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: http://www.fitnesstipsforlife.com/eating-for-your-workouts.html

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 180ยบ 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.