They put up the pool results and I am 9th coming out the pools and get a Bye for my first Direct Elimination (I don’t have to fight the first round), but face the number 8 person right after in DE (Direct Elimination). I am looking at the structure and see that even if I manage to beat the 8th ranked person, the next person I fight is the number one out of the pools and the one person I KNOW can kick my butt: Birgit. I am facing the sheet, and totally freaking muttering, “holy shit, holy shit” over and over. Then I turn around, and face Brigit and say, “See, I told you I’d fence you again, I just have to take care of this bout first” She gives me this smile you might give someone who has just hit their head too hard.
Jacquie, my defacto mentor comes up to the board. “Oh, you’re facing Sutton.” (the number 8)
“Who’s that? Does she have a ranking?”
“Let’s see, she has a D”
I start muttering “holy crap” to myself.
“Oh yeah, and she’s a lefty.” Jacquie tells me.
My voice jumps up a few octaves, “A lefty! A D ranked lefty! Does anyone know how to fence a lefty?” I might have been panicking just a LITTLE at this point. The reason left handed fencers are scary is because while all right handed people’s attacks are trained for other right handers, they are also useless against left handers. But since a left hander only generally fences right handed people, all their attacks work just fine.
Jacquie is trying to talk me down. “Just hug the side of the strip, keep your arm out from your body and attack her six, so she can’t get to your six, that’s where she will want to attack. (in fencing your six is your outer arm, referring to the position number used to parry those attacks – sixth position. Four refers to attacks between your arm and your body, where you need to move your arm across your body to block it. Most epee attacks occur in four – to the inner arm or shoulder, and a few in six, to the outer arm. A left handed fencer can reach your outer arm easily (your six), and as it is a less practiced defense, it makes an easy target). She continues, “Just keep attacking her six to stop her attacking you, and be patient, wait for the opportunity.”
Sutton is from the Salle Auriol, the club hosting the event and is there with her personal coach as well as a crowd of club members and supporters. I tell the ref that this is my first DE ever and ask what is going to happen. The bout is nine minutes long in three minute stretches; there is a minutes rest in between the stretches. I know that if one fencer is ahead and other fencer doesn’t attack, they can be called for “passivity” and if they don’t start attacking, the other fencer is awarded a point. My plan is to use my reach to get a quick point, then be patient and wait for her attacks and use my point control on her arm as I retreat, get the points for a strong lead.
Within 15 seconds, I get a quick point on her shoulder and it is 1-0. Everything is going according to plan. Only she doesn’t attack. I wait, I wait, I wait. We move back and forth. And for the next 2 minutes and 45 seconds she doesn’t attack once. The ref calls time she goes over to her coach for a huddle. I am left standing there. I walk over to Birgit and ask her to start talking to me as if she was giving me advice. Frankly I am scared, as 1 point does not a match make but I don’t want Sutton, her coach and her friends to think I am not ready so I go over to the scariest fencer in the room (Birgit) and start nodding my head as if she is giving me advice. Birgit meanwhile is sort of looking at me in bewilderment.
I head back to the strip and we go again, for another minute and a half I wait for her to attack. She doesn’t. I realize the refs are not going to call her on passivity and that she will likely do some attacks at the end of the nine minutes. Since I have not yet seen what her attack is, I don’t want to gamble that I can beat it, I want another point. If I can get a two point lead, then I will wait her out. I start attacking her six, then try a lunge to her body, she parries and gets the point. The crowd is cheering and her coach is yelling “Yes! YES!” It is now 1-1 and I double my attacks, I try for a knee attack and she gets another point. Her coach calls out, “Stay to plan, you’ve got her.” And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out she is planning to run out the time. I keep attacking her arm, lunge after lunge. I just keep attacking, waiting, looking and attacking, I break through with an attack on her arm, 2-2.
When I score, everyone is silent. I make one last attack, and as she retreats, I launch myself forward, fully extended, hitting her back calf just before I hit the floor and start to roll (very ungraceful). The ref turns to HER COACH as starts debating on what should or shouldn’t count. Did I hit her? Did she hit me first? Did we get doubles? I stand ready and ref finishes the discussion. She never tells me the score but from the cheer that goes up, I am pretty sure it is now 2-3 against me. The second three minutes are up.
