I could, keeping her on the back third of the strip. There were several double touches because she was aggressive. I, in keeping with my strategy of the day, simply waited for the openings and hit them rather faithfully. But this is not what I should have done. I had seen the girl fence twice before already and I knew she scored points from being aggressive. But I am both stubborn and naive and did not see fit to change what seemed like a winning strategy to me. What I should have done was take over the aggression and initiated more attacks. I can't recall how much my teammates tried this tactic against this opponent, but - knowing my teammates -I would guess not much. Perhaps she had horrible defense; perhaps she cracks when pressured. I guess I'll never know unless we should fight again. But I wasn't all the way in the game. There were acres of strip behind me and I was wearing a rather muted confidence, so I slipped and took a few steps back. That's all it took - it was a great fleche, fast and surprising. I didn't stop it; I can't even recall whether I had time to react at all. It ended the bout and put them ahead by one point. Unfortunately my teammate could not overcome the deficit in the final bout and the day was over for us after that.

So now I keep seeing the scene over and over: my steps back, her fleche. I study it from many angles to see if I could have stopped the fleche. I wonder if I had been the aggressor from the very beginning whether we could have avoided such a narrow loss. And now I'm wondering if all this not-so-instant replay is doing anyone any good. I'm not brooding mind you, I'm just wondering.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Nationals Review

What? No trumpet fanfare for a heroic return?

As I am supposed to be catching up on work at the moment, there is not time to write a complete review, but briefly, here are the facts:

Our senior women's epee team went into the event seeded 18 out of 19. We left the event placing 18 out of 19. I can live with this I suppose. The final score was 44 for the Univ of Florida, 41 for Salle Green. I thought it was a good match. To me, it was really fun and personally I thought I fenced very well (hey, that's new). I did have one big "Oh Crap" moment when I realized I had made a terrible mistake and the bout ended in my opponent's favor. I've relived that one about a thousand times over the last three days.

Our merciless men's team fared better. They won their first round quite handily but lost in the next round to hometown favorites Salle Auriol. Somehow, that still placed them behind teams who didn't win any rounds. Go figure.

Atlanta did not impress me as a city. Everywhere we went (almost) was inefficient with long lines and ridiculous price. At least it wasn't too hot the days that we were there. I did get to see some very good fencing. I wanna fence like Lacey Burt when I grow up.

Pictures to follow. The computer that the scanner is hooked to is all wonky and I'll have to clean off the desk before I can hook the scanner to this computer. Trust me - I was looking goood. :D
To do before next year: learn how to take a decent action shot to avoid developing two rolls of blur.

I wish to distill more of my thoughts about the fencing itself in the next day or so. I think perhaps my destiny lies with the epee.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

T-minus Four days...

I meant to write before now...I've had a few things on my mind. But it seems like every night, when I should be writing, the bed - she calls me. Alas.

I'm coming down like a river in a cage
-Rusted Root

Tonight was my last practice before Nationals. Flow flow flow! I keep hearing it at every lesson; I try to translate it to my movement and embed it into my limbs. I like to think of this song lyric and imagine what it would feel like if my body were a cage of water. My movements would be swift and strong, but most of all smooth. I imagine that I am pushed forward by the force of the water that would be my bones, that I am energized by the rivulets that would be my veins. I can feel it as surely as I sit here. It is harder to hold onto this feeling on the strip.

I am glad that I am fighting epee. I like the feel of the larger sword in my grip. I tried to explain to Maitre that one of the reasons I liked epee was because of the heavier, stronger weapon; I feel on much more equal ground with anyone I fight than with the foil. I got the impression he didn't think it was entirely valid reasoning, but that doesn't matter because I can sure as hell parry even the strongest attack he throws at me.

Thursday morning it is off to Atlanta. I will try to keep in mind things to write about while I am there. Sunday morning we fight. I will try not to let us come in last place.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Good Article

I thought the below was a very good article so I want to preserve it. I'm still digesting it all myself. Even though I can't read it Escrime Passion looks like a really good magazine and like it contains many things that that leaflet American Fencing lacks.

The Maitre d'Armes Lesson

How to execute the perfect lunge

by Maitre Yann Sibille

"Action which consists in planting a leg to the ground, then extend the body from this leg by executing a movement forward with the other leg in a given direction." This is the definition of the lunge as presented by Georges Hebert in his second volume of Physical Education, virile and moral in the natural method.

It is a fundamental movement in fencing and in weightlifting which allows to stretch, a lunge is usually done forwards or backwards. In modern fencing it has the scope to get closer to the opponent in one move to touch him with a direct hit. The lunge therefore is a move which has the final goal to touch someone, contrary to a simple forward motion.

