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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

stabbing - 1, poetry - 0

I had to make a decision last Wednesday: fencing or poetry.

I'd been commended in a poetry competition. That meant I didn't get any money but I was invited to the awards ceremony. There was a possibility of free drinks and nibbles and a certainty of conversation about poetry. On any other night of the week, I'd have been happy to hang out with the poets. But fencing night is different.

There are, of course, fencers who are poets. I'd like to model myself on Cyrano de Bergerac as far as that's concerned. But I've yet to fence while improvising a ballade. (I'm not very good at ballades.)

I'd have enjoyed the conversation of the poets. The winning poems were excellent and deservedly placed above mine. On 23rd October I was poet of the day on the website associated with the competition, but my sestina has now been consigned to the archive.. I'm in very distinguished company.**

For a few minutes I wondered whether I should opt for an evening of poetry. But I was too tired and the award ceremony was in Derby - a bus or train journey away. I was so exhausted I wasn't sure how I would get to fencing, let alone lift an epee. Luckily a taxi was parked at the beginning of my route. I'm not sure I'd have made it on foot. I staggered out of the taxi and into the hall, glad to have missed most of the warm-up. But as usual, once I'd picked up a sword the tiredness fell away.

Once again I started with foil. I'm not a natural foilist but I'm beginning to think that a knock-about with foil helps my epee skills. Although the rules are different, fencing with foil helps me to focus and the constraints seem to prepare me for the greater freedom of epee-fencing. Perhaps the swimming heped too.

It wasn't a great night of fencing but some of my hits landed well. I may be the weakest epeeist in the club but I seem to be making progress again. And there was good conversation too.

On the walk home, I was exhilarated. An evening of poetry or an evening of epee? There was no contest.

Anyone who works out which poem is mine may be interested to know that it was written as an exercise a couple of years ago, following a set form and set end-words. The repeated words and the form came before the subject.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

towards a triathlon?

Most weeks, fencing is the only sport I do. Sometimes a friend offers me a lift to the swimming pool on Sunday, but I often say no as I'm so busy with work, housework or both. Last weekend I was fed up with work and housework so decided to take the chance.

It must have been months since I'd been to the pool. They've moved everything. Heading to the changing rooms, I hit a barrier and had to find a new route. That's going to confuse me for ages. It's the pool where I swam with the children when they still needed floats and armbands. Later I watched their swimming lessons and occasional galas there. There have been changes before - new locker-keys, for instance. But the route to the changing rooms has remained constant. I notice alterations, then forget about them. I'll probably hit the barrier again next time.

On my fourth length, my arms and legs were aching and I decided I'd had enough. By my tenth length, I felt I could go on for ever. But I stopped at 30 (750 metres) because I knew I was out of practice and wanted some energy left for the evening housework. 30 lengths is my minimum and I never do more than 40. It's not great but swimming that far - breast-stroke one way, back-stroke on my return - seems to do me some good.

I swim in the medium lane. On Sunday there were only two other swimmers in the lane - a father and small son. The father was faster than me when I did breast-stroke but had space to overtake. Every so often I paused politely at the end of the pool to let him go ahead. "I'm a bit too fast for the slow lane," I apologised and he smiled in friendly way, indicating that there was no problem.

Despite the heading, I'm not going to take up competitive swimming. I still haven't got the hang of the breathing and how to get my face wet without breathing in a lot of water. Swimming was, I told myself, a good way to get fitter for fencing.

Obviously I could aim at my own version of the modern pentathlon: epee (might get some hits), swimming (medium lane), running (for the bus), shooting (OK in fairgrounds where I sometimes win - otherwise I don't like guns) and riding (uncomfortable, not too sure about horses, but splendid opportunities for the jump from high window onto horseback, preceded by the swing from chandelier). But I've found something better.

Edinburgh University's Fencing Club offers an alternative triathlon: epee, drinking and chess. I'd like to give that a go. Come to think of it, I might be in with a chance.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

slow - but it is progress

I've been busy at work and home this week - too many twelve-hour days to write this blog. I thought I'd be too tired to fence and had to force myself to go. I even bribed myself with a cab journey there. Sometimes the half-hour walk seems more than I can do. I had considerable doubts about fencing when I arrived.

I was slightly late. The warm-up had reached the point where everyone was required to stand on one leg while raising the other knee. I didn't quite fall over but I wobbled. I wobbled more as I gripped my ankle and tried to make my heel touch the back of my thigh. Then it was time to cross ankles and wrists and touch my toes. It was difficult and painful, but slightly easier than last week. I made it - just about - with my fingertips. But I felt better as we practised lunging in pairs. And by the end of the warm-up I was more awake and hadn't fallen over, which had to be a good sign.

I did some foil first, with a returning fencer who's out of practice. I was a bit worried about hitting her hard as she's slight and slender - a good build for a foilist. After a while I began to worry about my focus on her right wrist. It was ever so open to attack but not, I had to remind myself, a target. I tried to recall parry ripostes and enjoyed the knock-about. Then she went to find some coaching and I headed off in search of an epeeist.

There were only two epeeists there. The turn-out was much lower than usual. Perhaps autumn viruses are to blame. But I practised against both epeeists, trying to keep my guard up (it still slips and lays my arm open). I was moving better achieving more, better hits. Every so often I surprised myself.

By the end of the evening I was even more tired and couldn't face waiting for a cab. I knew the walk home in the dark was beyond me. I broke my usual rule of independence and asked one of the coaches for a lift. He was too kind to refuse although his car was having problems. I'm still ever so grateful.

I'm still tired - and planning to fence again next week.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007


The epeeists returned. This week several sabreurs and foilists stayed away. Tall and tiny beginners took up much of the space. They're improving and I'm still out of condition (as usual). I found it hard to focus and keep up in footwork practice. My day had started at 3.00 in the morning. That might have had something to do with it. But as a fellow epeeist said sternly, "There's always an excuse."

There's always helpful advice too. This time I got some coaching too. "Lunge." "Don't step - lunge. It adds a foot to your reach." "Faster." "Parry" "Follow through." "Don't pause - you're missing a hit." "You should sweat - if you don't sweat, you're not trying."

It felt brutal at times. I began to ache. But I knew he was right. I needed to work harder. And as I tried, feeling the ache and exhaustion, I knew I was fencing better. When I landed good hits on my opponent, he cheered. And at the end of the session, he praised my progress enthusiastically and made me feel I could fence better - something I'd begun to doubt.

If this were a story, I'd have gone on to win a bout against the club's star fencer. I didn't. I fenced someone better than me, who wasn't as tall as my previous opponent and a right-hander when I'd been working with a left-hander. I noticed I was falling into my old mistakes. I tried harder. Mostly I missed. But this opponent too was encouraging. I should practise more, he said, and suggested a ping pong ball strung from the ceiling at home to gain accuracy.

It would be good. But I don't have space. I don't have time. I have work, children, obligations. I just have to do the best I can as a once-a-week fencer.

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