One Touch

I’d look up the last time I wrote about fencing, but I don’t have room in my life for any more regret. So I’ll just go ahead and talk about a recent night at the club, an unusually successful evening, during which, for the first and quite possibly the last time, I defeated my coach.

We played a game of one-touch, which, as the name suggests, involves a running series of matches to a single score. There were a half-dozen fencers that evening, all adults (the kids will come back when schools come back in session). Our bouts began with the score tied at 14 (elimination bouts in tournaments go to 15 touches), and since we had some fencers with competition ratings, competitors were deducted a point for each level they had attained; an unrated fencer in a bout against a fencer with the next highest rating, E, would begin with a 14-13 advantage.

I drew the opening bout of our competition, and faced our coach, who also happens to be our club’s best competitor. With her D rating, I had a 14-12 advantage, meaning I needed to get her once before she scored her third. A difficult task, but hardly impossible; in our competitive bouts, I’ve earned one touch for ever four or five surrendered. But this was a different game, and coach always plays to win (as do I, but at a much lower rate of success). I’d have to catch her making a mistake, and when she made it I’d have to score, because there wouldn’t be another opportunity.

Our bout began, and I retreated on her approach, stepping forward a few times to break up her rhythm. She needs three, and all I need is one. I lunged out of distance, to see if she’d overextend herself on the riposte, but she was too good of a competitor to take the bait. Just one. I retreated, letting her advance…

And then it was there. My brain didn’t register the thought, but my vision combined with instinct and experience recognized that she had come in too close and left an opening on her right.  I pounced, disengaging under her blade, extending my arm wide, and leading the point of my blade to her right shoulder, on the edge of her target area. It was an action based not on any decision on strategy, not something I thought about, but more accurately something I felt.

The scoring machine to my right buzzed, but I didn’t know if I had landed on target (green light), or off (white light). I looked over — green light.

Some fencers claim that yelling or celebrating on strip is inappropriate. I don’t agree with that opinion, but still feel compelled to apologize after showing my excitement over a successful attack, especially during practice. But to knock out my coach, on the first bout, the first touch, of the competition, and win without relying on my handicap: YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAH!

I would lose my next bout to an unrated fencer, and over the course of that evening I probably lost more bouts than I won. But I did defeat every other competitor at least once that evening, defeating another D and an E. When the competition came to its end, we all agreed that the event was not only a load of fun but also an effective simulation of a close tournament bout. And for me, it was a rare opportunity to celebrate success. I’m not going to beat coach very often; I faced her three other times that evening, and never came close to scoring against her again. But for one evening, I could honestly say I beat everyone. Winning isn’t everything, but it certainly is a lot more fun than losing, and I had enough fun that evening to carry me through a lot of tough bouts to come.

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