Chapter 6 – February 4C

Coach Dan touched his right arm with his left hand, as he walked among the squad. “Your opponent’s arm can do all kinds of things during a bout — it can extend, retract, move up or down. And if your opponent knows that’s where your focus is, he can do all kinds of things to distract you, like twirl his blade.” He brought his right arm forward, swung it in a circular motion, like he was winding a garden hose onto a reel.

He then pointed suddenly to Rex. “What’s the other problem — for foil fencers, anyway.”

Rex looked bored, disappointed at having received such a heavy prompt. “Arm’s off-target.”

“Exactly!” Coach Dan continued pacing among the irregular line formed by the fencers of the Bark Bay High School squad. “The purpose of keeping distance, is as much offensive as it is defensive. You need to know, at all times, whether you’re in or out of striking distance.” He stopped, brought his legs together, left foot stomping for emphasis. “Annie, what area on your opponent’s target can you look at, to gauge your distance?”

In the split second before Annie responded, Rune analyzed where everyone was standing in the nearly empty cafeteria. Coach Dan had stopped almost directly in front of him, at the end of the irregular line of fencers, near the large bay windows that looked over the school parking lot and the back of the stands for the athletic fields. Butch and The Bird stood a few feet away, with Rex, Juan, and Big Paul forming a small triangle beyond them. At the other end of the line, Annie stood with O.K. and Micky. It occurred to Rune that Coach Dan’s two immediate actions were deliberate — he’d stopped next to the person who had, once again, given the wrong answer to his question, and by directing his question toward someone at the other end of the line (someone he could trust to answer correctly), he could indirectly address the entire squad. Rune admired his coach’s subtle calculation as much as he resented being its object.

“The front shoulder.”

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