quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

back to beginners (epitaph included)

There's a proper beginners' class in epee. I decided to join even though the coach said I was too advanced (a week or so ahead of the newbies). After all, I'm still getting hit and a bit of revision never hurt anyone.

There are five epee beginners in the class - all with a year or two of foil. And three of us are women - so soon I won't spend most of my time fencing men who are bigger than me. New strategies are required. The class was on angulation and using the fingers. Although I'd done it all before, I could see where I'd slipped and forgotten important techniques.

Mostly we practised hitting the wrist from above and below and attaching the blade
. I was so tired I kept missing yet the coach remained encouraging. "Don't worry," he'd say, when the blade skittered off the fabric of his sleeve - and "well done" when the blade attached and bent as it should.

And after all this I began to hit and attach the blade more often and feel more confident than in a while. So a quietly encouraging evening.

Oh, and today I wrote my fantasy epitaph, after reading too many church epitaphs:

Sacred to the memory
poet & pirate.
In her fifty-second year
she forsook the groves of academe
for a life on the high seas and, wielding her epee,
became the most notorious pirate ever to terrorise the Norfolk coast.
From her fastness in Northumberland
where she haunted the bookshops of Alnwick
she would venture
- pen in one hand, sword in the other -
to right wrong
and, as an expert epeeist,
challenged misdeeds of politicians
while sacking the hoards of the rich.
Through all this, she maintained her love of peace
and espoused non-violent direct action.
In the film of her life
(directed by Tim Burton)
she was played by Johnny Depp
who, sorrowing, wrote this epitaph
when he learnt of her demise
in the 101st year of her life.

Well, I can dream.

Not that I look anything like Johnny Depp ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This is just a very quick post to congratulate Elizabeth McClung on her sixth place and first national (U.S.) ranking points in the Leon Auriol Women's Epee tournament in Seattle last weekend. You will find her account of her pool and D.E. (direct elimination) bouts at Screw Bronze . Her account is in two part and includes video footage using youtube. Don't miss Beth's account of her triumph!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

once-a-week fencing

I watch the people who started fencing when I did with admiration. A couple have started to collect trophies and medals while all are lithe and fit. Then there's me - more lithe and fit than when I began, but clearly bottom of the class. (Mind you, most left, dropped out or moved to another sport.)

Age is part of it - or so I console myself. The others are (mostly) younger.

Then there's general fitness. Most people who start fencing have some previous experience of sport. They've jogged, swum regularly, still work out at the gym and previously tried a martial art or four. I avoided sports at school and most of my adult life followed the same track. I just watched the films on the telly. The only sporting experience I brought was a little bit of walking (I don't drive and the Peak District can't be explored properly by train or bus), occasional cycling to the shops and - from time to time - swimming (a lot of lounging around and chatting with friends in public pools, with the occasional ride on the flume). When I started fencing, I didn't think I'd make it through the warm-up and reckoned a term's taster and grade 1 certificate would be great proof of achievement.

Most people who've fenced as long as me practise twice a week - at least.

I wish I could. But I haven't time and the second session is at a leisure centre two longish bus journeys away.

Obviously I could practise alone. If I were a serious epeeist like
Elizabeth McClung or the Gray Epee, I'd not flinch at the time, the journey or bus fare involved. But I'm a once-a-week fencer, wishing I could fence more often.

I could get a TARDIS, of course, or some floo powder.

Or perhaps I could get kitted up and challenge likely shoppers in the High Road. One at least would be bound to draw a sword and give me a bout.

Or I could imitate Hamlet. In the fifth act, when he's been challenged to a duel by Laertes, he declares, "Since he went into France (that's back in Act 1, at the start of the play), I have been in continual practice." Why don't productions shows this? Plainly every scene and soliloquy should be accompanied by a series of fencing moves.

Something like this:

Alas, poor Yorick [balestra]. I knew him [lunge], Horatio [recover]: a fellow [reprise] of infinite jest [recover], of excellent fancy [high-low from septime leading to simple attack]; he hath borne me [circular parry] on his back a thousand times [fleche attack] ... and so on... No wonder Ophelia's terrified into madness.

Actors and directors never take that line seriously. I would.

Would anyone notice if I started a regime of "continual practice". That long corridor between the seats in my regular commuter train - it would make a lovely piste .... And everyone knows older women are inconspicuous.

I could get away with it, I reckon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

coffee tables

Did you ever read The Prisoner of Zenda? I seem to recall a chapter in which Rudolf Rassendyll defeats Rupert of Hentzau using a tea table.

At fencing tonight one of the younger members was doing a school project which inolved surveying club members and spectating parents on what we thought about coffee tables. (I think his next task is to design and make a coffee table.)

