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.