Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Fencing: Changing My Game

I watched the womens' sabre sweep - very nice moment with President Bush 41st (never thought I'd be nostalgic for that guy) giving one of the athletes his hanky. I used to fence sabre so this was very interesting to see. I noticed that the USA women were very aggressive, more agressive than the competition. They controlled the action by attacking, and made the other women react - that's how you win at sabre!

In the last couple of years, despite my natural aggression, I've been more of an epee fencer. I found a partner here at work and we fight on mondays. We typically go for about 40 minutes without counting touches, and then race to ten. The rules of epee don't favor the agressor so much - in sabre if both fencers are hit, the one who started the action gets a point. In epee, both get a point. So epee is more of a mental game: hit without being hit. More like a duel. Honor means putting yourself at risk, but the important thing is to come home alive.

For me, this makes sabre (at least the way I learned it) sabre-jitsu. I'm trying to learn epee-do.

After wathcing the mens' individual epee matches online (available here) I could see very clearly that these guys have The Way. How else can one know when to leap flat out, get the touch, and not be hit in return? That reminded me very much of another sword art: iaido. Draw and cut in an instant, and strike first. That is the defense. For a great example of this, see the duel in the beginning of Seven Samurai. The one where they start out with wooden bokken, and the loudmouth calls it a draw, but the Samurai says "No, I won." They do the exact same thing again with real katana - and the loudmouth dies.

If you don't have a copy of Seven Samurai, watch The Magnificent Seven. The equivalent scene is James Coburn bringing a knife to a gunfight- and winning. THAT is iaido.

So, how did I do? Well, I made enough attacks in the practice period that I got hit a lot - my opponent even commented on how I was open for the counterattack and the stop-thrust.

"Yes, I know," I told him, "I'm forcing you to teach me how to attack properly."

He taught me enough: I was first to ten touches this week, with some margin. More important, the attacks felt good. There is a moment when it is too early to attack, and the moment after that it's already too late. In between there is time for attack - and if you notice with your mind that it is time, it's already too late. When it happens right, when your blade is bent on the opponent's chest before you realize that you've struck, there is a moment of purity of the soul.

Then you realize, "I scored!" and with that, the moment is ruined.

That is Do... you cannot grasp it, but sometimes it can be reached.

This post is More Truth than I Can Handle.

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