Coach Dan’s Tale 2H

“Second letter this week,” Coach Dan mumbled as he slapped Josef’s letter into the pile of mail crooked into his arm. His coach had been sending letters frequently to the Odd-B ever since his former student had started the Bark Bay fencing four years ago. It was always letters, Josef having a paranoia about government surveliance born of his long years under totalitarian rule.

“They can open mail too,” his students would often remind him.

“You know when mail opened,” he’d reply. “Tap phone, email — easy to do without detection. Not mail.” Nobody appeared to believe that challenging his logic was worthwhile.

Coach Dan took the elevator to the third floor, turned right as soon as the doors opened and walked robotically to his apartment door. He didn’t count the steps this time, but knew it always took 14 steps to get to B306, unless he had to maneuver around some person or obstacle.

He walked into his apartment, took two steps and threw his mail over the back of the sofa that faced the entertainment center. He removed his winter jacket, discarded that over the sofa as well, then walked into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door and retrieving a can of juice.

He walked into the living area, sat down on the couch between his jacket and today’s mail. Flitting through the mail, he retrieved Josef’s letter, and holding it up in the air as if it were a medal, said, “Well Josef, let’s see what you’ve got to say for yourself today.”

Airport

Taking a long flight today with my family, with a long layover, during which I did my ten minutes of footwork practice. Basic stuff — advance up, retreat down; two advances then a retreat, increment the advances and retreats by one, then another; lunge, advance lunge, doulbe-advance lunge, triple-advance lunge; advance, retreat, lunge. Keep running through the drills until I hit ten minutes.

Without a weapon in hand (and not even extending with my arm, to minimize the number of stares from curious onlookers), I found myself focusing on form more than I usually do — turning the back foot slightly forward (difficult for me to do without coming out of my crouch); keeping the back hip in (also difficult when the back foot isn’t perpendicular to the front); tightening the butt; keeping the weight 60% on the back, with center of gravity on a line down between my head and back shoulder. I’ll be without my equipment while on vacation these next two weeks, so I’ll continue to focus on those fundamentals as I practice.

Which I fully intend on doing. I’ve kept the daily practice streak going since April 29, and I’m not planning on letting it end without effort on my part. And if I can find time to practice in an airport, I can find time to practice at our destination.

Coach Dan’s Tale 2G

The snowflakes became smaller, heavier, now falling on the windshield and melting instead of flying past. Coach Dan turned on his wipers.

Fifteen minutes later he arrived at the Odyssey Apartments, his “home” for the past four years. His landlord reminded him regularly that he had several nice condominiums available, on the other side of the river, closer to the school, but he never found that prospect appealing. He could not articulate why, but there was something that appealed to him about the Odyssey, a complex of three buildings, each with four floors, ten units per floor.

Coach Dan pulled into his reserved spot next to the middle building, “Odd B” as he called it. Upon entering the building he opened his mail slot, found among the numerous pieces of junk mail a letter, with a single line in the upper left corner, bearing the name, in hastily scrawled capital letters, of JOSEF HADIK, Coach Dan’s fencing coach in college.

Coach Dan’s Tale 2F

In the cold of the night the snowflakes were large and light, blowing over before making contact with the windshield of Coach Dan’s car as he drove, from the east side of the Northern River where Steph and Gene lived, down through the downtown section of Bark Bay spanning both banks of the river, then up to the Odyssey Apartments on the west side.

Traffic was light as he drove through downtown; the traffic lights were still operating fully, but would soon begin flashing yellow on the east-west roads, red for the north-south. As he crossed the Northern River bridge, a strong gust of wind, combined with a thin layer of ice on the road, caused his car to swerve suddenly left, nearly crossing the yellow paint divider. With nobody approaching from the other side, Coach Dan calmly steered right, slowly edging himself back fully into his lane, until he cleared the bridge.

The bridge was a common scene of accidents in Bark Bay, throughout the year. Winter posed weather-related challenges, while in the summer the increased volume of traffic caused interminable delays, angry motorists, improper decisions made in haste and anger. An accident on the bridge had delayed Coach Dan nearly an hour on his first visit to Bark Bay, nearly a decade ago, and overheard a conversation in a diner that afternoon that brought him up to speed on what he would later call The Bridge Controversy.

“Goddam bridge.”

“It will get better once summer’s over, always does.”

“But it happens every summer, why don’t nobody do something about it.”

“Well they could, but that bridge is so old, it would cost more money to widen it as it would to build that new bridge the state wants.”

“They can’t build that bridge, it would bypass the town!”

“We’d still get tourists, in summer.”

“Not as many, though. We rely so much on summer business, it would dry up, Bark Bay would be gone in a generation.”

“State’s not going to put money in that old bridge.”

“Well somebody needs to.”

“It will get better, in the fall.”

“I s’pose.”

It was a conversation Coach Dan heard repeated, nearly verbatim, at least once a month since moving to Bark Bay. Every once in a while, the state would hold a public meeting about their plans for the new bridge, only to be met with desperate hostility from the Bark Bay business community. And on the rare occassions when the state’s ambitions would flare, Lee Stephens, Bark Bay’s state senator, would use the blankey of his still considerable political clout to extinguish the flame.

Coach Dan’s Tale 2E

Steph smiled, nodded. “Prajakta’s very nice. Nausie’s good friends with her daughter, Shamayla. They’re from Indiana.”

