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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

blood ....!

Too much of fencing was a blur of tiredness. I knew I was too tired but I also knew the effect of a week off fencing. Anyway, I'd been tired for weeks - and I was determined to follow the epee course.

There were only three of us. The doc and the Man man seemed filled with energy and concentration. My mind wandered. The coach demonstrated a parry in seconde - "a strong parry", he said. I waved my epee around trying the move in mid-air. It seemed manageable.I tried it against the coach. Definitely a strong parry, and one I hadn't used before.

Things got harder with the next sequence which involved hitting the wrist, moving backwards and then parrying to another hit. I couldn't do it. And things got worse as we lunged and reprised at speed down the piste. At least, the doc and the Man man were speedy - I achieved a moderately paced shuffle with the occasional bend of the knees. After some encouragement, I repeated the procedure while waving my sword about. I wasn't sure quite what I was supposed to do with it but some kind of energetic display seemed to be required. In the one-hit epee at the end I achieved a surprising hit on the Man man, possibly because, given my previous incompetence, he didn't expect me to move faster than a slug.

I meant to go home them but the Man man offered to fence me on the electric piste. I knew it was a bad idea even as I said yes. His second hit was a textbook example of how to glide down an opponent's blade to land a hit. He landed it hard on the inside of my elbow, sliding his blade at an angle that reached just below my plastron. He looked shaken. "Are you OK?" he asked. It seemed that stoicism was required - and no blood was actually leaking through my jacket.

I tried to look brave and continued. Two more points, and he landed another hit in the same place. We continued. He hit me again and again. I tried to fight back and managed a couple of hits including one on his big toe. I tried to repeat the feat and hit the floor a few times. At last I gave up. We shook hands and I began to remove my kit. It was still early but the tiredness was winning.

Slowly I discarded my jacket, coiled my bodywire and put it with the protectors and glove in my mask.. I eased my plastron over my stiffening right arm. As I thought, there was blood - but not much. Just a graze - painful when touched and slightly swollen. I showed off my wound - it was the nearest I had to proof that I was a proper fencer. I'm not sure anything I did that night really counted as fencing. Then I put on my hoodie and jacket, slung my sword and rucksack onto my back and cycled off into the dark.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

slow motion parries

"There are nine parries in epee," the coach began, and proceeded to demonstrate them all. After the first three, I was lost. These weren't simple or circular parries but the various position in which an epeeist could hold back the advance of an opponent. "When would I use that?" doc wondered as the coach demonstrated a particularly high parry. "I'd use it against a tall opponent - like you," the coach responded.

We moved on to a complicated parry involving a beat against the blade to draw the attack followed by a rapid corkscrew movement which was supposed to circle the blade while advancing, bind it, hold it out of the way and slide in for a hit. I think it may have been called a progressive covered parry but I was concentrating so hard on the movement that there was no space in my brain for what it was called. I stood with the brunette watching the doc and the Man man try the parry. They didn't seem to find it that easy but I assumed that the coach was making things hard for them. Then it was my turn to fail.

I think the coach was getting a little despondent by then. He tried to encourage us with some simple tests. But we couldn't demonstrate nine parries nor explain the difference between reprise and remise. So we went back to a simple warm-up - moving up and down the piste and hitting to wrist. Then the coach added a leather chap - the kind that cowboys wear - so that we could hit to his leg as well. After the inevitable joke about horses and sabreurs, we managed rather better. This was a simpler and more familiar task. And after that the progressive covered parry - or whatever it was called - seemed to work rather better. At any rate, I managed it in slow motion, though I don't think that will be particularly helpful in a real bout.

We finished with a round of one-hit epee and then the brunette and I, too tired to wait for an electric piste, persuaded another coach to ref while we fenced steam to five. The brunette has the advantage of height and being a left-hander (and being younger than me) but I've been fencing longer. I'm never quite sure how reliable a ref can be when epeeists fence steam so I'm not entirely convinced I won 5-4. Still, the evenness of the bout was a pleasure. But I wish I weren't so tired in the evenings. It seems a shame to leave before the fencing has finished - but it would be a bigger shame to fall off my bike on the way home.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

missing the moment

"It's - - - ," the coach said.

I didn't catch the word and wouldn't have understood it anyway.

"That's Polish," he explained. "In French it's 'a propos.' In English it's - something like - the moment. You have to find the moment and take it."

The coach was explaining the remise which was. he said, at the heart of epee. He'd already described epee as a real duelling weapon with such enthusiasm he warmed us all. We almost forgot that his chief loyalty was to sabre. We'd warmed up with hits to the forearm while moving, then practised taking the blade and binding in it in a counter-attack. (There's not much defence in epee. Even retreats are conducted with an arm outstretched, blade to lead ready for the slightest chance to dart forward for the hit.) But the remise is trickier. Instead of sticking close to the opponent's blade, it is, as our coach explained it, a matter of looking for the split second when an opening appears, changing the line of attack from a standing position, and going for the hit.