Even though it looks easy to execute, the lunge actually is a movement that requires a perfect coordination and a violent muscular effort if we want to attain the desired result: to cut the distance which separates us from our opponent to score a touch on him. The amplitude of the movement can vary according to the distance separating the lunger from the opponent, but in any case a lunge to be effective must follow certain common rules.

Deconstruction of the movement

To start with it is essential to adopt a good en garde stance and especially to have the legs correctly bent/flexed and it is crucial to be at the right measure/distance from the opponent.

1. Extend the arm with the tip threatening the opponent
What not to do: start with the legs before the point. It's the point that announces the start of the lunge. If the legs announce the movement, the result is a great loss of precision for what concerns the point. This is detrimental for epee and for foil in particular and today, with the new timings (essentially the new blocking times). An alert opponent will catch this fault and all he'll have to do is to extend his arm and to touch you in counterattack while your arm is still short (not fully extended) and before your forward foot touches the floor.

2. Advance the foot few centimeters from the floor. As you almost brush the floor with the forward foot, push on/with the back leg. Plant the heel first on the strip, then the point of the foot. It's important to keep the foot as close as possible to the surface of the strip to save time in the movement but also to help the forward displacement.
What not to do: don't lift the forward leg and then put the foot down a little further out in a vertical movement. The progression must be made parallel to the floor, and must be as quick as possible. This is also specified in the FIE glossary where the lunge is defined as an action consisting of an extension of the back leg combined with a push forward of the front leg.

3. At the conclusion of the lunge movement, the back leg must be well outstretched. The two heels must remain in the same alignment. Note that the back arm is naturally stretched along the body during the extension. What we have is a transfer of equilibrium for the upper part of the body. In the en garde position the back hand is positioned at shoulders level. At the completion of the lunge, the back hand is placed close to the back thigh. With this movement, the fencer maintains a perfect equilibrium of the upper part of the body and avoids that the back shoulder to sag.

4. The knee should be perpendicular to (over) the foot. It is not necessary to push the lunge to the extreme because it would make more difficult to recover and get back en garde in case your first attack did not score a touch. On the other side it is important that your knee is always over your foot even if you execute in the end only a half lunge.

5. The fencer must make an effort to keep his trunk straight. One must look at his opponent, not at his shoes, otherwise the upper part of the body will tend to sag/sink.

At the conclusion of the lunge, the bellgard must be at eye level while they look at the opponent.

How to prevent falling

To prevent that a beginner fencer change the line of the shoulders during the lunge movement and that he doesn't fall while losing all point control one should concentrate on several points:

- While pushing on the back leg the forward knee must be turned towards the outside. This will prevent the rest of the body to fall towards the inside and will help to keep the trunk, therefore the point in line with the target.
- Make sure to keep the contact of the back heel with the floor.
- Never lower your head during the movement.
- Keep the line of the shoulders.
If you still have the tendency to fall consult your coach. The answer may not be technical or mental but could well be physiological: a weakness in the abdominal muscles, for eaxample.

Return to the en garde position

In fencing, the return to the initial position happens rarely since very often the action is stopped because of a touch, valid or not, depending on the weapon. However, for an optimal return to the en garde position, one must push towards the front, important, but not too much. As we said earlier, the deeper the lunge and the knee forward in rapport to the foot, the harder the return to the en garde position.

A good return to the en garde position is defined by many stages:

1. Unlock the back knee
2. Push towards the back with the forward leg and bring the back arm to the en garde position
3. Shorten your arm, but do not do so in epee since it must remain outstretched in case your opponent tries to hit you while you return en garde.
4. Regain your en garde stance well flexed on your legs in case you should decide to quickly start a new action.


1. Keep your arm extended
2. Bring the back leg forwards at the same time that you return to [almost] a squat position. Don't hesitate to stay very flexed and start immediately a new lunge forwards. Usually, the second lunge goes "probing" deeper than the first one.


1. Extreme lunge, i.e., a lunge pushed to the extreme
2. Fleche after the lunge
3. Half lunge


The lunge is one of the more worked moves during basic training in fencing. It is necessary to do it over and over again and must be executed many times to correct small defects which produce a non optimal lunge. With beginners, the main defect is in the loss of equilibrium caused by the wrong placement of the knee or to an upper body not sufficiently toned or strong enough. With experienced fencer, the lunge takes place after a series of movements. It is important therefore to connect well these movements with the execution of the lunge. This becomes a job of coordination between steps, retreats, jumps forwards, sliding steps, balestra ... and the extension of the arm followed by the lunge.

To really exploit and master the lunge allow the fencer to develop a physical game and to maintain a certain distance from the opponent. The fencer "builds" his own lunging distance The amplitude/extension of the lunge is personal and depends on two fundamental parameters:the muscular tone of the back leg and the flexibility and suppleness of the adductctos. A regular work of stretching of the adductors allow increasing the amplitude of the lunge. However, a deeper lunge requires power from the front leg to go back to the en garde stance as quickly as you lunged.

