Changing China

Giant on the move

My bruising experience training for Beijing

August 11, 2008

gelu.jpgWhen I joined a fencing club in June, I just wanted to learn about a sport I would cover for the
first time at the Beijing Games
. Then a grandmother thrashed me in my first bout, bruising more than just my ego.

I used to fool around with a plastic sword as a kid, pretending I was d’Artagnan, so I figured I was well primed for a promising amateur career in this low-profile sport.

My first disappointment at the fencing club in Hellerup, a suburb of Copenhagen, was not being allowed to try the sabre — seen by some as cooler than the other two weapons, epee and foil, because it is derived from the cavalry sword and allows slashing hits as well as thrusts.

My coach, Mads Eriksen, said that weapon was too complex for a novice, so I was assigned the epee, where the rules are easy: just poke any part of the opponent’s body and you score a point.

Of course, it’s important that your epee be the same length as your adversary’s. Apparently I had not considered this when I unwittingly selected a weapon meant for 12-year olds.

At least the sight of me ‘en garde’ with a stunted epee gave everyone in the room a reason to start the training session with a good laugh.

I continued to provide humour material when I promptly lost my first match to a grandmother. Granted, Sara is a young grandmother, but her daughter has a daughter, so there was no denying it: I lost to a grandmother, and badly.

Sara said the 15-10 thrashing had been her first win in months at the club. Her epee also gave me the first of many bruises that were to pepper the right side of my body during my time at the club.

I never managed to win a match in my short tenure there but at least it’s given me real appreciation for the skill of the fencers I’m watching here.

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