Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm Not Really Fencing....

Is it a social consciousness or just coincidence? There was an article by Gina Kolata in the New York Times yesterday about an aspect of competition I have been thinking about a lot recently.

I'm Not Really Running, I'm Not Really Running

Myself, I keep thinking about it as mind-over-body, a term that is used once in the article also. The article is largely about how athletes push their bodies beyond the limits which our minds set for us. Kolata speaks mostly of endurance sports, but I find the same ideas very applicable to fencing. I have, in fact, exercised some of these ideas in both practice and tournaments.

A relatively new thing with our epee squad is conditioning. Holding the arm out straight at shoulder height for minutes at a time is something that some of my clubmates seem to have trouble with, but I've found it manageable. If I think about my shoulder, then I realize that it does indeed hurt like crazy after a couple minutes, but I find that if I focus on some spot on the far wall I almost don't even notice.

But the limits of endurance are not often tested in fencing - for me anyhow. The limits that I do find pushed are those of coordination and mechanics. And this is when mind-over-body really comes into play. If I envision a move or series of actions I want to make, can I force that action to come out of my limbs though it is foreign and unpracticed? Occasionally we have played a fun game at practice, mostly for the kids, where the leader will announce an animal and each person must attack the target as they think that animal would attack it. The bull rushes headfirst at the target while the butterfly dances across the floor and lands a delicate touche. These are not things we ever have or ever will practice, but if you can suddenly command a strange series of actions from your body, then I think that bodes well for performing other actions when under pressure.

On Wednesday, we did a fun drill where only touches to the mask counted. When both opponents are trying for the same target, it requires increasing complex combinations of feints, parries, and footwork and in the end I felt really proud of some of the maneuvers I was able to pull off at the spur of the moment.

This is, of course, an optimistic post. One of the reasons that I think about mind-over-body so often is because it often fails me. How often have I tried to tell myself to fleche and then not been able to convince my body that it was capable at that very moment. But I'm hoping that having an awareness of this disconnect is the first step to resolving it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Junior Olympics...

...are going to be in Charlotte next year. And today the website, designed by yours truly, was launched. In a shameless attempt to bump the site's ranking on Google, I am posting the link here. If you happen to have a fencing website, feel free to link as well.

Fence Charlotte - 2008 Junior Olympics

I haven't felt terribly inspired to write lately, but I have been doing a lot of thinking about fencing lately. Stay tuned for assorted attempts to wrangle these thoughts into words.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Belated update

So I won another tournament this past weekend. Like the last, it was small, but not without a reasonable amount of competition. I did in fact beat a D07 to win. A young energetic college boy D07 no less. It was a close bout all the way and the final score was 15-14. I nearly beat myself, however, because I had at least a two point lead most of the time and upon reaching 14-12, got a little over eager to end it. When the score hit 14-14 I thought I was going to throw up. Really. This has never happened to me before. I was balanced upon a rather precarious edge between simply scoring one more point and giving myself over to fear, like has happened so many times before. It was solely a triumph of will that allowed me to keep my cool and get the last point.

I have had some other thoughts lately besides about tournaments and I will try to post them soon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And now, we rejoin our hero in the Swamp of Lassitude

So since the last tournament I've missed several other opportunities to compete. I even skipped a tournament at my own club. Partially, this has been due to other Saturday morning commitments, but partially it has been due to a sort of lethargy which I described out-loud to my coach as being burnt out. I just plain haven't felt like it.

If I wanted to get psychological and whatnot about it, I'd probably blame it on being worried about not being able to live up to unrealistic expectations after my recent first place finish. But I'm not giving myself that much credit.

I don't want to ever force myself to fence; I always want to look forward to a tournament, so I'm going to skip this weekend's tournament in Boone as well. The good news is, I still look forward to practice and last night's practice was awesome. Two hours of wall to wall fencing with a satisfying mix of wins and loss inspired lessons.

Best quote by yours truly, during an in-fighting exercise, after leaping out of the defined drilling space: But he was so SCARY!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Titanic

Sweet monkey dumplings! I won a tournament. The Titanic Open (a women and children only event...get it?) was this past weekend so I took the short jaunt up to Greensboro to play. I knew it wouldn't be a big event, and at close of registration there were seven ladies lined up for the fight. I like seven person pools. More bang for the buck. Lots of fencing.

It was a nice pool and everyone was friendly and in good spirits throughout. I ended up winning all my pool bouts, but none were too easy. My entire purpose for attending this tournament rather than the much larger one in Columbia on the same day was to get as much experience fighting other women as possible. My few forays onto the National scene, where only other women are involved, has lead me to the realization that I need this experience if I ever want to break the top 16 at a NAC. Though it's been mentioned previously, I will just reiterate how different it is fighting women rather than men. And at practice, I mainly fence the latter.

Beyond the victories listed on the score sheet, I am most proud of my secret mental victories. Of not losing my head and giving up leads (as I did in the last tournament). Of having enough self-possession to take control of my mind and my body to come from a deficit in the gold medal bout and then maintain a lead.

