The bib bites it

This weekend, I did an all-too-rare thorough cleaning of my fencing mask.


Lining – out. Strap and bib – off. All cleaned.

And I’m glad I did so, because …



Which is, um, unsafe.

And there’s no way I would have noticed this with the normal daily pull-on, pull-off of the mask. It was only because I was trying to soak the build up of sweat and floor-grime out of it that it was discovered.

I don’t even know how long it’s been like that — I can’t remember the last time it has been given a thorough safety inspection. Such inspections don’t happen in the UK, and world cups are more concerned about the conductivity of the bib than the safety of the mask.

Until one fails catastrophically, of course.

And I can’t help but wonder why there’s a seam in that particular place. I realise that seams must exist somewhere, but they are necessarily weak points in a fencing outfit’s protection. They should be better placed.

Check your kit regularly, kids. Yours could be next.

Ankles and paperwork

En route to a very average result at the Slough Open yesterday, I twisted my ankle.


Which isn’t much of a story. It wasn’t a bad sprain, and I don’t even think it affected the quality of my fencing. But, given a twisted ankle, I walked (gingerly) towards the part of the room that had a big sign that read

First Aid

And I asked for a bag of ice. Because that’s what you do when you turn your ankle: apply ice.

They only had ice packs, which they couldn’t give away, so I was stuck sitting in the first aid room for the duration of my “treatment”. Which constituted holding a cold pack against my ankle.

And they asked me questions.

Did I lose consciousness? (No, I twisted my ankle.)
Do I have a history of heart disease or stroke? (Seriously. I just want some ice.)

And on. And on.

Every question, it seemed, that could be related to any type of emergency they might respond to, had at least one question. And they all had to be asked, no matter how little they would apply to a sprained ankle. And all the answers had to be recorded on a form, in triplicate.

The list of questions on the form was sufficiently long that I was still being asked questions after we took the ice of my ankle, after ten minutes.

Now, it has been about ten years since I last found myself on the receiving end of first aid (if that’s what you want to call asking them for a bag of ice), but when did this bullshit start? Is it a British thing? A St. John’s Ambulance thing? Something that started in the last decade?

Are people really so worried about liability over a missed symptom, that they need to ask somebody with a twisted ankle about their heart condition?

What gives?

A Commonwealth Hurdle

Previously, on the Big Bad Blog: I set fencing goals. One of these goals is named Largs.

Today, I may have been pushed a step away from being able to say “Largs, I am in you.” The Canadian Fencing Federation has published their various selection criteria. Criterias. Criteriae. Criteria. Whatever.

It says this about my (hopeful) friend Largs:

e) 2014 Commonwealth Fencing Championships

Date: November 10-15, 2014
Location: TBA, Scotland
Selection Date: TBA once competition details are known
CFF HPP Performance Objective: 100% medal return per event entered

Selection Criteria

Selection criteria will be published as soon as more details regarding the event are known

So I still do not know what I need to do to qualify. But it does contain a warning:

100% medal return per event entered

Great Britain is pretty strong in my event, men’s foil. And Great Britain gets to enter teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s a total of four teams and twenty fencers, in an event that will feature four individual (they do a joint third place award for the losers of the semifinal) and three team medals.

To be sure, the twenty fencers will not feature the top twenty ranked UK fencers — there’s even a chance that the very best ones will not compete — but I can make a fairly reliable statement:

I am not a likely medalist in this field.

For all that it doesn’t count towards anybody’s Olympic dreams and excludes any countries with reputations for great fencing, it is a championship that includes two jurisdictions (Canada and Great Britain) in which I have competed and not won a medal at a championship-level event.

Just check out these fencers. There are over a dozen people in this list that I’ve beaten over the years, but I have only ever beat one of the top 10. And that wasn’t even in an actual competition.

Also, “over a dozen” can also be read as “less than half”. (Although, in my defense, I think I’ve only fenced half these people. So it’s more than half of the ones I have fenced.)

(But it’s not much more than half.)

(And I don’t have a perfect record against most of them.)

(And the ones I do have a perfect record against, I’ve mostly only fenced them once.)


What I’m trying to say is that, if the British turn out in force (which they might, given that this is a championship held in their own country), the likelihood of my stringing together a sufficiently large string of victories to find myself in possession of a medal will become quite remote.

And have I mentioned I’ll be 38?

I’ll be 38.

(That’s not one of those magic ages at which fencers tend to post their best-ever results, in case you were wondering.)

So while Canada might very well provide a qualification path that I can manage, I have difficulty identifying how my inclusion is likely to contribute towards a goal of 100% medal return per event entered.

