Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Nationals Report

I hate Reno. Ever since I fenced there for an NAC back in 2005 (ish), I didn't like the place. Gambling without excitement, resort hotels without glitz, and food without taste. Reno is Vegas if Vegas was awful. But with some persuasion I fenced team for my home club. While there I noticed some things.

1.) The kiddie fencers (ages 8-13) are really good. Years ago, even at Nationals it was basically whack-a-mole in all three weapons. No more. Some of those kids might embarrass some adults in the Georgia Division.

2.) Mental toughness, not technical strength, seems to rule the day. I still haven't seen anyone beat with superior blade work - just a willingness to risk it all.

3.) Holding off an opposing fencer in team is a lot harder than it looks. It is not often I get smoked like a cigar, but yeah that happened. Worst bout ever. Next time as captain I won't be so swift to sub myself into the match.

4.) The old school guys and gals still make a big deal about who they acknowledge and who they don't. Doesn't matter if you've had a conversation, shared a drink, or the guy sat on your certification board - if you haven't been around for 20 years you get no head nod, much less a handshake.

5.) Fencing still captures the imagination. Whether you've fenced for years, or only seen it in car commercials - it gets your attention. Random folks watched me give a lesson in the hallway, fencers got stopped in elevators by older gamblers - it excites and still has potential to grow.

6.) Pork Stew at the Grand Sierra Resort Buffet. It is good. I turned down chili for this stuff, and I love chili. Best thing I ate the entire trip. Meaty, hearty, with large crisp vegetables and chunks of pork loin. Get it, and get some more.

7.) One more note on food. If you won't eat it after it sat in a room temperature kitchen overnight, you shouldn't eat it before you fence. A lot of my club mates went down with stomach problems after sampling the seafood. Not worth it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Coletrain, What Do All These Letters F'ing Mean?

Some of my friends who enjoy my writing, but are not fencing aficionados asked for a primer on how ratings and classifications work. Rather than show a event classification chart and have my friends learn not to ask questions and bore the folks who know - I am going to explain in my own superior way how this actually works.

Ratings or classifications officially are used to help seed fencers into pool a in tournaments around the United States. You earn a rating by ended up in a certain place at a tournament with a given strength (measured by the number and variety of fencers with these given ratings). Since fencing is most often done in a tournament format with one winner - many fencers consider renewing or earning ratings as an acceptable consolation for a medal.

Earning a rating in fencing therefore depends on three factors: 2)how well you did, 3) how good is everyone else, 4) how well THEY did. For example, if you are in small event and you kicked ass, great! If the three best guys you didn't fence in direct elimination had an awful day - you might not get a rating. And you will be very angry. If you ever see a picture from a local tournament with an angry teenager with a gold medal around his neck - well, you know why.

In fact, more than any other sport - fencing rewards the people who on paper are supposed to win. Top seeds get the easiest pools, bottom seeds are fed to the lions. Therefore the top seed theoretically should be the top seed at the start of the direct elimination round AND have the easiest path to the final. If you are the top seed and you lose to the young upstart in the round of 16, you could bring down the whole tournament rating - and everyone will hate you. Seriously. Bad things will be said about you. You might get a reputation as the "pretty" one instead of the "good" one.

So, let's say you come into some money and you decide to outfit yourself and your five best college buddies in fencing kit and want to have a tournament. If the local USA Fencing Division board allows it, you can have an event! If you win, CONGRATS you are a brand new E rated fencer! So an E is a guy who can beat a roomful of rank beginners. Don't laugh, that is a tougher accomplishment than you might think. Even so, I wouldn't brag about earning it if you have been in the sport for more than six years.

Every E wants to be a D. Desperately. if you are a D, you theoretically become the top rated fencer in every National Division III (aka D and Under) tournament you enter. There are two common ways to earn a D: win a D rated event, or place highly in a much stronger A or B rated event.

The first option means beating everyone who is around your ability level in your DE path and getting the gold. And if these events didn't last all day, it might be the easier option. Plus, when new ratings are on the line, fencers tend to do a LOT better.

The second option basically means you beat most of the people in your pool, but got knocked out of DEs early. Now this is supposed to be the harder option; if your opponents got a good night's rest, didn't go out drinking, aren't sick, etc. If you are patient and focused, you might pick up touches at 9am that you'd never get at noon.

D, as you might have guessed, is for Desperate. Every D is dying to be a C. A C rated fencer is (or supposed to be) the top seeded fencer in National Division II (C and Under) competition. Cs, for now anyway, are also eligible for National Division I (C and above) competition. Div I is where the big boys play - current and former Olympians and National Champions, folks who take the sport extremely seriously. The C rating is the sweet spot. You can still beat up on Unrated fencers, and you can play with the big boys. Plus it is a rating where many fencers begin to acknowledge you as "good." You earn a C by entering a C rated competition and winning, or by losing in the quarterfinals of a large A rated tournament.

All Cs want to be As. Those who try and fail become Bs. The B is the middle child of fencing ratings. You aren't considered as good as an A, but you are barred from Div II competition. Many fencers that I have known dropped the sport after earning a B. In Georgia foil competition, many folks win a B rated tournament to become a B fencer. In Epee, one earns a B by losing either in the semifinal or final round of a large A rated event.

Everyone wants an A. On their term paper in college, on their performance evaluation (Acceptable) at work, and on the window of the restaurant they are dining. Fencing is no different. If you are an A fencer than you have won a large competition filled with strong fencers who also fenced well, or you did really well at a gigantic competition filled with badasses. In the Southeast, A fencers often get to fence for free in local tournaments, and are often courted into competing. Again, they get the easiest pools and the best path to allow them to renew their A rating. Plus they can brag to friends about being an A fencer - and those friends have a vague clue what that means.

Now these ratings only last four years or so. I for example am a B2007, so unless I find and win a tournament before July 31,2011 - I will become a C2011. Which isn't too bad, since in large tournaments the seeding is about the same. When I get my A this year, I will be an A2011 which would put mr at the top seed of local competition.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Brief Aside

Since I was a small boy, it has always been my dream to fence. The idea of using swords in conventional sport fascinated me in a way basketball, baseball, or soccer never could. Fencing actually became my bridge from being primarily an intellectual to an average sports fan - and I am the better for it.

Both in Minnesota and in Georgia, fencing allowed me to be a part of a community outside of work and the bar scene. I gained friends as a beginner, and I gained respect as my fencing improved and I learned to referee and coach. My social network grew, and people became attached to me as I became attached to them.

Being disconnected, especially when things go wrong is a sorrowful thing. When I took a spill after a night out, I was admonished by no less than 15 people - most of them from the fencing community. When one of my neighbors, who decided to drink himself into oblivion after a night out, died outside his home - only myself and another man were there to watch over him as emergency services arrived. I only met him for the first time the evening before.

Futilely trying to save a man's life tugs at one's heart. Being the only one who cares digs into one's soul. While only he and God know what demons led him to his fate, what I do know is that he had few connections to this life. Even in my darkest hours, there was always someone God had sent to pull me back into the light. A family member, a friend, a frater, a fencer, a pretty girl who thought I was handsome too; there was always someone to pull me from the brink - and chastise me for getting too close.

If you find yourself reading this - click on some ads and then call or meet someone you are close to in your life. If you don't have someone, meet someone. We all have to die, but we shouldn't have to die alone.