So, for a while, instead of fencing, we filled in forms and answered questions about coffee tables.

- do you have a coffee table?
- do you have any problems with your coffee table?
- what do you use your coffee table for?
- how often do you use your coffee table?
- how big is your coffee table
- what sort of coffee table would you like?
- when friends come sound for coffee, do they use your coffee table?
- do you use your coffee table when drinking coffee?
- do you like hot drinks or cold?

Not having a coffee table was no escape. There were further questions about whether respondents would like a coffee table, what they might use it for and what style of coffee table they preferred.

These were accompanied by a demand for name, age and profession.

We did our best. I said that my coffee table had serious problems with falling over and too many books (I was going to suggest emotional problems or a broken heart but this seemed slightly unlikley). I explained that I liked my coffee hot and my whisky cold. A fellow fencer estimated her coffee table's width at "half the length of an epee blade" and said she would like a baroque coffee table..

Others were more imaginative. One claimed to be a mafioso whose coffee table had problems with bullet holes following daily use for protection in gunfights.

We began to wonder whether we could all commission coffee tables. What might the fencer's coffee table be? It would be used as a shield and must be fairly light. Perhaps a specially small coffee table for use with foil and a dramatically sturdy one of oak for sabreurs.

I can't quite work out what the epeeist's coffee table would be like.

Fencing was quiet - three of us fencing steam epee found it difficult to see if a point has attached properly and landed with sufficient force. We laughed a lot. No serious fencing at all.

I'm tired and recovering from a cold but it's good to be fencing (and I've hardly any bruises this week).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

fencing fashion and the badminton fleche

Last week's bruises were fading. "No, I haven't been beaten up. Those are epee hits," I had to explain. (The huge mass of bruises on my right wrist was shaming.)

Five weeks off and I'd got used to unbruised skin. I forgot about arnica.

Half way through my first bout, I started to dream fashions for epeeists - away from the salle. PIt's hard to co-ordinate with purple and yellow circles on the right arm. Perhaps a clinging top with one long sleeve (for the sword arm) and one arm bare. It might catch on.

Half way through my second bout I realised I'd have to ignore the heat-wave. No low cut T-shirts for a week - unless purple body paint becomes the look of the season. I fear not.

Not many hits - not enough sleep. Hard to touch the wrist - easy to take hits. Our half of the gym was crowded but only five female fencers - two beginning epee. They might care for my fashion insights, I thought. My opponent hit me again.

Cries of "YAAAAYYY" and a patter of rapid feet came from beyond the curtain. Shuttlecocks skittered onto the piste. Someone must have invented the badminton fleche.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

fencing again

At the beginning, most of us stood around saying how out of practice we were. Many of us had new kit or weapons; my black Allstar T-shirt was admired. I was oen of three women wearing black T-shirts with white breeches - our new team colours, perhaps.

The warm-up was gentle . Just as well, given my slow reactions. Footwork practice was just stepping forward and backward, with the occasional lunge and recover. I don't think I'd have managed a balestra and I would certainly have fallen on my face had I tried to fleche.

The new jacket is spendid and light, though the suddenly humid evening meant no clothes were entirely comfortable. The mask has moveable padding but, however I move it, it squahes my face. I could use that as an excuse for my poor foil fencing, but actually I was just slow and clumsy.

It still felt good and right to have a sword in my hand. And while the foil felt heavy at first, I didn't notice the weight of the epee. I even managed a fair number of wrist and arm hits, thanks to kind opponents who must have slowed down to give me a chance. One of the many good things about epee is scoring doubles, which means I usually manage a few points. I even won a bout, though I think there was some kindness from my opponent involved. And there was nothing discreditable in losing 15-8 to a much better fencer. (He slowed down to give me a chance, of course, but at least I managed to take that chance and score a few hits).

I've looked at the programme for the term - coaching in all three weapons and a range of competitions: a one-hit epee as well as the club championship and a handicap competition.

I'm tired, bruised and aching - but happy too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

fencing nerves

The new kit still sits in its silver-grey bag. I haven't even transferred it to the old blue hold-all which carries most of my kit. (The foil, epee and body wires have a special Leon Paul bag. That helps when cycling but I bought it to conceal a weapon on the tube.)

It's more than a month since I fenced. I've walked and swum
a little in the sea. There's been no fencing at our local leisure centre.

Some fencers have practised elsewhere or competed in tournaments.

I know what it's like when I've missed just one week. There's a fast opponent, a blade that darts more swiftly than I see. I peer cautionsly through my mask, wade through jelly, hit air wildly and fall several steps behind.

I'm not ready for the warm-up.

At the end of the evening, I'll tired, aching, bruised. I want my meagre level of skill back. I want beginners to beat.

I can't wait to fence again.