Bruises

One interesting by-product of fencing tournaments — colorful bruises:

Two shots on the thigh . . .

. . . And a big one for the bicep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike my previous two tournaments, from which I came home all purple and black down my right side (prompting my wife to suggest I see a doctor), my torso is spotless this time (I’ll spare you the pictorial evidence). That, coupled with the fact that I rarely if ever missed wide right and landed a lot of off-target hits on my opponents’ weapon arm, makes me wonder if I actually did fence better this time, despite coming out with the same result. Perhaps the location of my bruises shows that I was able to keep distance better this time.

Or perhaps I’m so desperate to find some bit of good news from Saturday that I’m seeing my bruises as a badge of honor.

The Visit 1C

Tires crunched loudly against gravel and ice in the crisp cold of February, as the Kwon family’s station wagon pulled up to the Embasssy Apartments on Elm Street. One of the larger apartment buildings in Bark Bay, the Embassy had three floors, loud radiator filters, no central air, and a strict 11 pm curfew enforced by the owner, a red-faced former state trooper with a temper as short as his hair.

Rex opened the passenger door, getting out of the car shortly before Danny emerged from the driver’s side. They walked up to the entry, saw in the small half-circle windows of the front door a man in a baseball cap waiting inside. As they got closer, Rex was able to confirm his initial impression that this man was Lefty — George Monroe, owner of Lefty’s Auto Repair. As Danny reached for the front door handle, Rex detected the mixed odor of grease, motor oil, and gasoline, and saw through the window that Lefty was now looking at them, smiling with yellowed teeth and a face covered with dirt, black grease marks, and three days worth of beard stubble.

Definitely Lefty, Rex thought.

“How you boys doing?” Lefty said as Danny opened the door. Lefty was standing in front of a second glass door, the security door leading to the apartments. The smell of onion mixed into the already present melange of garage odors. “You must be that Danny boy Rex told me about?”

Danny nodded. Rex saw his friend’s body stiffen. Lefty extended his arm. “My name’s George, but everybody calls me Lefty so you might as well do the same.” They shook hands. “Sorry about all the dirt — didn’t have time to go home and take a shower.”

“No problem,” Danny said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same here,” Lefty said. He looked down at Danny’s feet, then raised his head deliberately, eyes scanning the teen’s body then stopping suddenly at his face. “Not from ’round here, ain’t cha?” Lefty said with a laugh.

Danny seemed too surprised to speak. Rex interjected, “His father’s Ben Kwon, the tailor on High Street. They’re from Korea — moved here before Danny was born, right?”

“Uh . . . yes. Before sister born, actually.”

“Well that’s all right,” Lefty replied. “We all comes from someplace or other. Might as well be Korea, or Ja-Pan for all I care.”

Rex began to feel light headed, the smell in the entry room making him naseous. “What room is Double-J in?” he asked, pointing to the column of white rectangular buttons on the wall to his left. Among the crudely fashioned paper labels next to the buttons, Rex saw JOHNSON.

“This’un,” Lefty said, pushing the button next to JOHNSON. A moment later, a sharp cracking sound came from a small speaker on the wall above the column of buttons, a noise followed by a curt Yeah?

“Hey,” Rex said. “I’m here, with Lefty and Danny.”

The speaker cracked on again, and this time the voice that followed was welcoming. Hey! Guys! Come on up!

A second later, a loud buzz sounded from the interior security door. Lefty opened the door, turned and smiled as he motioned for Danny and Rex to walk in. “Second floor, third door on right,” Lefty said as the two teens bounded up the stairs.

The Visit 1B

[Note: I’ve decided to change Jimmy Cho’s name to Danny Kwon]

“Didn’t know fencing teams had captains,” Danny Kwon said, his locker closing with a metallic echo.

“Some do, some don’t,” Rex said, trailing Danny as they walked down the hall. “We didn’t, my first year. But Coach Dan, he thought it was a good idea last year, this year too.”

“Huh. So like, what you want say?” Rex heard a hint of Danny’s family accent.

“Not much. You know, what’s up, where you’ve been and all that.”

“Huh. You need me for that?”

Rex sighed. “We just think he’ll be more willing to talk, be honest, if it’s not just the fencing team talking to him.”

“Huh.”

“So — you going to help?”

They had reached the door to Danny’s class. He turned to face Rex. “Honestly, I don’t care what Double-J does. But I owe you one, and Mr. Jacobs, he’s always been good to my family.”

“Appreciate it. Tuesday?”

“Huh. Tuesday,” Danny said, turning to enter his classroom.

The Visit 1A

“No,” Annie replied. “I’m sorry, don’t want to be rude Coach, but if you want him to hear that, you need someone else to say it. Double-J’s not going to listen to you.”

Coach Dan looked past Annie to the rest of the fencing team behind her. Rex, Bernie, Butch, Kassie, and a new student (Joan? Jane?) — all in their white jackets, all with masks and weapons in hand, all nodding.

“You’re right,” he said. Coach Dan said that to Annie a lot. He scratched his wiry black beard. “So who do you suggest? You want to talk to him?”

Annie shook her head forcefully, pony-tail waving swiftly behind her as if in defense.

