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, September 16, 2010

Dalwhinnie and defeats

It was good to see the chef again and lovely to meet the acrobat at last – she's even nicer than emails and letters suggest and not at all intimidating, whatever the chef may say.

We were in a pub – the best pub in the county according to recent awards. The acrobat and I were sampling the beer while the chef, who has the misfortune to dislike beer, sipped demurely at a glass of wine. It was pub quiz night - it often is - and we hoped for an impressive victory. After all, the chef and I had won once before and had come quite close on other occasions.

We'd waited quite some time for the quiz to begin. The chef got bored with white wine and moved on to whisky, choosing a Dalwhinnie - the acrobat and I weren't familiar with the name so sampled the chef's drink. Then we decided - I don't know whose idea it was - to combine our halves of beer (we'd sampled London Pride, Bullion and Absolution) with whisky chasers. The combination was delicious but I decided it would be prudent to share a cheese board and olives as well.

The quiz didn't begin well. The pub consists of a number of small bars. We had chosen the smallest and cosiest which was also, unfortunately, the one with the defective speaker. There were nine or ten of in the bar, straining to hear the questions. As it's a friendly quiz we were happy to share our views on what the quiz-master had said with the other team in the room.

I don't think we would have done well at the quiz in any circumstances. The questions were not those we would have chosen. There was nothing, for instance, on disgust in 21st century French and German fiction; nothing on the intricacies of poetic forms and nothing on circus skills or recent Australian politics. And I'm sorry to report that there wasn't a single question on fencing. Instead the quiz-setter seemed more interested in golf, girl bands and the career of Elton John.

We did our best but the quiz did not go as planned. The chef and I failed to impress the acrobat with our erudition, even when the barman came to fix the defective speaker. We still didn't know all the answers. The combination of beer and whisky may have rendered our answers illegible. Nonetheless it was a happy, friendly evening (much better than a quiz victory) and afterwards I slept soundly if more briefly than I would have wished.

I tried to persuade the chef to return to fencing - and the acrobat joined in with her encouragement - but without success. She might have enjoyed the following evening had she come to the leisure centre. She would certainly have beaten me.

Perhaps I'm too old to combine beer and whisky in the customary way - or perhaps I should do so only when I'm sure of a good night's sleep. I had an early start the next day and a busy day at work. By the time I reached fencing I felt as though I were moving through mud.

Everyone beat me. Even if they slowed down and moved very deliberately I rarely scored more than a double hit. I think it was the whisky ... or the beer ... or both. Still, the cycle ride to and from fencing was very pleasant in the cool, dark evening.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

cycling with swords - and a sad sequel

The wonderful bike repair-man round the corner serviced my bike, which needed a new brake cable and brighter lights. I set off with slight uncertainty - I hadn't ridden it since my fall in January - but, even with the tricky load of heavy back-pack and carefully-balanced sword-bag, it seemed as though I was gliding along the cycle track. I was filled with pleasurable anticipation as I approached the leisure centre.

I was slightly late for the warm-up session so was still wearing my jeans as I joined the end of the footwork practice - fortunately my lunges aren't deep enough to cause any embarrassing tears in the fabric. I felt so good at having cycled and warmed up that I was on a plateau of calm contentment as I headed off to change into breeches.

The calm continued as I met the ex-foilist in a return bout, and I quickly learned that it's not a good frame of mind for a fencer. There was no sign of the confident aggression I'd displayed in the previous week. Instead I seemed to have absorbed the ex-foilist's most dangerous flaw - I defended without turning defence into attack and paused fractionally before attempting a hit.

Of course he took advantage. Meanwhile I could see what I was doing wrong but attempts to correct the error resulted in longer and longer pauses. He beat me with ease at 10-3 and was justifiably delighted, if puzzled by his success.

I continued to fence in the calm bubble, aware that I was repeating the same error and unable to escape it.

Eventually, against the Spaniard, I stopped pausing and fought back. She beat me, of course, but I managed five hits to her ten. Even though she didn't have to try very hard, that was a noticeable improvement. Finally I took on the ex-foilist again. I began well but he was confident from his previous victory. He pulled back and overtook me. I struggled, did my best and we reached 9-9. Confidence and speed were on his side. I didn't really expect to win and didn't. After the earlier crushing defeat I was pleased enough - too pleased? - to be beaten 10-9.

