Saturday, 23 April 2016

I must be mad, the voices say...

I can't remember if I've mentioned this here before - since I've been having a bad fit of laxity and not blogging much lately, probably not.  Back in January, I took up fencing.

I'm not very good, I've only won three bouts so far and every week I come home from the club with a new set of bruises.  But I'm loving it.  So a few weeks ago, in a fit of I-know-not-what kind of insanity, I put my name down for a Novices' Foil competition.  It's just a friendly, between London Saxons, the club I've joined, and Brunel University.  It's tomorrow.

I'm now neck-deep in nerves.  I have literally never done any kind of sporting contest in my life before.  Back in my schooldays I was always one of the last people to be picked for anything - team captains would choose almost anyone else before me.  I was overweight and short-sighted and clumsy, I couldn't run and I couldn't throw, hit or catch a ball.  I let the side down in PE every single week.  When I was finally able to stop doing Games at the age of fifteen, I cut up my PE shirt ceremonially for cleaning rags.

I realised back in the autumn that I needed to find some way of getting more exercise, and began looking for something I would actually enjoy enough to be motivated to keep it up.  Since all the problems with running, throwing etc still persist, and I still cringe at the memory of my competitive streak being crushed by Miss Goldsmith yelling "You're not trying!" at me week after week while I tried my bloody damnedest, I looked for something where I wouldn't be part of a team, and would be able to measure against myself.  And where I wouldn't need to hit, throw, run, etc.

Managed most of it.  I do have to hit; but a person, not a ball.

The other club members are friendly, and by taking my shyness firmly in hand each week I have managed to start getting to know some of them a bit.  Most of them are much sportier types than me, but they are all very pleasant people, and although I'm not the rugby-going or rugby-playing sort I feel welcomed by those who are, which is a first.  And the fencing itself, I love.

It's hard to explain.  It's a whole-body, whole-mind sport.  I have to be completely focussed on the moment; I have to be working on technique, posture, balance, speed, strength and agility, and also thinking tactically, and trying to second-guess my opponent's tactics, and respond to what is happening when I have just a split second to see and analyse their moves.  Mostly I get it wrong.  But every failure teaches me something, and I come away each week totally exhilerated.  Exhausted, yes; running in sweat and aching all over.  But so happy I'm walking on air.

So, this contest.  All my inner voices are telling me I must have lost my marbles, whatever was I thinking of, etc.  I never compete.  I never sign-up for anything like this.  What on earth possessed me?

I know they are the voices of nervousness, because I'm doing something new.  I know that letting that kind of formless, past-experience-exaggerating anxiety get the better of me is self-defeating and dangerous.  I know it isn't madness to have done this.  But I'm still terribly tense about it.

My last bout on Thursday was with a fencer with over a year's more experience than me, and I came within a couple of hits of beating her.  She congratulated me at the end of the bout on how much I've improved.  It was the best possible encouragement before this contest, and I came away feeling full of light and ready for anything.  That is the feeling I need to remember tomorrow.

I am just a beginner still;  I will be knocked out in the first round.  But if I can score a few hits and learn something from the experience of competing than I will have achieved more than I've ever done in any sport; I will have taken part in an actual honest-to-god competition.  Me, taking part.  And that is a victory in itself.

Wish me luck!

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