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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

fencing v. football

(This post is late. I've been concerned with the fate of the Uzbek asylum-seeker Jahongir Sidikov - not that there's much I can do. I feel powerless and angry.)

It wasn't my most successful evening of fencing but I enjoyed it all the same.

Attendance was sparse. The England v. Croatia match started at the same time as fencing. Evidently most epeeists and foilists and sabreurs were football fans - or masochists. I couldn't believe the game would turn out well. Even though sports journalists talked up England team's chances after the Israel-Russia result left them in with a chance of going to Europe (all they needed was a draw) the signs didn't seem good. When I heard the manager was using a new goalie and had dropped Beckham from the starting line-up, I was convinced hope was gone. It's not that Beckham is a consistently good player - he never was that and now age is against him - but the team as a whole plays better when he's on the pitch.

I forgot the football in a semi-energetic warm-up (I was tired and not trying very hard) and then looked for a bout. There was one other epeeist - a young man much faster and better than me - who made a good attempt to conceal his disappointment at finding me his only opponent. I encouraged him to ask other fencers to do some epee and, after our bout, was pleased to see he found better competition. Almost all my hits on him were doubles, even though he was hardly trying, but I did manage one touch to his hand which pleased me.

The sabreurs were most numerous. I hesitated to ask the hard-hitting men for a bout but a quiet, hard-hitting teenage girl offered me some practice. One particular slash to my right arm had me shouting "ouch!", at which she apologised and was deeply concerned. I assured her that I expected to be hurt when fencing and continued. She continued to look concerned. I suppose I'm a grandmotherly figure in her eyes.

My second attenpt at sabre was against a woman who started fencing when I did and is now a skilled sabreuse winning medals and trophies. After a few hits, she started to show me how to improve - mostly be moving much faster. I still wasn't very fast but she assured me there was a great improvement so I felt rather pleased. Unfortunately my only means of getting through her defence was epee-style, with the point.

I still don't understand right of way in sabre. And it's strange not being able to go for the legs - or the toes.

My son finally challenged me to a bout at foil. It's ages since I've fenced him but I used to be able to land a reasonable number of hits, even though I've only beaten him once or twice. He was very out of practice so I had hopes. As I was picking up my foil, I heard my mobile phone ringing. A friend thoughtfully let me know the half-time score in the football: Croatia 2 - England 0. I passed on the news. There was no great gloom. Some of us reckoned we'd done well to avoid an evening of despair. Others were anti-football and glad they'd be able to avoid the European cup games next year.

I was soon more concerned with another defeat. My son beat me 15-3 - even with a friend of mine acting as ref. (Usually we fence without a ref and argue the points to absurdity.) He kept repeating the same attack, which turned out to be an excellent strategy since my attempts to parry it ended in failure. He is taller than me and his arms are longer. I did a bit more foil with a smaller woman and landed the occasional hit.

It sounds like a chronicle of failure but by the end of the evening I was exhilarated. I'd fenced three wepaons against a range of opponents and I was still standing. Best of all, I felt I'd learnt a little and improved just a little bit in each. This may not give me any chance of doing well in the club championship. If I can borrow club sabre kit I may indeed try all three weapons and come last in each. Someone has to come last and the practice will be good for me. I'll enjoy it too, though I dread the bruises when it's over.

After fencing, I rang for a taxi. There weren't any. I suppose all the drivers were watching the match of ferrying discolsolate fans. So I asked a fencer who lives nearby if he could give us a lift. As we stowed the kit in the boot, the driver turned on the radio. England 2 - Croatia 2. And then Croatia scored.

Note: One theory says that a mistake in the words of the Croatian National Anthem inspired the team. I suspect the mistaken version will be sung at many future Croatian sporting fixtures.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"real fencing ... like in the films"

I don't do sabre. Well, mostly I don't. But I've been flirting with sabre and, I'm afraid, keen to have a go. It means a new set of opponents, a new set of moves and, inevitably, different ways of hitting people and (mostly) being hit. It also means, on a night like tonight, with few epeeists or foilists, there's a lot more fencing.

The other (much younger) woman epeeist and I have been teasing the teenage epeeists for too long. Once we were spotted with sabres in our hands, they stood round us gleefully. Here were two grown up epeeists asking to be hit.

After a few jokes, two young men appointed themselves as our coaches and we were taken off for one-to-one elementary training. We practised dutifully and didn't say "ouch" when the teenagers hit us. Then the teenagers decided we were ready to fence one another. I overheard an argument. "My one's better than your one," my teenage coach began, starting a small dispute. I feared they'd be betting on us soon.

We faced each other, smiling hopefully, legs bent, arms in what we hoped was the en garde position for sabre. "Fence," said one of the teenagers and then, when each waited for the other to make the first move, "Play ... Go."

As we began to tap at each other and try to remember how to riposte after a parry, I caught sight of the eager teenagers and the humour of it all overcame me. I couldn't stop giggling. And my opponent started giggling too. We tapped and parried a bit, still giggling, and the teenagers drifted away.

