Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Think I am Becoming More of a Watson than a Holmes.

Jeremy Brett. The best Sherlock Holmes EVER!

The Game is Afoot!

This weekend I fenced in Charlottesville, VA in a CFA (Charlottesville Fencing Alliance) tournament. It was my first event of the season. I did fairly well in pools, (for me, that is), winning 4 and losing 2 by 1 point. Both went past 5 points. I finished 10th out of pools with a plus 9 indicator in a field of 32. My first DE was against the 23rd seeded person. I made a huge mistake and lost. Lesson learned, I hope. (I almost did not make this post as I was so embarrassed by my performance at the event.)

It was strange mix of fencers, which I like. It reminds me of past events in my Division.

When I go to a small tournament, I like to have a short warm up, and then fence for a bit. (If I can get a strip and someone to fence.) Then I start my information gathering by watching others warm up. This gives a lot of info, but I do not see everyone warm up.

I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. I like to observe people and determine what I can ascertain about them. This is difficult in everyday life. People are more homogenized in comparison to the days of Sherlock Holmes. I learn more about people by walking by their car, than observing them.

The following are a few of the things I look for or listen to when I am at a tournament:

1. Are they wearing fencing shoes?
2. Is their name on the back of their jacket?
3. Are they wearing a jacket with a number or something that indicates it is a club jacket?
4. Do they have a brand new uniform and/or weapon?
5. Are they wearing an FIE uniform?
6. Do they have markings showing they have competed in international events?
7. Are they wearing a club patch? What is it?
8. What is their level of fitness?
9. Are they alone?
10. If they have their name on their jacket, is it old and faded?
11. Is a coach spending more time with one student than another? What is she/he showing them or telling them?
12. Are they using a French grip? Is the grip thick and weighted? Are they tall and using a French grip?
13. Does their mask have a lot of inspection marks?
14. Do they seem to know a lot of people not in their club?
15. Do they seem nervous?
16. Do they seem to have social skills? This is pretty easy to pick out, as most fencers are very limited in this area.
17. Do the fencers or their coaches have foreign accents?
18. Do they have parents/spouse or someone watching them? Can any information be gathered from the way these people are dressed or overheard conversations?
19. Conversations at the registration desk; on the floor or in the changing area.
20. What kind of bag are they using for their equipment? (If any.) Is it a hard case? If so are there stickers or other info on it?

These are just some of my observations, as well as the obvious ones like height, gender and age.

It became clear to me at this tournament that I should back off taking in this kind of information. I am not Sherlock Holmes. My assumptions are not always correct.

For example: There was a young man in my pool wearing an FIE uniform with slight indications of wear, and good and slightly worn fencing shoes. His name on the back of his jacket was slightly faded. I would fence him first in pools and would not get to see him fence prior to that. I suspected he might be an experienced fencer. He wasn’t.

I made an assumption about another fencer in my pool who bowed like he was at a Renaissance festival after saluting. (Once in a while you see some guy that does this sort of thing in local tournaments. I have no idea why!) My assumption was, “OH boy!...A gift….I am going to beat the tar out of this guy.” I did. So far, this assumption has yet to be wrong.

I fenced a couple of times at a club in Las Vegas. The head coach was the former coach for Notre Dame. A quote of his was on a sign hanging in that club. It said, “The answer is on the strip.” I need to remind myself that the information needed is on the strip. I will not quit playing Sherlock Holmes. I like it too much. However, I will remember that he was a fictional character who was almost always correct. I must remember that information I gather prior to fencing someone is an assumption and not to put too much stock in it.

One Other Thing

I noticed in this tournament, that the majority of touches I scored were simple direct attacks, mainly stealing distance, an opponent without a good sense of distance, and counters. Lately, I have spent a lot of time working on various attacks, setting up attacks. I think my “takes” and parry/riposte are not bad, and I like using them. However, in this tournament they rarely “felt” like the right thing to do. An opponent's arm would be too stiff, a new fencer who did weird things that made me question if an action would work on them. There were good fencers who kept the distance open. Some had a long lunge and a fast recovery, and I felt out of distance. I just never felt that I should use some of the things I have been working on or use actions I feel most comfortable doing. I have always heard that simple actions are best, but I felt like something was wrong with what I am doing. I don’t know why I fenced this way. I don’t know if it was the correct thing to do. Maybe I am just overthinking it.


cobalt said...

The difference is that Holme's ego never allowed the people he was observing to get in his head. As mentioned, you can find out a lot more by taking the same process and apply it to watching them on strip. Of course, sometimes they're lying there too.(Good fencers hide their skill levels in low level matches so that their future opponents don't learn much. They'll even throw in false weaknesses.)

But yeah, "want to be" faire boys deserve to get taken out...hard. If there is any bout where humiliation touches come in, this is it. Kind of an intervention regarding social behavior.

Now regarding the fencing, sometimes certain skills don't apply in various bouts. The trick is getting familiar enough with them in order to know when they do apply. But I will say this. If someone's arm is stiff. That's an IDEAL occasion to take their blade(Literally, the WHOLE arm will go with them...I've made some people look pretty ridiculous when they do this. Won't lie, kinda fun. You can even throw their weapon across the room if they're holding it tightly enough)

knave said...

I agree with you about Jeremy Brett, though I did think Robert Downey Jr. did a pretty good job in the recent movie.

Some of the more useful advice I've gotten about watching other fencers was from Jen: Look for the tempo of their attacks. Learn what you will need to do to match it, win the attack, and take their attack away.

A little saber specific, but I think focusing on the tempo fencers favor, more than specific actions, is quite valuable.

cobalt said...

Actually, I'd go as far as saying that advice regarding the tempo is even more applicable in epee then it is in sabre.

Your biggest help this past weekend is that you didn't try to go as fast as some of the kids do. And quite a few of them paid for it.