Everyone in my squad has their own bad habits in fencing. I don’t mean that we’re a team of nose-pickers and zit-squeezers (although, who knows?). I mean that despite all the time we spend in training, there’s a bunch of tired fencing clichés we revert to when we’re going hell-for-leather.
One person has an aversion to stepping forward, while another never does a flèche (which means ‘arrow’). Others don’t like going the end of the piste, and as for me, I don’t parry six in the heat of battle. When I do manage to close the distance I will sometimes freeze, while my flèche, (which should look like the dynamic figure above) looks less like a glorious Art Deco figure and more like a sack of old spuds falling off the back of a ute.
No-one trained me to do giant steps instead of tiny ones, or bunch my non-fencing hand into an angry fist. Yet just as the time comes to capitalise on 2 seconds of pure animal cunning, my nerve (and training) fails me and I’ll run away faster than the knights from the killer bunny rabbit in Holy Grail.
So where do these bad habits come from? When and why did they become ingrained?
For most people, the older they get the more fearful and aware of their own mortality they become. So when you consider that fencing is basically putting on protective gear and having people repeatedly whomp at your face with heavy weaponry, doing it seems counter-intuitive to someone who gets a little bit pukey looking down from the 9th floor of my building.
The little kids at my club are fine with the whomping; they don’t turn a hair. As for me, I have to fight every natural urge to run for the hills.
One of my particularly bad habits is doing a ½ lunge (because I don’t want to commit to a full one), wildly missing the target, then bouncing back and re-setting the distance, just when I gained the advantage. It is my signature cowardly move! People see it coming hours in advance, which is why I have so many impressive bruises on my left arm.
When I do my dramatic lunge-with-a-miss, instinct tells me to jump back off the lunge. I feel completely exposed with my arm presented as a big white target so close to my opponent.
In some situations, however, it’s much smarter to stay put. It takes every cell in one’s body to resist the urge to recover from a long lunge with the arm stuck out like a semaphore flag, but there are a lot of things you can do:
- Remise (step the back foot in and lunge anew)
- Remise and flèche (same as above, and run for it)
- Parry riposte (in six, four, counter, prime, anything I fancy)
Novice fencers are still groping their way towards these options. Most of us jab away desperately after a failed attack, both trying to make a touch at close range without getting hit first. This usually results in hysterical cackling then wails of defeat (which I have to admit is not very Princess Bride-ish).
In so many ways goddamn fencing is like goddamn writing: you have do the same thing millions of times before it sinks in; you have to confront all your deep-seated fears; and you’ve got to square off with all your bad habits.