Let's equally stress that equilibrium is essential for the perfect lunge to keep the point threatening the target. In fact the ultimate goal of the lunge is to touch your opponent. A correctly executed lunge which doesn't touch the opponent has not completed its mission. Without keeping his equilibrium the fencer loses point control. Lastly, a correctly executed lunge is a pleasure for the eyes and a golden opportunity for the photographers (see the lunges by B. Guyart at the Athens Olympics, of F. Jeannet, or Flessel-Colovic or Pozdniakov).

Friday, June 16, 2006

There isn't enough fiction about modern fencing...
Maybe I'll write some

Fencing, by its very nature, brings out a very powerful force in people. It is not a sport where you run or play alongside others, constantly changing direction, trying to avoid the tackle or the box-out. In fencing you are staring straight into the shining eyes of another human being and have no other option but to do so. The object of the sport will inevitably bring two clashing together, breathing one another's breath, struggling for dominance, willing the other just a little closer. To her, it was no wonder then, that precarious relationships rose and fell monthly at the club. She herself had, on occasion, eyed a long lean man in a white jacket with a quiet what-if sort of reverie. But these ideas she dismissed as rapidly as they arose. That is not what she was there for.

As the club door swung shut behind her with a bang, she was broken from such musings and tried to focus on the task at hand. There was not much activity yet, but the regulars were milling along the walls, warming up or testing equipment. She dropped her bag and herself to the floor. Tucking her chin, she concentrated hard on tying her shoes, trying to clear her mind of unnecessary clutter; there would be plenty of time for a boyfriend after the World Cup. True, she was aiming for one two years in the future, but she would need at least that long to get ready if she even wanted to break into the top 32. She began mentally ticking off the women in the Section she would need to surpass as she began to slip into her jacket, her eyes now traveling around the room carelessly.

The unlooked for glance she met caused her confusion at first. He was sitting on the opposite side of the room - at the far end of one of the strips. He seemed as surprised as she that their eyes had met, but it was a moment before he had the presence of mind to look away. Before the connection broke, her brain attempted to define the emotion behind his gaze: thoughtful? hopeful? interested? It was the last one that caused her the most consternation and all thoughts of a World Cup were diminished as the girl inside her overcame the athlete. And all the while her hands continued to work with practiced efficiency at arranging bodycords and pulling up socks, she was wondering what the long look had meant. Of course she knew him, the basics, but mainly as a teammate. She knew he was fast and strong, but was susceptible to low line shots. They had even shared quiet words on occasion about training or upcoming tournaments. But "interested", she would never have guessed.

Finding nothing left to do to get ready, she sat again, waiting for maestro to begin the practice. Naturally, she told herself, she was overreacting. Too much training and not enough socializing had put her in such a state. She chanced another look in his direction, but he was stretching and his eyes were on the floor this time. Definitely overreacting she decided, but when they were called to salute, she purposefully chose the far end of the floor, opposite him, just in case. There was a Cup to think about.

Hmm...Maybe I won't. It's a little silly I think.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 10

I don't mind going to Charlottesville for a tournament. It's a pleasant, not overly long drive, and though the venue is in dire need of some AC, at least you don't have to sit on someone's lap while you're waiting to fence like at the Richmond space. So Saturday morning I got up, got my iPod and a cup of hot tea to keep me company on the way and set out to fight some foil.

I should have stayed in bed.

I don't know what was wrong - I didn't feel like I was fencing poorly, but my point was just not finding the lame. I just kept telling myself (and everyone else) that it was because I've only been practicing epee for the last couple months, in preparation for Nationals. Fortunately, I did fare better in epee which almost gives that foil excuse some weight. Almost.

Sunday was C and Under epee. They actually drew up the pools, we were getting ready to fence and then...oh wait, we need to do it all over again. So they redrew the pools and I ended up with only four bouts to fence. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, since it's almost a given I will lose the first bout (which I did). But I won two after that and then lost to a kid who was six feet tall and built mainly from toothpicks. I was feeling pretty good about this showing. My spouse, who came to watch, said my fighting looked great and I believe him as he is not shy about telling me when I do NOT look great. So after waiting around for more than an hour (waiting seems to be a favorite pastime in the Virginia division) I finally got my first round DE fight. It turned out I was the higher seed - though I'm not convinced my pool was as competitive as everyone else's. But I have seen my opponent fight before and though he is mainly a foilist, he is certainly an experienced and capable fencer. It was 15 - 12 in the end, for him and I got to go home for the day (actually a relief after waiting over four hours to fight five bouts).

Overall, I am optimistic about epee, and though my to-do list titled "How to Get Better at Epee" gets longer everyday, it is clear. Though not everything on it is easily achievable.

