Extend the arm before lunging — let the arm pull you forward, don’t push the arm out from your legs. Lift the front foot from the toes, push from the back leg. Arm first!
“Hold on, my friend.” Somehow everyone in the room knew Dan was addressing Double-J, who removed his arm from Butch’s shoulder, pointed his chin at his coach, wordlessly giving him permission to continue. “I have some — business to discuss with you.”
“Team business?” Double-J offered his question in a manner that declared he would have no interest in any answer that was not an affirmative.
“Of course! Rex — ” a stout arm raised palm-up towards the tall teen — “please work with our new friend Butch for a while.”
“Butch?” Double-J glared at the rotund sophomore.
“Yessir. My name’s actually William, and my family calls me Billy, but my friends — ”
“You choose to be called Butch?”
Butch swallowed, a bead of sweat appearing under his short crop of flaxen hair. “Yes. Yes, Mister — Double-J.”
“Over here.” Rex was standing on one of the cafeteria floor’s white rectangles, two foils in his right hand, a fencing mask in his left and a second mask propped on the top of his head, its gray metal face staring up at the ceiling.
As Annie and Rune began sparring along another white rectangle, with Dan and Double-J engaged in an animated conversation in a far corner, Rex handed a mask to Butch, who held it cautiously, as if it were a chainsaw with its motor running. “Easiest way to put it on is like this — ” Rex pointed to his head — “with the handle sticking into the back of your neck.” Butch followed the instruction, felt how the opening of the mask lay comfortably on his scalp. “That’s it. Now, just pull out on the bib — ” Rex grabbed the stiff cloth under the bottom front of the mask, waited for Butch to do the same — “and then, down.”
“Oh!” Butch was amazed at how easily the mask slid into place, covering his face in a small iron cage. His ears covered, he heard the sound of his voice and even his breathing within the closed space more acutely than he could remember or possibly imagine. Everything he saw was blurred by the beehive screen in front of his eyes, but nothing seemed distorted. The sensation of the mask over his face was slightly claustrophobic, yet also highly comforting; Butch felt protected in a way he had never experienced before.
Rex laid the foils on the floor, put his hands on the side of Butch’s mask. “Just need a little adjustment — hold still.” Rex pushed down on the mask, the bottom of the oval cage sliding from in front of Butch’s mouth to beneath his chin. “In addition to being safer, that’ll make it easier to talk. And breathe.”
“Oh!” The claustrophobic feeling subsided, without diminishing the protective sensation provided by having this gray shield so close to his face.
Rex reached down, picked up the foils, handed one to Butch. “Rune tells me you’re right-handed.”
“Huh? Oh! Yeah. I guess.”
Rex took a few steps back, his back foot nearly outside their white rectangle. “First, let’s get en garde.” Following commands, Butch put his right foot forward, toes pointed at Rex, then bent his knees and held his right arm forward, like he was feeding a skittish animal. Rex nodded, held his right palm up to Butch, walked over. “Couple things. Keep your weapon arm closer to your body — ” he pulled Butch’s elbow inward — “makes it easier to defend yourself. And your back arm.” Nearly a foot taller and noticeably slimmer, Rex moved behind Butch, grabbed his left wrist. “Needs to be all the way back, out of the way.” He pulled Butch’s arm back, and nudged his left foot back with his toe. “Getting your rear leg back will help with keeping your arm out of your target area. Do that in a competition and you lose a point, I’ve seen people lose bouts because of this.”