Monday, December 29, 2008

Year in Review - Hush the Noise

Driving home to Atlanta from Missouri was tough. It was the day after Christmas, I was tired, and the road was uneventful. After I got into Kentucky (I-57 to I 24 East), I put on Lil Jon's "Crunkjuice," figuring that getting crunk would at least keep me awake.

One of the tracks has a repeated line (I know, which ones aren't) that disses people who talk about folks behind their back. That immediately brought my mind to the last tournament of 2008 - the Dunwoody Southern Star. I came off a disappointing showing in Colorado Springs at the NAC C, and wanted some personal redemption at this local event. Due to waking up early to referee the E and Under event before, or the alcohol I had the night before, or the stress from traveling from ATL to DEN to COS back to ATL and then on to ORD and then a delayed red eye flight back to ATL, I crapped the bed in the pools. Worse, the score in the round of 64 DE was too close for comfort. Even with a four touch lead, I felt like the new kid in school wearing khakis trying to hold in a bout of mudbutt. Then I lost in the round of 32 to the #1 seed.

Losing was bad, feeling like a hack was annoying, but what pissed me off was hearing people talk about me when they saw the standings after pools. I am sure it has happened before - my 2008 fencing career was a dogpile compared to 2007 - but it has never been a relevant issue in the past.

When I was a U, not placing at the bottom was a victory. Plus I had to win my pool in an open to secure a high enough seeding just to get an E. Now, here I am as a B struggling to pull .500 out of pools. I was in better shape last year, but I also had a less stressful job (and admittedly, less money). It seems like my fencing is always at the mercy of the time vs. money resource battle.

In 2009, I don't want to spend weeks on end fasting and abstaining from fun just to place at locals, but I am going to work harder to stay in shape, and keep a positive attitude. My success is going to be doing the right little things all year, rather than cramming them in the week before an event.

And to the haters out there... to paraphrase Lil Jon, I'm in fencing to have fun and win - you're in this to hate and lose.

Friday, June 20, 2008

GA Division/State Championships This Weekend...

...And I was drunk last night. Those of you who actually read this thing know I typically avoid red meat and booze a full week before I have a competition. The SE Sectional Championship blew that regime to hell.

At that tournament, I got my ass absolutely handed to me on a silver charger, with a bit of humiliation for garnish. Losing 0-5 to one of the best fencers in the Southeast is one thing; losing to a guy I have fenced four times in competition only to fall after a lead is another; losing to some random jackass hurt a lot. After an all too gentle scolding from my coach I pulled it together in the DE only to lose to her son in the second round. It was just as well, he lost in the round following and he was just barely seeded high enough to qualify for Nationals in San Jose. I would have had to battle the best to at least the round of 8.

After that tournament, I kinda lost it a bit. Spirits broken and all that. Fencing wasn't just not fun, it wasn't gratifying. Giving up fun nights (and mornings) with friends to travel and compete just didn't sound like a good idea any more. So, no more crazy training regimes. No neglecting my social life so I can perfect the high septime flick to the back. I am going to stop thinking like Tiger Woods, and start thinking like Rocco Mediate. Sure, Woods beat Mediate with a cracked shin and a torn ACL; and Woods has a hot Swedish model for a wife and millions and millions of dollars. But Mediate finished a strong second, and will get a bunch of money for his trouble. And the second Swedish models become interested in American epee (or foil) fencing, the second I will be training hard every morning and night for competitions.

Until that second passes, I am just going to have fun on and off the piste.

Not to say the competition has nothing to fear from me and my team in Rome this weekend. I will just be a lot happier, win or lose. And I might be at Happy Hour tonight.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Time To Run The Table

The Southeast Section Championships are upon us. I talked a big game in January, now its time for that game to bear fruit. Things are a little worrisome right now. Since then I picked up a new job. I enjoy it, but there is a lot of travel, and I am not able to bust out the door at 4:59pm and make it to every practice early. Nor can I practice till 10pm with confidence that I can roll into work at 8:59:55am either. And out of the three tournaments I fenced in the last three months - my highest placement was top 16. That's not good.

The key of course is that I need to run my pools consistently. Even with a B, I need all the help I can get in the DEs; and I am not doing myself any favors by losing touches to weak fencers, and not killing the better ones.

If one subscribes to serendipity and invisible hands in the pot we call life - Iron Man comes out this weekend too. Looks like I may have good news come Sunday night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Greater Composure

In The Art of the Foil, Luigi Barbasetti discusses a variety of techniques and tactics to use in a fencing bout. In the midst of these descriptions, he talks about the essence of championship fencing.

