Tuesday, November 24, 2009


(Gandalf......Vet fencer....Grey...like the Gray Epee...it all makes sense...(sort of) in the end.

Recently, on fencing.net and the fencing.net Facebook link, there is an article bashing Nick Evangilista and his book "The Art and Science of Fencing".

My first day fencing, I left the gym and headed for Barnes and Noble bookstore to look for a book on fencing. That book and the "By the Sword" were the only ones in stock related to fencing. "By the Sword" is an excellent book, and I read it later. I bought "The Art and Science of Fencing", as it contained so much more of the information I was hungry for.

I should point out that Nick Evangilista is a "classical fencer" who is less than happy with "modern sport fencing/Olympic fencing". This is strongly reflected in his writings.

At the time of reading the book for the first time, I did not totally understand the difference. The book influenced me in a couple of ways negatively. For example: Trying to fence foil with a French grip.

I wrote Mr. Evangilsta shortly after reading his book. He sent me a picture of himself. (I don't know what that says, but it must mean something.) I learned a few things about him that most people don't know. For example: He raises goats to eat....that sort of thing.

Not too long ago, I heard (right or wrong)that he does not fence anymore. This bothered me a bit, as we are about the same age.

I have reached a point in my study of fencing that I do not agree with much of what was written in "The Art and Science of Fencing". (I say this as I am a "modern sport fencer/student of Olympic fencing". All like me would say the same, so it is no big revelation.)

Would I feel compelled to tell him so if we ever met? Not at all.

This is a man that wants to validate his famous coach/father figure and what he taught. Of course he also wants to validate himself. One is noble,the other human.

Let it go.

During Coach's most recent group lesson in Greensboro, he asked us to free fence and use the actions we had been working on in drills. We did so.

Coach said, " You guys move like classical foilists........there is nothing wrong with that." (That is not an exact quote....as we were in the middle of bouting, and I did not hear it all with my mask on. But, a reference was made to our group and moving like classical epeeists or foilists.)

I must confess that if I had an opportunity to study with a really good classical coach for a few months, I would do so. Not because I think it would help me with my fencing, but just for the experience. It is a dying art and I am drawn to knowledge that will soon pass from the world.

The combination of thinking about classical fencing and learning a few things from a coach whom I respect and one of his students has caused me to give a lot of thought to what is right.....and what is wrong in fencing.

Olympic/sport fencers sneer at classical fencers because classical fencing doesn't produce fencers that can compete successfully within the parameters of Olympic/sport fencing. Yet, so much of Olympic/sport fencing has classical elements (or only slightly modified classical elements) used in it. (At least for beginning/intermediate students.)

In the book "Epee 2.0" by Johan Harmenberg, he talks about inventing and using " bouncing" foot work. But, he also instructs his readers to master conventional footwork first. Why does he do that? He never says why.

Bouncing footwork is at odds with the classical approach of economy of movement. This is something you pay attention to if you are a Vet fencer.

Bouncing makes a lot of sense. Something in motion accelerates faster than something static. (Whatever the correct scientific phrasing may be.)
If you are young and athletic enough to do bouncing footwork, why learn the basic advance and retreats?

If you are an older vet fencer and you see wisdom in economy of movement.....why bounce?

For a couple of years now (maybe three....I need to check with my partner) I have taken private lessons (once a week) with Coach. A PL once a week is not enough. However, (generally) his group lessons are much like private lessons with less trained "leaders".

For three years or so, I have worked on a drill to do a beat,pick.....take the blade in eight....hit to the thigh. Now sometimes we move through this drill and I go far in drills. Sometimes, I still spend a lot of time on this one segment of our drills.

I really think it depends on what sort of mood Coach is in.

There are a host of small things that can be done wrong in this drill. Drop your arm too much on the beat.....too much on the pick....pick is not deep enough.....too little pressure on taking the blade in eight....not enough firmness/energy in the action....your weapon arm "poofed out"....too much shoulder...it goes on and on.

Now, here is the rub. I have never ever used this action in a bout. I see almost no possibility of ever using it in a bout. Once in a blue moon, I might use a beat/pick/remise. If I find an opponent that is kind enough to have extended their weapon parallel to the floor.

