Pouting & Bouting: Life Lessons Learned from Fencing
The first time Amy pulled down the neckline of her shirt, an expression of pride on her face, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A new tattoo, perhaps. Breast implants. She wouldn’t have been the first friend to celebrate the big 4-0 by modifying her body in such a way.
“Check this out,” Amy said, exposing a large purple bruise below her clavicle. “I got it during a bout last night.”
Ah…last night. Monday night. The night Amy fenced.
Amy and I worked together years ago. She is a fellow speech therapist and has been an important professional mentor of mine. She knows that, and I have on occasion (and to her embarrassment) introduced her as such to friends: This is my mentor, Amy. What Amy probably doesn’t know is how much I also admire the person she is outside of work. The fencing. The triathlons. And she isn’t obnoxious about it. She doesn’t post Facebook statuses that say things like, Got a quick six miles in this morning, now off the work! She just privately sets, works toward, and meets personal goals. I dig that about her. I love the way she works to improve upon the woman she already is while so many women in their 40s are fighting in vain to get back to the women they were 10 or 20 years ago. But back to fencing…
Carrie, my daughter, joined Amy’s fencing club last year. She was excited about the prospect of learning to “sword fight,” but she became nervous upon receipt of her equipment: a mask, chest protector, plastron, padded jacket, glove, and epee.
“Am I going to get hurt?” Carrie asked.
“Yes, sometimes,” Amy answered without apology. “Expect bruises. Every fencer gets bruises. Learn to be proud of them and show them off.”
This is some of the best advise anyone has ever given my daughter, and not just in regard to fencing, but concerning many of life’s little bouts. Sometimes you advance, and sometimes you retreat. Sometimes you will make to touch, score the point, and other times you receive the touch, maybe even get a bruise. Does it hurt? Yes. Sometimes. It is a manageable pain, though. It will fade as the days wear on. You have a mask, so you aren’t going to get stabbed in the face.
“What do you want?” I asked Carrie when she expressed her apprehension about bouting. “Do you want to risk getting bruised and learn to fence, or do you want to avoid bruises all together, because if that’s the case, you may as well just stay home.” Carrie nodded and agreed to try.
Conversations like these make me grateful Carrie is too young to recognize what a hypocrite I am – how much time I spend trying to avoid, or overreacting about, the metaphorical bruises I receive during life’s little bouts. How hurt I get when any one of my opponents scores the touch. If I am ever going to become a stronger person, I am going to have to come to terms with the fact that these bouts are not nearly as personal as I take them to be and that the actual bruises don’t hold me back nearly as much as the fear I have about acquiring them in the first place.
So much of what I hear the instructors say to the kids at fencing practice strikes me as excellent advise for a life well lived. A couple of weeks ago I started jotting down the great advise I heard. Here is what I have collected so far, the life lessons that can be learned from fencing:
“Expect bruises.” – Amy
“Never attack without a backup plan.” – Frank
“The same trick wont work twice.” – Frank
“I retreated so much that I ran into the wall with my back.” – random little boy
“You’re small. You’re always going to be small. A bigger fencer with long arms might have an advantage, but you can figure out ways to make your size work for you. Hey, and remember this, too; being a small fencer means there is less of you that he can hit.” – Frank
“It doesn’t matter how great your attack is, if you don’t have your feet in the right position, you wont be able to protect yourself. You might even fall. Be able to spring back into en garde after you lunge.” – Amy
“You won’t do well in epee if you’re not patient.” – Frank
“Don’t always keep score during practice. You need time to try new things, and you’ll be bad at them at first. Trying new things is what will eventually make you a better fencer, but you wont be able to do that if you’re keeping score all the time; you’ll be too focused on winning.” – Frank
“Always shake hands with your opponent after the bout.” – Amy
Here’s to expecting and showing off our bruises. En garde, ya’ll.