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, December 01, 2007

"Fail again. Fail better."

It would be nice to win sometimes but, apart from the occasional lucky bout, it's not going to happen. At the club championship there was a moment in pools when I was 4-1 up. Then my opponent either started concentrating or saw one of the errors I was making and won every point. 5-4 isn't a disgraceful defeat, especially in foil which I barely fence these days, but I'd have liked to win.

At least I didn't come up against my son, who was doing rather better despite very little practice. He won his first D.E. before being eliminated.

Then there was a pause to watch the other bouts and the tightest final I've ever seen, between a very good 14-year-old and a foil specialist aiming at the master-of-arms trophy. The points were long and exhaustingly fought. It was six seconds short of the 9-minute mark when the 14-year-old drew level and the score stood at 13 all. The older fencer fleched and scored. 14-13 and 2 seconds left. We all knew what had to come next. At 9 minutes the match would be awarded to the leading fencer. The 14-year-old had no choice. He fleched, but his opponent was waiting and caught him with a hit, just as time was called.

There was a brief pause before epee began. Non-fencers may have a glamorous idea of a fencing championship. There are moments of glamour, when passing children pause and stand in awe. It should be dramatic and romantic and lunch should involve a lavish feast with silver tankards of good ale or glasses of deep red wine.

It's not quite like that. There are a couple of vending machines, selling cold drinks, crisps and chocolate. They can help but, as Sunday lunch, they're not the best feast imaginable. We'd brought picnics and flasks of tea and coffee to the leisure centre and nibbled between bouts or while watching. Strong black coffee kept me going (more or less) during the morning and cheese, biscuits and apples were a satisfactory lunch. Jaffa cakes were produced and shared. It was cold in the leisure centre, even in fencing gear so it seemed a shame to discard the foil lame I'd borrowed.

In epee, I lost focus. I forgot how to fence. Usually foil helps me prepare for epee but at the championship I was slow, inaccurate and lacking in strategy. I recall - with amazement - one nice wrist hit, but apart from that I offered no real opposition. So of course, I did what I'd decided in advance and proceeded to sabre.

The decisions was ludicrous. I'd held a sabre for thirty minutes in total, in three short sessions. I thought I could just about remember the grip and I had a hazy idea of the en garde position. I knew three defensive positions, fve ways to hit and two parries. The club is stronger in sabre than any other weapon and the keen sabreurs were raring to go. My main aim was not to blink when the blade hit my mask. At least sabre has the warmest kit.

By this stage, the level of aggression from fencers was pretty high. The master-of-arms title was wide open and all the sabreurs were keen to do their best. But at last I wasn't the only woman in the hall (though I was the oldest person). A sabreuse arrived with another woman fencer in support and both offered advice and encouragement. The most useful advice was "They won't be so aggressive with you." Watching the opening pool fights, I hoped this was right.

I imagine my opponents must have held back - probably rather obviously - as I managed occasional hits. The women cheered me in my first bout, which helped, and there was a cheer when I managed a cut. Most of my hits were flailing accidents since I had no idea of appropriate technique but one cut to the inner arm delighted me. And in the D.E. I went out 15-5 - the same score as I'd managed in epee. In epee that was disgraceful but in sabre creditable. I finished the day, seven and a half hours after I began, thinking that at least I was still standing and I'd only fallen over once.

Walking home, I was exhilarated. I'd fenced all three weapons for the first (possibly the last) time. But again I wondered why I fence. I'm not going to be a good fencer. For a few years, I may manage to improve a little, but it's a continuing battle against age. In a few years I'll start getting worse.

The backpack with mask, jacket, breeches and plastron was a familiar weight. The swords jangled gently in the bag on my shoulder. I looked at the stars and thought the most hopeful motto I could find came from Waiting for Godot: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

In my previous post, I mentioned the case of Jahongir Sidikov. His deportation to Uzbekistan has been delayed, pending a review, but the British government has stated that deporting dissidents to Uzbekistan is government policy. I can hardly believe this. Anyone who wishes to learn about Uzbekistan, should read Craig Murray's book: Murder in Samarkand in Britain, or, in the United States, Dirty Diplomacy: the Rough-and-Tumble Adventures of a Scotch-Drinking, Skirt-Chasing, Dictator-Busting and Thoroughly Unrepentant Ambassador Stuck on the Frontline of the War against Terror. (That American title has a certain something - length for a start.) If you wish to help Jahongir, please follow the links, search on google and do what you can. (There's a Facebook group too.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a victory to fence three events back to back. Well done!

10:38 pm  
Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

There is something unbelievably depressing that you are taking "inspirational" mottos from Waiting for Godot (as an overtly uninspiration piece of work as I can think of). But you take where you get it I guess. Good job on staying the course and fencing all three weapons.

I actually convinced one of my home care workers to take up saber - and I talked her through the basics and she practiced some light hits getting used the weapon. She had a very saber-like personality; and after I talked about epee for a long time and then started talking about saber she was "okay, this sounds a lot more like the weapon for me!"

Congrats to your son on his DE.

What you didn't say was...how much screaming was there among the male fencers; here there are ones who scream louder when they are down - it can make for a very noisy arena.

1:58 am  
Blogger kathz said...

I'm afraid I like Beckett - it helps that, years ago, I saw a great production of Waiting for Godot with Leo McKern and Max Wall.

Thanks to both of you for your kind remarks. Beth, I'm beginning to see why people like sabre, though I'll never be a proper sabreuse. I'm glad you've persuaded one of your care workers to take it up. I particularly like having a go at sabre because there's been such prejudice against women taking up sabre.

12:36 am  

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