fencing, aggression and the endurance of epeeists
I've been given that advice countless times - even more than "Keep your wrist up," "Don't drop your guard", "Move - faster - vary your speed," and "Lunge!" So I'm quite pleased to know that the Sunday Express, in a screaming front-page headline, wants me to be banned.
Well, the story doesn't actually mention me. It's about youths in hoodies terrorising neighbourhoods. But it calls for hoodies to be banned from shops, shopping centres, public transport, high streets and other public areas so that people can walk safely.
My fencing club has an elegant hoodie. It's black with gold lettering and logo - and I don't just wear it between bouts. I wear it when shopping and travelling - even when working. It's an easy garment to wear and much easier to wash than a cardigan or jumper. But hoodies have already been banned from one shopping centre and will probably be banned elsewhere. The danger is, apparently, that the hood can be pulled up and might even shield the face from CCTV cameras.
It's not a new problem. Fencers have worn some pretty elaborate headgear in the past. Judging from this statue of d'Artagnan (it's in Maastricht) concealing headgear and a propensity for violence go pretty well together. And, worse still, fencers have a tendency to face their opponents while masked.
I wonder how long till the Sunday Express calls for a ban on the fencing mask. Perhaps they will use their favourite phrases about a "nanny state" culture and bureaucracy gone mad and urge a return to the good old days when a duellist really risked death but could see the person who was about to kill him.
Lately I've been better at wearing a hoodie than fencing effectively. A bad cold tempted me to stay home last week, but I determined to fence anyway. A 25-minute walk - or rather limp - in heavy rain wasn't good for me, but I was more worried about my swords. At least I didn't need to rush. We now have the hall for an extra hour. There was even plenty of space and a shortage of foilists and sabreurs - some sabreurs had been persuaded to join the foilists in a friendly tournament against a neighbouring club.
I tried to take advantage of the extra space and time but it was one of those evenings when I felt the wrong size and shape for fencing. The chef is on holiday, so there was less chance for laughter. Instead the other epeeists - all men - handed out helpful advice which I couldn't follow. I felt woozy and my foot hurt. I picked up a fair number of bruises and landed few good hits.
I wasn't the only fencer who left early. The beginners, the foilists and sabreurs packed up early. I asked one of the coaches if he could give me a lift home. When we left, four epeeists remained. They had the hall to themselves and were fencing steadily. As I waved goodbye they looked as though they could continue for ever.