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

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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