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.