I have to assume that I am becoming technically proficient (or at least in the journey of becoming technically proficient)and that each element of this drill is what I am working on and not the elements strung together to form the drill.

Editors Note: This question goes in with a half dozen questions I have, should I ever have the opportunity to have a long talk with Coach.

So is working on this drill a waste of time or not? Is it right....or wrong?

When we teach young kids how to fence, in the beginning we work hard to drill into them to keep a good en guard and tip on target. As time goes by and you advance....you drop your arm...pull back.....change it up if your opponent has a good flick to the cuff.... a lot of different positions for arm and point. Which is right? You could say it is a state of flux and that you must master the good en guard in six....point on target before moving on to the more advanced places to have your arm and point. Or are those actually advanced places and should they be taught from Lesson Three or so? Lock your arm in an unchanging place that becomes a constant target for your opponent....or move it all around like the "Hokey Pokey"?

Why have basics first, if eventually you will discard most of them? Yes....you need a foundation....yes...you always come back to them...yes....some of the basics are constantly in some successful peoples games.

So many times I tell a new, young fencer something or instruct them on something and I feel like I am lying to them....or at least withholding some of the truth.

Editors Note: I often feel like my journal would be better with a musical back ground or at least wav files. If I had a way to post wav files I would have Jack Nicholson saying, " YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!"

The truth is that someday you will not want to keep your arm in six and your point on target. This will be more dangerous when your tiny little forearm does not look like it is using a trash can lid for a bell guard.

But, you just can't say that to a kid....I guess. They would not get it.

They would never understand the struggle to find what is correct and incorrect in fencing. What areas are gray? What areas are absolute...if any?

I know they would never understand......because I don't.

So, is it pointless to critique "The Art and Science of Fencing"? How can "modern sport fencing/Olympic fencing" critique classical fencing when there are so many elements of classical fencing in it? How can "modern sport fencing/Olympic fencing" say something is wrong with classical fencing when there are so few absolutes within itself? How can we critique something that will be constantly evolving in the future? What makes us think that we will not evolve full circle back to a more classical style? (I know it is unlikely.....but it could happen.)

You often hear, " Epee is truth." I like to think that of the three weapons that this is close to true. It is a large part of it's appeal.

The search for absolute truth (if it exists) must be even harder in other weapons.

Last Editors Note: This is a rambling post. Sometimes I can't find anything of interest to read about fencing on-line. As I read back over this, I feel like I am just talking to myself. I remember a quote from Gandalf that says," It is a habit of the old to always address the wisest person in the room." He was ,of course, talking to himself. In this case, I am certainly NOT the wisest person in the room.....but I AM the only person in the room.( Thanks to my editor! Now if you could fix my mind so it does not bounce all over the place.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yosef Open

( Black Cat Burrito is to the left down a side street.)

Sunday I fenced in the Yosef Open at ASU in Boone, NC. The weather was unseasonably warm and perfect. The drive up through the mountains was beautiful. The leaves had past their peak in color, but it was still very pretty.

This was a two day event, with foil on Saturday and epee on Sunday.

I thought the ASU kids did a good job in running the tournament. The refs were good for epee, and Mario was the observer.

I fenced two events. I tied for third place in the "E and Under", and I came in seventh in the open, renewing my rating. (Actually, I renewed it over a month ago by winning a small tournament in New Bern, but there was some sort of problem in regard to it working through the USFA system and being posted.)

My fencing family was there with me. I cherished the fact that Nicole was there, as this is her last season with us before she heads off to college. Mario was there and those who are becoming my extended fencing family from CFA. I felt very much at home.

I enjoyed watching the contrast between how Henri fences and how Nicole fences. Epee is so expressive. Nicole could be described as being light and airy.....until her attack. Henri is quick and menacing. (She would argue the point of being menacing....but she is.)

We all got a bit grumpy/upset with our performance at one point or the other during the tournament. That was unusual. It is not unusual for one of us to do so, but not all three of us.

Kerry is the model to emulate when it comes to being undaunted. I have always said so, and Sharon brought it up at this tournament as well.

I noted that Kerry no longer dutifully keeps her tournament notebook, but Miles does. I always wanted to read Kerry's notes.

