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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

still fencing

I did continue fencing. For a week, I thought of giving up but it didn't seem right. I thought of two friends I've made through blogging.

There's Beth of Screw Bronze, who loved to fence epee - and was way better than me - who is now fighting a far harder battle as she lives with disability and terminal illness. Beth has been competing in wheelchair races and every yard she achieves is a victory. She sent me a postcard of a woman with a sword; she still thinks of me as a fencer.

Then there's Jim, the Gray Epee, who is still fencing but not nearly as much as he would like. Jim has been hit by the recession and had to tak a job far from family, home and fencing club. He still fences when he can. Again, he's a more dedicated fencer than me. He competes, coaches and gives support to fellow fencers but has had to cut his fencing to the few occasions he can manage.

For me, the alternative to fencing is not fencing. That would be worse. So I've been taking advice from fencing, working harder and doing just a little better.

I asked the teacher of epee classes to take more lessons. He resumed his classes last week. I wasn't too thrilled when he explained that this week's focus would be three types of fleche. The fleche is not a strategy I expect to employ. "It's not running," the coach told me, having seen my first attempt. "You have to fly through the air like an arrow." I know the theory - it's the practice that defeats me. But I tried to fly through the air while parrying the coach's blade and changing the line of engagement. He smiled encouragingly but I don't think he was impressed.

Later I told the foil coach who fences epee about this. He's an excellent teacher - I watch him with the new foilists and they are filled with enthusiastic confidence - but he doesn't teach epee. But when I told him I couldn't fleche he made me hold my sword out, then took it by the blade and pulled me forward. I wasn't exactly flying through the air but I moved forward forcefully and at speed - and without falling over. It was quite different to previous attempts to fleche. "That's a fleche," he said. "That's how I show the foilists." He did it again and I now know what a fleche feels like. I'm still not sure I'll be doing it in bouts but perhaps I can practise a bit on my own, if no-one's looking.

I think over the past three weeks I've been improving again. A few weeks ago the Man man beat me 15-1 without trying. I managed to improve to 15-5 and at the last session I managed 8 hits to his 15, rather to my surprise. OK, he was tired but I landed the hits. Four weeks ago I'd have missed.

I've been enjoying myself too. I'm feeling slightly fitter; I've been swimming twice and even attended a beginners' salsa class run by a colleague to raise money for charity. Salsa was fun but I on't have a great sense of rhythm - I think I'll stick to stabbing people.

Cycling to and from fencing has become a pleasure, except for the week when the sky opened and I was soaked before I reached the leisure centre. Clambering back into my sodden jeans and hoodie was a low point.

The scents of May are exceptionally vivid in this rainy Spring. On my last ride through the night, I suddenly recognized the cloying scent of orange blossom, then the sweet weight of lilac which hung heavy above the cycle track. I prefer the smell of long grass and cow parsley - the lacy flowers line the paths of the water meadows and are now at waist height. Birds scream incessantly with the urgency of Spring. And the other week I caught sight of a darker black crossing the drive just ahead of my bike. "Cat?" I thought at first. But I knew it wasn't a cat. I looked across the meadows to see if I could find it again and the lights picked up its shape, catching its eyes and transforming them to two yellow-green blurs. "Not a cat," I realised, checking the silhouette and registering the sharp ears and nose. The fox and I gazed at each other for a minute or so. Then it turned and merged into the dark of grass and flowers.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Fencing badly

Perhaps it's because I turned down the invitation to swim and trimmed the hedge instead. Plainly an hour and a half clipping at privet with shears doesn't constitute exercise. And I didn't manage a decent cycle ride either.

But I didn't have the excuse of tiredness. I've been sticking to my resolution to have at least seven hours' sleep most nights. I run up and down the stairs at work. I hardly ever have a drink in the evening. Surely my fencing should have improved, especially after last week's coaching. But it didn't.

I dawdled along the cycle path, not because I wanted to cycle slowly but because four boys ahead of me were strung out across the path, having an animated conversation as they rode. I didn't feel inclined to overtake since it would have meant ringing my bell and demanding they get out of the way. So I dawdled in their wake.

There were three other epeeists looking for fights - all men, all younger and taller than me and two of them left-handed. They're experienced fencers too. While they always make sure I get my turn on the piste, I reckon that sometimes I'm a bit of a nuisance - however hard I work, I'm not going to reach their standard. And even as I wired up for my first fight, against the Man man, doubt and pessimism crept up on me.

The Man man wanted a quick, easy victory. He got it. As he scored hit after hit, I wilted, knowing my stance was wrong, knowing I should attack but without the will or energy to put things right. As I tried, belatedly, to correct my en garde position, I found I couldn't quite remember how to get it right. What, I wondered, was the point. I lost, 15-1.

I fenced the doc, who went easy on me, so I managed 5 hits to his 15. But I was sure he was letting me get the hits. Then I fenced my teacher from last week, who had been watching despairingly. He tried encouragement but I couldn't do it.

I wanted to slink off home. Instead, I fenced them all again, trying and failing to muster the determination that would help me improve.

I pulled up a little. My last two bouts saw me losing 15-7 (the last may have been 15-8). But I wasn't thinking strategically any more than I was fencing aggressively, speedily or accurately - and I couldn't work out how to get it right.

I cycled home, gloomily, wondering if it's worth continuing with fencing. Sometimes I enjoy it immensely. And sometimes I feel a fool for even trying to wield a sword.

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