Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Fencing Update

I realized that I never followed up on the whole fencing thing. For those who care, continue reading, otherwise, skip to the next post.

In short: My first bout felt so good. God, I missed fencing. I felt so free! Everything else just flies right out of my mind and there is nothing but me, my blade, and my opponent.

After the first bout, the reality that I suck set in. I was never a great fencer to begin with, and now not only have I not fenced for ages, but I was fencing a different weapon. Sucks to be me! Of course, I keep telling myself that "it's just for fun" but still, getting creamed is not fun. I did manage to score points here and there but I don't know how or why. A combination of a little skill, a lot of luck, and my opponents happening to lose their concentration at a critical moment.

My knickers being too long was not a problem. As soon as I started fencing, I stopped noticing that. They were actually very comfortable, as is my new jacket, thank God. However, my new epee is a piece of junk! Every time I scored a point it bent back the wrong way, and I had to do that thing where you run it between your sneaker and the floor to get it back to the right kind of curve. Piece of junk! I'm going to write to the manufacturer and complain. I paid a lot of money for that blade.

I did learn that now that I'm doing epee, I really should wear my shoulder protector. I don't mind getting bruised -- I tend to feel proud of my "battle wounds"-- but this time I came home with two pinpoint bruises on my chest and one on my lower arm, and two huge rasberries on my right shoulder. Very unattractive and rather painful.

The problem is that the shoulder protector will add bulk under my jacket, and I'll look really very fat. I suppose if that's my worst problem I'm doing OK. :-)

Oh, and I learned that a sabre is "cherev" (sword) and an epee is a "dekel," and to score a point with an epee is "lidkol," which is also the Hebrew word for "to stab."

OK, the rest of this post is for those who wanted to know more about the club in Jerusalem because you might want to try it; if you aren't in that category, you can skip to the next post.

I'll do this in bullet points because I am in a rush to get a lot done today:

  • The club is frequented mostly by a group of Israeli and Russian-Israeli teenagers, some boys and some girls, who are training for competition. Most of them pretty much ignored me, probably because I'm old and therefore not cool, and because they don't know me yet. However, after the fencing session, two of the girls showed me where the showers and lockers are, and they were very nice to me. One of them is a niece of one of the coaches. It's not that the boys and the other girls were mean, they just ignored me, unless I specifically asked them to bout. When I asked people to bout with me, they did. They didn't talk to me, maybe because they didn't realize that I speak some Hebrew, but they did bout with me.
  • There was also a Haredi man there, an American who made aliyah 28 years ago. He was the first person to approach me, ask me who I am, and offer to fence with me. He said he goes a couple times a week on a recreational basis.
  • Since the group was small that day, there was no "lining up" or any formal mechanism for determining who bouts with whom. It was informal; you just ask someone "hey, you wanna bout?" and then decide between you whether to bout to 5, 10, or 15 points. They said on busier days there is more formal lining-up, but not much. Everyone sort of rotated around, not in any organized way, to make sure they fenced against a variety of people over the course of the session.
  • My general impression is that the club is very much geared toward the young people who want to try for the Israeli National Team eventually, and anyone who is there recreationally is merely tolerated unless and until you prove that you will be coming often and be a good sport, at which point you become more "one of the group."
  • The coach who was there, Samuil, told me that if I come often then eventually I will get a locker in the room next to the fencing room. The teenage girls told me that they leave the lockers unlocked, but the room in which they are located is open (unlocked) only when there is fencing going on. Other than that the room is locked.
  • I saw Samuil, the coach who was there that night, give short private lessons to 2-3 of the teens. After the session, I asked him how I could arrange to get some lessons, too. It turns out that because of the lovely socialist way the club is run, there really is no mechanism for this. The city pays Samuil a set amount for keeping the club open; he doesn't get paid extra for giving private lessons, nor is he allowed to take extra money from students for this purpose. He said he gives lessons only to the top students. I said "how can I get to the top if I can't get lessons?" but he was right- there's no reason for him to do it any more than he feels like volunteering to do it. However, the teen whose uncle is the other coach told me afterward that the Haredi guy pays her uncle under the table to give him private lessons. So it seems to me that there is a stereotypical Israeli thing going on here -- which is actually the first time I've encountered this-- which is that "learning the ropes" means "learning who you can bribe to get what you want." I certainly don't mind paying more for lessons-- the amount that the Haredi guy is supposedly paying is peanuts compared to what I paid in the States-- and certainly the teachers SHOULD get extra money for private lessons, which is much more difficult for them than just watching a bunch of bouting. In other words, the "just" way for this to work is that the teachers get paid for doing more work, and I don't mind making that happen. I just have to wait until I can figure out the appropriate way to approach the other coach and make it known that I have the means and the desire to make it worth his while . . . (How does this fit into my "dinah d'malchuta dinah" way of life? It doesn't. I'm a hypocrite. Sue me.)
  • The session technically lasts from 5:30 to 8. However, it turns out that really what happens is that everyone gets there at 5:20, changes into their fencing knickers and t-shirts, and from 5:30-5:45 there is a group warm-up. Then everyone goes to the locker room to put on their fencing jackets and get their blades, and there is group bouting from around 6-7:30. Starting around 7:30 people start packing up to shower (there are shower facilities upstairs) and go home.
  • Despite what it says on their website, the club really doesn't have much extra equipment to go around. Samuil said they could accomodate someone whose body is small-to-average. But if someone is very tall or broad, then they have to come with their own equipment.
OK, that's it. If you have any questions, you can email me or ask away in the comments section.

I'm hoping to go again tomorrow and Tuesday. We'll see.

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