Knowing where to put your feet

"What you need to do," she said, "is move your back foot to the left, just a bit."


About a month ago, I started fencing again. It had been a little more than two years since I had trained at all, and a little more than three that I had trained with any real degree of rigor. I'd been injured, I'd been busy, I'd been in a place where getting to a good club was a huge hassel. But I had missed it, a lot. And there's something about seeing people that you've trained with, seeing your coach at the Olympics and on the medal podium that makes you think.

I'm better than I was a month ago - in better shape, starting to be able to remember what to do without having to think about it, but in the grand scheme of things, I still have a lot of catching up to do. And I want to compete, so last night I started taking private lessons again.

It was basic stuff. Building blocks. Judging distance and lengthening my lunge. Making the action of my blade smaller when I parried or disengaged. Lessons were always tricky for me, because I'm a perfectionist who is very self-critical, so even though this is the place where you get to make mistakes, I used to not react well to doing so. I'd get tense, which is not helpful when you're trying to move with any degree of fluidity. I'd get so angry with my failings that I couldn't learn. But last night, I didn't. I could put my brain into the mode of "what do I do to fix this" rather than "Oh, God, I fucked up again. They'll think I'm an idiot. I'll never be good." It was a good lesson.

It became a great lesson, at the end, when Kate told me to adjust my feet. I'd been dropping the tip of my blade all night. I was landing on target, I'd adjust my hand position after, but the position of my weapon meant that I my effective distance was shorter. I'm a tall woman, but not a tall fencer. I don't need to give away distance. I adjusted my footwork, and suddenly my lunge was stronger, and faster. My blade did what it was supposed to. I ended my lesson feeling strong and competent.


Part of the reason that I love to fence is that it helps my writing. First of all, it's doing something that reminds me that I have a body, and not just a brain. Aside from the exercise benefits, it's good, I think, for writers to fully inhabit their skin. But it also makes me be clearer, more precise.

I think last night was the first time I realized that my writing has helped my fencing, too. I'm more confident, which helps me cope with mistakes. And it's become easier to think of practice as a draft, my coaches like beta readers. A mistake doesn't mean failure. And even though you have the skills, the best thing in the world is someone who can show you how to use them better.