Thursday, October 30, 2008

Er, Hi again

*cough, cough* Man, this place is dusty.

Yes, I know I said I would start writing again after the summer was over, but...well, something happened this summer and it looks like I'm going to be redshirting this season.

Truth is, I am going to have a baby, so no fencing for me this year. I kept up with practice through August and part of September, but I'm out of it for now. In some ways, this forced break was welcome; I had been having a lot of mental hang ups and frustrations and didn't always look forward to practice. That's never a good feeling and not a good way to get better. So I hope that when I return sometime next summer it will be with a clear mind and a positive outlook.

But of course I miss it too. Practice has always been more fun than competition and I miss hanging out with my friends at the club. I miss bouting with people who I'm pretty sure can read my mind at this point and still managing to surprise them every now and then. I had been excited that there was another NAC I could attend in Atlanta but given that it's only a couple weeks before my due date, I'm going to go ahead ad say that's a no-go.

And I worry - I worry that getting back into shape and rebuilding muscle memory will be a daunting and discouraging experience. I worry that I'll fall behind and never be able to "catch up" to the people that pass me in the meantime. But I try and remind myself that I've got a darn good excuse for any and all slippage.

I'm not totally inactive. I've been swimming at the Y and walking a lot. I haven't actually gained any weight yet and I still feel capable of almost everything; I just get tired a little faster. Plenty of women bounce back quickly from pregnancy. I'd like to say that I'll be one of those without sounding foolishly optimistic.

So, that's about it for now. I don't imagine I'll be posting here too often for the near future, but fencing is still on my mind so who knows.

Good luck to all this season.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Summer Blahs

I'm mostly writing today to say that I probably won't be writing much for a while. Whether it's the heat, the winding down season, or just one of the other billion things on my brain, fencing is just not one of my top priorities right now. That's not to say it's absent from my life; I plan on two practices a week, every week, all summer, and I will be at the State Games this weekend, but I am currently lacking the required level of fanatic fencing devotion to blog about it.

That said, I did want to comment briefly about this past weekend when the other club in our city graciously invited us to an just-for-fun team competition at their place. We were sorted into teams after arriving so that the teams would be as equal as possible. I was the middleweight for my team and I think I did my job fairly well. The best part was that it was a lot of fencing and a lot of fencing different people that I don't get to fence much or ever. I won a couple of hard bouts and I got my butt handed to me in a couple of bouts. It was a good warmup for next weekend I think and a good way to focus my mind on the things I need to work on at practice.

Lastly, I just want to say that I really REALLY want this shirt, but I'm afraid it's not appropriate for a 30 year old contributing member of society. What do you think? If you saw an otherwise respectable looking woman wearing one of these at Target or wherever, would you think "Geeze, what a poser"?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What if I don't have an ocean to practice in?

Came across this on accident today:

Fencing Workout DVD

I have to admit that I'm curious, but the dates on the website are from January and it indicates no official release date that I can see. Also, the listed exercises don't look much different than what we do at practice for warm-up most nights.

I do find it a little humorous that they haven't removed some of the default template content (the "lorem ipsum") stuff.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Voting is hard work

I'm mostly posting because I haven't posted lately and because it's the Friday before a three-day weekend. Who the heck is working?

I've been thinking that I ought to think about this whole USFA election thing. We got our ballots in the mail this week, but the discussion started on Fencing.Net a long time ago. I also got included on an email from a former coach who wanted to have his say about the slates, though it was pretty mild compared to the online discussions.

There are a lot of people who care about this about it violently. I, however, am not one of these people. I cannot convince myself that the USFA leadership has affected me much one way or the other since I've been a fencer. I pay my dues and in return I get a sub par magazine and a little card that lets me go to tournaments. This is pretty much all I need from the USFA. The NACs and Nationals are gravy, albeit expensive gravy. Of course, since I have been fencing for less than a quadrennial, I've only known the USFA under one administration, so I admit that my remarks are probably naive. And if I were a good fencer then I would be affected quite differently.

The good fencers have a lot more on the line and thus may make their decisions with more fervent check marks. But I'm of the mind that the nominating committee exists for a reason and is not made up of just any ol' schmoes. They already did the hard work of deciding on the best candidates for the job and I'm all about letting someone else do the hard work.

lolcat - this not so hard

Friday, May 09, 2008

Numbers Game

Hello, I am an epee fencer, and...I am an askFRED addict.

There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step right? And I am admitting to you loyal readers, all dozen of you, that I went slightly nutty earlier this week waiting for the results of Sectionals to be posted. Of course I knew the final results, I was there till the end of the my event, but I just wanted to look at the results, to revisit my bouts and everyone else's. I find numbers comforting in their plainness and somehow find solace in the fact that you can't argue about simple facts on a page(screen). I agonized somewhat over a few "ugly" touches that I got last weekend, but now when I look at the results of those bouts, there's nothing to see but a final concrete score: all touches were equally um, touched.

For validation of my unhealthy obsession, I tried to search for some qualified person's opinion on whether or not reviewing statistics is a valuable tool for athletes. I didn't come up with much, though I'm sure this is as much due to my search-short-attention-span as anything else. Thus, this unqualified blogger is left to make her own observations about the good of staring at numbers and, as I have been known to do, make spreadsheets of them and apply dubious formulas to come up with new, even more dubious, numbers.

I can't convince myself that this is a bad thing, except that it's time spent I could be doing other, more productive, things. I also can't provide any proof that the time spent has done me any good (besides the aforementioned number-induced comfort). I don't think there's anything I can do at practice with the knowledge that I win X% of my pool bouts and Y% of my DEs; though certainly bad percentages must engender a desire to work harder. What I could use is information such as how often I win (or lose) touches on counterattacks, second intention, etc., but I don't yet have the self-awareness for recording this level of detail.