That last bout was the hardest and I'm not above admitting that I was quite terrified during most of it. My opponent counter-attacked successfully nearly everything I did. Nearly everything was a double. And taking advantage of some foolish attacks I made in desperation, there were a few single lights on her side. So it is that we came to 12-11 in the third round, me with the 11. It took all my energies to remain collected. I carefully maintained my routine of walking back to the warning line after every touch of any kind and then calmly walking back to en garde. I find this ritual helps me to "reset" after any touch, good or bad. I muttered my mantra constantly: "one touch at a touch at a time". And so that's how I managed to find myself at the final "Halt", with time expired at 14-12. I was trembling so bad, I could hardly shake hands, but I was happy too. Beyond beating my opponent, I had overcome that defeatist voice, and today that makes me happiest of all.

This weekend has me thinking a lot about the place of women in fencing and I mean to write more about it soon.

Blog Action Day

That it is. But since this is not really an action-taking type of blog, I'll just point you towards some that are.

Lighter Footstep
Ethicurean - probably my favorite

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Season Three Premiere

After my first bout of pools, my hands were shaking so bad I could barely take a drink of my water. This is not unusual for a tournament for me, especially at the beginning. It's like all my energy comes up from my core and gets caught up in my arms and legs, vibrating there, waiting to be let out.

I did not win that bout, nor did I win the next. In both of these bouts, both against C's, I started out in the lead and held the lead at 4-something. But then I lost both of these bouts 5-4. I don't think that I was outclassed in fencing mechanics. I think I was outclassed in terms of strategy and constancy.

Technically, I am starting my third competitive season. I told myself that I simply lacked the experience that I needed this weekend to recognize what I should have done when the score is 4-3 or 4-4; that I was facing more experienced fencers that did have this experience. All true perhaps, but at what point do I start to glean this information from bouts and squirrel it away for use in similar situations? (Of course, it was only toward the end of the last season that I was even able to consistently score four touches in pool bouts.) And now, the time between "Halt" and "Ready?" seems to whiz by in a stuporific haze. I assume this is the time when I need to be telling myself that I don't need to rush in like so many fools to wrest that last point from my opponent, that I should be patient and worst-case, go for the double.

So that is this weekend's moral. The final result is less important. I felt like I was strong and relaxed in my fencing. I was the top-finishing woman and I made it past the first round of DEs. All in all, a great improvement over the first tournament of last season.

Now...for some strategory.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Within the sound of my voice

I recognize that it's been a while since my last post. To be truthful, I haven't been thinking that much about fencing. I'm sure this is due largely to the fact that it's been over a week since I've been able to go to practice, but hopefully I won't suffer for that too much tonight.

What got me thinking was this weekend's episode of This American Life. The subject was the devils inside each of us and one of the stories was about the Voice that many of us suffer inside our own heads. I have several of them. One of them makes me stay in bed too late. One of them makes me eat things just because they're there. And one of them likes to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body.

I first became acquainted with this last voice when I was a runner in high school. The voice was sometimes kind and sympathetic and would say to me in the middle of a cross country race, "You're tired. Who do you need to prove yourself to? There's no need to push so hard." Sometimes the voice was cruel but practical and would say, "You know you're not going to win this race anyway so just knock it off. What's the difference in 10th place and 15th place anyway? They both suck." Yet again, sometimes the voice was just downright wicked, "Look how tired you are! Look at that hole! If you were to twist your ankle right now, you'd be able to rest and everyone would want to take care of you." Luckily I never gave in to that last voice, but it was unfailing in its arrival on steep inclines.

During my years of sloth after college, I lost touch with this voice. Perhaps it was sated by my indolence and lulled into gratified slumber. But since I have started fencing, it has roused itself again and I find that often during tournaments I am facing two opponents, one of which lives inside my head. I suppose I should be glad that it is not ever present, but it likes to strike when I am weakest: when I have slipped up or am facing an especially daunting opponent. The voice was the winner during my div 2 event at nationals.

Unfortunately, This American Life did not extend its broadcast to offering ways to foil our inner devil. Attempting to drown out the voice with an internal mantra has met with some success, as has simply getting better and more confident in my fencing. But I have a feeling that the voice will never be squelched entirely and that my best recourse is simply to become better at arguing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Part Where You Let Go

The club has been shaken up. Shaken up enough so that I think that those who aren't holding on tightly may be lost to the turbulence. I tight is my grip?

Just because it's a good new song: The Part Where You Let Go

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Label making

I am in the process of labeling old posts so it will be easier to find posts on specific topics. So exciting, I know.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dorothy Parker was a fencer?

"I require only three things of a man. He must be handsome, ruthless and stupid."

Ms. Parker has quite a few biting quotes to her name, but I happened upon this one again today and suddenly thought: why that would make a perfect fencing opponent!

Stupid: I guess that one's obvious. If I could spend an entire bout winning touches with the same attack over and over, and my opponent not figuring it out, well that'd be just fine with me.

Handsome: Well, he's going to take his mask off at some point, and it might as well be something good to look at. It's convenient that whites, like other uniforms, are attractive on most men.

Ruthless: Perhaps this one requires a little more explanation and perhaps I am a little loose with the meaning of ruthless. But I have in mind that opponent (you know him) who wants with every fiber of his being to assail you with huge beats, sweeping parries, and fleches from halfway down the piste. These types are often daunting for a woman upon first meeting, but they can be solved quite easily with a few studied derobements, small disengages and point control.

Without question, there are many strengths of male fencers that I find very difficult to overcome. With some men I fence frequently, I simply know that I cannot get into a shoving-parry match with them because I will lose. But the lady fencer should keep in mind that she too has strengths that can be played successfully.

