Friday night I swallowed a prescription painkiller, two muscle relaxants and valium in order to get four hours of semi conscious sleep. It hurt so bad I was making mewling sounds. Yes, Friday night was fencing night.
At the club, Gerald was back, having recovered from his flu. So we warmed up with epee bouts. I was trying out a new technique of lunging into the forearm. Gerald had his usual method of engage the blade and then poke the body. He also shares a frustrating habit with nearly all men I fence; when they fence me, they never retreat (when they fence men however...).
For the first ten minutes I just couldn’t get anything to work; my hand-body-brain connection wasn’t meshing. I was getting tired of being Gerald’s Piñata girl. I tried being mature or being above it all but he just kept hitting me. So I told myself fortune cookie philosophy like “Think of the mountain, not the boulder.” This is when Gerald decided to stop and give me a lesson in what I “should” be doing. What’s that, hit you on the arm? Why didn't I think of that!
Whether it was the touch of anger or finally getting warmed up I could suddenly do no wrong. I was untouchable. This concerned some of the guys there. They told Gerald he should “get it together”, “Show her” cause “I’m betting on you.” (because we all know nothing is worse than getting beat by a GIRL!). Gerald however, did not show me; Amanda did.
Amanda is the Western Champion. She even has the T-shirt. I was doing okay with her until I told her there was “no way” she would be getting points off me, especially not off my foot (that requires an advanced lunge technique to hit the tip of the toe). So, she not only hit my foot twice, she also bruised my thigh and won the bout 10-1. For some reason, I can motivate her (was it when I told her I would be beating her by April?).
Gerald left and Amanda went with Mr. Ho for her lesson. I was left practicing lunges at the full length mirror. Mr. Ho did not like my lunges as they were foil lunges (where the arm extends and you lunge forward simultaneously). He showed me the epee lunge: extend, aim then lunge in a single motion. I practiced some more. That girl in the mirror sure is slow.
After Amanda finished her lesson she talked to Mr. Ho. He turned and called me over. Me? Yes. Oh, yes, Elizabeth is getting a lesson! Thank you Amanda.
First Mr. Ho shows me the jack knife: how to shoot my arm from a bent defense position to an extended attacking position in one fast motion). Then there is the second jack knife, my back leg, which is used to accelerate my body forward. Attack from bent arm to aimed arm and explode forward on target while keeping the arm protected perfectly behind the hand guard. Have I got it? Good, now repeat until sore.
Mr. Ho wears a super thick arm guard with different coloured patches on it. This lesson uses the three blue patches: one atop his lower arm and one either side of the wrist (targets for over the top of the wrist and on each side).
I need to attack when he exposes a blue patches. The problem is that after 150 minutes of epee bouts I feel like a my limbs are made of playdough; very heavy, very painful playdough. I have to put my epee tip consistently into a target space the size of a half dollar. And if the attack isn’t done at the perfect angle, instead of the blade making a nice arc it skids and slides up the arm. When that happens Mr. Ho looks at my tip like it trailed dog poo up his arm and barks, “Hit target.” All that is required is perfection.
First we do it stationary, then he moves and I move, attacking the exposed patches as often and as quickly as I can. Next is a distance lunge, hit and repeat, again. Finally he backs away so I must step and aim, lunge and hit. I start ten feet away from him and must hit the perfect spot at the perfect angle. And we do it again and again.
I don’t always hit the spot, sometimes, especially on the side of his wrist, I miss entirely and the point scrapes his arm before sliding past. I feel like an idiot. I am an idiot. Mr. Ho looks at me like I’m a five year old caught eating glue, “You hit here” he points to the patch, “Don’t go past. You don’t hit, you don’t get point.” Yes, Mr. Ho. And again.
My legs are telling me they want to cramp, or collapse; whichever. My body starts to weave because of exhaustion and Mr. Ho yells at me to be STILL, “only move the arm.” I clench my molars together, still my body, still my arm, extend and lunge. This is my first lesson, my only lesson and I will pass out before I stop. All I see is Mr. Ho and the blue patches. I will do it perfectly.
When I do it perfectly a few times he says, “Good.” The finishes with, “but you are too slow.”
He takes off his helmet and we salute with blades. I want to bow.
Now, I have homework. I need to get a ping pong ball and suspend it from the ceiling and extend, lunge and hit it 1000 times before next week. The next 1000 I must do when the ball is in motion.
Before I leave Mr. Ho comes and asks, “There’s nothing wrong with you?” Mr. Ho won’t teach people who get or have injuries. Amanda’s been told if she even sprains her leg she’s out. I am so tired I’m not sure I can move one arm and leg. That night I will cry at 3:30 am because my body is burning up and it won’t stop hurting. But when morning comes I will go and buy ping-pong balls. No, there’s nothing wrong with me.
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6 hours ago