Competition, Morning of

My thoughts are all in a jumble. What does it mean to be ready for a competition? Although possible in the general scheme of things, it is highly unlikely that I will win. Again, although possible, it is highly unlikely that I will place high enough to earn a new rating. So what is my goal? To fight as hard as I can? But sheer aggression is unsettling. I need to be calm enough not to push, patient enough not to try for an attack when I have not set it up--i.e. teased my opponent sufficiently to make her think I'm going to do one thing when I'm actually planning another. But if I spend all of my time planning, then I will not pay attention to her set ups and she will, quite literally, catch me off guard. Should my plan be to work on a particular action? Again, this seems somewhat limiting. I need to be able to respond to what my opponents are doing and if I get too fixed on one plan, then I will simply keep doing the same thing over and over again. At which point, my opponent will know what I am going to do and then she will be able to hit me at will. I don't want to be the bitch in the pool--there's a great T-shirt on this: "If you can't figure out who is the bitch in the pool, it's you." But it is so hard to be "just happy to be here" when you're losing and can't seem to change it.

I have done this so many times now, you'd think I'd have a strategy for keeping myself focused and ready. But even in practice, I can feel myself tense up when we start keeping score. As long as I am just practicing for the touch, not worrying about how many there have been or when the bout is going to be over, I can get it. But as soon as I start counting, then the pressure is on. That's the trick, of course. To fence as if only this touch matters--one touch at a time--even when you are down 4-10. How to put all of this into words? There aren't words for it. There's that feeling when you breathe out and can relax just as the director says "En garde". There's that focus when you know what to do, you can see your opponent and keep distance from her. You're not pushing but you are making her respond. You don't give enough away for her to be able to catch your attack and riposte. The words die even as I put them on the page. Breathe. The advice is always the same: Keep your distance. One touch at a time. Set it up. Patience. Finish your attacks. Arm first. Finish the step. Step back with the parry. Don't look at the lights. Breathe.

Breathe. That's something I can do. Just breathe. But I want a magic trick, a lucky shirt, a way to prepare that will guarantee that I get the outcome I want. To place no lower than I seed before the pools. To win my pool bouts against the fencers with lower ratings than mine. I am too easily swayed by the ratings. I think they actually mean something, like grades. An occupational hazard: I have to believe in grades, otherwise what do I spend my life doing giving my students grades? I know that when I give an A on a paper, it really is a great paper; I know that the fencers who have earned their As really are great fencers. But the Cs and Ds and Es whom I will be fencing today? Some of them are Es going on Ds; some of them are Cs who are really still Ds. Am I an E in D's clothing? A C in D's clothing? Or just simply a D? How well am I supposed to be able to fence after doing this for five years?

That's really the answer I need: to know that I am not "behind". That I am making the progress I should. Because, of course, if I am making the progress I should, then, more to the point, I am making progress. There is a plan and a way and I am on it. All I need to do is keep practicing. But if I am not on the way, if I have fallen by the wayside, if I am not working hard enough, then what business do I have being here? No, that's not it. Even if I am not on the Way to a C, I could still fence. I don't need to earn that privilege; all I need to do to fence is to want to fence. I don't need to be the best, now or ever, to be able to compete. Wanting to compete is the only criterion, at least in tournaments like this one, open even to those who have not yet earned a rating. So what difference does it make if I never rank any higher than a D? I'm still a fencer. It's just so hard not to want to be the best. And not just the best that I can be, but better than others are. Oh, status anxiety, oh, pride.

It's pride, as always, that makes me want to know that I am on the path because that means I am simply still in the making to be one of the best. But what if I'm not? I need another definition of "best" here. Again, no, that's not it. Shunryu Suzuki says something about this. When you are striving for enlightenment (if striving is the right word), enlightenment is something amazing and precious, but when you achieve if (if achieve is the right word), you realize it is nothing special. It's just where you are. I suppose the problem is, now being a D is nothing special because it's just what I am, although I don't think that's quite the way Suzuki meant it. The problem is to recognize that enlightenment is now, not something to come. Either I am enlightened now when I am "only" a D, or I will never be enlightened (fencing-wise) even when I am an A. Well, that sounds like a goal. Time to get ready to fence.


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