Monday, August 20, 2007


This weekend I participated in a camp at our club. Two days, 9-3, billed as an intensive, start-up-the-season experience. A basic summary:
1) General warmup with various running and stretching exercises
2) Taking of our "fitness temperature", doing a little sprint around the salle, vertical jump, and standing broad jump.
3) Footwork drills
4) Target drills with weapon
5) Break into two groups: foil and epee for dry exchange drills
6) Switch to electric for more drills, then bouting
1) Warmup with running and a bit of jump rope (!)
2) Distance keeping drills
3) Footwork drills, including a bit of scrutiny and extra drilling for the fleche.
4) Target Speed drills
5) Breaking into two groups: foil and epee for dry exchange drills
6) Switch to electric for more drills, then bouts

Overall, it was a good amount of activity for me. I was okay after Saturday, but today I am feeling a bit of soreness in my legs. I've never been to a fencing camp before so I didn't really know what to expect or if my expectations were reasonable, especially for so short a time period. For the cost, I wish that there had been more individual attention in case during all those drills I was reinforcing the wrong behaviors. Being so technically driven, the drills are my favorite part actually. I always worry about whether my execution in bouts is technically correct so I enjoy the time to study particular moves at a more granular level.

I think that I did not so much learn new things at this camp, but it helped me to determine my areas of weakness which need the most immediate attention. Perhaps the most focused portion of the whole experience was sitting down Saturday morning to fill out a form that asked us to determine our goals for ourselves and for the competitive season.

If this camp serves me, I hope it serves as a momentum-building device to get me going on a season of similar intensity. I want to work hard and sweat a lot and go to bed exhausted, but I'm not working for nothing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ve vant to pump! you up!

So I bought a smallish weight machine this weekend off craigslist. It doesn't do everything, but allows me to do a full circuit of the muscle groups. Last night was the first time I really used it and I concentrated on lower body

3 x 10 squats
3 x 20 toe raises (calves)
3 x 10 leg curl
2 x crunches to failure

I kept the weights very light last night because I haven't lifted weights in a couple years since I gave up my Bally's membership. The next step is to crack open the copy of Strength Training for Fencers and sketch out an actual routine. In college, I lifted weights quite a bit, with guidance in the beginning from the cross-country coaches, so that's what I base most of my planning on. My experience is in training different muscle groups on alternating days so that your muscles get the proper rest; upper body one day, lower body the next, repeat. But since I won't have time to train on nights that I fence, it may be a bit of a juggling act at first to make
sure I am working hard enough. It only took me about 19 minutes last night to finish my circuit, so there's plenty of time to adjust without eating up too much of my evenings.

Meanwhile, I need to add some intense all over cardiovascular training on the weekends. I'm toying with a bootcamp workout I read on another blog.

I might add, it's always like this at the beginning of the season. Big plans for reshaping my physique, my fitness. How long do I usually stick with it? Hard to say - two steps forward, one and a half steps back. I've come to grips with the fact that I'll never be as fit as I was in college again, but every little bit feels like a lot of good to me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Talent is nurtured in solitude; character is formed on the stormy billows of the world.
Johann von Goethe

This weekend we cleaned out our garage. The floor is wide open and there is a nice clear space on the wall, just waiting for a target. I think it is a commonly accepted statistic that the majority of fencers have only a few things that they do really well. I've decided it ought to be my goal to figure out what those things are (or what they will be), and learn to execute them perfectly. I foresee hours of repetitive point control drills and thousands of advance-lunges.

The crux comes, however, when it is time to prove what practice has wrought. Damn those character-forming stormy billows.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Patience? Not one of MY virtues

Nationals, nationals, nationals. Tired of hearing about it yet? I wish I could stop thinking about it - dreaming about it. So I'm going to keep writing about it for a while. If you're bored, feel free to pop over to ICHC till I get done.

I just finished listening to this interview with Soren Thompson. He is exactly the type of fencer I want to be. Granted, I have no delusions of fencing anywhere near that level, but I want to occupy the same mind space. Among other admirable confessions, the thing that he mentioned that most struck home for me this week was his recounting of a recent team competition. Soren describes how his team slowly builds a lead and concentrates on not making mistakes, instead letting the other team make mistakes.

What a brilliant f-ing idea! How many bouts last weekend did I take the lead in early on, only to lose it, and the bout, in a blink? At least three, maybe more. And the DE that I lost 15-13? Yes, I was in the lead more than once and then, poof, bye-bye.

Perhaps you cannot sense my incensed mood through this 2-D medium. Take my word for it: just thinking about it makes me so angry. I wish that I'd had a bit more presence of mind on Saturday to record exactly what caused me to lose the lead, but I know that each of the following culprits was to blame at one time or another.

1) "OMG! I have the lead. Quick, close it out!" Followed by leaving my brain at the on-guard line in favor of spastic flailing.
2) "OMG! I have the lead. Quick, stop everything you've been doing so far (that's been working) and freeze up!"


My Black Eyed Dog

I had planned for a couple light weeks of practice this month because I am feeling a little burnt out after Miami. However, upon hearing of my results, K. was quick to express his displeasure at my placement and set out to make Tuesday night's practice a rather miserable one. My legs are still sore. No more practice this week. Next week is up in the air.

I know that I could be more in shape than I am, but my physical state is not what is keeping me back. It's not even my technical skill, because; heck, I bet 50% of my touches last weekend were hand/wrist/forearm shots. No, my proverbial roadblock is my Crazy.