Perhaps next week I'll care about winning again. I remained calm and content as I cycled home with my new bike-lights bright in the autumn dark.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

press-ups - and an unfamiliar sensation

The chef saw the video I posted and decided to show me how to do press-ups. Perhaps both of us were over-influenced by the prior consumption of gin and tonic. "You need to have your body straight," she warned me as she positioned herself, board-like, at an angle to the floor. She lowered her body easily so that her nose almost touched the floor and then pulled up again.

I was impressed. I took up a position next to her on the carpet, settled my hands in the way she told me and lowered myself slowly towards the carpet. Unfortunately that was as far as it went. I found myself lying on my stomach and giggling helplessly at the improbability of it all.

The chef - a good teacher - was determined. She showed me how to do press-ups from the knees so that I was supporting only half my body weight. I tried again, lowered myself slowly, and ended in a similar collapse of giggles.

I decided not to try any longer. I explained to the chef that my determination sprang only from the instructions of a mutual friend, a former trapeze artist and tightrope walker who had hosted the chef's visit to Australia last year. "She'll make you do it," the chef said, reminding me that the acrobat is due to visit shortly.

I had my doubts but deflected them by pointing to a pair of weights in the corner. "She said I should do weight training," I told the chef. Soon I was standing in the middle of the floor, raising and lowering the weights in a manner which the chef seemed to find unimpressive. "Let's go to the pub," I suggested. (I hope this suggestion works as well when the acrobat is here.)

I wish the chef would persevere with swordplay. As I told her, you can't stab anyone while doing press-ups - and the injuries caused by weights would not be attractive.

Meanwhile, I'm persevering with fencing. A holiday (in Paris as so often) helped and I felt fresh on my return. This didn't enable me to achieve a great transformation but in the first session after my holiday I felt rested and alive. My back barely troubled me.

The beginners' class hadn't started yet so there were no more than thirty fencers in the hall. I noticed something that had changed since I began fencing: far more women are involved. I counted twelve. When I began almost all the women were in the beginners' group. Now women are fencing at every level. There are beginners and once-a-week fencers like me but there are also women who have strong national rankings, bring medals and trophies home and compete internationally.

I'm not the only woman fencing epée. A glamorous young Spaniard has joined us - out of practice but evidently used to fencing at a high level because she decided to concentrate on her studies. Once she'd taken to the piste, the sabreurs clustered around her, suggesting that she might take up sabre. She has the sense to stick with epée and it's fun to see how her skills return. She's in a different league from me but happily takes her turn at fencing all the epéeists - and I feel very pleased if I land a couple of hits on her. Even doubles are pleasing.

I've had most success against a strong foilists who is just beginning epée. He's beginning to get away from what I think of as the foilist's pause - that fractional hesitation to establish right of way before attacking. His stance needs more work but it's improving all the time and he has the advantage of strength and accuracy.

Last week he raced ahead to 5-0 against me in a bout to 15. It didn't look very promising but I stayed calm and tried to work out how to get past his guard. Suddenly I made it to 5-1, then 5-2 and suddenly he was rattled and I was cool and confident.

It was, in a way, an absurd confidence. I didn't have a strategy or the variety of tactics I needed. But I saw that my opponent was getting cross - with himself, not me - and was repeating the same moves and mistakes, with slightly less conviction and accuracy each time. Somehow self-belief propelled me forward and I was suddenly, impossibly, 8-5 ahead. He tried to pull things together and managed a double hit. I retained my confidence, repeating the same parry riposte to every identical attack he made. The watchers were amused - it wasn't high-level fencing and they could see all the errors.

He pulled back a little towards the end but I could see his confidence had ebbed - and he was still cross with himself. I felt as though I were floating toward victory and, in the last points, was quite convinced I could win. It was the conviction that carried me through rather than any skill. I ended at 15-12 up, delighted with the unfamiliar sensation of victory.

There is, of course, a rematch and a less happy sequel, but I'll leave this post at the point of victory. It may never happen again.

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