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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

stabbing no-one

I planned to fence. Even when I realised I was ill, and couldn't get to work, I reckoned I could stay in bed all day, then get up in the evening. Rested and miraculously cured, I'd be able to stab people again. At 6.00 p.m. I lay asleep and wondered if I could manage it.

It was only a virus - one that causes sore throats. slight temperatures and acute weariness. My legs ached. I'd been in work the day before and knew I must be there the day after, for a 12-hour day. But I'd done the sensible thing. I had taken paracetemol and slept. Surely I was well enough to get up, climb onto my bike, cycle to the leisure centre and indulge in a little light stabbing.

My legs disagreed. Half an hour later I'd got no further than sitting on the side of the bed. I thought I might get downstairs - just not yet. My throat ached and my head was hot. I gave up.

I managed supper and more sleep. And the next day I managed my 12-hour day. (But it's probably just as well that no-one caught me having a little extra sleep on the office floor between meetings).

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Friday, March 13, 2009

arrivals and parries

"An epeeist, obviously," I declared, looking at the new arrival.

"Sabre, sabre, sabre," chorussed the sabreurs.

"She'd better start with foil," a more thoughtful fencer suggested.

The new arrival didn't state her opinion. She didn't even open her eyes. At ten days, weighing just over six pounds, the future fencer slept in her father's arms. In her small pink dress and long white socks she wasn't really dressed for combad. As blades clashed in the packed hall, the new arrival was passed from fencer to fencer. Foilists and sabreurs discarded their lames so that the rough metallic surface wouldn't scratch her. Her mother, more familiar with fencers than motherhood, enjoyed the chance for conversation, I think.

It was a while before I dragged myself away to the epee class. I was enjoying the sight of so small and contented a human being. But epee called.

The usual coach was away so one of the most experienced coaches took over. He led us through a return to basics: hitting to wrist, forearm and body - first from standing, then with movement and then including a parry. My accuracy and recall wavered as I tried to include a parry to quarte before hitting the chest. How could I miss so large a target? I wondered. My blade began to glide over the forearm instead of attaching. The coach took me through it again and again until, finally, I managed to land all my hits in sequence.

There's something reassuring about getting something right, even if it's simple and even when I've had a great deal of practice. I moved on to a couple of bouts - and for once I wasn't feeling tired.

I wasn't sure I'd learnt anything in the last weeks of coaching. The problem didn't lie with the coach but with my own exhaustion - how could I have taken anything in? But I was cheered by a lucky wrist-hit, in which, without premeditation or much control, I angled my blade that it slid down to graze my opponent's guard. And I found myself moving better than for a while and - in combat - putting the new parries into practice.

My attempt at a parry in seconde wasn't graceful but it took my opponent by surprise. This gave me a chance to move my blade back up and land a chest hit. Further encouraged by my success, I began to vary my tactics. My opponent was a better and more experienced fencer than me - he'd taught me in my early days of epee when no coaches were available - but although he landed more hits than me, I was doing far better than usual. I accelerated forward with a circular parry and landed a hit. Then I started retreating to see if I could catch him as he attacked. I couldn't - at least, not the first time, but the second time I tried it the box showed a double. I tried the parry in seconde again - and again scored a hit. It was feeling good.

I was tired at the end of the evening - properly tired, with the kind of physical exhaustion that leads to a good night's sleep. As for the new arrival, she left when I did, having slept through everything.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

"run forward as fast as you can and keep attacking"

My evening of fencing began and ended with a crime.

I'm usually a law-abiding individual though lately so many laws have been passed in Britain that it's probably impossible to avoid committing a couple of cimes a day. However I prefer to break laws by accident or for ethical reasons rather than for my own benefit. But I have to admit that, when I last went fencing, I did break the law.

I was looking forward to the epee class. For the first time in weeks I wasn't entirely exhausted. I was worried about work, however, and thought that a bit of stabbing was just what I needed. It was a bit of a rush but I got my kit together, slung my swords over my should and prepared to mount my bike.

I turned on the back light - no problem. I went to turn on the front light. It wasn't there. There was no time to walk, even if I'd had the energy. There wasn't even time to wait for a cab. I thought about the route. There's a short stretch of road - a few yards - before the cycle path begins. The cycle path is well-lit and I'm not sure whether cyclists are compelled to have lights as it's not, strictly speaking, a public highway. And then there's the driveway to the leisure centre. I don't know if it's a public highway or not. I know I can walk on it legally - but I never feel safe doing that as there's no pavement. I looked at my legs. They were bright in white breeches and socks. I decided I was probably sufficiently vsisible. I got on my bike and cycled all the way.

As I arrived in the leisure centre car park, a woman kindly pointed out that my front light wasn't on. I explained my dilemma and apologised. She said my back light wasn't very bright either. I suppose it isn't. I apologised about that too. Then I went to the epee class.

We began with parries. I felt more confident than usual, probably because they were relatively easy: direct parry, circular parry, semi-circular parry. It was like doing foil again except that, as epeeists, we were expected to complete each parry by landing a hit.

The coach was encouraging. I watched the other epeeists take turns. We're not really the beginners' group that was planned. We'd been joined by an epeeist who gave mesome of my first lessons in the weapon. Every epeeist in the club joins the beginners' epee class from time to time - and the coach is a sabreur. All the same, we're learning.

Sometimes we're puzzled about what is required. I was uncertain about a long list of instructions which included the sinister words "reprise" and "redouble." After he'd returned from what looked like a longish bout, I asked my former epee teacher what the coach required. "Just run forward as fast as you can and keep attacking," he replied. I had a few goes and eventually I managed to respond to everything the coach did with an attack of my own. It wasn't great.

I knew I had to leave early - I had a very early start at work the following day. But I managed a few hits against the other (young) woman in the ill-named "beginners" group. She really is a beginner at epee, though an excellent foilist and - dangerously - a left-hander. Her experience in foil gave me a slight advantage since she still tends to pause after parries as though establishing right of way. It was only a knockabout but for once I managed to land a few more hits than she did. Then I packed my kit, mounted my bike and headed - illegally - home.

It's possible that my illegal cycling covered no more than 15 yards if, as I hope, the cycle path and drive-way don't count as public highway. It still wasn't a good idea. I've found my front bike-light now - evidently it fell off when I last unloaded my bicycle basket. But the woman at the leisure centre was right - neither light is very strong. Perhaps I should buy another set of lights .... or would that be bad for the planet?

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