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, December 24, 2009

stabbing Santa Claus

Viewers paused on the bridge above the salle. They looked puzzled - even slightly concerned. I don't know if they had watched fencing before but they probably hadn't seen festive fencing before.

Because of the icy pavements, I hadn't visited all the shops I'd intended. My fencing kit was sadly short of tinsel. However, before the snow fell, I had bought a pair of felt reindeer antlers, They had the added advantage of small lights that would flash cheerfully whenever I pressed a button while the headband emitted a faint tune. I wasn't sure that "Jingle Bells" was quite what I needed to strike fear into the heart of my opponents, but it was certainly festive. I wound some of last year's fluffly lilac tinsel round my wrist. Then I looked round for an opponent.

I started by fencing foil against a boy in Christmas hat with a gold-tinselled sword. All around me santas were battling reindeer, using foil and sabre. The floor was acquiring a light dusting of shredded, glittering tinsel.

Perhaps the best costume involved gold tinsel sewn to fencing jackets and breeches combined with orange gloves, trimmed with white fur and beads, a santa hat and - the winning touch - a long white Santa beard apparently descending from the fencing mask. "Epée?" I asked Santa.

I pressed the button on my antlers so that I could advance to the reassuring sound of "Jingle Bells." Sadly the lights had stopped working after a few hits. It was a little hard to adopt a threatening demeanour and I was worried that my sword might tangle in Santa's beard. Still, we fenced for some time and I took great pleasure in stabbing Santa Claus.

It wasn't the most vigorous or dedicated evening of fencing, though I did get some really useful advice on wrist action in parrying. I'd known before that I needed to make my attacks and parries far more precise but there's a difference between knowing the theory and suddenly feeling the practice click into place. The coach who spent time with me told me exactly what I needed to know at just the right time - I hope I can hold that knowledge through the holidays. Many fencers paused to photograph bouts, to exchange cards or simply to watch the fencers. Someone borrowed a large broom from the leisure centre staff and a foilist and sabreuse spent time clearing the floor of Christmas sparkle.

The evening ended with a visit to the pub. I cadged a lift from one of the coaches (in a jaguar!) and enjoyed a glass of mulled ale and more conversation with my fellow fencers. Sadly, the leisure centre is closed between Christmas and New Year and I shan't be fencing again till mid-January. However, I can look forward to the fencing club Christmas dinner in the New Year, just as all the festivities are winding down into January bleakness.

Merry Christmas - and I hope you have a happy and peaceful New Year - apart from whatever amount of enjoyable and consensual violence you would choose.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

hits and misses

One-hit epée changes the look of the salle. As I entered, the beginners were having a class at one end of the hall and a few intermediates were chatting but the main weapon being fenced in the body of the hall was epée. Even confirmed sabreurs were taking turns on the two electric pistes, determined to do well. There's nothing like the chance of a chocolate santa to inspire a fencer.

One-hit epée tournaments are regular events at our club. They happen towards the end of each of the three terms and the club president donates a seasonal prize, usually in chocolate, with plenty of smaller chocolate items for all.

I think this must have been the largest one-hit epée contest I've known. Eighteen fencers signed up for it. The skills range was from intermediate to international and the age range was nearly fifty years. A decision was taken to set up two poules of nine with the top two of each going through to the final. Looking across at the other poule, I felt I was in a group which would give me more chances. I reckoned that, for all the strong fencers in my group, I had a chance of a couple of hits at least - with luck. The other poule was already being christened "the poule of death."

One-hit epée isn't easy to predict and it's hard to plan for it. My first bout was against a sabreur. He came towards me, moving like a sabreur and hit me at once. I unclipped and handed the ground wire over to the next fencer. Meanwhile I noticed the other epeeists doing well.

I took more time in my second bout, against the doc, but the outcome was predictable. He hit me lightly and that was it. I tried to encourage myself with the thought that I'd have better chances against other fencers in the group.

Then I was against a fencer who has encouraged and coached me unofficially on a number of occasions. He tells me off for being insufficiently aggressive so I was determined to show him how aggressive I could be. I also remembered managing a hit on him in a previous one-hit epée context. It was a longer bout with considerable movement as we parried one another. Eventually we both went for a hit and my light came on. A couple of women near me applauded and I was feeling delighted when someone pointed out that my opponent's body wire had come free of the ground-wire - not his fault but a problem with old club equipment. Someone suggested it was up to the ref to decide if the point should be replayed but it seemed clear to me and I requested a rematch.

Once again I tried to be combative and parried energetically but my opponent hit before I could land a touch. I shook hands and said "well done" but felt slightly down.

I was beaten easily by my next opponent, a Chinese graduate student who fences with us as a guest when his usual club is on vacation. Then I was against a fellow epéeist who was doing well and who tends to beat me every week. I had one advantage - I'm used to fencing him. I can't quite recall what I did but I was determined to change my strategy and move more than usual. I heard the beep that meant a touch and didn't realise, till I looked, that I'd taken the point.

