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.