Miles is a very tall, skinny, young man who gave me trouble. He fences with his arm out, like a relaxed point in line. I could not figure out how to get to deep target with him. With his arm extended, taking the blade or taking it in opposition did not seem to work. Deep target seemed too far away, and, if it wasn't, one retreat with his long legs made it that way. I did not experiment with cuff shots like I should have, though his thin arms make that bell guard look huge.

I reflected on this on the drive home. I came up with an idea for next time. (Code word: Noah) Hey...this journal is like my tournament notebook.

On the ride home, I also thought about tactics and how they relate to the mix of seasoned fencers and newer fencers in the open. Also, I thought about how my current training causes me to abandon previous fencing actions.

Here is an example:

I fenced a young man in a DE. He was fencing with a French grip. Generally speaking, when I fence a person with a French grip, I beat the heck out of their blade. They tighten their grip, and it slows them down. (Also, if they are inexperienced, it may rattle them.) In the case of this young man, his arm was so rigid that this was not a desirable action. (Of course I did not figure that out until the ride home.) His super rigid arm negated my favorite attacks.

I reverted to how I fenced a couple of years ago.(Primarily counters and simple direct attacks. I guess this is still a big part of my game, but I have been working to build past this.) I even scored with a reverse lunge, which was my game when I first started fencing. Of course, in the case of the reverse lunge, you don't often fence people who will chase you down the strip.

I am now wondering if I should have with me, the opposite of a tournament notebook for after bouts. I am wondering if I should have a written list (a menu) of actions which I am fairly proficient in and study it before a tournament. I become so involved with actions I have been working on, that I forget about actions I once worked on.

In this tournament I never had the chance/or thought to use:

A. Short advance/strong 2/long advance. (This works well for me, with the right opponent.)

B. Short advance/long advance with just extension. (I am not comfortable with it yet and did not see the right opportunity to experiment.)

C. As good a use of feints as I should have.

D. One-two.

In my second DE (in the open), I fenced Kelly. I am pretty sure that anyone that knew the field, knew that Kelly was going to win the event. I did not mind. I like to experiment with Kelly. (That and I was ready for a hot shower and Black Cat burrito.) When you are going to get trounced, there is nothing to lose by being creative. I think I scored 3 toe touches on Kelly. For some reason that always makes me feel better (the Tommy influence I guess). I lack a decent flick, except to the toe. It is the one target that I do not have to pull back to hit.

Kelly coached me during a DE under directions of Kerry. He pointed out something to me after our DE of which I was unaware and have no idea how to fix. He told me that I move into perfect distance and then hesitate for a moment before my attack. Is this an age thing? Is this a cautious or analytical thing? How do I get rid of this?

All in all, I fenced okay (most of the time).

I got unexpected praise from Toomey. Henri told me that she thought I should be more proud of that than a rating or trophy. I would have to agree.

It was a good day. Followed by a good Black Cat burrito and some good company.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plodding Along With Fencing

Last night I helped a bit with getting an Intro class ready. Not much, but a little.
We had around eight new students in Greensboro. One was an adult.

Our club is mostly 12 and under these days. That is a good thing, but it makes finding someone to fence almost impossible.

Tommy worked with me a bit. He is trying to teach an old dog new tricks and has been very patient. We are working on attacking with the feet/weapon extending before the advance/attack is mostly from extension distance and makes a parry difficult.

Editors Note: Until recently, I thought there should be more names for common actions in fencing. I have come to the conclusion that is beyond impractical and that the language of fencing is complicated enough. I thought more about this as I tried to describe the action Tommy is trying to teach me.

This attack is not like any other I have ever used. I have no feeling for it. There is no automatic signal to my brain like you get when it is time to lunge or parry.
Maybe it takes time. maybe it is just different and you adjust to it. The answer is always on the strip.

Tonight, I head to UNC for a lesson. Maybe tonight I will get lucky and get in a bout or two before the karate class comes in at 8:15 and cuts the strips down to half.

I do not have a tournament I can get to until the ASU tournament on the 15th. I am looking forward to that. I could use a day in the mountains.

My big thing for fencing related activities this weekend is Cam's baby shower. Though I have three children, I have never been to one of these things. In my day it was a "women only" sort of thing. This one has guys and beer. I am strangely excited about the upcoming experience.