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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

fopée again

I was exhausted - the sort of exhaustion that lingers when a virus has visited and not quite gone. Somehow I got on my bike but, by the time I reached the leisure centre, I was breathless. I wondered about going home again but the effort seemed too great. Reluctantly, I pulled myself into my kit.

There weren't many epeeists and, for once, I was relieved. "I'll do a little foil," I said, thinking of the lightness of the weapon. I was forgetting about the speed and the need to adopt a lower fencing stance against smaller, lighter and mostly younger opponents.

I should have fenced a tall young man who moves fast and hits hard. The architect must have seen my trepidation and, knowing I'd been ill, suggested I wait and fence one of the intermediates - a girl of about 17 who, it turned out, has excellent technique and accuracy. I have neither.We set out to fence to 10 and I tried to remember the rules of foil. As I paused before each attack, trying to establish right of way, I quickly discovered that my young opponent had a deft and deadly parry riposte. Her neat fencing quickly gave her a clear lead of 6-2.

Evidently my foil skills were not going to win the bout. I changed my method and began to fence foil like an epeeist, but doing my best to aim for the smaller target area. This puzzled my opponent who had been trained to fence foilists. I got rid of the pause, worked on taking the blade and forcing my attack through. It wasn't pretty but I began to win points and suddenly we were at 8-8. My opponent was looking anxious and uncertain - an advantage to me, I thought. I continued with my furious and inelegant technique and she faltered. It was 9-8 to me and I was suddenly determined to win. The next point was a messy scuffle but I landed the necessary hit. 10-8 to me.

The architect, who had been watching, could hardly stop laughing. "That wasn't foil - that was epée," she said.

"I know," I replied, "but it worked."

Later I fenced the architect at epée. She fenced like a foilist. She won.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Barefoot fencing?

"You've lost it already," a fellow fencer said sternly.

She was right. I'd begun the bout - against a keen, 13-year-old left-hander - with an apology for being such a lousy opponent. I expect I'd have lost anyway but that is no way to start.

There were two new epéeists: the boy and an army pentathlete. I didn't get to fence the pentathlete. She reckoned epee was one of her lesser skills and found the boy, who's been fencing epée for three years, a difficult opponent. Most of the usual epéeists were absent. I left fairly early since I seemed to have the beginnings of a cold. "See you next week," I called.

I made resolutions. I would fence to win next week. And I would get my trainers repaired.

I like my current trainers. They're white with pale blue trimmings, which seems a decent colour scheme. More importantly, they're comfortable and I feel as though I move slightly faster down the piste when wearing them. But in the last couple of weeks I've noticed that they aren't exactly safe as the tips of the soles, by my toes, are coming adrift. I thought of using superglue but decided on a trip to the local cobbler instead.

But my week was taken over by illness - just a virus - and the impossibility of taking time off. Any time at home was spent slowly doing a few urgent household tasks (washing up, putting the bin out) and sleeping restlessly. I was even working on Saturday. I didn't get to the cobbler till the morning before fencing. ( "You can't fence," my Dad said on the phone. "You need to stay home." I croaked agreement but secretly thought I might be better.)

In the end, the cobbler decided it. He wasn't there. The young man who took my trainers explained politely that they couldn't be ready till the following morning.

I thought briefly of fencing in old trainers - or barefoot - and dismissed the idea. I needed to get better. I stayed home and cooked curry instead.

It hasn't been a week entirely without fencing. I found the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1985 production of Cyrano de Bergerac on youtube. I remember watching the production from my cheap seat and thinking nothing could be better. The verse translation by Anthony Burgess seems as light as the French original. Watching on youtube doesn't have the glamour and excitement of the Barbican Theatre but it's as close as I can get to this past pleasure.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009


After nearly a fortnight without stabbing anyone, I was happily anticipating my return to fencing. I managed an early night in preparation. Then I woke at half past four and soon realised I couldn't get back to sleep. I headed downstairs for camomile tea and started to surf the net.

I was sitting still at my computer when the pain hit me - a sharp ache just above my hip. At first I couldn't think what had caused it. Then I remembered how awkwardly I'd tranported lemonade and orange juice in a shopping bag on wheels - the bad my children object to and call my "granny bag." (As I point out, I'm old enough to be a great-grandmother, but they don't think that's a good excuse.) "If I can get back to sleep," I told myself, "the pain will go away."

I managed sleep but the pain persisted - not all the time but whenever I moved in certain ways. Tying shoelaces was the worst. Luckily there is no need to tie shoelaces while actually fencing but as the day progressed I began to wonder whether fencing would be possible. Eventually I rang the doctor's surgery just in time to get the last appointment of the day.

The doctor reassured me that it was just a pulled muscle - I had began to worry lest it was something worse - and wrote me a prescription for strong painkillers. I assured him I didn't drive or operate heavy machinery. "How about fencing?" I asked.

The doctor asked me to show what moves would be involved. This seemed a lot sillier than lying on a couch to be poked and prodded but I got to my feet and adopted a fencing stance. It didn't hurt. I made a few fencing moves backwards and forwards and attempted a small lunge. "It's OK," I said in amazement. "No pain."

I assured the doctor that I'd be able to stop if it hurt and he agreed that I could fence. I began to look forward to the evening.

Putting on my breeches and lacing my trainers was excruciating. I realised cycling would be unwise, especially since the pain-killers were going to make me woozy. Although the backpack for my kit was slightly uncomfortable, walking was the best solution.

Once again there was a shortage of epeeists but this time I had the sense to borrow a lamé and ask a couple of foilists for bouts. I warned them about my muscle strain and they helped me in the tricky and painful tasks of doing up the lamé, picking up my mask, and connecting my body wire. I was quite glad to begin with a light weapon, even though I've lost any expertise I ever had. My technique is now, as an opponent said, based entirely on epée. I kept forgetting about establishing right of way and simply tried to hit the smaller target area. To my surprise, I managed a few points.

Then one of my opponents discarded her lamé and borrowed a club epée. We fenced steam scoring, so far as we could tell, double after double. But it felt good, after a day of caution, to be moving up and down the piste with relative ease.

I'd decided early that this would be short evening. But before I left, I had a chance to fence with one of the coaches who didn't know about the muscle-strain. I was beginning to feel relaxed and reckless as the pain-killers kicked in. At first the coach just made me practise technique, though I wasn't too sure what I was doing. Then, seeing I was getting tired, he suggested as usual that we see who was the first to get two hits. It's never been me in the past, however much the coach invites a hit. Perhaps the pills subdued my certainty of defeat. I went for the first hit and caught the coaches arm. On the second point, I parried his attack and managed a chest hit. 2-0 to me.

Then I packed up my kit, heaved my backpack onto my shoulders and limped home.

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