Two sabreuses, one a veteran with a recent European gold medal and one a teenager with rather less experience, tried to help and encourage us. We still weren't managing speed and brilliance. After a while we returned to epee. "It's time to go back to normal swords," my opponent said. But we'd been corrupted by sabre. It was hard to remember to hit below the belt or use the force needed to attach the blade.

A coach took an interest in our attempts at sabre. He made us practise moves with him, taking turns to move backwards and forwards, parrying above the head. It looked good. It felt good too. As my opponent remarked, "It's real fencing - like in the films."

But we agreed that sabre was too expensive and too hot in summer. There is much more kit and the swords break easily in combat - a snapped sabre-blade flies across the hall every two or three weeks.. One of the teenagers showed off after his sword broke in four places - he thought there should be an award for the most dramatically broken sword.

So we aren't sabreuses. We probably won't try for Mistress-of-Arms in the club championship, though it's tempting. My opponent reckons she has a chance of a "hot date" so I'd be on my own. No woman does all three weapons. In theory I could come last in everything and still be a champion. But there isn't a trophy and I'm not sure there's enough sabre kit to borrow. And I think it would be more of a joke than a contest. But it might be fun ... I might even learn something. I could take on the entire club ...

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Keeping on

This is just a short post to assure visitors I did fence last week. Actually it was a good evening's fencing, although I was, as usual, against opponents who were mostly younger than me - and all were more accurate. I had another ten minutes of introduction to sabre too. I enjoy it much more than I expected, but I haven't tried against a real opponent first. I just practised touches and parries with the kind coach, who helpfully allows me to hit him, just so that I can know how it's supposed to work.

Of course, I shan't really become a sabreuse.

The question of the club championship has come up again. It's in my diary. I've fenced in it without success before, and it's usually enjoyable. It's my one chance in the year to try proper competitive fencing. (The club handicap and the one-hit epee don't really count.) And I can set myself the usual modest goals, like trying to score more than one hit on more than half of my opponents. I won't necessarily achieve it. A number of club fencers are rapidly climbing the rankings.

This year some Quaker friends have invited me to their birthday party. It happend to fall on the same day as the club championship. I could just about manage both, by arriving late at the party. I'll also have a lot of work then - I'm bound to bring some home with me. I could end up working between bouts.

But I'm filled with a late autumn lassitude and find it hard to sign up for anything, let alone coming last. Of course, if I were really mad, I could come last in all three weapons and emerge with arms streaked by sabre blows as well as the usual epee bruises. That might be quite a conversation point at the party, unless I find something suitably concealing to wear.

I'll have to make my mind up soon. The club championship is two weeks away. I should fill in the form and pay the fee in advance ... if I go.

There's frost in the air. At least fencing would keep me warm.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

fencing foil - and starting sabre

"You're not going to wear those earrings," a fellow epeeist objected, "- not for fencing."

I had to admit they were unsuitable. "They've been admired," I explained. "I'll just wear them for the warm up."

"I like your earrings," said one of the coaches, and chuckled.

"But do they glow in the dark?" I asked my fellow epeeist.

She squinted helpfully, and concentrated on my left ear. "Not really," she said. "Perhaps if you left them under a strong light for hours ..."

But I'd kept them in my bag till evening. Only when night fell did I slip the pieces of wire into my ear-lobes. Two pale, articulated, plastic skeletons danced lightly as my head moved. The trick-or-treaters liked them ... at least, they said they did while I was doling out the loot. But I had to admit that long, dangling earring wouldn't go well with a fencing mask. After footwork, I slipped them back into my back and replaced them with grey, sparkly studs.

There were only three epeeists: two women and a man. We fenced each other in turns. The man's bladework was faster and more accurate than ever. He'd been off ill for a few weeks - I'm sure he spends periods of illness in bed, epee in hand, honing his accuracy. It's hard to score hits on an opponent with such deadly bladework. I managed one or two hits, and a handful of doubles.

Things were more even when I fenced the other woman. We could have gone on fencing one another for ages, but she suggested a break, then foil. We settled on steam foil and a coach agreed to ref - perhaps for a rest from our demands that he take us through the Academy gold medal syllabus. I'd quite like a gold medal, It would go well with my black winter coat. My foil level 4 fabric badge wouldn't work so well.

I was briefly ahead and even thought I was in with a chance. But after my opponent pulled ahead, my successful hits became less frequent. I think the final score was 15-8.

In the conversation afterwards, the coach reminded us about the club championship and repeated how few women would enter. I've got it in my diary but I'm not convinced it's a good idea - all that struggle and early waking at a weekend, just to come last. But I jokingly suggested we could both do sabre and insist on the title "woman master-at-arms." (I bet they'd make it mistress-at-arms").

Nobody had taught me sabre before, though I once picked up a weapon for a dare. We did the movernent quarte, quinte and tierce and then practised the hit to the head, followed by the hit to the cheekbone. I enjoyed it enough to remind myself "Epee is best." "Sabre-kir is expensive," and, most deadly of all, "Sabre - weapon of the Peterloo Massacre."

I'm still an epeeist, if rather short of opponents.

Incidentally, do you know any stories involving a fencer and a baker. There's a baker in Cyrano de Bergerac and a fencer pushed to suicide by contact with a baker in a Schnitzler short atory. How many are there - and is the baker ever the hero?

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