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.