“No? Is that a no, I don’t think I should talk to him, or no, I don’t want to talk to him?”

“Yes,” Annnie replied, eliciting nervous giggles behind her.

Coach Dan nodded, looked down at Annie. “Shame. Despite what he says, I know he respects you. Help me out here — who should talk to him?”

Annie turned quickly. “Rex,” she said, raising her chin in the tall teen’s direction. “You’re the only one who’s close to being his equal who also doesn’t intimidate him. What do you think?”

“I’ll try,” Rex said, stepping forward. “But could you write down what you just said? Don’t think I can remember all that — it was pretty long.”

“We’ll get you some help, and thanks,” said Coach Dan, smile stretching across his broad bearded face. “I talked to Lefty the other day, said he’d be willing to talk to Double-J.”

“How about Jimmy Cho?” Annie asked.

Coach Dan looked confused. “Thought Double-J didn’t get along with him?”

Annie turned, replied “That was last week. He’s over it now. That will actually help, because Double-J only respects you if he’s hated you at some point.”

“All right,” Coach Dan repiled. “Rex, you got Lefty’s number?” Nod. “You see Jimmy regularly?” Nod. “Great. Set it up. Now,” he continued, lifting his chin in the direction of the team, “let’s get back to practice.”

The Iliad, Book 9

Book 9 of “The Iliad” features an embassy to Achilles, sent by the Greek commander Agamemnon to convince Achilles to return to the battle against Troy. The embassy consists of three warriors — Odysseus, the Greeks’ most skilled orator, Phoenix, who raised Achilles and still looks on him like a son, ans Ajax, the greatest Greek warrior other than Achilles.

Odysseus relates a promise from Agamemnon of vast treasure should he return to battle. Achilles says no, what Agamemnon gives he caneasily take away, he refuses to accept the bribe and the rules of a game Agamemnon controls. Phoenix then pleads with him to honor their relationship, be the good and faithful son, but Achilles again says no, says Phoenix is more concerned about returning honor to Agamemnon than preserving Achilles’ honor. Finally Ajax expresses disgust, syas the embassy should leave because Achilles has forsaken the honor his fellow soldiers have given him. That speech, far shorter than the others, is the only one that gets close to a concession from Achilles, who says he now won’t go back home but will pnly fight if the Trojans reach his own ships.

Several times during the embassy, Achilles states that the same fate of Death awaits both the brave man and the coward. His words all but reject the code of honor on which his warrior society is built. He also speaks of two fates from which he can choose — either stay and fight to win everlasting glory while dying in battle, or go home and lead a long, uneventful life. He is one of few, if not the only, classical Greek figure to be given such a choice.

Moving on from “The Academy”

I’ve been wondering for a couple weeks how I was going to end “The Academy,” feeling I had done all that I could with this experiment. Hadn’t expected to end it today, but in the middle of this morning’s post it suddenly came to me that I had come to a possible conclusion, so I went with it.

Can’t say I’m entirely pleased with “The Academy.” I started the experiment hoping to develop Bernie’s character more, and feel I was only partially successful in that I developed his negative qualities, but little of what I hope to be his more attractive side. Right now Bernie seems like a petulant, small-minded character, completely unlikeable — I want him to have an edge, but I also want my reader to have some empathy for him, and right now I don’t think I’ve succeeded. However, I do feel I was able to define The Academy and their characters (Coach Sarah — who I really need to rename, as that is the name of my new fencing coach — Francis Pine, Jane Harris) much better.

Hey, like I say — these blog posts are experiments. Some work, others don’t.

Confession: last two posts in “The Academy” were largely inspired by my disastrous performance at a fencing tournament yesterday, which I described in my other blog, A Lunge in the Dark. Fiction directly motivated by personal experience always runs the risks of solipsism, but this was another experiment I had to try. Think it worked out OK.

Have an idea of another experiment, similar to “The Academy,” this one focusing on developing Double-J’s character, as well as Coach Dan’s. That experiment will start either later today, or tomorrow.

The Academy 4W

“You’re not tired,” Double-J says. Guess my lie wasn’t safe. “I saw the tournament sheet when I walked in.”

Coach Dan tries to interrupt, “I think,” but Double-J continues.

“You’ve had enough, haven’t you? You’re embarassed because you got your butt kicked today, and you just want to go home and feel sorry for yourself. I say,” turning from me to Coach Dan, “let him. Let him go pout in a corner somewhere. He’ll get over it, find some convenient alibi to explain it all away. He’ll come back to practice on Tuesdays, just as overconfident as he was at the start of today.”

Double-J turns back to me. “You don’t want to practice, work on your skills so that you might have a better chance for success in your next tournament– fine. Your choice, it’s a free country, least that’s how we like to imagine it. Just don’t come crying to us when you get the same result, Biscuit.” 

Double-J turns away, chuckling. Coach Dan looks at me quickly, and the regret I see in his face is not over what Double-J has just said, but that Coach Dan hadn’t been the one to say it. He turns away.

Annie turns to Rex, “we’ve got to get ready for epee.” They need to take off their lames, need different body cords. Rex looks down at me, tells me “don’t let Double-J get to you,” then turns away with Annie.