Jacquie comes over to me and tells me I am doing well. Has she been watching the same match I’m in? She says that I am overbalancing, that I am rising up on my back hip, I need to keep it down and keep low.
I start the last three minutes. I don’t want to lunge to her body as that is how she gets points with her parry, but I can’t seem to get a point on her arm. But I am not going to lose 2-3.
I attack, and attack and attack. She moves her arm slightly and I am into her, attack and attack again to her shoulder, 3-3. I keep going, and within a few seconds, too eager, I get too close and she tags me 3-4. At this point, her crowd is cheering her on continuously, “You’ve got it.”, “Come on!” I’ve never been in a position where so many people, so publicly wanting me to not win. It feels like I am at the end of a dark tunnel and that everyone is telling me to just give up; give up and everyone will like you. Screw that. I WILL fence Brigit! I start attacking her arm, one side then another, every second another attack and with 20 seconds left, she drops her hand a bit and I angle over the top of her blade for the hit. I didn’t even need to see the board as the crowd collectively sucked air, sighs with cries of “No!” It is 4-4. True to form, Sutton runs out the time, without ever launching a single attack.
The ref explains that there will be a coin toss, one person will be designated and if the other person doesn’t get a point on them in 1 minute, then they will win the bout. I don’t know who gets tails or who gets head but the coin is tossed; it comes up heads; Sutton has won the toss. “What does that mean?” I ask. The judge says that if I don’t get a point in one minute, Sutton will win. I can’t believe it, the one fencer who never attacks, now wins if she can stop me from successfully attacking.
Jacquie tells me that she knows I can do it (I can?), to keep my hip down and take my time. This is my first competition since high school. Everyone is telling Sutton she can do it, that I won’t get her, that she has it. I am so exhausted that I am dripping sweat through my mask: I have done over 100 lunges in 9 minutes. But I have a plan. I will put one lunge to her shoulder, keep my hip down and get all the speed I can muster. But first I need to get her hand far enough away from her body to give me the extra microseconds I need. I start again lunging to her hand and arm. A few to her four so she won’t be suspicious, then pulling my arm further and further away from my body I attack her six again and again, forcing her to move her arm away from her body to stop me getting the angulation on her. “Wait….another…another” my mind says and I keep hammering away, moving her arm away from her body centimeter by centimeter. “Now!” and I lunge as if at her six but slip the tip of my blade under her arm, then straighten it on the inside of her arm, aimed toward her shoulder as I launch myself forward. She parries, but not fast enough. It hits. The crowd moans as I drop to my knees, shaking. I did it! I wanted it and I did it. I get to my feet and Sutton shakes my hand, her face tight. Stephanie and Jacquie are there, congratulating me. I feel like crying but I’m smiling. Some of the women from Oregon and other clubs come up and tell me good job. I am unranked and in the 8. I stagger over to Birgit, who sits by her husband, she is looking cool and fearsome and I stand in front of her, wheezing and dripping. “Told you I’m coming for you.” I tell her, “You’re next!” She laughs and Linda leads me away for water.
When the next match is called I try to stand up and find out why doing 100 lunges in 9 minutes is not recommended. Oh My GOD! My front leg is on fire! I tell everyone that while this may not be the nicest match they will see, it will be the most violent (as Birgit likes to take it to you, and I am ready to take it to her). Her husband talks to her and then walks past me, “Any last minute tips?” I ask him. He shakes his head; am I really that daft? Yes I am.
I have a plan, I will attack the wrist and then lunge to her thigh. It almost always works as people aren’t expecting such a long attack. We come together, I attack Birgit’s wrist, she lunges to my thigh and hits. Ahhhh! She even steals my plans! Birgit attacks, attacks, attacks, and soon I am down 4-0.