1) Find the right balance of passivity and aggression for the opponent. I think I would've gotten a few more touches if I had been more patient.
2) Evaluate what is working and what isn't more quickly. If I could've done this in the DE, I think I could've won. He was incredibly vulnerable under his wrist and I was able to hit it about every time that I went for it.

Oh and about a thousand other things that I am too tired to think of tonight.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lazy Update

So there are 19 teams confirmed right now for Sr. Women's Team Epee for Nationals. I don't know how this works. I'm hoping it means a round of 32 with a bunch of byes so that we don't have to fence the top rated team on our first round. I'm sure we must be seeded toward (at) the bottom since none of us are rated. But that doesn't seem to matter - everyone seems to be looking forward to our big adventure.
Atlanta Ho!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

s t r e n g t h

As part of her graduation gift, I bought for my sister a small polished riverstone which had the word "Strength" carved into it. I thought this a fitting wish and sentiment for someone just beginning in a new world. But if one could be anointed with such a ballast by the bestowing of so small a gift, then for myself I would buy a dozen and line my pockets with them.

Strength and I are strangers; that is, a strength of mind: I have all my life sought to make up for my lack of mental strength with that of the physical realm. Long hard labor is not a problem, having a disagreement can be debilitating. If my partner and I have an argument I am always the one to give in first, preferring resignation to tumult no matter where I feel the fault might lie. Where this overarching weakness intersects with fencing is...well, everywhere. If I fall behind, if my opponent has unconventional attacks, if for any reason I become uncertain, I lose all confidence; I am quickly steered to the depths of self-doubt by my opponent. Efforts to gain control of my own mind are as successful (but persistent) as a bulldog facing off against Godzilla.

Here she goes again with the 'woe is me' palaver

Strength is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians xii.

Can I then, baptized by my own fire, come out on the other side stronger than I would have if I had been gifted with a normal allotment of self-confidence? Well, that's what it says in the Bible, and who am I to argue?

Monday, May 22, 2006

My dreams are always full of weaknesses. Constantly needing to defend myself: I never find the strength to throw the punch, I never find the speed to escape my pursuers. I'm sure this probably means something.

My ripostes are getting quicker. My stop hits beat the tempo to the punch. It's not perfect, it's just the first step on a roadway which yawns away into the distance.

On the piste, reality may actually become a welcome vacation from myself.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The islands

I haven't had a concrete idea of what to write about like I normally do, thus the paucity of posts. Of course, in the attempt to think up a topic, one question invariably enters my head: "Am I over thinking all this?" However, I think the very existence of this blog makes that a rather open and shut question. I do wonder if other people spend as much time analyzing and agonizing over themselves as I do (masochistic narcissism?), but knowing either way wouldn't change anything.

I do want to muse a little over a bout I had a few weeks ago at the last Open. In the foil event, I had a bout in my pool against someone who is a very good fencer, possibly one of the best fencers I've ever fought. And while I did lose 5-2, that is not so badly as I have lost to terrible fencers in the past. And it was just downright fun. This is because said elite fencer did everything right, just like I've been taught to expect and how I've been taught to respond. It was GOOD fencing, not like what it often feels like at these events: fending off some barbarian so lacking in tactics that they would seem more adept at wielding tree trunks than foils. There were some rather exhilarating extended blade exchanges and I was able to keep up for many of them. I might even have surprised my opponent a little bit on the two touches I did get. And the next day, when I got a touch on a well-timed reassemblement during an epee bout....

My self-satisfaction was noticed in the retelling the day after and a rather dulcet phrase was coined by Maitre: "Island of Perfect Execution." The idea is that we begin accomplishing things as individual bits of perfection, one by one. Sometimes they might slip by unnoticed but eventually there will be many that when strung together they form an archipelago of perfect execution (my words)...which means you're actually doing some excellent fencing.

Here's to the islands (and a glass-half-full-post for once).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 9

3 minute heart attack

More bitter perhaps than the fighting in the foil bouts Saturday afternoon was that which came afterwards in reflection Saturday night. Yes, I know that I am ruled by my irrational emotions, on the strip just as everywhere else. Yes, I know I am not making as many attacks as I should be. Yes, I know I act demoralized when I lose or make a mistake. Here is the point: on Saturday I was a wreck. Ashamed of how little I had accomplished, how much I had NOT improved since the last tournament...two tournaments ago even. Every problem I have is mental, whether it be fear of doing the wrong thing, or plain confusion at how fast and easily I can be unraveled by my opponent. Like I told my teammate on Sunday: Foil, to me, is like having a three minute heart attack.

