God Wills It

6:07 CST, 4:07 PST Sleepless in San Jose, waiting for it to be morning so that I can fence my first event in the Summer Nationals. Define competition. A test. An ordeal. A proof. Of what? My coach promises me that this year will be different from last, when I fenced so badly I did not even make the cut for the D-Es in either of my events. This was less surprising in Div IA, against many of the strongest fencers in the country, most at least a decade, even two younger than I and, therefore, simply stronger and faster; but it was devastating in Veteran 40 because every other time I had fenced the same women that year, I had done significantly better. Will it be different this year? Does it matter? I did not go to the qualifiers for Div IA this year, so I did not even give myself the chance to be able to fence in that event, but I did go to the qualifiers for Div II/III and did not make the cut for the national event. Does this mean that my coach has lied to me or, more charitably, been overly optimistic about how much my fencing has changed? Can change? Do I want it to change? I watched two of my friends fence Div IA yesterday and wondered about what I saw. The fencers looked strong, but not that strong; most of what I could see made sense, unlike last year when they just seemed to be moving so fast, but then I was not on the strip yesterday, so perhaps it was just the illusion of spectatorship. Why does something always look so easy when someone else is doing it well? I am wondering about Gallwey's claim that he usually plays better after watching stronger players play. Will Self 2 remember today what I saw yesterday? Or will Self 1 think that she can control what's happening based on what she saw?

Gallwey has a very good discussion about why competition is actually important. Not because winning is everything, or even anything, but because competition gives both competitors a chance to excel that they would not otherwise have. No, that's not quite the way he puts it. I am here at this competition because I want to fence these women. They are going to do their best to beat me; therefore, I in turn should do my best to beat them because only in this way will we both draw each other's best fencing out. Again, that's closer, but still not quite it. It is something like the reasons for writing this meditation on my blog rather than just in a diary or even in Morning Pages: by making the effort public, I am forcing myself, no, giving myself the opportunity to describe more accurately than I would otherwise what I am thinking this morning. Likewise, in my fencing: the competition is not a test or a proof or an ordeal, but an opportunity. I want my competitors to fence well because if they fence well, they will force me to fence better in order to answer them. Yes, that's closer to what Gallwey describes. Competition is not about the outcome, but the moment itself. The only thing it is actually a test of is my willingness to surrender the outcome to God. Not of my worth as a person, not even of my skill as a fencer, but rather of my ability to trust myself and my practice. Yes, there is a risk: not everyone who comes across this blog will find it interesting enough to read; I may be too tired (after waking up so early!) or just miss my rhythm or come up against fencers with more experience to be able to outwit them today. But, and now I am reading in George Leonard's Mastery (1991), if I did not give myself this opportunity, if I did not bring myself to these competitions (spend all the money on the plane tickets, take time off from my work), I might not lose, but I would never win either because I would never give myself (and my opponents) the incentive to improve. In his words (p. 135): "Competition provides spice in life as well as in sports; it's only when the spice becomes the entire diet that the player gets sick."

I've long thought that pride was the greatest of my fencing sins, but I'm starting to realize that gluttony is one of my bugbears as well. My T-shirt describes gluttony as "consistently executing a simple attack in the same line," but I think I would add "wanting to win simply in order to fence more bouts, rather than paying attention to the bout at hand." Like eating too fast without savoring the food. God, give me the patience today to savor my bouts and to enjoy them for the opportunity that they are, rather than taking them as a test of my ultimate worth as a fencing bear. As Geoffroi de Charny would put it: "Deus li volt!" Let it the outcome be in His hands, not mine.


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