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.