I see my Crazy as a skulking beast, small but heavy, running in circles around me and slicking my path with a cool slime of doubt. Every step is taken with trepidation and even the slightest stumble sends me back several paces. It's a dangerous spiral and I went for a helluva ride last Saturday.

I suppose that the upshot is that I am very aware of this problem and that in the waging of the war against my Crazy, I am beginning to win every so often. It actually took physical effort (jumping, jogging in place, various noises of frustration), but after my third bout/loss in Div 2, I shook free from the dark cloud. It couldn't save my placement, but it was a small personal victory.

He who overcomes others is strong. He who overcomes himself is mighty. - Lao Tzu

Monday, July 09, 2007

What a long strange trip.....

I've been thinking for quite a while how I wanted to write about my trip to Nationals, or if I wanted to write about it at all. But I think I can only help myself by doing so. And the results are a matter of public record anyhow.

Generally speaking, I will never return to Miami again. The humidity, the run down, dirty streets, bad food, the automatically applied gratuity and bad service, and the thumping bass till 5 AM all combined to make an absolutely miserable experience outside the doors of the convention center.

Inside the convention center, it was not so bad. The tournament seemed to be well run. Events started promptly and it wasn't too long a wait till DEs. Our Div 3 pool was actually the last pool to start, but we had a good time chatting until our 12 year old ref (who I saw later deeply involved in a game of Halo) showed up.

On a more personal level, the events became a struggle; a battle not between two ends of the strip, but between my mind and my body. I began the event confident and excited. This carried through my first pool (Div3) with four wins and two losses. But after a narrow loss in the round of 64 things went quickly downhill.

Gathering for the Div2 pool was apparently on a completely different planet. There were no friendly words, no good-natured ribbing. A row of cold, blood-thirsty opponents lined up against your intrepid kite-flyer (me). After losing (quickly) 5-1 to the girl that eventually won the pool, I was shattered. My tenuous confidence is easily rattled, and not easily settled.

It is endlessly frustrating that some of the things I value most - strength and an unflappable composure - are so slippery in the unsure fingers of this nascent epeeist. However, in the spirit of every problem having a solution, I'm sure I will continue to relive each nexus and turning point of last weekend, both mentally and on "paper" in the hopes for a happier return next year.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I know I have not had a lot of original content lately. In preparation for Miami, I'm trying to avoid any over thinking or dwelling upon new ideas. The routine of the last few practices (and those yet to come) has been basic.

1) Bout till exhaustion
2) Fret about what went wrong in bouts
3) Repeat

I'm trying to hone and sharpen the basics and not add new things to the mix. You wouldn't believe how many advance-lunges, with and without a beat, I did in bouts last night. And a whole lot of them worked pretty well. If I can be fast, smooth, and on-target with that one thing, then it will be at least one small victory.

The Rallying Cry

And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.
The host is rushing ’twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Club Sweet Home

The big news at the club is that They are looking for new digs, very fancy digs in fact, announced at last night's meeting. It is a grand vision, but one hard to come to grips with. Inexplicably sparkling on the horizon - like flying across the desert and seeing Las Vegas rising in the distance. The problem is, when you actually get to Las Vegas and see it up close, it is overwhelming and a little terrifying.

Full disclosure: I get comfortable with things. I get attached to otherwise mundane things with a fierce sentimentality. I don't like change. While I have not yet become attached to my current club like I did to Tacoma, still the idea of such sudden transition leaves me a little shaky. Keep my (mostly irrational) "quirks" in mind during the following.

A world-class facility - it doesn't seem unreasonable given Charlotte's steroidal growth rate - but such a facility demands an income stream to maintain it. That means lots of fencers. Here lies the source of my greatest apprehension. One of the reasons that I enjoy fencing so much is that - unlike fitness clubs, soccer fields, and the like - practice time does not resemble a droning beehive where one earnest little bug cannot be identified from the next. During the meeting, grand tales of other national clubs were told where fencers wait in line to fence at one of sixteen strips for hours every night. And that's what we want to emulate? Alas...

In all sense I realize that even if this level of success (for success it would be for the owner of the club) could be achieved, it is probably a couple years down the road and that my rationality and common sense could grow along with the fencing population. Just spare me a moment for consternation - that is one thing I am comfortable with.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Flying Kites in Hurricanes

92 in D2WE.
101 in D3WE.

What is one little girl amid such numbers? One little heroine facing such an army?

As per usual, there is a small voice at the back of my head, trying to make me wonder if I am going to be in over my head. But my established (shakily proven) routine has been to not even think about what the result could be before a tournament. As I tell myself in moments of both elation and panic: One touch at a time. And remember folks, fencing is fun.

I have bad nights at practice of course, but normally, even if I am not in top form, I leave practice in a bleary sort of delight. I find myself laughing aloud during bouts when a particularly exciting or well-timed move is pulled off (even though it's usually by my opponent). I tell you that I've had a few bouts in the last couple weeks that were long and hard-fought and that I did not necessarily win, but when I got done I wanted to wrap my opponent in a great big sweaty bear hug, because I just love fencing so much. I love to feel myself on that edge of possibly being able to overcome, but having to wrench every beat of it from my struggling mortal frame.

My best wish is to make it through that figurative hurricane of epee-wielding women at Nationals clinging to the string of my little kite of jubilance. I want to hack my way through a couple rounds of DEs and finish with the same sort of elation that I am going in with.

Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
- Epictetus

PS - I didn't come up with the image of flying kites in hurricanes, but I can't recall now where it comes from. Fair's fair.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A thought

My literary quote of the day struck me as particularly applicable to fencing. For someone (me) who is struggling to define realistic but respectable goals, I think this is a fine one. And from one of my favorite poets no less.

"The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things".
-Rainer Marie Rilke

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Me: Made to Order

On an orphaned coffee cup in the break room: "Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." While I find this a little heavy to be considering over morning coffee, it was a provocative enough apothegm to keep me occupied on the way back to my desk to write this.

If I were going to create the perfect me, what would that be? Master gardener, able chef, world traveler, carbon neutral, 15 pounds lighter? Naturally, restless heart that I am, the list could go on for quite a while, but being that this is a fencing blog, I will narrow the scope a bit.

The coach that I currently work with most often thinks that I ought to be training like I am on the path to the Olympics: 1500 target drills, 1000 lunges, strength training, 30 bouts...did I mention these are recommendations for a daily regimen? I hate to disappoint him. I meekly plead my case of having to provide for my small family in lieu of international fencing fame. But to be honest, I don't even want international fencing fame; that's not the kind of fencing self I want to create.

Considering... Simply ecstatic upon receiving my E, I quietly covet the vaulted C that a few fencers at the club have. I like to be competitive at state tournaments, especially with the other women and currently I'm not looking much farther afield than this. I am looking forward to Div II/III events at Nationals this year, but have not as yet set any goals for final placement, and I probably won't. Hopes were made to be dashed. Two nights a week is about all I am willing to surrender at this point to training, though I would be glad to give up a Saturday morning were it an option at this club. More likely, that's when I should be doing those drills.

Having considered... I present to you the carefully molded fencer I would create: An able C epeeist, consistently finishing in the top eight at divisional tournaments and regular in attendance at Div II/III NACs and Summer Nationals. Strong and fast with excellent point control. Witty and intriguing contributor to club life. Thoughtful and eloquent blogger. Still 15 pounds lighter.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More quotes

My collection has grown to acceptable post size again, so here's another installment of quotes that, to me, relate to my fencing life:

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.
-Anais Nin

Fear is not a disease of the body; fear kills the soul.
– Mahatma Gandhi

I loathe the expression "What makes him tick." It is the American mind, looking for simple and singular solution, that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm.
- James Thurber

Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness. We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways.
- Samuel McChord Crothers

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe
And love itself have rest.
-Lord Byron

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Title Track

Yes, I've been writing in this blog for two years and now at long last, a post about sentiment de fer. I have been thinking about it since last practice. During the lesson, our coach spoke about something which is totally obvious, but perhaps does not receive enough consideration. That is, despite all the footwork we do, all the strategy, tactics, and conditioning. Despite fancy bladework, second intentions, and sweat-wicking stretchy FIE uniforms, what the whole sport boils down to is: does my point land on my opponent or does his point land on me? The "point" (haha) was driven home later the same night when our most veteran epeeist was giving me an impromptu lesson. Frustrated at my apparent ineptness he grabbed my tip and compelled me in his booming voice: "Brain should be here! Brain is here!" It actually worked and the rest of the lesson went better.

Thinking about how to be more aware of my point is what has reminded me of sentiment de fer. That feeling of being one with my steel. Because really, the point is a rather ungainly thing. It's dangling out there, 110 cm away from me controlled by, essentially, two fingers; all the while you are moving and your opponent is moving. Always knowing where this little 1/2" piece of metal is in relation to your opponent and being able to place it willfully onto clear target is really the culmination of being one with your weapon. It really is a marvelous marriage between the human brain and body.

Unfortunately, this is not inborn and, for me at least, it's not even like riding a bicycle. You can't learn it and then just keep it forever. Every hour that I fence is an hour that I am trying to tighten my feeble grasp on such a rarefied idea, and constant diligence is required not to let it slip away. There are nights when I feel completely devoid of my sentiment and there are nights when I feel like I have reached a new level of awareness.

Observing fencers who have truly made their fer part of them is really is a beautiful site. The result is a fluidity and an effortlessness of movement that is best appreciated and most coveted when you are on the receiving end of one of their touches.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Third is good

Despite my placement at the end of the day, I never really felt like I was on top of my game Saturday. Whether it was a product of the opponents that I faced or just an unprepared mental state, I'm not sure. Fighting only other women at a local level was a new, frustrating experience. Until my final round of the DEs I didn't feel pressed to perform much at all. Instead, I felt rather lulled into a wait and see sort of mode . I fear this may have been the main ingredient for a wicked spell of cloudiness that brought about my loss in the round of four. My eye was off, my timing was off and I just couldn't get a good mental hold on what needed to be done to win the bout. It came down to 13-13. No one thing had been consistently successful and I was feeling a sort of agitated desperation in the final time period: I should know what to do to end this. Two quick touches later, it was over and I garnered myself a third place finish.

Don't misunderstand, stepping back and viewing this objectively, I recognize that this is a very noble spot in which to finish and I am well-pleased. But, that last bout was so close, and even to the very end, I thought that I'd be able to figure her out and pull it off. But then it was just over, whether or not I wanted to keep fencing, I no longer had that prerogative.