Unless they think they can walk away with a team medal, and need an alternate. I could totally do that.

The knee, fencing, and the future

So I have what is known in the WordPress parlance as a “category”, called Fencing. It’s right up there, last in the list of “Topics” (my word). Last update, before today: September, 2011.

That was a while ago.


The category exists because fencing spent a long time as a big part of my life. I fenced at least three times a week, almost every week, for over fifteen consecutive years. I’m a trained coach and referee, though I haven’t been active at either of those things for years. Ten years ago, during the competitive season, it would not be uncommon for me to be involved in fencing seven days a week for several weeks straight. Evenings spent either training or training others. Weekends spent in gyms, competing or refereeing or coaching.

All this bled over into my non-fencing time. I would read about fencing, or watch video of fencing in my spare time. Many of my friends were fencers, and conversation would often, naturally, turn to our common pastime. And, of course, quiet moments would often be spent thinking about fencing.

Times change. Evenings and weekends are difficult to give up to the sport with a two-year-old daughter. Coaching would require too many of my evenings, and a proper competitive schedule too many of my weekends. The treatment of referees in British Fencing is lousy (in comparison to Canada), and drove me away from refereeing.

And then there’s work, which sends me away from my fencing club for days or weeks at a time.

Fencing drops from the mind under these circumstance, and the relative frequency of my posts about fencing reflect that — with the turning of the year, I have been considering dropping the category from the blog altogether. It may still happen.

But we have this one post left.


The knee

I still fence, of course. But less frequently.

In theory, my schedule is to practice at the club one night a week, and attend a competition once a month. In reality, I rarely practice more than once a month, and have not attended a competition since July.

At the start of the month, I attended the first practice after the Christmas break. It was exhuasting. And near the end of it, I felt a very sharp pain in my knee. This pain — now a dull throb — has kept me out of fencing for the past few weeks, while forcing me to visit a physiotherapist with the regularity I fail to manage normally.

Conversations with my physiotherapist unerringly circle around getting me back into fencing. Which embarrasses me, due to my recent history of failure to fence according to my planned schedule. The trouble, I think, is that I no longer have goals in terms of fencing.

Truth be told, I have never had a conscious goal with my fencing, but they have always been there. Winning my first medal. Winning my first tournament. Qualifying for the University championships. Qualifying for the National championships. Winning the University championships. Not all goals are achieved, but they don’t have to be.

There were always tournaments in the calendar that had meaning. There were rankings lists — provincial or national — that I cared about. For me. For the people I coached. Unspoken targets. Unclear targets. But I was trying to achieve something; each practice, each tournament, worked towards those goals.

After my first year or so in London, this ceased to be the case. I continued to fence, because it was fun. And I preferred to win. But my participation in the sport became aimless.

National ranking? It hardly matters – I’m not British, and it means so little. I cannot qualify for anything through the rankings, nor can I get sufficiently ranked to be too good for any tournaments. It simply does not matter.

Performance at a particular tournament? None of them have any history to me. There is no special meaning or connection. I’m not allowed to compete at a championship. There’s nothing to qualify for. It’s simply meaningless.


The Future

Rehab has convinced me that I need to get back to fencing a bit more seriously, albeit perhaps not with the same all-time-consuming manner as I did ten years ago.

And reflection has convinced me that I need a target, if I am to be successful. It does not have to be well-defined, but it must be there.

So here are my goals. Stated publicly, so I cannot shirk them:

The first gives me a not-too-far-away thing to train towards.

I’m not sure what I need to do to qualify — possibly nothing, truth be told — but I might need to have a sufficiently high Canadian ranking. Which would require that I fence an event or two in Canada. And do sufficiently well at them that one or two results will suffice.

Or I might need to show sufficiently good comparative results at British tournaments. Or Satellite FIE tournaments.

At the very least, I’d like my fencing not to be embarrassing.

Realistically, there will be some strong British fencers in attendance, and then-38-year-old-me has little chance of winning a medal. But it will be the first time I’ve had a chance to fence in a Championship since leaving Canada, and I look forward to it.

There might be qualifying criteria. I may fall short of these. But not all goals are reached.

The real target is the one four years later.

I’ll be over 40, and will qualify for the Veteran category. As one of the younger people in that category, I might stand a real chance of winning something. I won’t be someone pushing 40, trying to compete with people working towards Olympic qualification. There are no real excuses.

If I train. If I’m in good shape. If I’m able to read situations, and fence intelligently. If I have gotten back into the habit of training and fencing to win, instead of just for fun. If, if, if and if … I could win something. All factors within my control.

And now it’s been said publicly.

We will see if this fencing “category” continues to gather dust.