Great, just what I need - one more thing that just takes practice.

Monday, May 05, 2008

2008 Southeast Sectionals

This past weekend was the Southeast Sectional Championships in Columbia, SC. It's the first year I've been to this type of event so I didn't have any particular expectations, though I did expect attendance to be higher. With seven states to pull from, there were only thirteen women in the senior epee event. I suppose it is largely due to the fact that Nationals are on the other side of the country this year and a lot of people, me included, have already written it off. Last year, with a much closer Summer Nationals, there were 23 competitors. Still, there were entire states which had no representation.

Regardless, the thirteen of us that did show up gave a good accounting of ourselves I think. I felt compelled to fence my very best all day without exception and I got to test myself against women that are As, Bs, and Cs which is one of the main reasons I wanted to go.

I was glad to be placed in the "big" pool of seven and I was feeling pretty good, despite having gotten up at 5 am. I had two coaches, my husband, and other cheerers-on to give me confidence and keep me relaxed. I tried my very best to exercise my mindsets and mantras as a means of remaining level and cool and the result was what I think may have been one of my very best pools ever. I was 4-2 with a +11 indicator. My losses were 5-4 and three of my wins where 5-1. My losses, to two very young, very fast girls, were both frustrating . At 4-4 I felt in both cases that I could have gotten the last touch. On the other side of the coin though, I am also proud of the fact that I even got to 4-4 because they were both very good fencers that I probably could not have hung with a couple months ago.

So, overall still happy and feeling good at the end of pools and I was surprised to see that I was seeded 4th. There were lots of upsets going on in both pools I think. In the first round DE I was up against a girl that I had beat in the pool 5-1, but I started the first round too cautious and slow and at the first break it was 10-6 for her. Thankfully, I had some good coaching at the break and at the end of the second period it was 13-11 for me. I grabbed my last two points pretty quickly with fast straight attacks in the third period. My coach told me he saw three completely different fencers in the three periods and I need to sit back and consider how to get rid of the first and be the second two more often.

I clung tightly to those second two fencers in the round of 8 when I was slated against the A who had beaten me in the pool. This girl is awesome - her attacks and hand movements were deadly fast, but I still felt like I could hang with her. I'm glad I had gotten to fence her in the pool and knew what to expect. I felt great in the beginning; never discount the great mental boost that you can give yourself by getting the first touch. After that the score stayed really tight - I think I led twice and scored on a fleche and a toe-touch - more mental boosts for me. At the break it was 12-11 for her, but I think the break was detrimental to me - giving me an entire minute to cogitate on the necessity of my getting single lights from here on out. I rejoined the fight with a sense of overwhelming imperative. I have to attack and I have to get the touch. Such was the weight of this thought upon my mind that I forgot pretty much everything else, including moving and actually attacking. So it was that the last three touches were scored in the manner that my coach has been warning me about for weeks. I got in the bubble and I stopped. And I lost 15-11.

My final placing was 6th because of another upset, but I'm cool with that. I feel like except for those last three touches of the last bout I fenced pretty awesomely. I also qualified for Div IA for the first time and was awarded a giant hunting knife which I will try to take a picture of and post. I'm a little scared of it. The top four got awesome samurai swords so that's my goal for next year.

This tournament, more than any before, has left me with a lot to think about. I've been reliving those last three touches all weekend. Also, the gold medalist was one of my 5-1 victories in the pools so I can't help but think what if I had been on the other side of the bracket and fought her in a DE? I guess the what-ifs keep it fun, keep me returning; no one likes to leave questions unanswered. Maybe I can answer them next year.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Debasing fencing masks...and toilet seats

This is a real life Fight Club (pre-dating the movie) in Silicon Valley. A lot of the protective head gear they're wearing is fencing masks, which rather offends me. While I've always secretly wanted to know how I would fare in a fist fight, these guys seem more than a little ridiculous. To me, this video just reinforces the dignified, but dynamic and strenuous aspects of fencing. Fencing is in itself a fight club - albeit one with strict rules and plenty of protection. As our coach said to us only Wednesday night: You always want your opponent to leave the strip feeling like he's been in a dogfight.

Oh yeah, and how can something be "semi-lethal"??

Thursday, May 01, 2008

No Sprechen Fechtsport

Last night practice was solely a preparation for Sectionals. We fenced a lot of bouts, mimicking both pool bouts and DEs not so much to practice fencing, but moreso to practice mindsets. And maintaining a proper mindset, for me, is at least as challenging as maintaining proper form. It was a great, well-timed practice but it is the practices that challenge me the most that usually leave me the most frustrated. My frustration actually came to a head last night and I swallowed my pride and I just said to our coach, "I don't get it. I can't see what you say I should be seeing." Of course he was kind and reexplained things to me but I felt a bit deflated for the rest of the night.

Something that he's been drilling into us, me especially, for a while now is that the way to fence is to move in and out of the bubble. You move in the bubble, look for opportunities and move back out. In and out. When you move in and see an opportunity for attack, you take it - quickly! - and then get right back out, whether or not you were successful. So I'm in there looking for these opportunities but I don't really know what it is I'm looking for. I'm trying to create reactions in my opponents, but I don't really know how to identify these reactions or what to do with them when I get them. So I get in the bubble and I look for...something...and I forget to get out. I enter the sacred bubble temple sending prayers to the fencing heavens that they may grace me with a sign of exactly what it is I'm supposed to be doing in there. But the heavens are silent, or the devotee is blind and deaf; either way, I'm just not getting it.

