"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.
Labels: child, coach, epee, fencer, fencing, hits, parry, sleep, tired