Here we reach the true "Art of Fencing," in which correct calculation and judgement, and greater composure, precision, rapidity and endurance - general superiority in swordsmanship - will and must turn the scale. (italics mine)

Greater composure was something that I lacked last night in practice. Frustrations over leaving my old job and starting a new one, finances, social life, and a host of other issues damaged my train of thought. I executed lunges and fleches on to someones point; habits and mistakes I thought I buried long ago crawled back to the surface.

It's for this reason I avoid inviting my friends to watch me fence. Not because having them there would be distracting - it's because if they are late or don't show up, it effects my concentration. The day I won my first individual gold medal, I had a rough going in the pools because I was expecting a "friend" to arrive any minute. Between pools and DEs I simply just accepted she wasn't coming, wrote her off in my mind, and then went on to win the whole damn thing. I never understood how much composure meant until that day.

Too often I let my mind and heart focus on things and issues that in the end do not matter. Keeping my thoughts clear and single-minded is the key to winning on and off the piste.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Low Expectations and Happiness Through Ignorance

The days when I could get raped 0-5 and 0-15 and smile sure were nice. My equipment was brand new, and I was in a really cool sport that I could brag about to my friends. Guys with letters after their name were scary, and getting any touches on them was a victory.

Now comes the days of bitter disappointment and discontent.

Today I fenced my first Division I event here in Atlanta in Men's Epee. I was expecting to get blown out, never mind that I am a B07. As it turns out, I am never as bad or slow as I think I am. Only one fencer in my pool lit me up with his speed, but that was my first bout - and I typically always lose my first bout at a national event. Every other pool bout I lost in a very competitive way. (5-4, 5-3, 5-3, 5-4*) If I lost all my bouts (I won one), or got destroyed in most of them, I would be happy. I would know that I still need to work to play at that level, and I would cheerfully train to do so. Instead, with the knowledge that I was two less cockups away from being 3-3 and actually making it to the Direct Elimination I am pretty pissed.

So here I sit, brooding, drinking a Sam Adams Winter Lager, with Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" playing in my head, scheming of how I am going to run the table at Sectionals in May.

I am coming for you.

* F'ing body cord crapped out on me. Weapon tests fine, after-bout examination by the armourers condemned the body cord. Not again.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Coaching - A New Frontier

This past weekend I directed epee for the GA Division Junior Olympic Qualifiers. It was an ok time, but very tiring. Floors designed for fencing shoes feel like hell when you are wearing boots. The benefit was that I got to hang out with my clubmates and friends, and see some very good fencing.

At the same time, I ended up coaching some of my female clubmates while our coach was with the men in DEs. The women's events were small enough to guarantee there would be no ethics issues with me coaching and directing. We have some quality up and coming fencers - but it seems that there is a fundamental difference in how young men and women mature in this sport. With the boys, they get the fire to win before they have the skill to make it happen. With the girls, they don't start developing confidence and fire until winning is almost unavoidable.

That little difference makes women so frustrating to coach. I am used to giving guys advice on how to beat unfamiliar opponents, "feint-disengage; draw the attack, then parry-sixte-riposte," etc. With the girls, it's stuff like, "eye of the tiger; don't be nice; win inside before you can win outside!" There was one phrase in particular - my fencer was in thrust distance, and needed only extend her point another inch to make an easy touch; yet she kinda hung out there in distance and got hit with a beat attack! I asked her what happpened in my patented concerned-but-the-anger-boils voice, and she simply said she couldn't do it. She knew she was close enough, my fencer just assumed the girl was better than her and it didn't occur she might have the upper hand, albeit briefly.

I know kids are supposed to have fun - but the girls are happy when they win and sad when they lose, so they are invested. How do you turn that investment into a fiery passion to win? Honestly, for a couple of them - that passion is the last piece of the championship puzzle.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

When is a 9th place finish "awful?"

... When you are a B07 in an A2 tournament.

I got pretty wasted on New Year's Eve, but I seemed to be ok New Year's Day. Outside aggressive bowel movements in the morning, I thought the tournament in Marietta would work out pretty well.

The pool was exciting. I nearly beat the A in my pool, won a hard fought bout with the C, and cleaned up everyone else except for a brand new left handed fencer - who beat me 3-5. It was her second tournament, and everyone else in the pool smashed her. This didn't bode well.

With a 3-2 finish, I was seeded 9 of 27 before the DEs. I faced yet another, but more experienced, southpaw... but acceleration and fleches were enough to win the battle. The next bout was the 8th seed - a highly experienced, yet unrated, youth southpaw. Fencing under the pressure of a 3 touch deficit, odd calls, and my weapon unraveling in my hands finally took its toll on my booze soaked frame. Direct attacks weren't working, and fleche in prime worked enough to get me to keep trying this extremely difficult move over and over again. One parent said I even fenced too hard. At 12-15, I was upset, drenched, tired, and frustrated.

Back to the drawing board. And back to the no drink the week of a tournament rule.