I resign myself to the fact that this must be a function of time and experience and that slowly the great Truth will be revealed to me. The funny thing is, some of my most successful attacks are when I quit thinking about this most important tenet and fall back upon my animal instincts (rabid bunny mostly). At the Sword in the Stone, my single lights against the A fencer in my DEs came when I just went after him, throwing in a few beats and double disengages when they seemed appropriate. Maybe I do see the opportunities - sort of subconsciously - and it's only when allowing my brain to get in the way that I botch it up. Wouldn't be the first time my brain has let me down.

I guess the important point for the day is that I'm looking forward to Sectionals this weekend; I'm going to exercise my mindsets and just try to have fun. I finished the practice last night with one of my most fun touches ever - a fleche disengage. Fear the bunny!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Double Feature: I

Well I've got some catching up to do. I've been to two tournaments in the last two weekends, but I had a vacation in the middle so I wasn't around computers too much. It was quite nice, but if you've been holding your breath for my next titillating blog post...well you can exhale my friend.

Now, get ready for two...TWO tournament reviews in one.

Last Saturday, which seems like last year to my travel-addled brain, was the NC Div II/III Qualifiers. In 2007, I finished third place and back when I was writing out my goals for this season they included finishing first this year. I was still pretty comfortable and confident in this decision at the start of fencing on Saturday. I was lucky enough to get a lesson from our club's new international man of fencing-genius which made me relaxed and eager to get to the actual bouting. I did pretty well in my pool, but was frustrated by the bladework of one of my opponents which gave me my only loss: 4-3 in "overtime". I believe I was seeded fourth after pools and still felt good mentally, though the facility was so hot I was feeling physically a little ill. Luckily, I was able to mostly ignore that and I made it through my first two DEs without too much trouble, including a much more graceful handling of the girl that beat me in the pools. In the round of 4, I was up against the one girl that really worried me in the whole competition, who I have seen at some competitions but never actually gotten to fence. Turns out my worries were well-founded because I wasn't able to get around her strong counterattacks. During the first period I tried several things but managed very few points. In the second period, I was better at keeping the score down, but still couldn't get very many touches of my own. So the third period opened with a wide gap in the score and I was feeling a little desperate and losing my temper (at myself). I started doing crazy things, trying to get any points I could, and you can guess how well that worked. So, I tied for third, again, but that's okay, because I lost to a good opponent, who did take first. I qualified for Nationals (which I won't attend this year) and renewed my cute little E.

Overall, it was a good, satisfying tournament, in no small part because I received a lot of great coaching and encouragement from my teammates. I was able to perform much more closely to my best than usual because I was reminded that I could. My clubmates too had some great results and I was glad for the little bits I got to watch on Saturday. You guys are the best.

Double Feature: II

So that's that (see previous post). Then this past weekend there was a smallish tournament at the club which I was a little iffy on, but I woke up feeling good on Sunday so I decided to do it. Turns out it was bigger than I expected, about 17 people. It was a strange sort of day, everyone seemed real low-key, including myself. I warmed up well, but in true neurotic-style I blew my first pool bout which I should have won. Though I won two others (including a very tense and exciting bout against one my clubmates) I had a crappy place in the bracket and had to fight the same clubmate again in the round of 16.

This was an awesome bout and spanned most of the nine minutes though I almost blew it in the first period, facing a score of 9-3 at the break. Somehow, miraculously, I was able to get my head around what I was doing (or rather, not doing) and closed the gap in the second period. At this point, I was just so proud of myself for figuring out what needed to be done and then doing it, that it was a little victory just for me. In the third period we were neck and neck all the way till it came to 14-14. It was a really emotional bout and I think I lost my cool a little too much once or twice, which I felt guilty about immediately. I don't like showing that side around people I respect, was a learning experience. And it was a victory, for my teammate, 15-14. But that's okay, it was such a good bout and I think we both did great. Not a great finish, objectively, but I'm still mostly happy with what I accomplished.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, I had to skip practice last night, which I was really looking forward to. But moving forward, I'm all about practicing the parry-riposte...especially the riposte. I just hope my week and a half off does not kill me on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Comfort Zone, or Lack Thereof

I honestly am looking forward to Divisionals this weekend. Women's Epee is actually a relatively strong event compared to the other women's events this weekend, though it doesn't look like it'll be as strong as last year's. Still, as per usual, I am fretting a little bit about how I will do.

funny picturesI haven't felt like my fencing was all-together in quite a while. While struggling to improve my form and tactics, I seem to lost a lot of "comfort" with my body on the strip. It's like I have to instruct each limb separately which, as you might imagine, can seriously impede one's threat level. Practice has left me with a low-level of frustration lately. It's not a serious, mood-altering frustration that makes me want to throw my mask; it's a low-level pulsing sort of frustration that hovers just under the surface of my brain and just makes me want to sigh. Why is this so hard? I do understand that it will just take time and eventually things will begin to feel in harmony again.

But I am left wondering what to do in the meantime. Faced with an important tournament, should I fall back on my "comfortable" fencing style where I am confident, but essentially reliant upon counterattacks? Should I try to be the new fleet fencer that I want to be: dancing in and out of the bubble, but losing mental acuity in the meantime? I thought I was trying to be the latter at SitS but was informed afterwards that I still looked like my old stiff self most of the time. I guess we'll just have to see. T minus 1 day and counting.

