Like any fencer at a competition, I study my opponents. Although his stance seems a bit "thin" for an epeeist--perhaps a holdover from foil--it will make any attacks to his torso more difficult. He moves quickly and with precision, so our bout will probably be a distance game. His reach seems slightly shorter than mine, which will be to my advantage if I can keep any ground against his foot work.
I hear my name called 'on deck' as I gather my equipment--mask, gloves, weapon... The bout already in progress proceeds as the two fencers clash.
The Director calls, and I take my place. Another fencer hooks me up and I test my weapon. A few moments pass as I collect the last of my prepatory thoughts and review the opening gambit I devised.
"Test your weapons," states the Director. Excellent, I can hear this Director. Sheepish, quiet Directors are common and often impossible to hear with my mask on. I present my bell as my opponent tests his weapon.
Stepping back, mask in hand, I salute.
"Fencers ready." The director doesn't question--she states. I reply "Ma'am" and my opponent must have nodded since the director barked flattly "Fence."
A moment passes as we stare across those few meters. He steps closer. I cross over and we are at close range. I attempt pris de fer to open his hand to an attack. I extend for his hand and duck my head slightly--a feint attack to cover the movement of my back leg. Better than I feared, he responds with a half-step retreat, deceives my pris de fer and disregards the feint by not parrying. I continue my attack by lunging and attempting to score on his upper arm.
In an instant I realize my error. My pris de fer failed to gain control of his blade. I had anticipated that he would parry my feint attack giving me some measure of control during this exchange. Instead, his point tracks my hand as if there's a string tied to it. I abandon the target of his upper arm for which I started and change lines. His point passes over my hand and he immediately diverts his stop hit to my mask. Like something you'd read in a text book about how to stop hit a lunging attacker (and I even read that section,) his point lands in the middle of my mask. My attack slops onto the floor while his foot is long gone.
"Oh, that was real good." I think. "Maybe I should also send him a self-addressed stamped envelope next time I invite him to score."
We center up and stand en garde. "Fencers ready." We acknowledge. "Fence."
It is time to change tactics. The 'jump him before he sees it coming' tactic goes in the garbage can of dumb ideas. "Foot work."--I'll try meeting him on his own terms.
Truly good foot work is a magnificent weapon. Bad foot work looks like Dumbo trying his hand at tap-dancing. Sometimes I feel like that Dumbo tap dancing about on the piste. However, this bout is not one of those times. The exchanges go back and forth (mostly back) as I try to hold on to all those quarters of inches he keeps stealing. "Keep pressure on his hand," I think, "Don't let him feel he can extend safely." It probably doesn't look like either of us cares where we are on the piste, but I know he's watching as close as I. It feels as if eight years have elapsed, but its probably more like eight seconds. Eight seconds is a drop in the bucket compared to the five minutes we have.
Beat. Beat. Hmm... He seems to hate that! Terrific, something I can use against him. Beat down, and an expulsion to the right. I can see his hand tensing as the point of his weapons edges higher. He withdraws his guard slightly--the wrong response--and his bell raises a bit. I feint a sharp beat (and he twitches his blade toward the beat). I do believe I see his hand exposed. My squared-up stance gives me about three feet of reach if I want it. A simple extension passes the point of my blade neatly under his bell.
"Halt." calls the Director as the scoring machine confirms the obvious. "Now that's a bit more like it," I think.
Again we center up and stand en garde. "Fencers ready." "Fence."
He starts as if he were coming out the blocks at a track meet. I must admit that his is a very nice fleche. Unfortunately for him I feel as if someone told me about in advance. I parry, volte and riposte stiffly to his ribs. "See ya!" my mind screams as he flys by to my left.
"Halt." That touch wasn't subtle. We return to the center. "Fencers ready." "Fence."
We both advance immediately. A few simple attacks offer no threat either way as we settle down to watch and study for a few moments. A few attacks from him test my low and high lines, but nothing very threating appears--he's just testing. This is the tricky part. Shall I fully defend all of his attacks (knowing that they are mostly overgrown feints) and show him my defense? Or shall I take the edge off of my defense and risk a surprise attack? What is he thinking? Can I take advantage of his relative inactivity while he thinks? Do I have time to think about whether he's thinking about what I'm thinking about?? My brain ticks.
I feint his hand and slam a beat or two into his bell. But his reaction is much more controlled this time. "Interesting, improvement during the bout..." I think as my brain ticks onward. Let's offer him some bait; I work his hand some more and loosen up my gaurd. I wonder if he can tell bait from poor--
He goes for the bait--goes for my hand. But there is a reason why it is called 'bait.' I parry and riposte. Around go the blades and my riposte lands on his forearm as he deceives my parry. I'm left watching his deceive (in progress) catch me in the ribs. Although there's only one-twentieth of a second in which an opponent can score after being scored upon, this is an eternity when you see that touch coming.
"Halt." "Double touch." Sometimes you actually forget about the Director until she speaks. Although I scored, so did he.
"Fencers ready." "Fence."
We continue working on distance. Unfortunately, the ground is going in his favor as he attacks with renewed energy. Every attack or feint which I present is summarily parried or expelled and I see the warning line beneath me. I have reached the point where 'retreat' is no longer a viable defense. I must make my stand here. He makes a simple attack for my arm which had wandered out of its proper guard (I guess it was heading for the car thinking we were done for.) Somehow I manage to parry his attack with one of those whistle-through-air (ie, REALLY bad) parries. In the process I gave up the last of my distance and rotated my shoulders square across the strip. Half of me panics and wonders where he's going to score. Taking advantage of my stance, I fling all of the reach in my arm and shoulders at his head and he backs off a step. That doesn't really buy any time or distance, but at least now I have the room for a proper gaurd. I lunge for his upper arm. He slips in defense. His slip is an ineffective defense for high-line attacks but his extension finds my mask just as my point flicks his left shoulder.
"Halt!" We center up. "Fencers ready."
"Score Ma'am" he blurts out.
"Oh come on, its 4 to 3 my way. How can you NOT know that." I think in agitation.
"4 to 3," she says. "Ready." "Fence."