I submit to you then: epee. Sunday was the first time I had flown solo in epee; the only other time I had competed at all being the Team Qualifiers. Epee was like a pleasant vacation; like a cool glass of tonic and lime on a Polynesian beach. Mind you, I still had my ass handed to me, but it was in a relaxed fashion and I didn't notice quite so much. Why the divide between two weapons, less than 24 hours apart? I suspect maybe it is because I do not expect so much of myself in epee, having not trained so long at it. Or perhaps it is just the natural pace of epee, being slightly slower than foil - in general. It takes longer to lose, and thus is not quite so hard on the senses. Either way, there were no fights Sunday night. My bravery was not called to stand trial and I may have enjoyed a fizzy beverage.

So is it the end of foil? If only I could let it go that easily. I've been discussing this with my Pride and I don't think he's going to let me just walk away. But maybe I can work out some sort of arrangement with my Guts and have them make an appearance at the next foil competition.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I write with a heavy heart tonight. Heavy like a stone, dangling in my chest like that stupid tennis ball which hangs from the door frame. It was a frustrating night of practice; I was trying to concentrate on being relaxed and flowing and I failed on all counts. I want to feel like a whole entity rather than a collection of mismatched pieces, but I feel like I'm regressing rather than approaching this goal. All the confidence I've been trying to build for myself recently with the running and the yoga and the cute new sundress...It is all balanced precariously on the damn tennis ball. 60 hits a day we're supposed to be doing. I do that and more. My shoulder is warm and achey even now with the thought of it. What started as an amusement has become an uncomfortable symbol of my life. If I concentrate on the ball, I feel jerky and my hits are often off center, causing the ball to jump around unexpectedly. But if I concentrate on the movement - on the feel of my shoulder extending to my elbox to my wrist - cocked just so - I find that I can often hit the ball dead center without even trying that hard.

Can someone move the forest please...I can't see the trees.

Story of my life: details allude me, poking at the fringes of my consciousness and skittering away before I can trap them. It's why I'm so awful at directing bouts: my mind captures everything as one great abstraction. Trying to overcome something so ingrained has so far been fruitless so I am trying to work with it. Seeing my entire body connect with the tennis ball rather than just the ball itself. So far, the results are disheartening.

I approach the weekend with no small amount of trepidation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Attacks...Out of Time

Upon realizing that it's been nearly one year since I made my first post to this blog, my heart literally sank. What has become of my year? I am dying in the suburbs and that's something I always vowed to avoid. Everyday I am becoming more normal and less interesting. It kills me. Why does it feel like yesterday that I was so happy in my breezy, sunny, beautiful apartment in my beloved city? God...

Well it was not meant to be a self-pitying post, but I had to vent a little. Here is the brilliant segue: My sense of time is rotten. I realized this last night in a lesson when the topic turned to training your opponent to react in a certain way. Repeating an action multiple times until they're reacting just the way you like, then...wham. I thought about this on the way home and had a hard time coming to grips with the idea. Certainly this is not because I disbelieve Maitre, but because - to me - 3 minutes just does not seem like enough time to accomplish this and still get in 4 more touches and/or avoid being touched as many times.

But this shouldn't surprise anyone, given that I become an unmitigated embodiment of urgency at every allez!. How many of my tournament bouts have honestly lasted longer than a minute and a half? That I am too aggressive and in too much of a hurry has already been established. Perhaps it is a natural inclination toward a quick and (not so) painless death. I suspect my subconscious feels this limits my exposure to humiliation.

Perhaps I can use this tactic of training my opponent to trick myself into prolonging bouts. Can I use it slow down the rest of my life? Doubtful.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you're older
And shorter of breath and one day closer to death

-Pink Floyd

Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Exchange

It is late in the 19th century and the pursuit of fencing is fully developed as both a sport and an art. In a sprawling room with high ceilings and a glossy wooden floor, men in white jackets and mesh masks practice with the foil. Above, there is a gallery for viewing which is mostly occupied by ladies. One lady descends the wide staircase, one hand trailing upon the banister. She is slender, but not overly so as to make her appear frail. Her expression is cool, unmoved by her surroundings, suggestive of a mask to much more intense emotions. At the base of the stair is an older man, wearing the uniform of the amateur fencer. He is tall, but not so tall as to be imposing and he is handsome in a roguish sort of way. His eyes are drawn to the woman descending.

Man, inclining his head courteously: My lady.

Woman, curtseying upon the bottommost stair: Sir.You fence fine. I have seen you just now.

Man: Truly? It is kind of you to say: your propriety humbles me. Do you follow fencing?

Woman, remaining detached, matter-of-fact: I admit I do not. I have come to watch my brother. He aspires to fence as fine as you I suspect. Here he comes now.

She nods toward a young man who has emerged from the dressing area, but is stopped by friends before he can cross the room.

Man: I know of him - he is a fine athlete, if my opinion is to be trusted. What of you - have you held a blade? There is a class for ladies in the mornings. If you will not think it untoward of me, I will tell you that your figure would lend itself to the piste.