Friday, April 04, 2008

After Practice Nutrition

So two nights a week I go straight from work to practice and work my butt off. I then arrive home around 9 pm, starving. I usually feel guilty about whatever it is I eat, no matter how healthy said food would have been around at an earlier hour because Everyone says you shouldn't eat late at night. So for help and reassurance, I turned to the nutritionist behind one of the blogs I read, Limes and Lycopene. Kathryn was nice enough to answer my question on her blog. The short of it: it's okay to eat late! Phew!

What to eat when you get home late

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The results are in

SitS Results

Well despite my best efforts (<-- sarcasm), my 30th place finish still garnered me the honor of top-placing female in the Open Epee event last weekend. There were 12 women out of 45 competitors and we're all in the bottom 30% of the results? That's more than a little disappointing, not just as a competitor, but as an conscious member of the fairer sex. Where are the bloodthirsty battle-maidens of yesteryear? The cagey and conniving iron ladies? The sinewy and nubile minxes on a mission? Where??

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sword in the Stone in the Rearview

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

After weeks of building myself up for this event which I perceived to be both huge and terrifying, I arrived Saturday morning to find it neither. Epee was just over fifty people, but the strips were spread out over two gyms so I never really felt the press of a large tournament. I did my warm up and got in a decent practice session with one of my teammates and was raring to go right on time. Of course, this feeling had ebbed slightly when fencing did actually begin almost an hour later. As a general impression, I was not impressed with the running of the tournament. Little things were skipped over: no one ever checked to see if I was wearing a plastron or asked to see the armorer's mark on my mask. Our pool was half-reffed by a "trainee" who very obviously had never picked up a rulebook. Turned backs went unnoticed and the clock alternately overran - or didn't run at all. When the refs starting calling fencers for DE bouts (remember we're spread over two gyms) it took everyone by surprise and it was mostly by accident that I stumbled upon the posted brackets and was thus able to find my strip on time. But enough - that was my personal experience and I know others found it a well-run tournament. At least it didn't drag on forever like some others - we were out of there at 1:30.

Perhaps if my own performance had been up to par, I would be more forgiving to the tournament organizers. But, as my sage blog advised me Friday, I make no excuses for my poor showing; I was just fencing poorly. I went 2-3 in a pool where I should have been 4-1 or, at worst, 3-2. This seeded me 30th going into DEs and while I made it easily out of the round of 64, I came up against the third seed, an A, in the round of 32. And that was it for yours truly.

So about that poor pool showing? I continue to have trouble dealing with styles that I have not seen before. I have always struggled with tactics and, especially under the stress of a tournament, my mind grinds to a halt and I am left rather dumb except to fall back on my old habits of pure reactionary fencing. Old habits produce old results. A 2-3 pool is like going back in time two years.

What to do? It's a hard thing to practice, but I resolve to be a more mindful fencer, to exercise my tactical mind as much as my body. I think at the next tournament I'm also going to draw the tactical wheel on my hand so I'll have a crib sheet when my mind goes blank. And now...I'm done agonizing over Sword in the Stone (or SitS, to those in the know). Divisionals are in two weeks and I mean to redeem myself.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Greetings and Salutations: The Blog Talks Back

Dear C,
You really should be working instead of blogging. You know that right? Just checking. Anyway, how's it going? You look a little peaked today, is everything okay? You're not nervous are you... About that stupid tournament?

C, you know I think you're swell and all, but let's face it: you're a nutcase. What are you so worried about? Remember fencing is fun, that's why you do it. This is just another way to go and have fun with your pals. You must chill.

Alright, now that we've got that cleared out of the way, let's go through our tournament checklist. Uniform, shoes, snacks, blah, blah, blah. I mean the other checklist.

1) Warm up. You always stink up the first one or two pool bouts, so warm up as much as possible.
2) DON'T look at the ratings of the people in your pool. Don't look at the ratings of the people you will fence in the DEs. Don't try to guess how good they are by the state of their uniform, or their age, or religion, or anything else. Everyone is simply a fencer, just like you. And they want to win too.
3) Don't get mad at your husband if you have a bad bout. He loves you anyway and doesn't deserve your snarkiness.
4) One touch at a time. I can't stress that enough. One touch at a time, no matter how bad or good the previous touch was.
5) For the love of all that is good and holy, if you start to feel bad about yourself, stop immediately. Feeling bad is an endless downward spiral, so just don't. Whistle a happy tune. Splash some water on your face. Anything but letting that negative voice win.
6) No excuses. If you lose, it's just because that's how you did that day. It's not because you didn't eat the right breakfast. It's not because you were fighting a big dude and it's not because your shorts were riding up. It just was. Practice starts again on Monday.

So, are we set? Good! Go get 'em tiger!

Your Blog

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Resistance Training, Take 2

The idea of practicing with resistance is not unusual and is generally accepted as a way to build explosiveness and overall strength. When I ran track in high school, we used to do sprints while wearing a belt which had weights attached via rope. Recently, we've begun to incorporate some resistance training into epee practice. So far it's been accomplished as a partner drill. One person does lunges or advance-lunges while their partner keeps a death grip on their back arm, trying to give as much resistance as possible without pulling the front person's arm out of socket. I like the idea of this drill but it is necessarily awkward and also hard on your back arm.

Yesterday, I saw this device for swimmers. I would think something like this would be useful for footwork resistance training, though it may need to offer more resistance than is needed for swimming.

And if any of the Y14s get a little unruly: tether time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lady's Blade, Part 4: My E is better than your E

This past weekend another of my teammates earned his B (that's two B's in less than a month, and a third earned his C)! I am, of course, excited for him. But I'm also anxious as to what this means for me. I can't consistently beat these guys, but I feel competitive against them, and every now and then I'll pull off an upset. Our coach has told me that I'm definitely fighting at a C level and if I were to get into a high rated women's tournament I'd likely earn my B too. This makes me feel pretty good, but also makes me wonder.

