Seven Deadly Fencing Sins, no. 3: Envy

"It's not about you," my opponent assured me as she yelled with victory after our first pool bout this morning. "Yes, it is," I replied, not feeling terribly sportsbearlike and knowing that I wasn't (sportsbearlike, that is) even as I said it. I wished that I could take back what I said and simply wish her well. The last time she and I had met in a tournament, a year and three months ago, I had beaten her comfortably 15-6 in a D-E for Div III. Over the last year, I had watched her results in the Divs and Vets with interest, for here was someone whom I had clearly known how to fence the first time I met her on the strip but who was consistently thereafter finishing higher than I was in every subsequent event. I was interested to fence her today to see what it was that she had changed so that maybe I could understand how it was that someone whom I considered (oh, the sin of pride) a somewhat weaker fencer than myself could make her way steadily and predictably into the upper levels of the competition while I, alas, for all my practice and, yes, improvement, seem permanently mired in the middle. So, this morning, when I noticed that she was warming up on the strip next to mine, I asked to rotate in. Oh, the pride: I found I could fence her effectively in the warm-up, and indeed, beat her 5-1 in the bout that we kept score for. Why then was it that, when it came time for our pools and it happened that she and I had the first bout together in our group, she was able to beat me 5-3?

Things only got worse as the pool progressed. I fenced okay, better certainly than I did in the same event last summer, but no better or worse than I had in the Veteran events over the course of the intervening year, while she, my first opponent, managed to defeat almost everyone else in our pool. I watched her intently, trying to discern her "secret," but managed only to recognize that she seemed incredibly focused and never at all rushed; indeed, this was one of the things that she had used so effectively against me. While I tried to set up attacks and find a way through her defenses, she simply waited for me to attack and then parried and riposted. She made very few attacks; as I think back on her fencing now, I remember only seeing her moving very deliberately, waiting, waiting, waiting. I, on the other hand, have been practicing making and finishing attacks because my coach and my clubmates keep telling me that I am too cautious and need to have confidence that my attacks will land. And, indeed, on Tuesday at least, when I fenced with our team, this worked: I watched my opponents' parries, noticed how they moved, maybe made a few test attacks to see where they were likely to go, and then landed my attacks exactly where I wanted. On Tuesday, I knew how to fence; by today, I had apparently forgotten. At least, nothing worked against the women in my pool (okay, almost nothing; I did win two of my five bouts). Meanwhile, my first opponent was more or less unstoppable while doing nothing of what I have been working so hard this past year to learn. In the end, although I made the cut into the next round (certainly a better result than last year at Nationals), I lost my first D-E 3-10 to the woman who went on to take second, while my first opponent in the pool bouts went on to tie for third, thus (if I have read the ratings chart correctly) going from an E to a C in one day.

I want to scream: "It's not fair. Nothing I do seems to work. I practiced so much this year, tried so hard to work on my attacks, on my confidence, on telling myself how what matters is the concentration in the bout, not the final score, and yet, I am more or less exactly where I was last year while, she--SHE--is suddenly one of the top fencers in our event. And, no, don't tell me how I just need to keep working and it will all come out in the end. She has only been fencing three and a half years, whereas I have been slogging away at this for five. And today, she was up there on the platform with the medal winners and I, well, I am where I usually am or, at least, have been more or less since I started fencing Veterans, yes, two and a half years ago, when I had been fencing for nearly three years. Why does SHE get the Big Break and I don't? What am I doing wrong?" And so forth. As I suspect you have guessed, it's been a really long day, with lots of time for rehearsing this rant. There are several versions, depending on how and who is trying to comfort me. I'll bet you're wondering (if you're still reading by now), how I'm going to talk myself out of this one, yes? Well, I am, too. Presently, it is past midnight "real" time (i.e. CST, even though today has been spent on PST) and I am exhausted. My roommates are tired and turning the lights out, and I am tired of listening to myself think. I know that there are lessons to be learned here; deep wisdom about what it means to be jealous, but all I can think right now is, "Why? Why does she get the break and I don't?" I need to sleep now, although I seriously doubt I will feel better about all this in the morning. But maybe having sketched the beginnings of the pain I will be better able to write about it tomorrow. Thanks, everyone, for being there for me today. You know who you are.

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