Woman, not necessarily taken aback: It is rather untoward of you sir, but I will forgive you as you have steel in your hand and I do not. I myself have not held a weapon nor do I have any wish for it. I prefer the pen.

Man, intrigued: A poetess? But you must try. I daresay you will find the language of the sword as elegant as any words upon a page. Though I can admit from firsthand experience that a blade cannot wound so deeply as a woman and her pen when she tires of a gentleman's attentions. He smiles weakly

Woman: Tell me then, Sir, why I should choose the lesser weapon? Were I to try and fend off suitors with a sword, I daresay it should only encourage them.

Man, impish: You have put your finger on the very reason, my lady. No man can resist a woman who can defend her own honor. I tell you it lifts a great burden from our shoulders! Here...

He takes his foil by the blade and lays the guard across his extended forearm, offering her the hilt, as it were

She regards him silently, inscrutable, then takes the proffered weapon. She holds it at arm's length, the point towards the floor

Man, smiling: Do not be afraid of it. You hold it as if there were a snake coiled about the tip. Like this...He lifts the blade and with it, her arm. I defy you to say that the feeling of a sword in your hand is not a satisfying one.

Woman: I will not presume to say anything of the sort then. For I would not challenge such a mandate and raise your ire. You might have one of your lady friends from a morning class throw down her gauntlet at my feet. And if I am to be deserving of a challenge, I'd prefer to go straight to the source.

A quick flick of her wrist and she has the point pressed to his chest, indenting his fencing jacket.

Man, raising an eyebrow: You have deceived me lady, for you said that you have never held a weapon yet I perceive that you have.

Woman, smiling coyly: Perhaps I have sir. But I did not deceive when I stated that the pen was my weapon of choice. A word of warning that an authoress may only be trusted with dubiety for her business is making up stories.

She returns his weapon to him in the same way it was given to her

Man: Touché, my lady.

Woman: You may however trust when I say that I have enjoyed your company... But here is my brother.

She takes the arm of a younger man, who acknowledges the older man with no small degree of reverence. The pair departs.

Man, quietly, echoing: Touché.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 8

...So began the season of epee

...Because we qualified for Nationals in Senior Team Epee. In the interest of fair disclosure, I will admit that all teams entered in senior women's epee qualified for Nationals by simple numbers. Top four qualify and we were fourth...out of four. But three more points and we would've been 3rd. I have to admit that team competition is much more exciting than individual competition, and thereby more fun in many ways, even in the 2 matches that we lost by a rather...large margin.

But this means that from here until July, it's all epee all the time. That's a fact worth mentioning since epee has always just been a side amusement when I could not find a foil partner. Sunday was in fact the first time I have competed in epee, not counting the Salle ladder. Given this fact I was not altogether displeased by my own performance. Ignoring the sound, and expected, thrashing we received in the first match, we were more evenly matched in the second round, with another team which had only one "normal" epeeist - the balance of the team being easily coerced foilists - just like us. I won two out of my three bouts in that one, keeping our lead rather handily as long as I could. By the time I came up the third time, I could not catch up the deficit and faced the toughest opponent.

Saturday was less fun than Sunday, as we were knocked out after the first match and therefore were the only women not to qualify. However, I did perform a rather stunning balestra-lunge (if I do say so myself) and got the touch! It certainly surprised my opponent. And, being in the final bout of the match, coming in with a score of 14-41, threw all concern for propriety and what others were thinking out the window (how could anyone possibly think worse of us than they already did?). And there followed what my spouse described as the most amazing fencing he'd ever seen me do. I felt good too: light and fast and confident. And naturally, I have no idea how I can duplicate that in the future. The final score was 20-45. In an individual bout, I would've won - and against a rated fencer. That's only the second time I've ever done that. Here's where I wave a wee little flag for myself.

...Summers came and went, but the summer of 2006 was referred to as The Summer of Epee long after it was gone

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 7

So my first impression upon walking into JMU's UREC for the tournament this past weekend was Holy crap, I so picked the wrong college. Not that I minded running along the cracked pavement of suburban Lynchburg sidewalks to get my exercise. But wouldn't it have been nice to go and play on a nifty rock wall on those rainy days instead of retreating to the dark smelly weight room in the basement of the LC gym. Oh well.

Honestly, I'd rather keep talking about the amenities of the building than talk about the competition. Out of three Salle Green women competing, we won a total pool bouts. But what can we say - none of us had even an inkling that we might be qualifying for Nationals and I think most of our competitors were hoping for it. So we were just beefing up the numbers to help them out. They can thank us later.

For me, four out of five pool bouts were well fought and well lost on my part. I was simply outclassed and thus hold little enmity for my opponents or for myself in this case. I hope that I will be fencing as well as certain other women in a few years. (Few years? Will I still be alive so far into the future...)

