Sunday, December 20, 2009


This is a stressful time of year for me. My completely paranoid psyche has forever associated Christmastime with grades - and it doesn't help that mid-year reviews at work fall on the exact same time of year. Add that to the natural cold weather and I am sluggish, depressed, and I sleep a lot.

Sometimes I wonder if this has a huge impact on my fencing...

Two years ago, when I earned my B in epee - I was working a 9-5 at a small software company. Late nights and overnights were rare, and once I left the office thoughts of work were locked inside the building. Of course, no stress also meant I wasn't making a whole lot of money either. (The recruiter said, "you won't get rich, but it's a good gig." Thanks.)

Now, I am struggling, but I can use airline miles from work travel to pay for tickets to NACs around the country. I can also pile my equipment in my company car, and take road trips whenever necessary for cheap. The question is can my increased resources help me improve even though I actually have less time to devote to getting better at fencing? In times like this it's no wonder that there are few young adults in Georgia who are devoted to competitive fencing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Pittsburgh NAC - Well, the Bars Were Cool

Umm, here is a good fencer...
This is Cody Mattern abusing his last opponent in his morning pool bouts 5-0.
In contrast, my best bout was 4-5, when my last opponent tried to run at me and got hit instead.
Getting my ass kicked sucks, but hey, it happens - the fencing level is very high. Losing because actions I normally make aren't landing or because I didn't remise after the counterparry-counterriposte sucks HARD. Even when fencing someone like Ben Bratton, I had the timing and the distance and the blade, but couldn't stick the riposte. I am so used to getting it, I don't fight it out.
Next are a few locals in Georgia, but the big events are the Arnold Classic (if it is an FIE World Cup again) and the NAC F in Virginia Beach. Between now and then, I need to somehow replicate the level of intensity needed to compete nationally at my own club.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dishonorable Fencing vs. Playing the Game

One of my favorite rap lines goes like this:

"Now who ain't goin home? Looks like you
You hear strike one, talkin ****, strike two
Won't be a strike three, cause I don't play fair
I'ma look you in your eye while he hit you from the rear"
(DMX - No Sunshine)

To me, the line is staying that the rules don't always apply when the game is on the line. In a life or death situation - there is no such thing as cheating, you do what you must to survive.

In sports, it's another matter. For example, in football it is the job of the officials and opposing coaches to recognize rule infractions and mistakes to keep the game fair. If a tailback's foot goes out of bounds, if a quarterback fumbles a football forward three yards within the last 2 minutes of the game and recovers - the referrees must make the right call. If they don't, the offending team ain't gonna just own up to it until after the game is over. On the other hand in golf - there is an official who knows the rules, but you are expected to enforce the penalties on yourself, a true game of honor.

Fencing is somewhere in between. It is considered a game of gentlemen, but it's origins are from the life or death situation mentioned above. There is a referee who must know the rules and dole out penalties, but the fencers are expected by custom to acknowledge touches received both in practice and even in competition. If you refuse to acknowledge an obvious touch, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of all who witnesses such dishonesty. However, if you land a touch during a less obvious corps-a-corps, then arguing the touch was before the contact is simply part of the game.

When I fence, I can be physical, and I have a strong knowledge of the rules. Plus, I observe the behavior of the referree. If I feel the ref can be influenced, then at the right moment, I will do my best to take advantage. I don't feel that is cheating - it's just part of the game. However, if a wild remise grazes my ankle on a wood piste - I am going to acknowledge and accept the touch, anything less would be dishonorable.

A couple years ago I fenced a very tough local tournament at Vanderbilt. We were in DEs, and I was fencing an older teenager on the gym floor. He was tough, but I landed a foot touch and he refused to acknowledge it. The crowd laughed when I let go my epee, and it stood up inside the kid's sock. Not only did I get the touch, but the kid rightly felt like a fool, and he lost any credibilty with the referee. In fencing, especially in foil and saber, crediblity is everything. In epee fencing on a non-grounded piste, credibility counts for a LOT - especially if the referee is inexperienced.

I am no Dudley Do-Right, so my gauge is this... If the touch plainly landed on me, so that I could see and or feel it - I acknowledge without hesitation. Often I acknowledge wrongly because I was able to lock out the computer with my own touch a few milliseconds before. If the referee disagrees, I will plead my perspective once, and then let it go. Of course, if it is a touch in my favor I would plead my side as much and as loudly as I can get away with, without hurting my chances. If there is an honest question on the touch being scored against me, I will remain silent and let the referee sort it out. And if I know I was not touched or the touch was not valid, I will protest vehemently.

The worst is someone who refuses to acknowledge a valid touch - the only solution then is to request floor judges, or just hit harder.

Monday, September 28, 2009

FIE Card

If fencing ever developed a baseball type card - here's what mine would look like on the back.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More of the Same

One troubling point is that I am a much better fencer now than I was when I was 50lbs lighter. That is just scary. I just got home from a 60min run/jog/powerwalk just to put more pressure on my body to get leaner.