If I were to earn a new rating in a women's event, is that worth more or less than earning it in an Open? I follow almost all the tournament results from my division and those of Virginia and South Carolina, paying particular attention to the final placing of the women. From my very unscientific observations, it appears that women placing in the top 25% of an Open is a rarity, but it's hard to draw any real conclusions from this. While the total number of women competing is statistically small compared to men, the number of them with a C or higher is even smaller, so its hard to gauge how the higher rated women do against men of similar ratings. And of course, beyond the local level, the competitions are going to be segregated.

I will admit to slightly more personal satisfaction upon beating a guy in a DE than a girl (what does that guy feel like? I'm sure I obsess about this way more than anyone else). I don't really have a good reason for this, but an interesting tidbit from last week's New York Times gives me at least a little justification. (Article: An Enduring Measure of Fitness) According to the article, and the video that accompanies it online, women have 20% less muscle than men and therefore 20% less strength. Now, we do push-ups as part of the conditioning portion of our practices and generally, I feel like I can keep up with the guys fairly well in this regard. I don't use my knees and I don't finish too far behind (20% behind?).

Unfortunately I have no real conclusion to all this incoherent babbling, but my ultimate question is: If I earn my C in an Open, does that make me a better fencer than earning it by strictly fencing other women? At this point, I feel equal to any man with an E, but can still become intimidated by a D of either gender. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to earn a new rating and then see who continues to kick my butt afterwards.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So I'm not just self-absorbed?

Apparently I'm also actually doing myself some scientifically-proven good when I'm bemoaning my outcast state. It's not fencing related, but it's an interesting article about how blogging is actually good for one's mental health here

Who knew.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"Love is full of anxious fears."


Warning: Woe-is-me-isms ahead...

Last weekend was a pretty awesome weekend for our little band of epeeists. Though I could not attend, the club hosted what turned out to be a big A2 tournament. Two of my teammates earned two new awesome ratings: a B and a C. Obviously, our new coach's methods are working out...and how!

But I will admit to you, forgiving audience that you are, that after last Monday's night practice I was a little pensive. Fencing, for me, has never been solely about competition or about getting the highest rating possible. I try to make competitions an objective measure of how I'm progressing my skills. Of course I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to get that next rating or place in the top X of any given tournament. But that's not necessarily what I'm thinking about at practice.

And it seems that now my mindset has fallen out of step with the overall tone of practice. I do really love pushing myself in the conditioning exercises and trying to perfect my form in blade and footwork drills but these, along with very focused and competitive bouting, leave little room for free, fun fencing. Feels like these days every time I step on the strip at practice I am accompanied by little anxious fears that my performance in that bout is critical to my viability as an epeeist. I also feel like I get frustrated more easily than I did a few months ago and that I take the losses harder.

And...that's all I really had to get off my chest. Please feel free to chalk this entire post up to female fickleness. What was I wishing for last year? I'm guessing it was a devoted coach and more direction for practices. Yeah.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

NYT: Weight Training

Does Weight Lifting Make a Better Athlete

"There is no doubt that an appropriate weight-training program would improve efficiency in pretty much any athlete"

Now what did I do with that spare time? Had it around here somewhere...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mid South Grand Open - A review in verse

With apologies in advance

O! sweet predictability!
Wherein nerves render me
Hopeless for no less than
bouts three.

O! A victorious score
Twice, with losses four
Seed me low down but my pals
Had many more.

DE! Round of thirty-two
A rematch is overdue
With Mr. H, he's got more youth
than you-know-who

Fight! Fight Fight!
Red light, green light
And another red means you've made
The sixteen by a mite.

Now! You're in the clutch
And you want to win so very much
15-14 is so #%@!* close. You missed your
D08 by a single touch.

Seriously though, I want to acknowledge the Mid South club for a very efficiently run tournament, even in close quarters. And I did get a medal and other prizes for being the top-finishing woman. That's really a nice touch in a mixed event; so often when I'm reviewing tournament results (whether I was in the event or not) I notice there are no women in the top 25% of the results, but that doesn't mean that the women in the tournament aren't awesome in their own right. I did feel sort of odd accepting the award though since I didn't even fight any of the other women that were present. Just a bunch of young bucks with lots of strength and "go". But how many of them went home that night and roasted a chicken? Hmm?

A poem by someone else:
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Antonio Machado

Friday, February 22, 2008

Turn the page

For the last couple months, I've kept a feed from BBC Sports in my RSS Reader just in case anything ever comes up about fencing. Nothing so far, but what I have found is that the British devote a disproportionate amount of reporting to the sport(?) of darts with almost daily articles covering competitions and athletes. I usually skim right past them but the title of one this week caught my attention.

Taylor reveals motivation issue

Basically it's a short little article about how the number two darter (dartist? d'artagnan?) in the world is beginning to look towards retirement as he gets older. This struck me because it's the exact opposite of how I see fencing going for me. I didn't start fencing until 2005; I turned 27 part way through my beginner class. For the math-averse in the audience I will make it easy on you: next week I turn 30.

I am certainly not looking to pare down my fencing or competition time. If anything, I fear events that will force me to do so (but that's another post). Fencers in my age group (25ish-35ish) seem to be in the minority; most of the women, and men for that matter, that I fence at tournaments are at least a decade older or younger than me. During last year's Div II at Summer Nationals, I was easily the oldest person in my pool. This can at times be unsettling, but it is also a motivator. I am focused on not being left behind by the younger guys at practice and intent upon keeping pace with the high school and college girls in tournaments.

