In which I wear a sieve on my head, no shoes on my feet and learn ever more new and interesting ways in which to assault people.
When I am not traveling or trying to survive bathrooms and shopping (although I concede to Rachel Sterrett’s point that Irish bathrooms have nothing on the Chinese for sheer dodginess) I also need other things to do to keep me from throwing eggs at people’s houses. One such activity for keeping me off the Garda’s hit list is fencing. This was a new endeavor for me, since I intended to try at least one new activity during my time at UL. Most people are familiar with fencing terms like “en garde” and “touche” but I learned quite a bit more than that in just a few weeks and even ended up attending a competition!
There are three different sword types in fencing: foil, epee and sabre. The UL fencing club practices epee (pronounced EH-pay) so that’s the style I learned. Fencing gear is called “kit” and consists of padded breeches, jacket, and glove; the sieve-like mask, long socks and a chest protector if you happen to be female. In training sessions, we donned our kit and began with warm-ups that could be anything from jumping jacks to a game involving trying to nab the gloves from each other’s pockets. We then proceeded to footwork or bladework and would usually end with some free fencing. Sometimes we also got to use “the box,” the electronic fencing scorer. The scorers have long, flexible tethers connected to a wire that runs inside the fencer’s jacket and plugs into the bell of the epee so that the scorer registers when the tip makes a hit. So fencers at competition look rather like leashed dogs or toddlers.
The competition was rather intimidating at first, but ended up being a lot of fun. I came early both days to help set up the scorers and stayed for some of the men’s competition on the first day to cheer on other club members. On the second day, the women’s competition, it was a funny thing that as soon as I got on the piste (the strip fencers have their bouts on) the whole thing seemed to get a lot easier and I did even better than I usually had done at practice. As one of the guys said, “The main thing when you are fencing people who have a lot more experience than you is to not get beaten like a cheap rug.” I’m proud to say that I was at least a slightly more upscale rug in this case. I applied all the parries (deflecting an attack) and ripostes (counterattack) that we’d learned in training and my team ended up placing second out of the four women’s teams. Our final match was very close, but the opposing team’s lefty seemed to get the better of us. Left-handed fencers are an odd breed. I wasn’t sure the competition was a good idea at first, but I’m glad I went and got a chance to use my new art.
Aside from learning French swordfighting, I also joined the UL Tae Kwon Do club to keep in shape a little for when I head back home. Training is usually run by Mr. Will Power, who is head instructor at a nearby do jang. The sessions are a little longer and more intense than I’m used to since there are no little kids to worry about here. Other than that, the techniques are pretty much the same, which was nice at the beginning of the semester when everything else was so strange and unfamiliar. I tried to go to training sessions two or three times a week. A couple of things are different here: some of the forms I know aren’t included in this do jang’s regime and there’s a lot more punching involved in the sparring. The forms were no problem, but the allowance of punching to the face got me a sore nose several times since I wasn’t used to guarding my head against hand attacks. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I suppose.
This week we had a “fight night” demo in the courtyard of the student pub. We came out to demonstrate some of our techniques and style along with the UL Krav Maga, Judo and Jiujitsu clubs. We were the only ones breaking boards though (Mr. Power broke several with his head) so I am pretty sure stuff was the most crowd-pleasing. People love the flashy stuff, of course. I didn’t love walking around in the courtyard with no shoes on, especially knowing how common it is to find broken bottles on the ground around here. But the whole thing went on well and I didn’t get glass stuck in my feet, which is always a plus.