It’s just me with Butch and Kassie. “I’d like to keep practicing,” Kassie says, pointing to an open area of the green rubber floor of the field house, where she had been practicing with the Academy team during the tournament. I suddenly notice that Butch is now carrying a uniform, mask and foil. He must have picked those up during Double-J’s speeach. “You coming?” he asks me.

“I — don’t know. Maybe I’ll — catch up with you. I don’t know yet.”

Butch and Kassie nod, walk over to the practice area. I’m standing alone, next to the canvas sacks that contain the Bark Bay High School fencing team’s equipment. Everyone’s off doing what they need to do, Double-J starting his first sabre bout, Coach Dan directing, Annie and Rex preparing for epee, Butch and Kassie practicing along with a few of the Academy fencers.

And me, doing — nothing. Just standing there, doing nothing. Because that’s the only thing that feels safe for me to do at this time.

End of “The Academy”

The Academy 4V

“Butch, Bernie,” Coach Dan calls to us. “Why’d you take your jackets off?”

I can see Butch is just as confused as I am, so I let him speak for us. “Aren’t we done?”

“We’re here another hour or so, for sabre and epee. Keep practicing, with Kassie.” I suddenly notice Kassie still has her fencing jacket on, still has foil in her right hand, mask in left. Butch looks at me, like all of a sudden I’m his guardian or something.

I shake my head. “No. I don’t feel like practicing.”

Coach Dan looks up at the ceiling, in exaggerated confusion, then glares at me. “I don’t — recall — asking if you felt like practicing. I seem to remember” — he looks up at the ceiling again, taps his chin with the index finger of his right hand — “yes, I told you to practice.” He points to the sack of jackets. “Suit up — now.”

By now Double-J’s picked out his jacket fromthe sack, has walked over just in time to catch the end of our discussion. “Problems, Coach?”

Coach Dan shakes his head. Double-J turns from him, faces me, raises his black eyebrows. “Coach Dan wants you to practice. It’s not like you to disobey your coach, Biscuit.”

Biscuit. That’s Double-J’s nickname for me. Get it, Bernie Scott, B-Scott, Biscuit. Guy should get his own morning radio show.

“I’m just — ” I don’t want to continue.

“What?” Double-J asks, a sarcastic smile on his face. Annie steps into the circle, asks “What’s going on?” Rex comes up behind her.

Great. I’ve got the entire Bark Bay fencing team looking at me, waiting for me to finish my sentence. Do I tell them what’s on my mind? That I want to get as far away from this noisy, dark field house? That I’m sick of the Academy, of being patronized by these stuck-up jerks? That I not only don’t feel like practicing fencing, I don’t want anything to do with fencing at all, want to get as far away from this tournament as possible, don’t feel like ever being in another tournament in my life, I just want to be done, end this, leave me alone.

But I know how petulant, how idiotic that would sound. And I remember what my father told me once, “better to say nothing and let people think you’re a fool, than open your mouth and prove it.” That’s his approach to life, don’t take chances. That probably explains why he’s been a successful accountant, if also why he’s still in Bark Bay.

“I’m tired,” I finally say. A lie, but a safe one, I think.

Lose

Worst case scenario played out at today’s tournament. Lost every bout, once again.

In the round robin I got to four touches one time, three touches in another bout, one touch in three bouts and no touches in the sixth. That makes for an Indicator of -20 (as in minus twenty), for those of you scoring at home. Kept the direct elimination close for a while, but after getting to within 8-7 after the second encounter my opponent took over, finished my miserable morning with a 15-8 defeat.

What went wrong? In a word, distance. Avoided the problem I had in the past, which was getting bound up or missing wide right, my point sailing past the opponent’s far shoulder. None of that today, and if I were to take any encouragement from my performance, that would be about the only thing I could say.

I did a fair job of staying out of lunge distance. But I still have two very large problems. One, I get flat-footed when attacked — I parry, but my opponent’s able to get around or through my blade because they’ve closed the gap. If I could train my body to retreat, just a single step, as I parry, I wouldn’t get hit so often with simple lunges or small disengages. Second, when I attack and get parried, I don’t counter-parry — have a terrible habit of trying to remise my attack, rather than responding to my opponent’s riposte. When this happens, I can only hope my opponent misses, because I’ve lost right of way and am a sitting duck.

And here’s what concerns me about both of these problems — I recognize them, know what to do to correct them, but I can’t get my body to do what I KNOW needs to be done. Six months of intense practice, of trying to retrain my instincts — no improvement.

I’m discouraged. I’m starting to think that it’s time to face reality, to accept that I don’t have what it takes to compete in this sport. Three club tournaments, with no wins in 21 bouts. Yeah, I’ve faced some good fencers and feel no shame in losing to them, but I also know enough about this sport to recognize both good and bad fencing, and seeing some bouts with people I competed against — arms flailing around like some bad production of Hamlet, or a Lord of the Rings parody — I couldn’t help wondering, “How the hell did I lose to this person?”

I still enjoy fencing. Still want to show up for my weeknight classes. But today — today sucked. And right now, I feel like I never want to compete in another tournament. Ever.