Track Backing

Returning today to “A Lunge in the Dark,” the irregular but ongoing journal of my competitive fencing career. I’m not a rated fencer and am intending to write for a general audience, so veteran fencers may not find this very engaging, especially the parenthetical italicized explanations.

Had some success at a tournament last week. Focusing on wins and losses can be a frustrating trap for novice fencers like myself, but when viewed as a barometer of one’s skills, results can be a motivating factor.

This tournament was scheduled to be an E and Under, but due to last-minute cancellations and additions evolved into a D and Under. (Fencers earn ratings based on their performance in tournaments; everyone starts with a U, essentially meaning Unrated, and the first real rating is an E. The ratings then work up the alphabet all the way to A. Many tournaments are restricted based on rating; an D and Under tournament is limited to U, E, and D rated fencers.) Nineteen fencers total, six in my pool. As usual I started slow, getting shut out by my coach (a D) and scoring just a single touch in my next bout (pool bouts are over when one fencer scores five touches). Then my energy and focus picked up, and the competition eased — my first two pool opponents would end up in the top five, while my next two finished at the bottom. Got my first victory (always feels good to have the monkey jump off my back), and got to three touches in my next — more on that bout in a minute. Last pool bout was a fencer very similar to myself in age, experience, and skill; this was a bout I really wanted, and it pleased me to fence my best bout of the day, winning 5-3.

Two wins, three loses, with an indicator in the single digits. (The indicator is the difference between the number of touches a fencer scores and the number of touches scored against that fencer; with 14 touches in my favor and 20 against, that made my indicator -6. After the pool bouts, fencers are ranked based on their winning percentage, with the indicator breaking tied percentages, of which there will be many). I was pleased at my results, but not satisfied — that third loss should have been mine. On at least three occasions in that bout, I gave up a touch despite having priority — “Attack left is no, counter-attack right is yes.” (In foil fencing, the fencer who initiates an attack has right of way, or priority, over the other fencer; the other fencer must either parry, i.e. block, or avoid the initial attack in order to take priority before starting their own attack. A fencer who counter-attacks without priority is at risk of being touched, even if the counter-attack lands first). Each time, I saw what was happening — here I go, there he goes, it’s my touch — and each time, I whiffed. Did I start my attacks too close and have my point sail past the target? Did I flinch on seeing the counter-attack? Probably a little of both.

Had I executed properly on just two of those actions, I’d have turned a 5-3 loss into a win by the same score. Three wins, two losses, -2 indicator, and the ninth seed out of pools instead of thirteenth; lost my only direct elimination bout, or DE, to a fencer who earned his E that day (DE bouts go to fifteen touches). Coulda woulda shoulda . . . but at least I know what I did wrong, and was able to identify a skill I need to develop.

Ironically, this was nearly the same tournament I had competed in almost exactly a year before, with slightly better results (same number of wins and loses, but a better indicator). I remember feeling just as good then as I do now, with the same amount of enthusiasm for future tournaments. But a lot happened almost immediately after last year’s tournament — an injury, my mother’s death, managing her estate. Fencing at the club each week helped me get through those times, but competition simply wasn’t going to happen. Didn’t feel like I could breathe without effort until the beginning of this year, and with last week’s results, it feels like my fencing is finally back on the track I had been following a year ago. Of course, life could once again insert itself into that track; just hope whatever does show up is something I can overcome.

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