I enjoy fencing because of the culture. I enjoy the fact that my rivals are also my friends, that those I compete against want to see me succeed almost as much as they want to defeat me. There is a chivalry, a nobility among fencers that you just don’t see anywhere else. Fencing isn’t about winning, about competing, it’s about how you live your life.
Butch walked into the cafeteria and found Coach Dan standing on a tall wooden ladder, an inverted V perched under the center bank of lights. Coach Dan’s arms were lifted high, his left arm holding a coil of rope, his right reaching for the end of the rope, which had been thrown over the light fixture. Grabbing the rope’s end, Coach Dan pulled it towards him, reached up on the rope and pulled more over the top of the light fixture, pulled again, then looked down and saw Butch.
“Ah,” said Coach Dan. “Just in time.” Calling “catch” to Butch, he tossed the end of the rope in Butch’s direction. Butch caught the rope, and as he watched Coach Dan walk down the ladder he noticed another length of rope over the far bank of lights.
Butch asked what the ropes were for. “That shall become evident in a moment,” Coach Dan replied, reaching for a duffel bag lying next to the ladder. Butch saw him open the bag and retrieve a hook, a length of string, and a tennis ball. “We’re playing tennis?” Butch asked.
Coach Dan smiled. “Not hardly,” he said, holding the string he had just retrieved high and in Butch’s direction. Butch saw the ball lift up, then hang in the air, suspended from the string. Butch saw the string actually ran through the ball, disappearing at the top and re-appearing at the bottom.
“You attack like you live,” Double-J said to Bernie. “Tentative — you never go after anyone. That’s why you miss so often, it’s like you’re afraid of hurting your opponent. Your never going to get anywhere until you act like your trying to run someone through.”
His legs had long lost the supple spring of youth, and now after a few hours in the gym or the yard his knees would ache like the creak of a worn wooden floor, the backs of his legs also ringing in pain, feeling as if they had been stretched tortuously on a rack.
“You look like a ballet dancer,” said Butch.
Annie laughed, smiling at Butch. “Started taking dance lessons when I was five,” she said. “Parents wouldn’t let me stop until I took up gymnastics at 11. It’s all in the feet,” she said, pinging down at hers. “Balance is the name of the game. You fence with your feet — what you do with your upper body is all an extension of what you do with your feet.”
Double-J swore and stepped forward, the Coach turning to him with a look that visibly feigned surprise. “Listen, you two,” he said, pointing to Butch and then Kassandra, “don’t listen to the ballerina here. How many bouts have you actually won?” Annie angrily did not respond. “This game is about quickness and aggression. It’s combat, not a dance. It’s up to you, but you can either choose to look good like the princess over here, or actually win bouts. YOur choice.”
“All right then,” said Coach Dan. “I think this is our crew tonight. Double-J, can you get everyone lined up please?”
He abhorred small talk, the polite meaningless words that were the social glue that kept their congregation together. If it weren’t for small talk, he knew they would all be forced to admit they weren’t really friends, just acquaintances who shared a common communal organization.
His career was an obligation, neither burdensome nor enjoyable, the vegetables of his existence.
He hung up the phone with a smile, satisfied with himself for completing the deal, but with a sight that came from the tinge of regret he often felt whenever he made a major commitment. Every deal was a test of his ability, and he did not like finding out that he was not as talented as he believed.
Annie then extended her right arm forward, elbow bent slightly and close to her body (Bernie took note of that detail), forearm pointed straight out just below chest level. She brought her left arm behind her, elbow bent deeply so that her forearm leaned toward her body, her limp wrist nearly touching her shoulder.
She then bent her knees slightly, and subtly shifted her weight between her legs. Although she was unarmed, to Butch she seemed to have an invisible foil in her right hand, extended threateningly at her imaginary opponent, a wave of energy coiled in her knees, waiting to launch up through her body, releasing through her arm up into the foil, the tip of her blade absorbing all that energy and finally releasing, striking her opponent, hitting, scoring.
He walked to the strip and took his position with all the enthusiasm of a man getting in line for a flu shot.