And while I'm focused upon the present and bettering myself right now, I will share with you a secret thought I often have: I seriously want to pwn those Vet ladies at the 2018 Summer Nationals.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Junior Olympics Final Thoughts

Since there's not much more objective information I can give you about the JOs that you can't get more reliably somewhere else, I just wanted to record a few of my opinions about what went down at the Charlotte Convention Center over the weekend.

First is that fencing is a really exciting sport and I just love hanging out around it. I tried to impart this to every civilian who wandered too near. While I was blown off by some, others seemed to find humor in my earnestness - like the group of ladies who complained repeatedly that it didn't look anything like the movies and that the swords weren't being swung around near enough. I started to explain to them how that would open up far too much target, but decided instead to just say that sabre would be starting soon. Thankfully there were people who were genuinely interested and enthused by learning that fencing is actually a very popular sport. Most children, too, were pretty excited by the sight. So these few gems made my efforts worthwhile.

And speaking of children, at the Junior Olympics one is, of course, surrounded by them. Since every competitor is 20 or under, I cannot help but wonder at the level of single-mindedness of both the competitors and their parents. It would never even have occurred to me when I was under the age of 20 that I could take part in any kind of national sporting event. I was spread too thin, competing in a different sport every season until college. And even in college, when I went to the NCAA Cross Country Championships, it was only Division 3 of our conference, and not national. It seems that most of the kids recognized this event was a Big Deal™. Watching some Jr. Women's Epee, I felt awkward and out of place because the intensity level on the faces of these girls was startling. I love fencing and want to do well but the former always takes precedence over the latter. At a tournament you are likely to see me excited, giddy, sad, or frustrated, but it is much less likely I will be dispassionate and "in-the-zone". I wonder who these children will be later in life.

Lastly, the scene Monday night was so great. We had a huge group of Charlotte fencers and parents to help with tear down and I think we must have set some kind of record because we disassembled all 48 strips in less than three hours. What a cool bunch of people.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Junior Olympics Media Wrapup

For better or worse, here's a wrap up of the local media coverage on the event.

CBS features two Touché members:
("Oh! It's a girl!"...Oh brother...)


ABC: No luck...anyone seen anything?

FOX: A special segment on the local "Fox Got Game" show. Currently on my DVR, trying to find an online copy.

The Charlotte Observer:
There was also a small picture on the last page of the sports section on Saturday which I haven't found online.

Feel free to submit your own findings.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lady's Blade, Part 3: The Scareder Sex

My life has been much defined by fear. Whether it's fear of not being accepted in a new group, the fear that dinner won't come out just right, or just plain old fear of fire, it seems as if the feeling is always hanging out in the back of my brain. My husband constantly chides me for this, telling me there's no reason to be so afraid of everything that comes along. But the truth is, this fear was largely trained into me. You see, all through Jr. High and High School, the girls were constantly being separated from the boys and taken to watch some video or hear some speaker telling us all about the dangers that we would face, as girls, in this world. And because you can never have too much fear mongering, my parents made me read every article in the local newspaper about abduction and rape "just so I'd know what could happen".

The message was always the same: Keep your keys between your knuckles, use your elbows and the heel of your palm when attacked. But the most important message was AVOID questionable situations and failing that, RUN. This is the message that I couldn't help but to carry with me.

Of course, I let go a little bit in college. I went for midnight runs and took chances on new friends and boyfriends. I had a few adventures, but fear is a sticky thing. And even though you think you may have scrubbed the last bit off your hands there's going to be a little bit stuck under your fingernails, just waiting. So it is that I find myself still tethered to it today. There are people that I would like to reach out to and become close to. There are new adventures I'd like to have.

Lest you think me totally paralyzed, I will get to the point of this post. If you guessed fencing, you guessed right. In the interest of honesty I will tell you that it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin fencing. I learned of my first club at least two years before I finally ventured to take a lesson. It was mostly a fear of failure, I think, that was responsible for my hesitancy. And of course I still encounter fear when I am fencing, but it is the only venue where facing my Fear head on is as easy as stepping on the strip. I find I am protected and armed against it on the strip. I am powerful, I have leverage, I am impenetrable. And I will only ever become stronger in facing my fear on the strip. And the seemingly simple realization that fear CAN be overcome has given me courage in other parts of my life; and that feeling too, can only become stronger.

Writing this now, I wonder if the reason I still fear the dark alley is because I've never had reason to face it.

Til every river runs dry
Until the sun, honey's, torn from the sky
'Til every fear you've felt burst free
And gone tumblin' down into the sea

Saturday, February 16, 2008

JOs - Day Two

Your intrepid reporter spent about three hours at the JOs today. There wasn't much need for manual labor so, at the suggestion of a friend, I spent most of the time exercising my self-appointed title of Fencing Liaison. Because of the setup of the convention center, we got a lot of foot traffic from attendees of other events within the building. I waited for folks to come up to the big picture window looking down on the fencing floor and then invited them to go down and watch or I answered questions about what was going on. Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know how uncharacteristic it is for me to go up and talk to people I don't know really well. But there's something about talking about fencing that is easier for me. I had one gentleman tell me I was an excellent "Ambassador". Go me.

I won't be able to make it to the event tomorrow, but look for a final report on the event after Monday.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Parry4 News is on the Scene!

The Junior Olympics got started today at the Charlotte Convention Center. By this reporter's estimation: So far, so good. Having been there till the bitter end of the setup last night - hanging the last scoring boxes even as the convention center staff was shoving us out the doors - it's great to see everything in action. I was only there for about an hour today, on my lunch break, but the place was bursting at the seams.