Coach Dan couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. “India, really.” He expected better of his friend.

“No . . . Indiana. They lived in Fort Wayne before moving here.”

“Oh.”

“And she and her husband are Pakistani.”

Well then,” Coach Dan replied, hoping the sudden change in his vocal inflection would alter the course of this conversation away from the rocky shores of his embarassed assumptions, “I had a good conversation with Shamayla tonight, during class.”

“Prajakta, you mean? Shamayla’s the daughter.”

Ahhh. “Prajakta, yes. Interesting woman.”

“She and Rahul have been through a lot.”

Rahul. Husband. Got it. “Yes, she tells a good story. Asks a lot of questions, too.”

Steph tilted her head, furrows on her brow displaying her growing confusion. “Really? That’s odd. I mostly have to pry information out of her.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.” She looked back at Coach Dan. “Must be you, I guess. Shouldn’t be surprised — you have that way with people, Dan, you get them talking, asking questions. That’s why you’re such a better teacher than I.”

“That’s very generous of you.”

Steph turned in the direction of the service door, her face still pointed in Coach Dan’s direction. “Thanks again, and have a good evening,” she said, fully turning towards the door as Coach Dan turned back to his car, now covered in a thin layer of melted snowflakes.

Coach Dan’s Tale 2D

“Thanks again for taking Naussie tonight,” Steph said as the service door closed. “Gene usually takes her on Wednesdays, but he’s working these crazy hours for this case he’s on.”

“I understand,” replied Coach Dan, with the same understanding he displayed the three previous times Steph had provided the same explanation. “How’s your father?”

“All right. Seemed to have more energy tonight.”

“It’s great of you to take time to see him. He needs you.”

Steph sighed, smiled. “He does. Thank you for making it possible.”

“Not a problem.” He swung his right hip out, in the direction of his car, large snowflakes dissolving instantly as they descended upon it in the driveway. He stopped himself, turned back to Steph. “Sorry we were late tonight. The instructor wanted to work with Nausie — ”

“Cartwheels, yes, I figured that out.”

“There was this other girl with her. I talked to her mother — can’t remember her name.” The awkwardness of the thought in his mind kept him from giving it voice.

“Holly Svenson?” Coach Dan relaxed, seeing that Steph was going to make this easy for him. He shook his head, no. “Callie? Callie Jones?” Definitely not. Steph paused, looked up at the ceiling, her body shivering involuntarily. “Prajakta Gupta?”

Bingo. “Yes.”

Parry

Given my performance at my last tournament, I’m hardly anxious for my next. But there will be another tournament for me — I’m making a commitment to myself to try at least one more time.

Thought a lot lately about when I’ll be ready to give it another shot. And I’ve hit on a definitive criterion — the ability to parry a simple straight attack, to my open side, the four. I’m guessing close to half of the touches against me at the last tournament were on simple attacks, with no disengages or feints. This should be an attack I parry at least 8 times out of 10.

So that’s what I’m looking for in practice. Can I parry simple straight attacks to four? Can I train my body to retreat, rather than stand my ground? Can I bring my parry across not only effectively, but efficiently, with no more exertion than required? Most important of all, and the basis for evaluating whether I’m ready for my next tournament — can I successfully defend against a straight attack to four 80% of the time?

I don’t care about ripostes, I don’t care about attacks. I just want to successfully execute a four-parry. Once I start doing that, I can move on.

Coach Dan’s Tale 2C

Snow fell gently as Coach Dan ran with Nausie out to his car. Several minutes later he pulled up to the Selko’s home. He saw black tire treads in the driveway, leading up from the street to where Stephanie’s car, a shoebox on wheels, was parked on the left side of the garage. Coach Dan pulled up behind the car, leaving the larger right side open, waiting for the arrival of Gene’s SUV.

He heard the muffled sound of a large dog barking rapidly inside the home as he turned off the ignition. A moment later the service door in the garage opened, Steph walking through and flipping a light switch.

“Everything go OK?” Her question was not perfunctory, it was spoken with purpose, as much a statement as question.

Nausie pushed off the cemented garage floor with both legs together, her boots plushing softly as she told her mother that Ginny had taught her to do a CARTWHEEL tonight! “Want to see?” she said, lifting her arms in the arm.

“If you go inside and take your jacket and boots off first,” Coach Dan said before Steph could give voice to the panic on her face, “I bet you can do it even better than you did in class tonight.”

“OK!” said Nausie, rushing past her mother up to the service door. The dog’s barking grew louder, sharper as the door opened, then was silenced, replaced with the sound of a barely audible whimper as Nausie walked through, the door closing swiftly behind her.

Heel

My current fencing coach has put a far greater emphasis on footwork technique, especially the front foot, than any of my previous coaches.

“Lift the toes first, then the heel. Push forward from the heel, just above the floor, like you’re pushing a quarter forward.” Her argument is that the technique allows you to maintain a more consistent pace, better balance.

She made a similar comment about my stride while observing me run. “You’re running on the balls of your feet. That’s bad form – your heel should land first.” She also suggested I throw out my hips when I stride, but when I tried that she laughed, said I looked like a panicked penguin.

I’m trusting that my coach knows more about biomechanics than I do, so other than the penguin hip technique I’ve been following her advice, or at least trying. The fencing technique is coming along, but the running is still difficult – the heel first approach slows me down, and it strains my shins.

So it goes.