The need to put 18 fencers into a round of 32 made for a very small first round of the DE. It also pitted me against my salle-mate and frequent sparring partner. A Pyrrhic victory to say the least so I'm not really ready to check "Get to 2nd round of DE" off my to-do list yet.

The watchword is "Speed". This summer: how to get it, what to do with it when you find it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

In case lessons and practice,practice,practice are not working for you, turn to a source of real knowledge

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 6

Well I tried to do what I had planned. Relax, be free and joyful and let the fencing roll out. Yet, it seems that it requires more than a conscious decision to override my tendency toward tension. I even let my back arm drop in hopes it would translate to more freedom of movement for the rest of my body. But I couldn't rid myself of all of it. It's not because I am nervous or scared of competition. On the contrary, I rather relish it, even when I'm losing (often). But I think it stems from want of surety of my own capabilities. I am quite concerned with executing everything properly maintaining proper form. If I weren't being watched by my coach, my husband, and several teammates, maybe I wouldn't worry about that so much. Maybe if I could distract my incessant concern with propriety by doing something else - like taking up that piste-bouncing that seems to be all the rage of kids these days. Maybe. (Insert look of skepticism here).

When my DE opponent (read: trouncer) approached me afterward with a tip for doing better next time I thought him both a scholar and a gentleman. But I wanted to lay a hand upon his arm and say, "My dear fellow: The position of my blade is but a drop in the bucket."

Again, competing served to reinforce what I already know about my deficiencies. But what was the real lesson learned yesterday?

  1. I think I would compete better at night, when I am feeling a little unbridled and mad anyway - that's what I was thinking on the way home from dinner at any rate - even though I was exhausted, I felt coiled, ready to spring.
  2. I need a new pre-tourney soundtrack, which I am working on as we speak. I'm thinking all Pink Floyd because it makes me feel sharp and taut all at once.

The really interesting thing was the conversation that ensued on the carpool up between Maitre and my spouse. Perhaps another day for that story.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I did not post my thoughts after the last tournament. It was nothing special and I did not prove myself worthy enough to write about. Many times I realize things that I need to work on. Harrisonburg only proved that sometimes we just have bad days.

Getting ready to leave for Charlottesville now. My partner tells me I must quit being so uptight and worrisome and just turn myself over to the spirit of the bout. He always has a poetic way of telling me what I'm doing wrong. But I'm going to try it anywhere. I'm just going to stop agonizing and bout like crazy....while maintaining my footwork as much as possible of course. News at 11.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Everyone wants to be like me:

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Prejudice for Pride

Thon hast learned, my little bud, that, whatever may betide, Thou canst win thyself no joy by passion or by pride. - Louisa May Alcott

In case you missed the story on your local evening news, as of the first Saturday of February, I have been fencing for one year now. Granted I don't know if a beginner's class qualifies as actual "fencing", but technicallly: one year. And I find myself wondering if there is some benchmark for this. What should I be able to accomplish now? Who should I be able to beat? Should I be rated? Oh man, I hope not.

One of my greatest fears is that one of my peers who has been fencing for less time than I will overtake me. Why? Pride of course. One thing that fencing has revealed to me is just how much pride I have and how easily it is wounded. If I had self-discipline equal to my hubris I would be practicing for six hours a day. The funny thing is I never considered myself a prideful person before I started competing. I was perfectly content to bout at the club and never even considered how much I needed to be winning. Even when the topic of competition would be raised I would demur, "Nah, competing isn't for me." Now my desire to maintain my place in the pecking order troubles my heart to and from most practices.

I ponder now if this is healthy. Perhaps. I am not competitive about anything else in my daily life so this is a nice spike in my otherwise flatlining meekness. But I am often chided by my significant other: If you're not having fun you need to stop. I retaliate that it's never fun to lose, no matter what you're doing. Besides, the good feelings by far outweigh the bad. And maybe the Type A side of my personality needed to be roused a little. Even now when I leave the salle, it's pulled the pillow back over its head and gone back to sleep by the time I get to I-95.

There's another tournament this weekend. The salle will have its largest representation ever and I can't lie: I have fretted some over how I will finish. But what would I be doing otherwise? Probably cleaning house and listening to reruns of This American Life. Fretting seems like payment enough for a healthy rush of blood.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

To martyr yourself to caution
Is not going to help at all

-Pink Floyd

Sit. Stay. Parry. Riposte.

Maitre asks if I feel like I am improving. I admit that I feel like I have reached a plateau lately. He is reassuring of course and says it is hard sometimes for the fencer to notice their own improvements. It is a kind response, but not altogether convincing. I cannot seem to pull off certain moves when it comes to a bout and the basics deteriorate when I lose focus.