Dunwoody FC hosted the Bruce Fulsner Open yesterday, and I again came in 13th. Admittedly, it was a tougher tournament than the last one, so it could be seen as an improvement, but I would like to make the round of 8 or 4 more than once a year. I think I am on the right track, but I still feel a bit uncomfortable in my current gameplan. More practice should help - only I am traveling this week and next. Ugh.

Best fencing quote of the tournament:

(Coach to fencer referring to me) "Look at that guy! You can't hit THAT big a target?" I was too amused to be insulted, plus I had no intention of losing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Say Hello To Atlanta's Newest Fencing Coach

After seven or so years, some bruises, many victories, piles of defeats, great memories, and lots and lots of money, my coach and the United States Fencing Coaches Association saw fit to award me the title of Assistant Moniteur - making me an official certified fencing coach.

This is something I have always wanted, even before I realized there is no money in it. The fact I make way more money drawing graphs and diagrams in Powerpoint than doing anything really cool is a crying shame.

One thing that will help in this new endeavor is actually finishing Dr. Kogler's book, "One Touch At A Time." After a disappointing 3-2 pool record paired with a 12th finish last Saturday (nevermind I missed practice for a week), I read a few pages of his book on the plane today. Every mental battle I had that day had an answer in that book. Dr. Kogler specifically argues that fencing is one of those sports one does not get fired up for. Any sport that requires fine motor skills and precise decision making requires cold blood, not hot excitement. In other words, watching Varsity Blues, Braveheart, and channeling Joey Porter is only gonna lead to disaster. FIX YO PREP!!!

Still training for the Div I NAC and Regional Open Circuit events this season. Since damn near half of the active members in the club are now Cs and up, going to practice will be very productive.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Matching Expectations With Reality

One of the hardest things to do is fence someone you know as they improve. Their mistakes are obvious, but their adjustments and improvements aren't - especially in the middle of a bout. Which is how a 9-2 lead turns into a 13-15 loss with 0:01 left in the match. That loss was in the round of 16 at the latest Dunwoody tournament, and I was so exhausted after that bout there wouldn't have been much hope of winning the next bout in the round of 8. Part of the problem was my 2-2 pool record, mostly due to weapons problems - although I had a close call in my first bout. Coming back 5 unanswered to win 5-3 is impressive, but it's also symptomatic of the fact that I didn't warm up.

And even though I was angry enough to murder for the 30 mins after the loss (unless you are a close friend, clubmate, coach, or relative - do NOT approach someone right after they are knocked out of an event if you want to keep your teeth or your composure), I made the 16 which is an accomplishment - as meager as that seems. Since I earned my B in late 2007, I've competed in 18 local tournaments (22 total) in foil and epee - and in only five of them (A2 level) have I made the round of 8 or better. Two of the 18 were foil (Div 3 events) events and I made the 8 in both of them. If my interest is stacking up medals, it seems foil would be the way to go until I place out of Division 3 in that weapon too. Unfortunately, my interest is improving in epee - which means that my expectations should better match reality.

So while winning is the overall goal everyday, and touching without being touched is the immediate goal - the realistic stretch goal at this point is to at least make the round of 4/8 and to win enough pool bouts in every event to make the top 75%. It will be tough, but the good news is that I am have lately been hitting these targets.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On To Nationals

The GA Division Championships were last weekend, and well - yeah. I decided to not compete in any individual events this time around. The nice reason is that I haven't been to practice because of work, and wasn't sure I'd do well. The not nice and other reason was that I had friends in town all week and I knew I would be hungover if not passed out by close of check-in at 8:30am. These two reasons are also why I haven't competed as much inside Georgia as in the past. National and out of region events get on my calendar well in advance of any planned shenanigans.

And I sucked royally in the team events. I gained some weight because I haven't been to the gym in two months, and work stress has made it worse. Plus I haven't been to two practices in a row in the same period - so my distance perception was in the trash. I have less than three weeks to turn both those problems around.

The first step will be eliminating the shenanigans until after Nationals. That won't be easy. The good news is after I return from Austin, you will be able to find me at Mr C's. It's convenient to many of the fencing clubs in ATL - see you there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back To The Drawing Board

Lately I feel very emo updating this thing. There is a history of emo kids being in my club. Maybe it is spreading, like swine flu. I think I caught that too a couple weeks ago.

Southeast Sectionals was awful. I can blame the strips that felt like less stable boogie boards all I want; everyone else was in the same predicament. I don't think I fenced badly, and I certainly didn't let wins in the pools walk away (a la up 4-3, losing 5-4). But there were wins I left on the table because I didn't chase them down like the lion after a healthy wildebeest, and one of those wins was in the first round of the DEs. The guy, a B2008, was good, but not that good. I tell myself it wasn't the booze I had during the day, but I realized I brought a whole box of Emergen-C to the event for a reason. Only I left it in the car during the event.