I couldn't get it. I was too slow. The moment was too brief - I needed closer to a minute. Finally I managed a couple of clumsy hits in a different line, well aware that the coach was in slow motion.

Worse followed. We were to attack, redouble, redouble and hit - at speed. This meant a succession of lunges - reprise after reprise - down the length of the piste. I don't achieve beautiful low lunges and I'm not fast at moving in and out of a lunge. There were four of us. Two have been fencing epee longer than I've been fencing any weapon and the third is a young, graceful, experienced foilist looking to add another weapon. They sped down the piste, moving in and out of lunges till, with the final stretch at the end of the piste, they landed their hits. Then it was my turn.

I lumbered up and down, with the shallowest lunges I dared, fearing my right knee would give way as I tried to recover.but determined, at least, to reach the end of the piste without falling over. It wasn't much of ambition but at least I stayed upright and hurled my blade roughly in the direction of my waiting coach. Not surprisingly, he hit me first.

And then the coaching session was near its end and the coach was promising more difficult tasks in the future. We ended with a quick round of one hit epee. To my surprise, I managed a single hit - on the Man man - and then it was over.

The foilist donned her lame and joined the historian on the piste. (His appearance as a foilist was startling but it's better for his injured elbow.) There was a queue for the electric pistes and the hall was still crowded. I invited the doc to a quick steam bout, assuring him it could end when the Man man secured a box. I just wanted some real fencing before going home. The bout was brief but pleasing.

Then, still tired, I left the hall. Long days at work are still exhausting me. The cold hit me as I mounted my bike. I ascribed it to the tiredness until I got home and tried to open the wheelie bin. The lid had frozen shut. The next day, it was warmer. It snowed again.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

epee classes

After swimming, I looked forward to fencing and the new, fitter me. I made up my mind. I would swim every weekend and join the beginners' epee course for regular coaching. Sadly the Saturday-morning fencing has ended for now and is moving further away. I may be able to get a lift occasionally but not every week. So the best I can do is fencing once a week plus swimming and a lot of running up and downstairs at work.

That was the theory, anyway. It's been complicated lately.

I had to plan carefully. For four weeks in a row, fencing day is the busiest of my working week. I have to get up as soon after 5 as I can to drink coffee, eat breakfast, make my packed lunch and get ready. I move slowly in the early morning
. I leave before daylight and return long after dark. But it seemed just possible that, if I caught the right train, I could get changed quickly and cycle to fencing. I'd just be a little late. I tried not to think too much about the following morning, when I'd be up at 5.00 again.

The first week was tricky. There was an event at work that I probably should have attended. But not only did I want to fence, I also didn't think I could face a working day lasting more than 12 hours with a minimal chance of a break. I decided not to go. Instead I would rush home, rush out and stab people.

It didn't work like that.

The train arrived in the station on time and I caught it. It departed only five minutes late. Then, ten minutes into the journey, it halted, vast fields of dark on either side. It was some time before any announcement. Then we were told that there had been a "fatality on the line" and the pause turned into a long wait.

Eventually the train took a detour and deposited us all at the town that was its ultimate destination. Unfortunately it had bypassed my stop. The train staff said there would be a bus. The station staff said they didn't know anything about that but that there might be a train. There were quite a few of us on the platform, not wanting to complain about minor inconvenience when we knew others must be struck by grief, but still wanting to get home.

The trains started running again sooner than we'd feared but my 25-minute journey had taken two hours. It was too late for fencing.

I joined the epee class the following week. It wasn't full of beginners but included a couple of people who regularly beat me on the epee piste. Like me, they wanted more coaching - and going back to basics is a good way to begin.

By this time my plans for fitness were beginning to unravel. My laptop was playing up and I started carrying it everywhere with me, hoping someone could solve the problem. The extra weight tired me and I began taking the lift at work. I didn't blog either. The invasion of malware made me uneasy and it was almost a week till I was given useful advice about the free version of malware bytes (and how to open the computer in safe mode to download it). What with the tiredness, I didn't have much to inspire a blogpost either.

Then my daughter came home for the weekend. Most of her time was spent seeing friends, of course, and I missed Meeting to see her off. I didn't go swimming either. And, as my computer slowly convalesced, I began to feel bad about the gap in blogposts. I started a couple of posts but whenever I started the phone would ring or I'd be overcome by tiredness.

But I'm back now. And I managed to fence again last week - just for the epee class as I was too tired to do more. Yet I managed a series of accurate hits and reasonable counter-attacks. I may have been the slowest there - and was certainly the most exhausted - but I managed a little fencing at the end of a long day. And that was some sort of achievement. (And I got into work by 8.15 the following morning, despite snow and ice and blocked roads and railway lines. But that's another story.)

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