I fight back and we are often corp to corp (right up against each other). Birgit has a habit of turning her back to escape, but I come from the Victoria down and dirty fencing club so that doesn’t stop me wrapping myself around her and continuing to stab away. I start to come back, 1 point then 2. The ref keeps dropping my points in the counting and twice has to be corrected by another ref. This is driving me a little nuts as I know I am down 2-6 but hey, against Birgit, those two points are precious! Stop calling them as 1-6. I throw myself into it and get a touch on her back ankle. The ref asks Birgit whether she thinks that counts or not; did I hit the floor. Birgit is not amused. I am wondering why the ref is asking my opponent whether I should get a point or not. Birgit refuses to help and the ref gives me the point, then two points later, decides to take it away. She is corrected again and I am at 3-8. Birgit later tells me that she felt the ref was unprofessional, that we are there to fence and the ref is there to make the call. I’m just glad she isn’t mad at me.
My goal going in was to get seven points. So I keep at her, and Birgit keeps attacking me as hard as ever. At one point, I am wrapped around her stabbing wildly between her legs from behind and after my 4th or 5th attempt to hit her leg the ref calls halt. “I know you’re in there somewhere!” is my frustrated cry and everyone at the competition starts laughing. I am soon at 3-12 and just as determined to get a point. Birgit does not let up for one second let up, always giving me 100%. I like that. At 3-13, I say, “I think it is time for my comeback.” And she laughs a little. (we find out later talking to each other is against the rules) At 3-14 the three minutes timer goes and I talk to Jacquie again. I am going to keep my hip down and try a fleche. I go it, I give it all, throw the fleche and beat her out, but she retreats faster and comes back with a flick to the arm. Bout over.
Birgit will go on to win the tournament, as her game has two distinct parts. In the first part, the score is closer as she does different attacks and defenses, then like turning a switch; she simply starts walking away with the bout; the opponent will not get another point. No one gets more than 8 point on her in the entire DE series including the final. Linda and I cheer her on, as we are the only ones besides her husband clapping for her. In the final, she is up 8-7 when the first three minutes timer goes. Her husband walks over to her, whispers something in her ear and less than two minutes later, she has taken 7 consecutive points, the victory and her C ranking. TuckerWilliams from the pool bouts has gone on to win 3rd (losing, like everyone, against Birgit). Birgit’s French nails are still perfect.
I finish 6th and get my E ranking. There were 23 fencers. If two more fencers had come or if the A ranked person hadn’t been knocked out, I would have gotten a D ranking. But as one of the few good things Mr. Ho said, “You control what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t.” At the award ceremony I get applause as does Jacquie who came in 7th (we all get applause!). Still, I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten applause. For the next day I keep saying to Linda “I got sixth!”
“I know!” she says back.
In the shower I start crying and laughing at the same time. It was really great, I got Birgit’s email along with Jacquie and Stephanie’s. It was good fencing and we promise to see each other again, some match, some day. But the Sutton DE was hard, very hard and very, very alone. It was an emotional day.
After a LOT of pain pills I manage to sleep, though when I get out of bed Linda tells me I look like an old woman as I hobble to the bathroom. The next day, Monday, I am back at the Victoria Fencing Club, which I now refer to as “Bleak House”. Mr Ho wants to know how it was, “There were fencers from Alaska” I tell him.
“No good fencers in Alaska” he says.
“And women from Oregon.”
He makes a grunt of disgust; guess no good women in Oregon either.
Steve is back, he didn’t know I went to a tournament. Gerald congratulates me; Amanda doesn’t nor Orion; nor anyone else actually. Mr. Ho finds I did get into the top 8 and he starts paying attention to me. I will get a lesson if I go tomorrow, he promises. I go to the strip to bout and find that the blade I used in the competition against Brigit is dead, totally dead; it died sometime between the 10th point of the final bout and the club; in transport? In storage? In the last couple points? Note to self: next time check the tip every few points. The guys won’t believe I am tournament material so I have to beat them all in rotation in 10 point bouts. I do and win, even against 6’7” Steve. I fence over two hours. Everything is different, everything is the same.
“I got sixth.” I tell Linda when I get home.
9 hours ago