Compared to Atlanta and Miami, the Hall that is hosting the JOs in Charlotte seems a bit cramped; many of the vendors are within advance-lunge distance of the strips. But I didn't hear any complaints as I walked around and I don't think it'll keep me from returning tomorrow to shop at said vendors.

As an aside: One thing I really got a kick out of was walking through "uptown" Charlotte and seeing people carrying fencing bags. I admit I get a little tired of the reactions of people when I tell them I am a fencer. It's akin to what I imagine would be their reaction if I told them I took part in competitive hedgehog herding. Now, with all these knicker-clad people walking around I can say, "Look, there are lots of us."

From a personal perspective, the other organizers and volunteers that were around last night were all so nice and it's really heartening to be acquainted with a community like this one. Everyone has been really excited and hardworking for this event and I am really glad, for everyone's sake, that it is going so well.

Keep tuned to Parry4 News for more breaking news on Winter-JO-Blast 08!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Resistance Training

There's always a lot of talk in the forums about weight training, so I thought I would share part of my home training regimen. To add strength and quickness to my retreats, I often practice with resistance. With my right hand, I hold a rope to which I have attached a 72 pound weight as I retreat. See below for an illustrative picture of how I set this up:

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pop culture

A visual representation of my inner dialogue while fencing. Previously I had thought it rather Gollum-esque, but Madonna is prettier than Gollum, so I'm gonna go with this.

"Maybe we should fleche now."

"Now? No, I'm not ready yet."

"But we're close enough."

"But he's just going to counterattack."

"How will we know if we never try?"

"Well just let me do this other thing firs...." *HIT*

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Further On Down the Road

A couple things today

1st This week marks three years of fencing for me. Three years since I took the 8 week Beginning Fencing class at Metro Tacoma FC/Blue Steel. I've since been a member of two other clubs in two other states. The clubs have been very different and important in their own ways but I think Tacoma was the best place I could've started. There were no elite athletes, but the people that taught me how to fence there were very in love with their sport and wanted only to make other people love it too. Time was not only spent on foot and bladework but also on the history of the sport, the importance of all the little formalities, writings by pioneers of the sport, and other things that coaches I've met since would think passé. But for me, this was of the greatest importance because these are the things that drew me to fencing in the first place. I think I would not have stayed in the sport this long (and - I think - for the rest of my able days) had it not been for this foundation. So, thanks.

2nd Building a little on what I wrote a couple weeks ago about teams
, the New York Times this morning had an article this morning about working out in groups, and the positive and negative effects it can have. It just reinforces a lot of the things I was already thinking: that exercising with other people ignites our competitive spirit, makes the time go by faster and can lead to better results. One thing this article doesn't mention is the importance of the person leading the exercise, but I think this is at least important as the people around us. Our current coach, I think, has some background in psychology and he always seems to know exactly the right thing to say to me to make me give up every last ounce of oomph I have. So, again, thanks.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If you can't say something nice...

Last night at practice, I chose to (mostly) heed the advice of a wise sage:

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

After a long set of drills and conditioning exercises I just felt like I had no bouting in me at all. It was the walking lunges in particular that did me in. This is where we do lunges all the way down the piste, with alternating legs, and then back. A couple times. My right leg of course, is fine with this. I can lunge on my right leg all day long. But apparently my left leg is woefully out of shape. Once we got done with these drills it felt weak and jello-y. So it said to the rest of my body Y'all can go on 'bout yer business, but I'm done all for the night just as it was time to start bouting exercises.

I wanted to gnash my teeth and bemoan my outcast state, but instead, I tried not to say anything at all. I slipped a few times, but not in front of coach, thankfully. I did, however, get my butt handed to me all night, in every bout.

What this means is more lunges. Lots more lunges.

And then I'll start working on the other advice imparted by the aforementioned sage:

Eating greens is a special treat.
It grows long ears and great big feet!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

...And that's when our beautiful young heroine's brain exploded

Think like a [wo]man of action, and act like a [wo]man of thought.
Henri L. Bergson

One of the things I constantly grapple with when trying to put together vocal instruction with actual action is that there are SO MANY things to 'keep in mind' while bouting. So many in fact that I feel some nights like if I have to keep anything else in mind, I may well reach critical capacity and burst my poor overworked melon at the seams.

So, as mentioned, I have changed my footwork and it has been good for me. But during a recent practice, I was working so hard on getting my footwork right that it was announced to me that I was now telegraphing my attacks rather plainly. So then I try to keep my footwork going, keep making attacks...but in a more nonchalant manner...and now I'm getting scored on by really simple attacks because where is there room for thinking about defense in all of this other thinking?

Of course this is not a new problem. I think I wrote about this same feeling in my first few months of blogging over two years ago. So that's reassuring because the things that I used to have trouble with are now second nature to me.

When I get really frustrated though, I try to remind myself of all the complicated things I do everyday that take a lot of coordination of different senses and movements but are now easy things. Driving is the best example I think: there is a lot of awareness, a lot of body parts moving at once, things to watch and listen to, bagels to eat, sticks to shift - all at one time. And now I do it everyday with very little risk to myself or others. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping that one day fencing will be equally second-nature - with perhaps a little more risk to others...

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
Will Rogers

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On the subject of teams

I rarely think of fencing as a team sport. I have participated in a few team format competitions, but for the most part it's me alone against the hordes. And those same hordes often include other members of my club. But when it comes to practice, and seeing the same guys (I am the only female epeeist at the moment) week in and week out, sweating along beside me, I find myself referring to them in my head as "the team."