This weekend I had been crediting my torpor, somewhat affectionately, to a loss-induced broken heart. But after the news from Virginia Tech today, that description is just so. so. ... far. away.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Selling the Sport

In an effort to make this blog a little less self-centered, I bring you the following commentary...

Last week on television, I saw a commercial put out by the NCAA featuring fencers. It was a great commercial and can be viewed here: (go to TV Spots and click the one with the fencer - duh). This is part of a series of commercials, each featuring a different sport, promoting the fact that the NCAA prepares students for life. Kudos to the NCAA for choosing fencing for one of them (the other two were basketball and field hockey). I hope that, like myself, it stopped many people in their tracks and made them say: "Wow, that's a beautiful sport." Because it is, but it is hard to impress upon people sometimes and it would be grand if the spot prompted at least a few people to pick up the phone and call their local club to learn about it.

Fencing, when executed correctly, is marvelous to watch. I do admit to getting a little weak in the knees and fluttery in the chest when a handsome, white-clad man performs a perfect lunge or snaps into a fine fleche. So I make this plea to the USFA: If you got, flaunt it! Let the people know that they too can partake in the graceful assault. They don't have to be fancy, high budget TV commercials. A beautiful still shot targeted to the right audiences could do wonders. Let more people know that fencing is an accessible and thriving sport and that anyone can get involved at anytime.

And where are the fencing personalities? Admittedly, the masks make it more difficult to identify potential heroes, but I hope the USFA uses the upcoming Olympics to get a few fencer's names on the lips of the public (maybe we can rename one of them 'Tiger' - that seems to work). Surely it's possible. Myself, I have zero background in short track speed skating, but at this point, I'd know Apolo Ono if we happened into the same Starbucks. It's all just marketing, and I don't mean that as cynical as it sounds.

Fencing is filled with dedicated, devoted players, but currently the "national association" seems more like a patchwork of insular geographies. Some flourish and some barely survive. Provide some professionally designed marketing materials to local clubs to use at demonstrations and in their windows to provide a streamlined, unified front for all fencers. Put bumper stickers in our yearly registration packet. Make the USFA logo a recognizable symbol so people don't mistake us for US Foosball Assocation. There must be one...hi foosballers!...get your own damn logo.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mortal Coil

Or, Literary Cross-Referencing

Would that I could shuffle off said coil and return to that coil of yesteryear. Yea, the coil that was lean and strong and never got tired; felt weightless and looked good in cutoffs. But nay, I have taken up this new coil, which weighs upon me and makes me sore and tired and desirous of Advil.

Coil, I name thee albatross! I carry you as penance for watching cable television and cooking with butter.

Weighing me down, this coil is the brand that burns red hot when I cannot lunge fast enough or grow weary too soon in an evening of bouting. Burning so that all may see what a cumbrous coil I have reaped.

Ware, Coil! For I sow new seeds. I eat many vegetables and yea, even do I jog a little. Your day will soon turn to twilight and in time even that shall wane.

I shall lunge and recover and lo! I shall redouble and I shall be as graceful and strong as the African swallow.

Coil, be not proud, for coil thou shalt be shuffled.

Oi. With apologies to Shakespeare, Donne, Monty Python and....oh, everyone.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Concentration on the...Hey, cookies!

I know this is a topic I've dwelt on before, but it's been at the forefront of my thoughts again....Okay, honestly, it's at the forefront on and off for about 30 seconds at a time. Yes, it is my eternal battle with concentration. Exhibit A: Not being able to concentrate on work and writing this instead. I read two articles this morning on about recent studies into our powers (or lack thereof) of concentration. And while it's comforting that I am not alone in the frequency of my space-outs, there is no cure yet. Meditation was mentioned as a possible means of training the brain. Fencing was not.

But, perhaps I misrepresent myself. Fencing does not help my ability to concentrate. However, my time on the strip is virtually the only time I can keep my mind on a single finite thing for more than a minute. It is a relief, truly, to have a break from the constant struggle to focus and to have a reprieve from reprimanding myself for drifting off to other matters (usually fencing, actually).

The question though, is what am I concentrating on while on the strip? Last night, I tried during a couple bouts to focus on accomplishing certain maneuvers and find that the times that I am trying the hardest to think through my moves are the times that I am least successful. It just seems like too much work for my little brain to execute attacks and maintain a heightened defense at the same time. When I think about the times I am most successful, it seems that my mind is more abstract. Sort of...feeling my way through the bout and relying much more on instinct than on plans. That is all well and good, but I do not think that I can improve much fencing this way forever.

That is why I'm going to advocate for more drills at practice. I do believe that instinctual may be the best way to fence, but I think that I can train my instincts in order to reach a higher plane of fencing. If, by drilling, I can make more advanced actions - and perhaps even analysis - a more automatic part of my game, then that is the way to go.

I do realize that I have drifted from the original slant of my post, but really, what did you expect?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

I have good days and bad days. Fortunately, last Sunday was a good day. I had made a very conscious effort to not make any actual plans. Usually when I arrive at an event with vaulted expectations, that's exactly when I fall flat on my face. So I tried very hard not to think about Sunday at all before it actually arrived. Every now and then a little voice would pipe up in my head and say "Wouldn't it be nice to make it to the round of 32?" but I would promptly quash it with a quick "Hush you!".

