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, August 13, 2009

a hole in my hoodie

My fencing hoodie is falling to bits. That ought to be a metaphor for something, but it's not. I have simply worn it out.

I noticed a problem with the cuffs months ago. Perhaps I should have found time to darn them then but I didn't. And the holes around the cuffs multiplies. I know darning is based on weaving but by now I'd almost be weaving more cuffs.

And now there a hole in the pocket - not the sort of hole where coins fall out but a hole through which anyone can look to see the too-large bundle of keys I shove in my pocket for convenience when going out. It's the usual bundle that has acquired all sorts of extras that aren't keys at all: the remains of a Paris key-ring my daughter gave me after a school trip, a picture of the children when they were both under 5 and - most usefully - an old-fashioned bottle opener. What with all the keys, it's not surprising there's a hole in the fabric. The key rings have worn there way through to the outside world.

Perhaps I could force a metaphor out of the hoodie, saying that I too am wearing out. But that would suggest I was once glamorous and effective as a fencer and I was neither. I'm continuing with my once-a-week attendance, unless something else crops up, and, for the first time, we're fencing through August. There's just two hours of free fencing and, at the moment, a serious shortage of epeeists. I mostly fenced foil this week.

There's not much new to say about my experience of foil fencing. I tend to attack like an epeeist, without the little pause foilists use as they take right of way from an opponent. This gives me a slight advantage at times, but not enough to compensate for lack of speed. But the foilists, who included a few visitors or new members, were a cheerful bunch and I enjoyed myself.

Watching was good too - not just seeing the skill of others but enjoying the splendid moment when an energetic fencer attempted a fleche, tripped over the box and tangled in the curtain that separates fencers from badminton players. For a wonderful moment I thought there was, at last, a chance for the sword v. racquet meeting of which I've been dreaming. However no badminton players or fencers were hurt in the making of this blog and the fencer, like his audience, was caught in the hilarity of his over-enthusiastic fleche. (He was a good fencer enjoying his sport who won the bout.)

I managed a little epee at the end against the architect - a woman who is smaller than me. Since the chef's departure for Paris I've mostly fenced men who are taller than me so have developed a tactic of moving in close so that they lose the advantage of reach. At the beginning of our bout, I scored two points, using the advantage of reach. Then habit took over and I got too close. Every so often I corrected myself and stayed away, working on parry ripostes. But I must have lost five points by reverting to my custom of seeking a close encounter. The architect, who is young and fast, won 10-7. She'd probably have won if I hadn't made the mistake of getting too close, but the bout would have taxed her more. However I enjoyed the bout for all my mistakes - the architect enjoys her fencing in a way that's irresistibly infectious.

The architect is back in town for a while. She doesn't usually fence epee but can handle all three weapons so I hope for further bouts. Meanwhile the chef, who is spending summer in the Antipodes, has not yet encountered - let alone fenced - any kangaroos.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Fail again. Fail better."

I'm back on Blogger. I didn't mean to take a break but life (and death) caught up with me, as they do. I've missed a couple of fencing evenings, once because I had to travel to the funeral of a friend and once because I was away at a Quaker event - Britain Yearly Meeting - where we finally and overwhelmingly reached the decision to treat same-sex marriages in the same way as opposite-sex marriages. It was quite an easy decision and relatively quick, given Friends' labyrinthine processes - it only took us twenty-two years.

In the meantime, my fencing has been erratic. I was greatly encouraged by a postcard from Beth at Screw Bronze which arrived just as I needed it. Losing a friend can make it hard to focus on anything and this friend worked hard at remembering to enquire after my fencing progress. There was even a phone-call once announcing that there had been fencing on the television. I was thrilled. "What weapon?" I asked. There was a pause, then a question in reply, "What's the difference?" But those regular enquiries helped immensely. It's ever so good when a friend takes an interest.

Back from the funeral, I found myself fencing a young woman of less than half my age who usually defeats me easily, even though foil is her main weapon. We agreed to fence to ten. I didn't feel like doing anything but decided I'd fence as if my friend was watching and supporting me. It felt good. I took the first two points, then we realised that there was a problem with the wiring. When it was corrected, we started again from zero and, yet again, I found I was two points up. I didn't seem likely to win, even with that advantage, but I determined to do my best.

Somehow, every time she caught up, I pulled ahead, never by more than one or two points. She drew level at 8 all and then I managed the hit that took me to 9-8. I wanted to get the next point and win the bout. As I darted forward with my blade, I felt her point attach on my arm. I was sure it was 9 all. But when I looked at the electric box I saw both red and green lights. It was a double - I'd done it and won 10-9.

After that my fencing slipped but it was good to know what winning felt like. I tried to remember that as my skill slipped in the rest of the evening - and in the club's one-hit epee contest where, to my surprise, I didn't come last. I gave advice to a couple of young sabreurs who were trying epee for fun - one hit me while my brief bout against the other ended in a "double defeat" (doubles lose in one-hit contests). I managed a solitary victory against a fencer who said he'd done what I warned him against last year - somehow he walked onto my sword. I knew that what I needed was the will to win - and, ideally, greater strength, speed and accuracy. The club president, who is in his 60s, had one of his frequent victories though he refused to take the sparkling wine which he had donated as the prize.

August is for free fencing and we have the hall for only two hours. I made it this week. Attendance had slipped to no more than thirty, mostly foilists and sabreurs. I spent some time fencing the only epeeist there - he's taking a break from coaching foil. Again I fenced as though I were showing a friend what fun it was - and I was faster, more varied and quicker to see openings. I may have achieved a hand hit by luck but it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been doing my best. I remembered to parry more and to follow each parry with the best attack I could manage, even though my wrists weren't quite strong enough to take my opponent's blade easily.

Towards the end, I began to tire and when my opponent suggested we fence to five my will to win had evaporated. He attacked more strongly and my defences were too slow and weak. He won 5-0. But he remarked that I had improved and was harder to hit, adding that in our preliminary fencing I'd managed five hits in a row, so I didn't feel so bad.

There were no other epeeists. Seeing a 12-year-old sitting at the edge of the hall, I asked her if she'd like to fence me at foil. It's sometimes hard for fencers of that age to challenge fencers who seem much older and more experienced. It was good for me to try the discipline of foil and good for my legs to take up the challenge of fencing someone much smaller than me. After only a year, my young opponent has a good stance and technique. Perhaps she'll move on to epee when she's bigger and stronger. (I won, by the way, though she'll probably beat me when she's a bit bigger. Still, it's important to remember that fencing is not just for the young.)

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