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

Friday, April 24, 2009

bullet-proof tyres

I forgot to take my bike to the repair shop until fencing day arrived and then the wonderful Mr PH was fully booked. He took my bike in but warned me it wouldn't be ready for two days. So I walked to fencing.

This was good for me, I decided. And as it was a warm Spring evening, I could enjoy the scent of flowers and grass which was so strong that it overcame the car-fumes from the busy road. By the time I turned into the long drive to the leisure centre and passed the water meadow, I was feeling calm, refreshed and ready to fence.

Of course, it wasn't quite as easy as that. First I had to scramble into my kit, remembering the string the body wires through my sleeve and slot the saucer-shaped breast protectors into the jacket's pouches. Then I had to find an opponent. To my surprise a teenager came up to me. We've had interesting discussions on pacifism - he favours bombing people and wants a career in the RAF while I go on demonstrations outside the local barracks. However, he wasn't looking for a discussion this time. Instead he suggested a bout at epee. We've fenced foil in the past and he's always claimed to despise the greater freedom of epee. Trying not to blink too much, I agreed and he went off to search the cupboard for one of the club's few epees.

I was waiting in the middle of the hall when another fencer came up to me and offered a coaching session. I wasn't sure whether I should accept, since I was waiting for the teenager, but I knew how much I wanted to be coached. The fencer offering to help me isn't one of the clubs coaches but he's an effective left-handed epeeist with immense patience and enthusiasm to improve the basic elements of my fencing which always need work. So I mentioned that I'd accepted the teenager's challenge and embarked on some intensive training. Then we began to work on my guard and my lunge.

It's particularly helpful to have a left-hander check my guard as against left-handers I'm much more vulnerable to attack on my right forearm. I began to work on getting my stance and the angle of my guard right. "That's it," my teacher enthused. "You need a good guard. I'm 6 foot 1 and that makes me work much harder to hit you." I didn't point out that, given his speed and accuracy, he would manage repeated hits in any case - I could see how much more effective my stance was. But every so often he would warn me, "It's drifting," and reminded me to raise my arm and look down the blade before lowering my elbow into the en garde position.

By this time the teenager had returned and was watching with interest. The lesson continued and we moved on to attacks and lunges. "You can lunge deeper than that - see how far you can reach!" I saw - it was further than I thought, even though my lunge isn't splendidly deep. We moved back and forth with me mirroring my teacher's steps until he lowered his left arm as a signal for me to hit. I was tiring a little which showed how unfit I was. But I worked on the hits. Finally we fenced to 5 - an easy win for my teacher but I managed one great hit - a circular parry followed by a neat hit to the top of his wrist. It surprised me and my teacher exploded with delight, thrilled at what I'd achieved. "That was a lovely hit," he told me. "Keep fencing like that. Be aggressive." So I tried and he won the rest of the points. But he congratulated me on my fencing. "Did you see how much better that was?" he asked. I had to acknowledge I did. "And it felt good too." He beamed as I freed myself from the ground wire.

The teenager still wanted to fence me. He asked about technique. I'm no expert but I tried to explain stance and guard, based on what I'd been practising. My tips for beginners are basic and mostly about keeping going, turning everything into an attack. But he still stood like a foilist and, for all his greater speed, which ensured he could land several good touches, I think I managed to surprise him with the number of hits I landed. As we stopped, another epeeist came over and I suggested he might show the teenager some further skills. It was a good chance to catch my breath, take a drink of water and chat to a colleague whose son is one of the intermediate foilists.

I managed one more bout and didn't do well. I remembered what my teacher had advised but only after my guard had drifted or I'd failed to secure a hit that could have been managed with a lunge. I picked up a bad bruise on my upper arm - a fair penalty for walking onto my opponent's blade. Still, it had been a good evening and I felt that my new regime of early nights and sufficient sleep was paying off. So I turned down invitations to the pub and walked home through the fragrant dark.

This morning I collected my bike. Mr PH hasn't merely replaced the inner tube. He's added a tyre lining which he assures me is also used to make bullet proof vests. So anyone who tries to shoot out my tyres is in for a shock. And I'm happily back on the roads (and cycle paths).

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The snail's revenge

Blogging stopped for a while but fencing continued. I discovered that fencing while tired achieved few immediate results other than bruises. I attempted to learn something that might be called the second counter-attack - or was it the second counter-riposte. I didn't achieve it very well - mostly I waved my sword around in a hopeful way, trying to hit the coach's blade a couple of times before attempting to control it, move it aside and move achieve a hit. The coach looked slightly despairing and his attempts at smiling encouragement were slightly strained.