So it was that I stepped off the shuttle bus with nothing particular in mind except to get some fencing in with people I didn't know. I managed to time my warm-ups pretty well so that I was raring to go when the pool began....Or so I thought, because I was confounded in the first bout 1-5. I was somewhat relieved later when that same girl won the pool by a large margin. After several close calls, I finally ended the pool 4 bouts up, 2 bouts down and a safe third place. The bad news is that I made a lot of mistakes. The good news is that I'm finally recognizing the mistakes when I make them and (usually) don't make them again.

After the pools, I was seeded 34, and got a bye to the round of 64 where I had to face number 31. I did not expect an easy bout and I did not get one. We were very evenly matched and I wish that I had that girl for a bouting partner. The score was incredibly close the whole time though I kept a one point lead for most of the 3 periods. Finally, we were at that much dreaded point 14-14 and as I turned to come on guard for the last time, I got a glimpse of my coach in the early stages of heart failure. Since my opponent was left-handed, my normal tactic of waiting for a counter-attack was a little dangerous, as her point was always dangerously close to my wrist. Throughout the bout, I'd found I had a rather unexpected knack for anticipating her attack and had nailed her several times right at the decision point; right when she had decided to attack and was not prepared to defend. I continued my role as the passive aggressor and inched her backwards without attacking, hyper-aware of her blade and arm. Finally something triggered me and I took the chance, with a quick extension towards her underarm with opposition. There was no counter and I got the single light. I got hearty congratulations from my teammates watching and a gracious handshake from my competitor. I really enjoyed that bout.

But from there it was a long period of waiting till the round of 32 (I made it!). I saw my would-be competitor - the No. 2 seed - dispatch her round of 64 opponent 15-0. I knew the girl, a young, skinny high school girl that I had fought in Virginia and never beat. My coach came over and watched her briefly too before turning to me and saying, essentially, that she looked pretty good and he didn't know what else to say. Just as well, I entered that last bout with no preconceptions or unreasonable ideas. I am proud to say that I scored 8 points on her, only one or two of which were doubles.

And so it was that I emerged into a beautiful day from the noisy and oppressive fluorescence of the conference hall. I found a comfortable bench and I relished for a moment the sun and breeze and did not feel particularly impatient for the shuttle bus. Later I was compelled to chat a little to a guy in a tell-tale blue blazer who sat down next me (and admitted, when I queried him about directing foil that he had a little color-blindness that made it difficult for him to distinguish between valid touches and off targets). I smiled a little and at last the shuttle bus arrived to carry us away. I was tired, but it was a good tired, the kind that I have been striving for as part of my New Year's resolution.

I can feel something beneath my skin, hidden somewhere in the musculature...An understanding of movement and a capability of strength which I have not felt or seen since college. But it is still buried too deep and I resent these hours I must sit at a desk instead of running or playing. Like I said, there are good days and bad days and there are still plenty of practices where I feel like a flailing hippo. But the islands of perfection are growing larger, and standing upon one, I can see the next rising ahead. The goal now is to have the good days outnumber the bad days.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Gender Gap

So this should be apparent by now: I am a female. Do I fence like a girl? Likely. However, at practice and even at tournaments I fence almost exclusively men (and boys).

Now, this doesn't really bother me. For several years I've worked with mostly all men. Going farther back I've mostly been a participant of sports where the guys and girls were, if not competing against each other, at least practicing together. So I'm comfortable sweating around members of the opposite sex, to say the least. I am not a priss. That fact becomes important in a couple paragraphs.

Likely, this informs my style of fencing. From a purely physical standpoint, I am almost always the weaker opponent. I know with most men that I have a difficult time taking the blade and I can never bind unless I catch them at exactly the right point. So this has forced me instead to hone my disengage, find speed, and (as a perpetual work in progress) try tactics like second intention. This is all fine and good and I have no complaints about this facet of the gender gap.

Here is where I have a complaint: fencers who practice unnecessary roughness. Fencers for whom Finesse is just a shampoo. Who always hit as hard as they can, no matter what. Who wield their epees like a machete and hack at you like they were running blindly through the jungle with so many rabid wildebeests on their tail.

Exhibit A: A knot on my palm after my opponent crashed into my bell guard so hard last night that it lodged the pommel nut into my hand.

In all fairness, there are probably women who fence like this too, I just haven't met them. Call me a coward or a wimp or anything you like. But fencing is supposed to be fun and to me, it's just not fun to limp away from every touch.

Maybe I'll never be able to beat these guys who choose brute force over tactics. I'll just take solace in the fact that I look way better in knickers than they do.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tooting My Own Horn (*long, self-centered post ahead*)

Giddy is a word that I can very very...very rarely use to describe myself. But I'll admit it here in front of God and everyone that on Sunday evening, yea, even unto Monday morning I was giddy. Did I come into a large inheritance? Win a trip to Tuscany? Accept a position as official marmot cuddler at the zoo? Nay, one simple little thing - I got an "E07" placed next to my name by making it into the round of 4 in Sunday's tournament. Certainly to everyone sensible, fencers and civilians alike, it is a trifling thing. Even a master of the sport said many times to me that "ratings mean nothing". So be it, I'm still excited.

