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Showing posts from June, 2008

Shield of Faith*

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I have a confession to make: I was not entirely open with you in my post last Sunday about what I experienced in church. When I started writing, what I wanted to tell you about was the great joy I experienced in singing praises to God and realizing that this in itself was the way to free myself from the anxieties about my own performance, whether on the fencing strip or, as here, at the keyboard. But as I started writing, the anxiety returned, and gradually I realized I was no longer saying what I had set out to say. I was hiding and apologizing and doing everything I possibly could to avoid saying directly, "When I was singing in the midst of our church, I felt a great weight lift from me, and I knew, even if only for a moment, that this--praising God--was the real purpose of life, for which everything else is simply a preparation, not an end in itself."

Even now, my words are inadequate, perhaps inevitably so, for, after all, what we were doing was singing and the only w…

By the Book*

A friend of mine who has been following my postsof late has been anxious to remind me that fencing is not something that you can learn by reading a book. In his words: "Fencing is so 3-D and reactive it is impossible to articulate into book learning." Rather, it is something one learns only by doing, more particularly, through the physical lessons that we have with our coach: "Everything you will need to learn about fencing he will teach you. There is no need to look elsewhere."

Fencing, of course, is not the only activity to suffer this limitation. Tennis, knitting, singing, playing a musical instrument, walking, speaking a language, prayer: none of these activities is accessible to us in any way other than through practice itself. Far from being able to teach us "how to", books of themselves cannot even teach us how to read, as any one who has gone to a library and picked up a book without knowing the relevant conventions of translating phonemes int…

Glory to God in the Highest

It may be hard to believe from what I said yesterday, but I am actually feeling quite hopeful again today. This, I am hoping, is one of the benefits of sharing these reflections with you on a blog. When I am writing for academic purposes, too much of the day-to-day experience of learning about prayer is subsumed into an overarching, polished argument. Under such circumstances, it is easy to forget the days on which hope seemed impossible, just as on those hopeless days, it is difficult to remember reasons for joy.

What is it that gives me hope today that I could not remember yesterday? Well, it isn't just that I am rested after yesterday's practice because I actually woke up feeling just as angry with myself as I had been when I went to sleep last night. Nor is it that I started to recall the strong actions I made in yesterday's bouts, despite the final scores. I could remember those at the time, but they did not offset the sense of frustration and lack of control ove…

In Theory*

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One of the things that I hoped would happen if I started keeping this blog was that I would somehow avoid feeling the way that I am feeling right now, after practice, having lost a bout to one of my clubmates that, in my pride*, I feel that I "ought" to have won. Well, there goes that theory! What is vexing me now is that my friend told me afterwards that she had been reading my blog and found what I said about being fully on the strip, not worrying about anything other than the action of the moment, really helpful** and that she had been thinking about this while we were bouting. And, indeed, she fenced very well and quite appropriately won. Throughout the bout, she stayed relaxed but focused, such that even when the score reached 10-14 against her, she was able to play each touch, one at a time, and come back and win the final touch with the score tied.

On the one hand, I am encouraged (not to mention, flattered) that she found what I wrote made sense and was able to ap…

My Foil, My Self

There is a big tournament coming up in the next couple of weeks, and none of my weapons actually works well enough to pass the equipment check. So the thing to do is fix them, right? Real fencers (not just fencing bears) will tell you that it is important to learn how to make your own weapons, by which they mean assembling the various parts from grip to wire to tip. To a certain extent, this is because fencers, having spent so much on their equipment to start with, are trying to save a bit of money, particularly if the only thing wrong with the blade is the wire.* There is also the pride that one feels in understanding the way one's weapons actually work, how the various parts fit together and what it is that they do. But the real reason that real fencers know (or, at least, should know) how to fix their weapons is because, as we have seen, our weapons are extensions of ourselves. Caring for our weapons is as much about respecting ourselves as fencers as it is about being able t…

“Can I Buy That?"*

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The fantasy is laughable only because it is so easy to imagine. Becky Bloomwood, heroine of Sophie Kinsella's best-selling Shopaholic series, is in a secondhand shop in London and sees a fencing mask and "sword" (aka foil? epee? sabre?). Together, they are only 40 quid (a bargain even at present exchange rates, especially for the mask), and soon she has convinced herself that she needs them.

"I've been meaning to take up fencing for ages," she tells her readers, "ever since I read this article about it in The Daily World. Did you know that fencers have better legs than any other athletes? Plus, if you're an expert you can become a stunt double in a film and earn loads of money! So what I'm planning to do is find some fencing lessons nearby, and get really good, which I should think I'll do quite quickly. And then--this is my secret little plan--when I've got my gold badge, or whatever it is, I'll write to Catherine Zeta-Jones…

“Am I Getting Any Better at This?"*

This is a question my coach and fellow fencers have heard a lot from me over the years. Frequently it is punctuated by its obverse: "I'm not getting any better at this, am I? Maybe I should just quit!" Remember, as a fencing bear, I am only a 5-year-old, but even 5-year-olds should get over such childish responses to the challenge of learning, yes?

The irony here is that, the longer I fenced, the stronger this response seemed to get. In the beginning, I was simply happy to be on the strip at all, amazed and delighted to be learning a new skill. I watched the more experienced fencers with awe and not a little bit of envy, but at least I was practicing. This was the period during which I lost so much weight, in large part out of sheer excitement, I suspect. For months, I told only my very closest friends what I was doing; I had a great secret that I did not yet want to share.

And then the anxiety set in. I practiced a lot, right? I was there in the salle two or thr…