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.

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Location: United Kingdom

Saturday, September 20, 2008

women with swords


I suppose it's the same in most sports - women are in the minority.

There are practical reasons for this. Women often have to limit sporting activities during pregnancy and when children are young. That gap makes it hard for many women to continue with sports. There are exceptions of course. I remember feeling nervous when watching my then-pregnant friend Anna fly from trapeze to trapeze or fall, as planned, to the net at her regular class. She assured me she would give up when the safety harness stopped fitting and that the circus's experienced trapeze artists knew what was safe. Certainly her pregnancy went well - perhaps trapeze classes are safer than being hit by a sword.

Women also tend to have pressures that don't affect men. They are usually the ones who do most childcare - and that's even the case in two-parent families when both parents are working. That limits the time parents can spend on sport. I was able to take up fencing because my son was already fencing - and the rules said an adult had to be present.

Women are usually poorer than men, which means that they have less money to spend on sport. I'm lucky - my fencing club has low fees and gave me plenty of time to acquire my epee kit. I'm also better off than most women. For many, sporting activity is an impossible dream.

As a result, sports clubs tend to be dominated by men - often in the nicest possible way. Our fencing club now has women on the committee - women who have brought in new, practical ideas and seen the club grow in strength as a result. But all the coaches and most of the members are still male - women and girls probably make up a fifth to a quarter of each beginners' class and are about the same proportion of regular attenders.

Now that the chef has settled in Paris, I'm once again the only woman regularly fencing epee. I wish I were better at it - there's something sad about being the only woman epeeist and the weakest fencer. Years ago, my idea of joining a chess club came to nothing when I discovered I would be the only woman member - it would have been fine had I been a great chess player but I didn't reckon my skill sufficient to represent my gender in this way. Fortunately the skills of women at sabre and foil - combined with my age and late start in sport - means that I'm never the token woman. I'm just a woman in her 50s who enjoys epee without being good at it. Everyone knows that there are brilliant women epeeists - it just happens that I'm not one of them.

Most of the women who fence - probably all the women who fence - are fitter than me when they begin and have experience of other sports. Most of them are younger and seem intimidatingly beautiful and confident. I still try to persuade them to take up epee because it's a lovely weapons, because it's fun, because (just occasionally) it's like being one of the Three Musketeers, and because I like to fence women as well as men.

We're still crammed into the small hall (the floor in the big hall may be ready for us in mid-November) and using squash courts for classes. At least this means conversation is easy and I finally found myself talking to two women who are in the intermediate class for foil. Of course, I tried to persuade them of the superior merits of epee. They would plainly add glamour to the weapon - one is a tall brunette and the other a petite blonde who wears huge piratical hooped earrings - even when fencing. Both have long curling hair - rather like the Three Musketeers.

Perhaps I shoud learn how to curl my hair - but I think I'm a little old for that look. I'll stick with the hair-was-in-a-bun-but-is-falling-down-because-of-the-mask look.

They were hesitant about epee, asking about technique and - inevitably - about bruises. I recommended arnica tablets which, to my surprise, work well for me. "Why don't you have a go?" I asked, hoping that the buzz of fencing would seduce them to the best of weapons.

Other epeeists quickly took an interest - most men at our club like fencing women. I fenced each of them steam - slowly (not much change there), giving them a chance to feel what it was like. I stood with my arm lowered so that they could try wrist, arm and shoulder hits. Eventually body-wires and spare electric epees were produced so that the women could fence one another to 15 points.

One liked it - the other was not quite sure. That's not a bad result. I just hope the bruises don't put them off.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Katie said...

Well, I think you already know how I feel about the epee gender imbalance...

You're right, though, it is rubbish being the only woman and I hope you manage to convert at least one of those others. As long as I still get to be your favourite.

9:01 am  
Blogger kathz said...

Of course you will be my favourite.

Incidentally, I should point out that the circus school where Anna learned trapeze is in Paris. Perhaps you could enrol there, when the thesis is done ...

9:04 am  

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