There were two events Sunday. The first, an Open Mixed Epee had 33 competitors. In my pool, there were six fencers including a C, D, and an E. I tried really hard not to take the bouts too seriously. I am confident that my biggest downfall in a tournament is always my own mind. It was mentally exhausting to keep the terror at bay when the score was even, or I was behind, but I kept repeating my mantra, 'one touch at a time' and it seemed to work. I even came back from a one point deficit (after both my weapons failed before the bout started) to beat the D 5-4. In the end, I won three bouts and lost two and was very satisfied with that. Being satisfied with myself is a victory in itself. The DEs that followed were strenuous and I just barely won my first one 15-14. This is the first time I have ever won my first round DE! I was ecstatic. The day could've ended right there and it would've been a good one. I lost the next round to a B, but I don't think I made it overly easy for him and got 7 touches of my own. In the end, I was 12th out of 33 - the highest placing U and the highest placing woman. Had my teammate not knocked a C out of the top 8, I would've earned my E right then, but I'm happy that he did so well and not unhappy with my placement.

The second event was E and Under Epee and it still drew 25 competitors. My pool had 5, and only one E. I was not as happy with my performance in this pool and felt like the day was beginning to wear on me. I was 2 & 2, but thought I should've won at least one more. Perhaps the prior event had given me a false security. I ended up facing a slightly higher seed in the round of 16, but it was someone I had fenced earlier in the day and I knew what to expect. I went in a little reckless, trying too hard for the points and initially fell behind. Thankfully, his equipment was not cooperating and I had a few minutes to reflect and talk some sense into myself. I took it easier from there, waiting for his mistakes and taking advantage. For the first time, I made it to the round of 8. There was a teammate of mine waiting for me there. I knew that he could and had beat me in the past so I had to be on my game: the winner of this bout got the E. Bless their soul, a kind person reminded me before the bout of his strengths: He can be wild, but he's got a fast hand, watch your distance. I took it to heart, evaded his blade and managed to get the counterattack consistently. Not to say it was easy, though! Again, I had a first, and got to the semi-finals...and an E! My final competitor was a high school kid I had already beat in the pool. However, someone had apparently got a hold of him and his style had completely changed. I couldn't get the hang of the rhythm. I parried, but was out of distance for the riposte. I tried to get closer, but got nailed in the chest. I'm not sure what I should have done differently but at this point, it was nearly 8 hours since I started fencing at 9 that morning and the epee seemed about 3 pounds heavier. He was younger and faster and deserved his spot in the gold medal bout. I, personally, am in love with my third place medal.


Next up, lessons learned. For now, I'm still in my happy place.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

For a change...

Usually my posts are very "woe is me" so since I actually had a few good things happen at practice last night I thought I ought to write about them before I return to my usual state of melodrama. In recognition of this rare occasion I have prepared the lovely piece of art you see here.Distance
I can recall two distinct times where I played the distance game like a pro. The first, I parried and took a step back and just as my opponent was starting to step back as well, I launched (literally) a super long lunge and riposted to his wrist. My immediate feeling was not one of excitement, or even surprise. No, my immediate thought was "Holy crap, it's a good thing I stretched first." Because otherwise, I'd still be feeling that lunge this morning.

My second gratifying use of distance came when I at last achieved a tactic that I've tried to use many times before. My opponent was steadily backing me down the strip and we had defined a definite rhythm that I could feel. So I kept the rhythm but faked the size of my retreat just a little so that I could take a quick short lunge and ping him on the forearm.

When something finally works after many failures, it's a good feeling. Is it one of those islands of perfection? Perhaps an experienced fencer would read this and just say "Pft! What's the big deal? You're supposed to be using distance." I hope that eventually it will become as natural for me too and I can treat it flippantly.

Speaking of experience, let me mention a patriarch of our club who, while in his 70s, still tidily dispatches just about every epeeist with minimal effort. I consider myself lucky to get a single touch on him. But last night, in a display of unusual self-discipline, I struggled for nearly the entire three minutes, concentrating on suppressing all unnecessary movements, keeping my point on target, and getting the hell out of the way. Thus, I had a long, incredibly mentally stressful bout (for me anyway) with him and still lost, but it was 5-4. Four points that, I think, are worthy of a sunny happy face.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Fire and Ice

So to recap: I had just barely passed the year mark in Virginia when I moved to North Carolina. I was off from fencing for about a month before joining Touche Fencing Club in Charlotte. It is very different from the Salle in that it is very much a club. The emphasis is much less on instruction and much more on just coming to fence. This may be an unfortunate thing for the long run, but for now, I think it is a good step. At the salle, I received a ton of personal instruction and coaching from Maitre, but had less opportunity to test those skills against opponents that were really challenging. Now I test my skills excessively (after my half hour drive home, I'm still soaked with sweat), but I fear I will lose my technical acuity that I was working so hard to perfect. I don't want to be just a fencer who wins a lot of bouts, I want to be a fencer who looks like a good fencer. It will come down to discipline and whether I can get my act together enough to drill at home on off days. I have grand plans for the garage, but currently it's just a storage room.

...And now that we're all caught up, I'm left thinking of the two practices I've had this week. Where I've been either on fire, picking off every wrist that came within range, or ice cold, barely able to get my feet off the ground to move. And I'm not talking about different days, just different bouts. I think the loss of my extremely detail oriented drills has left me less able to depend upon muscle memory and more upon muscle exertion. I haven't (this week at least) felt like a good fencer, just someone who knows which motions to perform.

Add to that the fact that I'm still a little uneasy in the club setting. I still feel like an outsider, more than I ever did even after only a couple weeks in Tacoma or at Salle Green. That's a whole 'nother can of neuroses though and has to do with fencing only on a peripheral level. That's a whole other blog that I wouldn't burden anyone with.