My first Division 1 event…gulp.

A new fencing experience is dawning.
A new fencing experience is dawning.

This weekend I’ll be traveling to Richmond, Virginia to compete in two events: Division 1 and 2. I’ve done plenty of Division 2 events and feel ready for this one. I’m excited to see how the new skills I’ve been practicing will work in this event and am confident I will do pretty darn well overall.

Then there’s Division 1.

The thought of competing at this level both excites and terrifies me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been way over my head at an event and I’m genuinely curious to see how well I can perform at this level. Of 114 fencers, I estimate I’ll be seeded somewhere around 109th. Gulp. The “big time” fencers who compete internationally on a regular basis will be there. Double gulp. I will be at least 15 years older than probably 90% of the field. Triple gulp.

So why do it? Why spend the money and time on an event where I might not even make it to the direct elimination round? Here are five reasons.

It will show me the holes in my game. What better way to see what works and what doesn’t than by trying out my skills on some of the best female sabre fencers in the country? I won’t be used to the faster speed (a hole I have already identified) but don’t always get the chance to try out some of my actions. I’ll also get to see if the distance is correct or if it needs some adjustment.

It will make me a better coach. As a coach, I always challenge my students to reach beyond their current level to see what lies ahead. This gives us both the opportunity to see what awaits them in the next age or skill category. I’d better not be asking them to do things I’m not willing to do myself! Also I also won’t be able to coach beyond the beginner or intermediate level until I see the actions that the elite fencers do and learn the tactics at that level.

It will get me out of my comfort zone. I have been competing for about 11 years now and have gotten pretty comfortable at competitions. The last “step up” I had was two years ago when I moved up to the Veteran category. It’ll be good for me to have to do something new and shake things up a little.

It will help me practice mental focus and self-confidence. It takes courage to fence when you know (let’s be realistic here) you’re about to get clobbered. As fencers we run toward danger, not away from it, on a regular basis. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up the mental strength it will take to run into upper-level danger over and over. Will I lose touches because I’m not used to this level of focus? Will I be able to overcome the doubts I’m feeling and put on the show of confidence necessary to do well at this level? The only way to know is to show up and see what happens.

It will make me a better fencer. Sometimes you’ve gotta get your rear-end handed to you in order for you to learn. We encourage our newer SabreCats to practice bouting against the more experienced ones because they won’t improve if they only fence people at their own level. This helps them pick up on actions and concepts that they haven’t “officially” learned in class yet. I hope the “trickle-down effect” will apply to me here and that I’ll come away with some new knowledge and skill. Well, at least the knowledge of what needs to be improved.

More than anything else, my overall goal is to make everyone work for every touch they get on me. I don’t want to simply stand there and get hit. My secondary goal is to use this event as reconnaissance for the next Division 1 NAC in December. By the end of the season my goal is to make the cut into the DE round. These goals sound so basic and just like the ones we tell our beginning fencers at their first tournament: get one touch on everyone, stay calm, and have a plan every time you’re on the en garde line.

That’s the really great thing about fencing and one of the reasons I love it so much: no matter how good you get, there’s always room for improvement. And there are multiple ways to achieve that.

If you have haven’t seen much improvement in your fencing lately, take a close look at your practice and competition: are you challenging yourself or are you fencing the same people you know you can beat? When you come up against a fencer that “always” beats you, do you approach the bout with confidence–maybe this time you’ll win!–or have you already decided that you’re going to lose before you even begin the bout? Are you practicing new, more complex actions–and probably losing touches at first because of it–or are you using the same ones that work for you at the club (even though they don’t work in competition)?

I challenge everyone who reads this to do something this month to improve your fencing (or, if you’re not a fencer, some other aspect of your life that you’re trying to improve). It might be that you need more stamina, that you need to take more risks during practice, or that you need to learn to calm your nerves. Write your goal in the comments section and we’ll check in with each other again in 30 days.

I’ll write another post at the beginning of next week to let you know how things went in both events.

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5 thoughts on “My first Division 1 event…gulp.

  1. Two things I started trying on Tuesday and I plan to continue working on: executing a stop-cut, and risking an in-and-out move off the line that looks convincing.

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