I managed some sleep before the one-hit epee contest.
In a work of fiction, that would lead to sudden brilliance and astounding success. In real life, I'm still unfit, in my mid-50s and, where fencing is concerned, a slow learner Moreover, despite being rested, I had developed a nagging headache which was only partly dispersed by paracetemol.

Still, there were undoubted advantages to having slept. I thought more strategically than in previous weeks and worked out some good ways to win points. For example, I usually attack against one fencer so I decided to retreat and invite him to attack me so that I could use some of the new parries I'd learned. He seemed slightly puzzled, then moved forward, evaded my blade which was probably signalling its readiness to parry, and hit me neatly. Then I launched into a fierce attack on a fencer who points out that I fence him over-defensively. I remembered to get my stance right and moved forward as fast as I could. There were a few clashes of blades before he landed the hit. He assured me I was doing it right and politely didn't add that he was the better fencer.

There were two fencers against whom I thought I stood a chance. But the other woman in the contest, a foilist less than half my age and a beginner at epee, had the speed and agility I lacked and won her point quickly. And fencing one of the coaches - a good fencer but I've occasionally been lucky against him - we both went for a quick hit and scored a double. By the rules of one-hit epee, that's a double defeat.

A new fencer had joined us - an epeeist who had been a good student fencer but hadn't fenced for 21 years. He was causing the experienced fencers some difficulty and
I couldn't see that I had any chance of beating him. I wired up feeling curious and prepared for defeat. My only hope seemed to be a quick attack as male fencers don't expect that from an older woman. I think he was surprised but not as surprised as I was when I realised his counter-attack had landed flat. I'd continued my attack as taught by a coach who makes us go for three successive hits (wrist/forearm, upper arm, chest) and, because I hadn't paused, it was I who had landed the successful hit.

It was my only win of the evening. Puzzled and slightly dazed by this sole success, I initially forgot the routine courtesy of shaking my opponent's hand and had to run after him to apologise. Luckily he's still talking to me - and still fencing me. He has sufficient experience as a fencer to give me useful advice but, as he's still regaining his accuracy, I can gain some hits against him. It won't last. I can see from the glow in his eyes that he's a good epeeist out of practice - I'm just waiting to see how good.

The evening's trophy - an Easter egg - was won by the Man man after a play-off against the club's president, who had donated the egg. And there were small chocolate creme eggs for the rest of us - and enough over for fencers who were practising other weapons.

The day after the one-hit epee, I headed off on a holiday which included the chef's birthday celebration at her apartment in Paris. I'm sad to report that she has not continued with her fencing in France and there was no swordplay at her party (perhaps because the apartment is not big enough). There was plenty of delicious food, however, as well as a lavish variety of gin-based cocktails. As it was my host's birthday the following day, I wasn't sure I'd still fit into my breeches on my return to England. It took a few deep breaths.

I thought the cycle ride to fencing would help me achieve fitness. It didn't. My bike had a serious puncture and I had to walk. At least I could enjoy the birdsong and the scents of spring. And I enjoyed the fencing even though there's no coaching in epee during the Easter holidays (coaches have holidays too). I was glad to see that the new epeeist had returned - there seems to be a good chance that he'll be a regular attender. I fenced a little and walked home. Two days later, I took my bike to the repair shop rather than struggle with the puncture alone. This meant I could have an Easter Monday bike ride as well as cycling to fencing.

It felt good to be on my bike again. The following week I headed off happily and enjoyed the evening, although I spent more time in conversation and less in fencing than I had planned. Now that I'm spending more time asleep I'm enjoying the fencing much more and can even make modest improvements.

I was reflecting on how good the evening had been as I wheeled the bike to it's usual place before locking it. Then, just beside the house, I heard an ominous sound. "A puncture," I thought and looked at the ground to see what I'd run over. I couldn't see anything that would have damaged the bike - just the remains of a snail whose shell I must have crushed. I was sorry about the snail but relieved about the bike.

I was relieved too soon. This morning I unchained my bike and prepared to set off for Quaker Meeting. As soon as I mounted it I realised that the front tyre was flat again. I think it's the snail's revenge. I'm seriously contemplating anti-puncture tyres.

And I'm hoping to return to regular blogging.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,