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, November 24, 2010

tiredness and anger

It's hard to find time and energy to fence – and harder still to maintain this blog. I need to work, sleep and fulfil various other human obligations. But I continue to fence each week and the blog needs an update.

There have been good weeks. On one occasion, angry with the government, I ended the evening by fencing a relative beginner who is much taller than me and half my age. We've fenced before and are usually evenly matched. On this occasion we'd been discussing politics before the bout, sharing our views on the folly of particular government cuts. “I'm going to pretend you're the cabinet,” I told him. It seemed slightly unfair on him, since he hadn't said a word in their defence. However I'd been criticised for lack of aggression earlier in the evening and, if fencing the cabinet couldn't help, nothing could.

Apart from fencing, I'm a pacifist. It's more than thirty years since I decided on non-violence and, although I still get angry on occasion, restraint has become a habit. But I'm very angry with the government and, since starting fencing, I've made an exception for consensual violence.

I surprised myself. “Take that, Cameron!” I shouted. “That's for you, Clegg!” My first hit to my opponent's head was accompanied by the cry, “That's one of your brains, Willetts – now I'll get the other.” (And I did.)

I have to report that I didn't vanquish the entire cabinet. However my unexpected aggression must have unnerved my opponent. I beat him 15 – 4.

That was a one-off. However I seem to be fencing a little better, at least on some occasions. The following week I beat the same opponent 15 – 12, even though he had the advantage of not representing the British cabinet. And against a young woman who usually beats me with ease, even though she's mostly a foilist, I pulled back from 5 – 0 to fence her on almost level terms. She couldn't see where she was going wrong. Nor could I, but I was concentrating on keeping my distance right and waiting for the best time to strike. We reached 14 – 14. I did my best but she was faster and took the final point, much to her relief. It may have been a defeat but I was thrilled by the best score I'd ever had against her – and that I'd made her make such an effort to win.

Most of my fencing has been less exciting. I go to the leisure centre on foot or on my bike. Sometimes it rains. Usually I find myself matched with much against more experienced fencers - or better fencers - who beat me easily but help with useful advice. I ref. Sometimes the electronic equipment fails but mostly it works.

There have been highlights. One fencer gave a talk on her experience fencing at the Commonwealth Championships in Australia. And a visiting fencer gave me advice I've never heard before: "Keep it simple." It sounds good and plausible but it still depends on speed and accuracy. There's much more to do. And I'm getting older.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

twilight fencer

I took two weeks off. Off fencing, that is - I still had to work. A bad cold hit me at the wrong time. I'd have had to be a good deal worse to stay home in the daytime. I sneezed, coughed and spluttered over colleagues through the first week but decided that sneezing into a fencing mask would be too unpleasant.

As the sneezing subsided, I convinced myself I was better. I decided it was my responsibility to take the chef to the Goose Fair, said to be the largest and oldest travelling fair in Europe. We encountered its thrills and horrors with courage, even admiring the terrifying puppy which dwelt in the depths of the Maze of Terror - the pup of the Baskervilles, perhaps.

By the end of the day I was more tired than usual and the following week was exhausting. I was also losing my voice. For a second time I missed fencing and chose an early night instead.

It's hard to go back to fencing after two weeks off. I was still tired - too tired to cycle - and felt flabbily unfit. But I felt that, if I didn't fence a little, I'd never go back again.

When I arrived I was able to congratulate a sabreuse who had fenced in the Commonwealth championships and a coach who had reached the last eight in the World Veterans. But there were many absentees. I don't know if there was an outbreak of autumn illnesses or whether the new Age of Austerity was taking effect - many of us are closing in on ourselves and staying home more as though to hug our worries to ourselves. Enthusiasm was low and there was a distinct lack of epéeists. I wondered if the walk had been enough for me. I had done my best. Now I could go home without having to fence.

At this point a coach offered me an epée lesson. I felt slightly feeble but I reckoned the lesson could end at any time if I was inclined. It began badly but gradually the coach's patience helped me focus on my guard while looking for the best moment to attack. I began to keep my arm steady and slide my blade over or under his guard while angling towards wrist and forearm. Perhaps my tiredness was helping me concentrate - there was no space for any non-fencing ideas in my tired brain. My distance seemed slightly better too.

Back in the main hall, I was invited to fence by a strong, helpful opponent - just to ten. "Be aggressive," he told me, as he always does. "I want to see you move fast, make an effort."

I checked my guard - tried to adjust it, and he told me where I was going wrong. That gave me the chance to adjust to fencing a left-hander.

As we began, I realised I had nothing to worry about. I couldn't expect to win the bout but I was going to try my hardest. Once again the tiredness was on my side, letting me concentrate on distance and varied actions. I continued to make silly mistakes - I wish I could bout without occasionally charging onto my opponent's blade - but I was getting unexpected hits, one to the wrist. "Good hit," my opponent said, encouragingly.

He won 10 - 7 but I was fighting till the end. It was probably the best score I'd ever managed against him. "That's the best I've ever seen you fence," he said approvingly and I glowed with pleasure and exhaustion. I still wasn't used to the exertion.

Then the club president invited me to fence. Epée may be his third weapon but on a good day he can beat most club fencers. I prepared to be crushed - but to do my best. All I could do was take quick advantage of his few unforced errors. I managed a couple of hits, one to his foot - and he managed quite a few on me. But there was something wrong with the electrics. Some hits registered, some didn't. We couldn't work out what was wrong and in the end, fed up, we walked away leaving the match incomplete.

"I gave you those points," he teased - at least, I think he was teasing. Then he changed tack. "No - I didn't - you took them. Your blade went right inside my shoe." He mimicked the motion with his own sword, showing how my blade had glided past his ankle.

Was it luck? Probably. Even if I managed, he wasn't fencing with the determination he shows in competition. But I felt I'd done well, considering the time off. I rewarded myself by cadging a lift home.

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