The good news is that SE Sectionals was the first Div I/IA event where I managed to do well enough to get promoted from pools to DEs, ever. The bad news is that this is the first DivI/IA event where I managed to do well enough to get promoted from pools to DEs, ever. Certainly solid fencers didn't even make it to the DEs in that event (and the others), but it's times like these where I realize I am not as good as I think I am. I don't think I suck in general, but I have not been bringing all the practice, drills, and lessons together into the pools in these events. And if you screw the pooch in pools at a Div I/IA event, you basically have a very expensive fencing vacation instead of a competition to enjoy.

I finally got Aladar Kogler's book, One Touch At A Time. Apparently it will teach me how to think positively - sorta like Oddball in Kelly's Heroes. I need to do something, all this travel is getting expensive and I would like something to show for it besides a nice bar bill.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Write the Score, that He May Not Embarrass Himself

One of the most disappointing times in a new fencer's career is when he faces an experienced teammate for the first time in competition. Perhaps the new fencer waited before competing, and does extremely well in practice. Chances are, that new fencer is gonna get stomped, and hard.

What a lot of newer folks fail to realize is that while you are meant to practice hard at the club, the mentality and incentives for success (and disincentives for failure) are a lot different when the score is being written and published. I might give up on a 15 or even a 5 touch bout on a Friday night after a long week and all I really want to do is get drunk with my friends. On a Saturday afternoon when my coaches are watching and you are facing me in the first round of DEs - you're toast. It's not that I don't take you seriously in practice, it just doesn't matter as much if I don't. Some fencers, and athletes in general, cannot mentally make the seperation between competition speed and practice speed - others can.

One thing that does help is treating the practice bouts like a competition, or really just writing down the score. Not "keep score," but physically making a pool scoresheet and dutifully filling it in. Suddenly letting the newbie get three free touches isn't such a good idea any more. Even an adult like me who understands the psychology gets caught up in the faux competition. And even if no one cares a week after its over, winning that pool suddenly matters for that night, and now every touch matters.

God told Habbakuk to "Write the vision, make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." The idea was that if you write something plainly and clearly, the message will shine through to the reader and inspire him to act. If a new fencer needs a highly competitive fencer to give 100%, just ask that someone writes and posts the score - that will get his undivided attention.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Battling Back To Southeast Sectionals

In tough economic times two things happen to workers on every level of an organization: they either lose their job, or their job becomes ten times more demanding. Thankfully (I think), my situation is the latter. I can't make it to the Portland NAC, so no opportunity to get Senior National points this season. I placed 8th in the last A2 level tournament in GA - which, while a strong finish, doesn't improve my rating. Worse, there is no potential A2 (or even B2) event before Southeast Sectionals in Lakeland, FL. Not that it matters - most folks who are preregistered are As and Bs anyway - seeding into the pools is a moot point.

My biggest issue is the internal mental battle between waiting to see opportunities to score on the strip, and creating opportunities to score on the strip. I am adept at the former, not so much at the later. Unfortunately, the better the fencer, the fewer unforced errors there will be to exploit for a touch. These days I try to create an opportunity, and if I don't screw it up and get it, I only score on the remise, or after some weird in-fighting where I can drop my hand and hit in a low six - which looks almost like a shank move.

Obviously practice helps, but it is difficult to recreate that tournament atmosphere on a weekday night when I am tired and frustrated from work and all I want to do is hit something really hard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Learning to Fence All Over Again

This past weekend I competed at the Arnold Fencing Classic, part of the Arnold (Terminator) Sports Festival. The event was also a FIE Satellite World Cup, which meant if I didn't get my ass handed to me I would end up with International points.

However, I did get my ass handed to me, so all I got was a t-shirt with my name on it (in a legible font size at least) and nifty lapel pins.

The worst was that even though everyone there was better than me, I didn't feel as outclassed as I thought I would. I beat the guy mentioned in this website, but no one else. I think 60% of my defeats were psychological - part of me felt like I wasn't ready for that level. I was making good decisions, but I wasn't confident in making the touch. And of course 40% was that my body was just not where it need to be. I hadn't trained as much as I would have liked, thanks to work, and I was a couple hairs too slow.

The difference is that I was used to being in a pool of seven where 2 bouts were gonna be tough, and a good day vs. a bad one would be having a 6-0 record vs. a 4-2 record. At the World Cups and Div I NACs, I've never gotten a lucky draw so every touch is precious, much less every win. It almost feels like I am starting over, like I am learning how to fence all over again.

Next up is a local tournament where I can earn my A, and then on to Portland for the NAC. If I can get my act together at these two events - I may even enter the World Cup in San Juan... and that could be a lot of fun!