So where does one look for inspiration in times like these? Well to her puppy of course. Where else? She is a stubborn thing and I fear, at times, not the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed. But when she learns a new thing, she seems to learn it all at once. (Last week she learned to bark at everyone who walks by our house and isn't that grand.) Like how we worked on "Lay" repeatedly, day after day, without the faintest glimmer of understanding. And then one day, she just did it, like it was no big deal. Now she does it all the time. She just lays down and looks at me expectantly, looking for the treat that she thinks should come with such a feat.

Perhaps this is how it will be for me. I see snatches of advancement sometimes. In extended parry exchanges, I always think "indirect riposte" but the connection from the brain to the arm never seems to make it all the way through till its too late. But it happened Sunday, and I was hardly even thinking about it. And I got the point. And a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. Which is almost as good as a jerky bit.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Boy, was I in a bad mood last time. I know I'm not supposed to self-censor, but I did anyway, because it was such an immature post.

Frustration has become the name of the game since the last tournament, but tonight it is a frustration tempered by a bit of calmness and an attempt to work through my issues.

Lessons recently have been difficult. My stumbling block is long exchanges so that is what I have been practicing. I feel like it gets no easier.

A couple weeks ago I went skiing in Vermont. I'm not a very good skier either, and it had been a couple years since I had been (conditions last year in Washington were abysmal). However, by the end of two days of skiing, I was nearing that lofty plateau of confidence. There were two things I learned about skiing during this period.

  1. Perseverance solves problems: That is, if you feel yourself beginning to fall, you can push your body extra hard and actually remain on your feet.
  2. Falling in fresh powder doesn't hurt. It's even a little fun with the right mind set.
I spent many a long lift ride pondering how these lessons might apply to my fencing. Let me tell you, I didn't get far. There is one guy at my Salle whom I fight over and over, several times a week, and I cannot beat him. I cannot even get more than a couple touches on him before the bout is over. So perseverance....out the window.

And even though I don't fall too much on the piste, I do find myself losing control of a bout and it seems like the same thing. But it does hurt in fencing. It is easy to pinpoint my failings. And when you fail - and you know why you fail - and you can't fix it so you keep on failing....Well, that does hurt.

Does it mean I am giving up? Hardly, but I must find other reasons currently to remain upbeat. Comraderie? Good ol' fashioned exercise? Looking good in tight pants?

Whatever works I guess...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 5

One day later, slightly tipsy, so I think, rather objective. Viewing yourself in the third person; it isn't pretty, but someone has to do it.

Good grief, what is wrong with me...I won two bouts but only scored 11 points in the entire pool? Okay, usually I try to be upbeat and optimistic in these posts, but let's be honest. That's not a good record. The simple thing is to blame it on taking a week off: lovely vacation, good for the soul, bad for the tournament. My bad luck the two were scheduled so closely together. My bad luck my brain doesn't work fast enough to figure out what my opponent is doing. How to fix? Hard to say. Okay, truthfully, at the moment, a little hard to concentrate on typing. But I got points right? And that's the whole reason I went in spite of being tired and having no practice the week before. At least my coach is a diplomatic man, doesn't rub it in.

Next post, I promise to have my faculties fully reined in.
Frustration drives the conversation tonight.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tourney Reflection v. 4

This post comes late and as such I am a bit removed now from the tourney. Perhaps this is good as it makes me more objective, but probably it is bad as it makes me more apathetic. In brief, I won 2 out of 5 bouts in the pools, which I am quite satisfied with given the size of the event and the quality of the participants. But the bouts I win are close and the ones I lose nowhere near close, which is not a good trend. The DE, to be perfectly honest, was humiliating and I really wanted to cry when it was done. I wanted to go off by myself and cry (but I didn't do either). Yeah, I'm a girl.

Several of my Salle-mates were there, not to compete, but just to watch, which was rather endearing. However, given the fact that I was the only one competing, it also made me a little self-conscious. And then I found out that one of them was taking pictures left and right. And now those pictures are spread out all over the office. I want to hang a big sign that says "THE LAME ADDS 10 POUNDS".

See, the thing is (warning: digression ahead) my shoulders are way too broad for a girl. And while this was helpful during the stage in my life when backstroke was my main focus, it does not serve me well in the fashion arena. If I'm going to buy things (like fencing jackets) I have to get them big enough to be able to move my arms. And this means they're way too big for the rest of me. And with the lame spread out over that... I've thought of having my jacket taken in, but that means I'd have to give it up for several days and then what would I do?

Back to the topic at hand, I did come away with some solid, easy to digest experience points.
-> Slow down. Three minutes is longer than it seems.
-> Land on your heel. Pictures make for damning evidence.
-> When they said be more aggressive, they didn't mean quite this aggressive.