That gave me confidence for the next bout, against a fencer who had recently returned after a long break. Although he fences epée sometimes, he's still mostly a foilist. Being out of practice his movements were slightly wide - and I managed to hit him. Two points seemed respectable and I was feeling pleased.

My final two bouts were against intermediate foilists who had tried epée only occasionally. The first should have hit me but her attack missed and, in a messy scramble, I managed to land a hit on her. The second was quick and accurate and hit me first.

I looked at the score sheet. I'd won three bouts and three fencers from my group had scored only two. Whatever had happened in the other poule, I wasn't last. Meanwhile the doc and the Chinese guest tied for first place in our group. No-one was sure how the final four would fence for the chocolate santa so they fenced again. There was a series of doubles before the guest landed a hit and won first place from the group.

Meanwhile the club president had won the other poule and four fencers were tied for second place. The ref quickly organised them into further bouts. The tied fencers included a regular epéeist and an international sabreur. But the winner of the battle for second place was a confident intermediate foilist who was holding an epée for only the second time in her life. She was smaller and slighter than the other fencers and her quick, delicate touches took her opponents by surprise.

After some debate, a decision was made that the final four would fence in a poule unique. This was more fun for the spectators, especially since the initial result was a tie between the president and the doc. We gathered to watch the final and cheered as the club president won - and was duly presented with the chocolate santa he had donated. Then he produced small santas for the rest of us.

When I looked at the final scoresheet, I discovered I'd had my best one-hit contest ever. Five fencers had achieved two hits and four had managed three. This meant I was in joint tenth place. I don't think I'd have done as well in the other poule but, all the same, it felt like a good result. I happily gnawed the head off a small chocolate santa.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

continuing (with injuries)

The club competition was never going to be easy. If it hadn't been for a comment on this blog, I'd have given up. I had plenty of excuses: my calf hurt and my workload was huge. I took some with me on the Sunday - I wasn't the only one. It's sad to see how, in a time of high unemployment, those with jobs work absurdly long hours. It would be better to share the work around.

I registered for foil and epée, looked at the people in my poule and fenced without conviction. "Where's the aggression?" a fellow fencer asked and added, correctly, "You've lost it."

He was right. I wasn't expecting to win and I wasn't trying to win. I attempted to pull myself together. I still didn't win any bouts but began to perform a little better - at least, I began to feel more satisfied with the attempts I was making. But my footwork was more a shuffle than anything else - I didn't want to risk worse damage with the epée still to come.

Every so often I felt an urge to win but never for more than a point or two. Needless to say I was ranked low, fenced a strong fencer in the Direct Elimination, and was eliminated (15-5). Somehow I didn't come last overall - just bottom from last. But in the competition for the lower ranked fencers I did come last.

Still, I was fencing which seemed like some sort of achievement.

In the epée once again I made occasional attempts to win but didn't sustain them. My best poule bout went to 4-4 - I was briefly ahead before that. Then I looked at my opponent and my aggression ebbed away. She's a foilist who I can beat on occasion but I lost that last point before the ref. said "Fence."

All I had left was the D.E. I was against the fencer who had beaten me in foil. This time I had nothing to lose - there was no longer any point in trying to look after my injured calf. I attacked, parried and did my best. It wasn't that good but it felt more like fencing than anything I'd done before. We were at 14-6 (to him of course) when the ref. called for a minute's halt. I took off my mask and tried to muster my determination. I was going to go for that next point. As soon as the ref. said "Play," I attacked and drove my opponent back. He was disconcerted and in danger of going off piste when I took the point. And I took the next with similar tactics. It wasn't pretty but it was more like fencing than anything I'd done in the preceding six hours.

It couldn't last. My opponent took the next point and I was eliminated. But 15-8 seemed a respectable score. I still came last but didn't feel too bad about it.

I stayed to watch the final and applauded the victors. Then I headed home for more work.

My calf didn't seem any worse for the fencing so I was back for more after only three days. Early in the evening I found myself against a visiting 13-year-old, very highly ranked in his age group. He's a swift, elegant left-hander and much smaller than me. I watched him getting annoyed with himself as he failed to beat the club champion. He had an easier task fencing me.

We agreed to fence to 10. He took some points easily, I managed one and then he caught me from below in the ribcage. I must have advanced at speed onto his lunge. It hurt so much I cried out. The boy was devastated and apologetic. I insisted it wasn't that bad but it hurt enough to affect me for the rest of that bout (the boy won 10-2) and in the rest of my fencing that evening. I was glad I hadn't cycled and accepted a lift home. For a couple of weeks the pain didn't get better and even, on occasion, woke me at night.

It's a torn muscle, I think. I considered going to the doctor but work was too busy and, in any case, he wouldn't have been able to offer more than strong pain-killers. I fenced the following week but only against a couple of very experienced fencers who were unlikely to cause much pain. I was nervous, forcing myself to fence.

I departed early. But before I left people started to remind me, "One-hit epée next week."

"You're taking part, aren't you?" asked a coach.

"Yes," I replied.

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