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, April 25, 2007

glowing in the dark

Soon there'll be tales of a new ghost haunting the water-meadows. I don't think anyone screamed. Perhaps they were mute with terror. It wasn't intended. I just went to fencing and came home when it was over.

This week, I booked a cab. My son planned to come but then he was tired and, at the last minute, his back hurt, so I got in the cab on my own. I was already in my fencing kit so that I could join the warm-up straight away.

It was only as I got ready for footwork practice that I realised: I'd forgotten my jeans.

When I'm with others, I phone for a cab if I don't have a lift. If I'm on my own I either cycle or walk. And fencing kit isn't every day walking gear.

I put it out of my mind and got on with the footwork practice. I wanted to get my lunges right. Footwork was harder than usual. The coach's instructions ,included "and when I lunge, I want you to parry quarte and riposte with a lunge". So we were moving backward and forward, trying to keep steps neat and maintain distance through shifts of speed, waiting for the cue to parry and riposte with a lunge. By the end, we were moving at speed awaiting the cue to fleche. At least I didn't fall over.

Therer weren't many epeeists but in any case I'd made a resolution to do more foil. My opponent said that at least I wasn't fencing like an epeeist but I had to keep reminding myself "small target area", "establish right of way", "parry", "no doubles". It was helpful, however, forcing me to be precise and deal (or fail to deal with) different kinds of guard. And it paid off when I moved on to epee. I was better able to plan hits - well, sometimes. On one occasion I even said to myself, "Next time I'm going for the wrist" - and I made it!

My second opponent was on top form; light, fast and accurate. Most of the hits I landed were doubles and it took me quite some while to land any at all. Between bouts I stood with other resting fencing by the open doors. The weather's warm again and everyone's first impulse after a bout was to stand in a cool breeze.

Only as I took off my jacket did I realise the impact I'd make when walking home, dressed in white shoes, socks and breeches with a black T-shirt and hoodie. My bottom half would glow in the dark. Mty top half would be invisible. I'd look like half the ghost of a fencer sliced in half by a careless or vicious sabreur.

Luckily my path lay along the road throuth the water-meadows and one young fencer's mother stopped and offered me a lift. But I'd already walked a quarter of a mile or more, with my bottom half glowing white in a black night.

I wouldn't mind a few new ghost stories.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

British fencer makes the news

The other week, fencers were talking of a new British epeeist who "came from nowhere" to win a major international event. And the story has suddenly reached the British press. (It's rare to see fencing mentioned in the British papers.)

I'm pleased to see Jon Willis isn't posh. (His dad's a postman.) Until I met fencers, I assumed it was a sport for the rich. I knew it was taught at some public (in Britain, that means private) schools. I thought the social aspects of fencing might be much scarier than having someone attack me with a sword. It took me many years to find the fencing club at the local leisure centre. It was a relief to find that the members aren't the sort of people who get their pictures in The Tatler - or, if they do they keep quiet about it.

There have been quite a lot of fencers who haven't fitted into high society. My favourite is the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the son of a slave and a slave-owner, born in Guadeloupe. He was the best fencer in France, a conductor, a composer, and a colonel (of a black regiment) in the French revolutionary army. (This French website includes extracts from his work.) And Alexandre Dumas, fencer, author of The Three Musketeers and grandson of a slave, was another outsider.

It's a shame that the idea of fencing as a posh sport persists. People ask, "Isn't it terribly expensive?" and are surprised to discover that I pay less to fence than they do in gym fees or that I was able to borrow the equipment when I started. I wonder how many people are put off fencing because they think it's just for posh people.

I wonder if Jon Willis will help change the image of fencing in Britain ... or if there'll be any more stories about fencing in the press.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

restless fencer looks for a mirror

I was late to fencing and had to leave early. One hour and ten minutes just isn't enough.

All the careful arrangements for lifts fell apart so I rang for a taxi. There were none available. After trying a list of cab firms without luck - what was going on? and why wasn't I invited? - a friend gave me and my son a lift. I'd missed the warm-up and the club was swarming with sabreurs, whose slashing movements take up (I'm convinced) more room than foil or epee.

The good news was the return of an epeeist who has been unwell and off work for the past eight weeks. I thought this might affect his fencing but, while he may be rebuilding stamina, his accuracy was devastating. Perhaps he spent eight weeks in bed practising wrist hits on visitors.

I fenced two other opponents with a little more success, still not managing a stance in which my wrist was well-guarded. "Practise with a mirror," I've been advised, but we don't have any big mirrors - our biggest is about a foot square and awkwardly placed in the kitchen between the cooker and the saucepans. That's probably not the best place to brandish an epee. There are a couple of mirrors on bathroom cabinets but no space for a lunge. And then there are a couple of small mirrors (about four inches square). I suppose I could hang one on the raspberry bushes that are taking over the garden - or even on the plum tree - but I wonder what the neighbours would say if they saw me with a sword in the garden. Might they think it's a new technique for cutting the lawn or trimming the hedge? If not, an ASBO seems inevitable.

