Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Duel of Bouts

6:50 PM

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The pointed tip of the toy sword narrowly misses my ear and hits the wall behind me with a CLANK. The screaming rage of a six year-old engulfs my hearing and with a racing heart I think, “What is it that I’ve gotten myself into?” Agreeing to swordfight with my kid brother probably wasn’t the best decision but, in the blazing heat of that May afternoon, there wasn’t a lot else for my ten year-old self to do. He points the “sword” to my neck and revelling in his victory, gloats, “I WON THE DUEL! You won’t ever beat a tough boy like me.” He was a scrawny kid who donned cardboard armour and yelled as he wielded his sword about. “Yep,” I thought to myself, “I’m never gonna try sword fighting ever again.” Little did I know that, almost six years later, I would find myself in a similar situation.

A few weeks shy of my second semester at university, I was given the opportunity to choose the PE course to take up for the semester. As nothing else matched my schedule, I had to settle for Fencing. “Meh,” I muttered with a sigh of defeat, “It probably won’t be too hard. If I flail my arms about enough I’ll probably get passing marks.” I remembered that sword fight I had with my little brother and smirked to myself. Perhaps someday, I would challenge him to another duel and he’d find himself surprised.

Walking into class, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. At the back of my head, I held an image of fencing as a more modern form of sword fighting. I imagined there would be students suited in metal armor screaming in rage as their broadswords clashed against one another. Instead of battling to the death however, they would just keep going at it until someone passed out or surrendered. This image was completely disproven during the briefing though.

The coach familiarized us with the gear and swords to be used. The armor was not metal crafted with different patterns and styles. It was actually a plain white zip-up suit made of a thick cloth. The sword was not a broadsword. Its body was rather slender and the sword itself was called foil. There were definite rules to follow and we couldn’t just lash our swords at each other.

We didn’t jump into battling against each other right away. We had to master the basics first. We spent an awful lot of time working on our footwork. Advance. Retreat. Advance. Retreat. Lunge. Jump. Lunge. Advance. Retreat. All the footwork practice felt like a sort of dance. In my case, the dance was reminiscent of a baby deer learning to walk for the first time.

I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t much good. Frustration would well up in my chest each meeting as I stumbled and felt massive cramps around my thighs. After a few sessions, however, I began to notice that I'd grown more agile. Little by little, the footwork came more naturally and didn’t seem like too much of a chore.

We also had to work on our grip but the exercise didn’t really take up as much time as the footwork. In no time, we were able to get our hands on the foil. We had to familiarize ourselves with the different “moves” we could use against our opponents. We practiced by jabbing at a board that had thick “cubes” of cloth attached to it. Extend. Lunge. Parry. Riposte. Feint. Extend. Repeating all those moves did help with reflex and mastery but it made everything feel quite robotic and menial. Luckily, after a few meetings, we began our bouts (apparently, the sword fights were called bouts and not duels).

The bouts of course, were the highlight of my fencing experience. I was rather giddy when the coach told us we would finally be going against each other. Being one of the more “fun sized” students in the class, I assumed that my height would be a disadvantage. I was proven wrong.

I remember watching a girl, who was slightly tinier than me, go against a boy who was about a foot and a half taller than her. Her technique was brilliant and she was quick on her feet. Whenever she would advance or lunge at the guy a whooshing sound could be heard. She ended up being the champion of the girls’ division in class. I, however, wasn’t nearly as graceful.

I ended up losing more bouts than winning. That was fine by me as the entire experience was quite fun. I’ve had quite a lot of slip-ups but all that made the bouts more memorable. On my first bout, I ended spraying too much alcohol into my helmet that it vaporized in the helmet while I was wearing it. My vision was blurred and I couldn’t see a single thing. Should I attack? Should I retreat, parry and riposte? To hell with it! My eyes are burning and I can’t see a damn thing! I ended up wielding my foil all over and flailing my arms about. My grip on the foil was so tight my hand cramped and the normally light foil felt like it weighed a ton. My chest guard was a little loose and it sagged down slightly. With my luck, I ended up being stabbed in the very area it was meant to protect. I ended my first bout with a loss, burning red eyes, a bruise, and a hand seemingly stuck in a grip formation.

I made a million more mistakes but I did learn from them eventually. I felt my way around and learned which combination of moves would most likely hit a certain opponent. I was more agile on my feet and learned to avoid advances. I won some bouts (and lost a couple more) and the coach said I’d developed a pretty good technique. I found myself enjoying waters I told myself I would never tread before. Fencing definitely wasn’t something I imagined I would get myself into but I am quite glad that I tested the waters and eventually dove in.

Perhaps someday I'll challenge my brother to another “duel.” He’s definitely in for a surprise.

Article by Pat
Art by Yanna

Pat is a 17 year-old muggle in her second year at university. In her spare time, she likes to list down the things she should be doing and not actually doing them. Her hobbies include binge watching TV shows, scrolling through tumblr, and, when left alone at home, dressing in drag and doing the hula.
Yanna is an aspiring wizard who enjoys doodling, longboarding, reading and writing. She is also a huge fan of anything Studio Ghibli, although she has yet to watch much of Hayao Miyazaki's films because most of her dvds are pirated. Although she is initially quiet and maybe even serious, those who get to know her will see just how optimistic and weird she really is.


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