The first thing I realize when I get to the tournament hall is that I can’t remember when I fenced someone shorter than 5’11” and that is pretty much everyone here. Normally that would mean I should come up with a strategy or something, except I am still looking around at all these women in uniforms and realizing that yes, this really is a tournament and I am freaking. Up comes this tall, strong looking, big boned woman with really good blonde highlights. “I’m so glad you are here,” She tells me. “I was worried I would be the tallest one here.”
Of course, in my state I say the first thing that comes to my mind, “You’re fencing with french nails? Long french nails?” This is Birgit, who is 5’11” and used to fence epee in Germany until she got married and had kids. Now that the kids are older and she is getting back into shape, doing all the tournaments. As we talk something she said finally makes it up though my mind, “Wait, what was that about fencing world cups?”
Linda at this point pushes me away toward the people warming up and tells me not to worry about it, “Not worry! She fenced world cups! She seen everything I could possible do!” Linda, sends me off still babbling to warm up. I do five minutes with one woman and then ask she doesn’t mind if I switch as I need to fence as many short people as possible. I go over to the waiting area where women are staring at me and ask, “Would anyone like to warm up, the shorter the better?” (yes, I really said that).
Jacquie takes me up on it and compliments my fencing outfit, and soon we are trading clothing stories, I tell how I ordered a 32 inch breeches and leon paul sent me a 28 inch (a little too optimistic), and she counters by telling me how leon paul sent her size in mens, so now (as she pulls out the extra baggy sides of her breeches) she looks like Hitler. Jacquie and her sister Stephanie have come all the way down from Alaska because there aren’t any tournaments for them up there. On the strip I am doing my usual; short attacks to her forearm, when Jacquie starts doing these little moves which somehow always end up hitting my forearm. “How do you do that?” I want to know.
“It’s not a binding,” she starts, “I’m blah, blah de-supertechnical blah de blah” While I stand there with this “Wha?” look on my face. “….so epee is a lot more advanced.” She finishes. I have no idea what she just said.
“No, I mean do it again,” I tell her, “People aren’t suppose to hit me, so I want to see what you did.” (I find out later she married her coach so lives and breathes epee)
“You do know this is a tournament? And I’m your opponent?” She asks.
A few minutes later she’s helping me with my fleche and telling me how I’m really improving. (In this one day more people will say encouraging things about my fencing than I heard in the six months at the club). They call out the groups for the “pool” – six people fencing in round robin and neither her or her sister are in my group, Birgit is however, along with a B ranked fencer named TuckerWilliams (I think her first name is Ellary but everyone just called her TuckerWilliams). I find out later that she got her B rank by getting to the quarterfinals at this year’s Nationals Division II.
The first person I face in pools is Birgit. I’ve seen her decimate two people before me and so far the most anyone has on her is 1 point. But, hey, I fight with guys, lots of guys, she doesn’t scare me...much. She holds her blade so it is pointed up 30 degrees, which makes it impossible to attack her arm as she can easily defend both ways. I launch a lunge at her shoulder; she parries and tries to come in. This is familiar stuff from Gerald and William so I use my strength to shove her blade aside and angle mine toward her body, ready to extend and get the point when she uses HER strength to shove my blade back out of position and takes the point. I am stunned. After the months with the guys, no one has EVER simply overpowered me; easily overpowered me. Okay, the whole big, tall strong thing isn’t going to work, at least not for ME. She’s fast, but tends to wait for an attack and likes infighting, which I learn by getting down 0-3, I fight back, with a beat attack, and we stand 2-4, I want it, but she’s got the skill and she beats me, 2-5. It will still be one of the highest pool score any of us 5 get against her.
My next two fencers I beat 5-1, and 5-1. The first fencer gets her point when I overlunge and miss, and with the second fencer, I actually give away the point. The second fencer was this tiny, tiny girl with huge eyes who probably came up to my waist. At one point, I attack, and then, instead of leaping back as I usually do, I simply wait for her to parry and repose, and then told her “good job”. Of course, once I realized what I was doing (as in, this is not a training session, and I am suppose to win, not make her feel good), I put her away. Thankfully she didn’t cry.
Then I fenced Marla who was short, chubby with wild bleached blonde hair and with a her sword arm held quite a ways from her body, which she used to cover all attacks to her body by sweeping them down with her sword. During the first point, I attacked, she countered and I pushed her blade down, and the light went off. The ref, this nice older guy with a beard said, “I think that’s the floor.” I raised my hand. “Yes?”
“I felt it touch my foot.”
“Do you know if it touched first or floor first?”
“I just know it hit my foot.”
He rules the point to Marla. We face off, and after an failed attack, I push her blade down again. The light goes off. “Floor…..?” The ref looks to me.
“Her point hit my foot.” I say and I am down 2-0. Some later say that I shouldn’t have overruled the ref or that this is “part of the game.” I felt that I did not overrule the ref or challenged him, just offered him information that I had, it may have hit the floor before it hit my shoe, it may not. That wasn’t my call. And I couldn’t, after parrying Marla’s blade into my own foot, stay silent. I realized that fencing epee, equally with people who like to fence epee, is more important to me that using any means available to win.
Of course, now that I was down 2-0, pretty much by my own fault I was DETERMINED to win that bout. I launched a series of blistering attacks and crawled back; 2-3, then 3-4 and finally 4-4. I just needed that one point to win the bout. I lunge. Double. I want to win so badly my whole body is shivering like a greyhound, while that little voice in the back of my head says, “Wait, wait for the opening!” We come together, I test with my blade, making mini attacks, until she counters, and all that ping pong training comes together – I flash a hit to her arm. I win 6-5! Marla later thanks me for speaking up about the foot hits and tells me her only goal for the tournament is to convince people she’s not such a walk-over as her appearance might suggest. She convinced me.
Meanwhile Jacquie and Stephanie want to know how I am doing. “Not well” I tell them. Have I won any, they want to know. Yes, 3-1 but still, not very well. They seem to think that 3-1 is just fine for a first tournament. Yes, but I wanted to win them ALL.
I see Brigit and ask her if we can have another 5 points, as she was interesting to fence. She finds this amusing. I meet her husband who used to do the world cup for the US, and every event except the Olympics. He is here as her coach too. I keep trying to get him to tell me some tips but he tells me I need my own coach. “Tell me about it.” I say. Throughout the tournament people want to know what coaching I get, “I haven’t really yet,” I tell them, “But the coach finally gave me a lesson last week.”; They want to know why I chose epee, “I didn’t, but Mr. Ho wouldn’t let me do anything else.”; they wanted to know what his advice was; “Don’t go, it’s a nothing tournament anyway” and “Close your eyes and stick out your arm.” Everyone agrees: get another coach.
My bout with TuckerWilliams is the last of the pool bouts and she gets some quick hits off me. She is skilled, but doesn’t have the scary depth and power of Brigit, I think I can take her. I come back with patient hits and after herding her into a corner, she lunges and I get a nice arm touch so we stand 3-3.
But then I start getting ansy and push attacks, exposing myself, she gets the 4th point. I decide to risk it all on a long lunge which I am sure will get me at least a double. I miss, she doesn’t. 5-3 to TuckerWilliams. Suck! Afterwards an older man tells me that I just needed to be more patient, and get her to attack me. I find out after that he is TuckerWilliams father. He seems to take a shine to me and he along with the two sisters from Alaska are good for a bit of advice during the rest of the tournament. I also find out later that TuckerWilliams is only 15! But she didn’t make me cry!
13 hours ago