I am now at my third club in three years. Three very different clubs with different demographics, styles, and levels of competitiveness. So I feel somewhat qualified to speak on the topic of camaraderie in fencing practice. All have been mostly friendly places, though fencing, by its nature I think, always breeds a few standoffish, haughty types. But I've never felt as really welcomed into, and as much a part of, a group as I do now with the other epeeists at my club.

While I suspect this has a lot to do with me and an increase in confidence overall, I think it also has something to do with the level of competition at the club. Of the three clubs I have belonged to, my current club is the most competitive-minded, with nearly everyone competing at least at the local level. It has the most people competing at the National level and the most rated fencers - not that that is a valid measurement of anything by itself. How does this contribute to a team atmosphere? Common goals for one. Plain ol' human nature for another: No one wants to be left behind so no one is slouching off at practice. We're constantly egging each other on and pushing one another and sharing feedback. It helps, I think that we're all competitive with one another and no bout is ever a sure thing. It seems to mean absolutely nothing that I am the only female, which is good for me.

What does all this mean? It means that when one of my teammates wins a tournament, I am nearly as excited as if I had won it myself. (It was a rough day on Sunday, watching two of my teammates fight the gold medal bout and not really knowing who to root for. I just cheered for all the good touches and congratulated both guys at the end.) It means I always look forward to practice. It also means that I'm scared to death of falling behind these guys, of being a drag on the team. Whether it's because they're younger, stronger, or just have more free time, I am spurred to work as hard as possible on our two practice nights a week to make sure I can keep up.

I've had a lot more thoughts about the subject of teams, but I'll save them for another post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lunge Into 08

Since the fencing season really started back in September (give or take), the first tournament of the calendar year is little more than a convenient demarcation. However, this particular tournament felt like more to me because it was the first tournament I've competed in since beginning training with our new coach. And it felt like a whole new ballgame, to use a phrase loosely.

As I wrote about previously: my tactics have been taken, placed in a jar, shaken vigorously and then dumped back on the strip upside down. That is to say, I am fencing differently. It is by no means second-nature yet, requiring still a great force of will on my part not to revert to passivity and relying solely on counterattacks. But the verdict: the new style, it works. I lost only one bout on Sunday. After making it through the pool undefeated and the quarterfinal DE, I lost the semifinal DE to one of my club mates. It was not a terrible loss, 15-10, and he beat me fair and square by continually taking over tempo and being faster than me. Another day perhaps, the score might be different.

The tournament did end on a high note, however. We had a fence off for third and even after a couple of mistakes that nearly cost me the place, I managed to win 15-14. I did feel like there was a lot of room for improvement in that bout though; I was still more reactive than I want to be. It's funny that after I got home and checked my RSS feeds, one of my quotes for the day was:

"Never confuse movement with action." - Ernest Hemingway

Which is very apt. Because I am moving a lot more, but it is not always producing the ownage of the strip that I'm aiming for. Sometimes I have to think so much about the moving, that it drowns out thoughts of attacking and/or defending. I'm hoping that once I can make the movement more instinctual the other aspects will follow.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Eating Before a Tournament

Though this article originally appeared in a hockey magazine, it is still pretty relevant I think. I like it for its straightforwardness and for not being overly scientific.

Via, Fitness Tips for Life:

Me, I usually try to eat a bowl of oatmeal on tournaments mornings (and a lot of other mornings) though sometimes I find I'm too nervous to eat more than a few bites.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Embrace the Bubble

Since starting our "new" epee program, I feel like I've learned so much; more than can be communicated here, even with italics. When we switched from drills to bouting last night I felt out of sorts, my head swimming with all the things we've been discussing and practicing these many weeks. So many things to be aware of, to remember, to do or not do; I was overwhelmed and started out by losing the majority of the touches in that first practice bout because I couldn't get a handle on everything at once.

But then we moved to more focused bouting with immediate feedback and direction and that really helped. The word of the night was bubble. This is the space where fencing actions which result in a touch can occur. Basically it's advance-lunge distance, but being aware of this distance actually pushed us even closer in many instances, uncomfortably so sometimes. My goal, both mentally and tactically, was to keep myself from relying solely on defense and attempt to be the one controlling the bout as much as possible. Whoa! This is so antithetical to my status quo that it was actually easier than I thought it would be. If I had been instructed to only change one aspect of my fencing, then it would have been too easy to lapse back into habit, but with this 180º turn, it was all I could think about: I didn't have a chance to become reactionary like usual and I felt like I actually did pretty well.

Still, I am nervous about the tournament this weekend. My normal plan for tournaments is to let myself be ruled by instincts. I don't try to incorporate new or more complicated maneuvers in tournament play until they become instinct. But I think more is expected of me this time around and I hope I can pull it off. Also, everyone else preregistered so far is from our club and I never like fencing teammates in tournaments. Am I more scared of losing to them or winning? I know, but I'm scared to to tell you.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In Praise of 350Newtons

Overnight a cold front single-handedly introduced the South to Winter. South meet Winter; Winter, South. All acquainted? Good. What is usually a pleasant, brisk morning walk with my dog was suddenly a frost-bite inducing misery at 6:30 this morning. We both kept our heads down, whimpered a little, did what we had to do, and got back to the house as quickly as possible.

It's times like this that make me feel for die hard athletes who are at the mercy of the elements. Runners and road bikers who insist that nothing short of a flood will keep them off the streets. I don't really understand it myself; even when I was a competitive runner, I always found an excuse to take the winter off. It's times like this that make me thankful for the burden which I schlep to the club at least two days a week.

Shorts, knickers, shirt, plastron, jacket, knee high socks all things to be thankful for this time of year. For while the bikers are being treated for frost bite of the buttocks, I will be sweating and loosening my collar.

Of course, in the summer, we can all suffer together.