I had less fencing than I wished, but I probably had a better evening than my son, whose back is troubling him. The doctor says it's a result of growing rapidly; he's suddenly taller than me (only just) and his voice has deepened. Growing an inch a month for six months causes odd aches which makes fencing tricky. He did his best, but left early and walked home in the warm Spring night.

Since the curtailed club night, I've been tired and restless. I'm busy at work, but too much time is spent sitting at my desk. I look for excuses to prowl the corridors or go up and down stairs. I'd quite like to stab a few colleagues (consensually and competitively). But it's probably not a good idea. Mind you, there are some good big mirrors in the ladies' toilets. Now there's a thought.

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Friday, April 13, 2007


"fopee" is the new word to describe foilists who fence epee without changing their style. (It began with the sabreurs inventing "soil" to describe the way foilists fence sabre - and further new words will follow).

"fopee" fencers aren't always easy to beat, as I discovered this week. It was a treat to fence. The session was reinstated at short notice and many people (and most of the coaches) were away. However that meant plenty of turns on the electric piste, though the experience was enlivened by a silent box, which meant we needed a referee for epee. The referee was a foilist and she found it a puzzling experience: no description of the fencing phrase, no account of who established right of way - just "stop! the red light came on" and "fence!"

My opponents were two foilists (with a little epee experience) and we agreed to fence each other first at epee and then at foil - bouts to ten points. Fencing a slightly shorter woman with a foil technique (lots of elegant parries and considerable speed) was tricky after all the tall male epeeists and I lost the first bout badly. In the second, against a male opponent, I was ahead at 6-4 but lost confidence as my opponent improved and finally lost 10-7. Still, being ahead for a while has increased my confidence.

I lost at foil, of course, but not as badly as I'd feared and found I was beginning to remember techniques and enjoy foil again, though it was strange to be holding a weapon so light it seemed it might float away. My final bout was against an epeeist, who had been coaching. We fenced foil, which amused the onlookers. I imagine we both used epee techniques while trying to remember about target areas and right of way.

I was tired at the end. The greater speed of foil was draining and a warm evening added to the tiredness. (I imagine the few spectators could smell the difference.) I set out for the mile and a half walk home - in the dark, along a main road - feeling slightly depressed at the thought of six days without fencing, when, unexpectedly, two fencers driving past, turned the car round and came back to offer me a lift - with no idea of where I lived. Fortunately for them I was on their route. I was quickly home - and soon to bed, my spirits lifted by the unexpected kindness.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

fencing for eggs

The one-hit epee began well, with an unexpected win. After that it was downhill. The next bout was a double defeat and after that I lost six in a row. One loss left me cross with myself as my opponent missed a hit giving me a perfect opportunity - but I didn't attach the blade and he got me.

It was a cheerful contest. As usual, I was the only woman. The winner was presented with his egg and the mini-eggs awarded to the runners up were shared around. With only nine people in a poule unique the contest was over early, giving me the opportunity to fence steam against a couple of opponents .

Sometimes I wish I could be a really good fencer. It's not going to happen, and when I'm up against experienced fencers I see how slow and awkward my movements are. I need more speed and agility and better blade control. I may get slightly better. I'll never be that good. But how many people really get to be as good at anything as they wish? All I can do is try to be better. I never enjoyed a sport until I took up fencing. It's changed my life.

Anyway, I can end on a happier note. Announcements had been made that there would be no fencing the week after Easter. Fencing has been reinstated by popular demand. I don't know if there will be other epeeists there, but I'll do foil if necessary. If it's the only way to get to fence, I'll even try sabre!

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Bert Fry, fencer

Like many British people of my generation, I listen to The Archers on Radio 4. With six episodes a week and an omnibus on Sundays, this "everyday story of country folk", with its agricultural story editor and slowly maturing plot-lines, has become a fixed part of British life. Events emerge slowly, from hints to set-pieces. Recently I've enjoyed Ruth's near-elopement with Sam, the herdsman, Adam's marriage to Ian the chef and Bert Fry's retirement. Current storylines range from Peggy's worry about her husband Jack's Alzheimer's disease to the competition to become Town Crier of Borsetshire.

But the most surprising plotline has to be Bert Fry's involvement in competitive fencing. Bert is 71 and has been finding the ploughing a bit much lately, so he was coaxed into retirement and presented with a large television set. He's still working from time to time, however, as well as writing verses, gardening and entering the town crier competition. I don't listen that attentively to The Archers - I'm often cooking supper at the same time. But some words always catch my attention. And just lately I've heard some surprising remarks.

"How's the fencing, Bert?" one character asked - and then, "Good luck with the fencing."

Plainly Bert has a hitherto undisclosed career in competitive fencing. Perhaps he's been fencing for most of his life, and no-one's mentioned it. (Soon there'll be a spin-off series looking at his early career as a fencer: Bert Fry, Olympian, perhaps.) Or perhaps he was bored of retirement and made his way to the nearest salle - I know there are a couple in Warwickshire.

I can't wait for answers to the most important questions of all: How good a fencer is Bert? And does he prefer epee, sabre or foil?

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