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

Saturday, February 26, 2011


That's an over-dramatic headline. Yes, I was hurt but not badly.

It was the first hit of the the first bout of the evening. I was against an experienced fencer whose hits usually land so lightly I don't feel them. The first thing I know is the electric alert telling me he's caught me on the arm or wrist again.

I've been trying to improve my guard. I'd like to think that's why he didn't get an arm hit. Instead his epée came just inside my upper arm and caught me hard - which would have mattered less if his blade hadn't slid inside my breast protector.

Breast protectors are unglamorous items. They look like white plastic saucers and slip into pockets in women's fencing jackets. There are more sophisticated protectors which cover most of the chest but I've never felt able to justify such an expense. This is the first time I've regretted the economy.

The second time was the second hit of the evening, which caught me in the same place. By then I was trying not to cry from the pain and very glad to be wearing a mask. I continued, shakily and not well, hoping my opponent hadn't noticed.

Most of my fencing for the rest of the evening was incompetent, though I managed a couple of decent hits, including one to the wrist. But I took some more hits that hurt more than usual, perhaps because the pain persisted. I was annoyed to be caught on the inside of my elbow which I seem to reveal as a target whenever I'm tiring. So much for my plans to try out a ceding parry or vary my style - I could feel myself repeating the same, failing moves.

There was one delight, however. Since the Spaniard returned home I've been the only woman regularly fencing epée. But this night there was a visitor - a woman epéeist who'd travelled some distance with her husband for an evening of fencing. She was an older woman too - obviously a better fencer and more experienced than me but, she reckoned, a bit out of practice. It was fun to fence someone I hadn't fenced before and I think we both enjoyed it. Unusually I had a slight advantage of height and reach so I didn't do too badly. When we stopped, we were both out of breath and smiling.

But the pain continued - and it still does, even though I can't see a bruise. I've been taking things easily. I can't fence next week but I'm determined to recover for the week that follows. I'm definitely not getting enough chances to stab people.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

cat or sword?

Once again I was looking forward to fencing. But the cat had been wheezing and needed a visit to the vet. And another visit to the vet. And x-rays.

I was once again feeling guilty - if the cat was ill, I had plainly done something wrong - or neglected to do something I should have done. "I never meant to have a cat," I muttered defensively, scratching Joe behind one ear.

He purred back. People don't have cats - cats have people. Joe decided some while ago - could it be three years back? - that he would be our cat. So I'm responsible for food, bills, trips to the vet and general cat-care.

It's usually my son who assists and, last fencing day, he collected Joe from the vet. "He's had x-rays," my son told me, "and a sedative."

I got home from work to find a sleepy, slightly confused cat and a son preparing to go out on a trip he'd arranged some time ago.

Plainly I couldn't leave Joe to go fencing. I settled down at home and tried to persuade Joe to eat his food, which had been sprinkled with white powder on the vet's recommendation. Joe didn't approve.

He began by trying to scrape the powder away with his paw. It didn't work. He tried sliding his bowl away and pretending I'd forgotten to feed him. He tried indignation and pathos. Finally he managed to turn the bowl over and spill its contents all over the floor.

Cat 1 - human 0 (the usual score).

We both had an early night.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

waterbottles and library books

If there are any readers left out there after my long absence, I apologise. I'm back. I shall try to post more frequently.

When New Year arrived, I contemplated giving up fencing. I was feeling my age. Compared with some veteran fencers I know, I was feeling much more than my age. I expect this to be a regular theme now. I have been fencing for several years and I doubt I can get faster. I don't learn as quickly as I did when I was young - and I was never quick at grasping physical manoeuvres.

I went to the club Christmas dinner. It was an enjoyable event. A splendidly large and shiny sword was presented to the Mistress-at-Arms - a new trophy since it's new to have several women competing in all three weapons. All the time I was thinking "This might be my last fencing occasion." I wasn't sure I had the energy or determination any more.

The following week saw me spending three hours in a long, tedious and not entirely pleasant meeting at work. It was hours till the first fencing club evening of the year. As I looked at my colleagues and listened to their words I was struck with the thought, "I want to stab someone." Since duels in the workplace are almost certainly against health and safety rules (and I didn't even have my epée with me) I thought it best to head to fencing. Just to be on the safe side, I signed up for another term.

My fencing has been erratic, even by my standards. Every so often I land a series of hits that please me - or even reach the score that is my secret target. I've had two or three one-to-one coaching sessions - one when I was so tired I could take nothing in and simply gave way to laughter at my own incompetence but at other times I've made some slight progress which pleases me.

Two coaches have attempted to instruct me in the ceding parry (which I persist in thinking of as the "seeding parry"). It's a splendidly strategic piece of swordplay in which the fencer appears to give in to an opponent's strength before suddenly changing the direction of the blade and launching an unexpected attack. On a good day, I can manage it in slow motion two times out of three. I don't think this is quite good enough to try using it at full speed in a bout but it's good to know how it works and perhaps, one day, the opportunity to use it will present itself. Meanwhile I continue to work on stance, lunges, point control - all the basics that drift if I don't keep thinking about them.

Work is, for me as for many people, a perpetual source of anxiety. In the current climate of cuts most people know that their jobs are at risk, whether directly or indirectly. Coming home after a particularly tough day, I consoled myself with the prospect of an evening's consensual stabbing. I got as far as changing into my breeches when I was presented with a disaster - my water bottle, which had spent the week in my back-pack with the rest of my kit, had leaked. My breeches weren't just damp - they were sodden. Nonetheless, I tried struggling into them in the hope that no-one would notice. They might, I reasoned, dry off as I cycled to the leisure centre.

This attempt at self-deception didn't last long. If I wore the wet breeches I would be dripping over the leisure centre floor. I wondered idly whether it would be safe when wired up for electric fencing but couldn't make up my mind. I struggled out of the breeches and laid them on the radiator in the vain hope that they'd dry in ten or fifteen minutes. They didn't. Later inspection of my water bottle showed that the thread on the screw top had perished in some way - it was no longer possible to tighten it.

I made up for my disappointment in fantasy fencing. Shocked by the current threats to public libraries, which have been my refuge and source of inspiration since childhood, I rejoined the local library and took part in the national Save Libraries day. Looking for books to borrow, I chanced on Isabel Allende's novel Zorro. I remembered thinking I'd like to read it when it came out - I've enjoyed other novels by Allende - but never got round to it. It's my current choice of bedtime reading and highly enjoyable, if a little sketchy on the finer details of fencing technique.

I also came across the best use of fencing in an advertisement. It helps that it includes Zinedine Zidane. Some people have suggested that it isn't really Zidane fencing or even that there's a switch from epée to sabre in the middle of the sequence. I refuse to believe any of it. Why wouldn't Zidane take up fencing now that he's retired from football? - and of course he'd be an epéeist.

Thrilled by all this fantasy fencing, I returned to the fencing club with renewed vigour - and a new water bottle. I bought it in a sale immediately after our local Save Libraries event, which attracted 400 people in addition to the 300-400 regular Saturday morning users - not bad for a suburban public library. I haven't seen a library so crowded since the days when I was sadly dependent on a mobile library which came on wheels and wobbled when anyone entered it.

I must have been over-excited by the prospect of saving libraries as I allowed the chef to persuade me into the purchase of a water bottle with a slightly unsuitable slogan. It seemed funny at the time but on club nights I find I'm hoping no-one will notice it and try to keep it in a position where the delightfully decorated message on the bottle faces the wall.

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