And that’s the way you spell success. Along with another “s”, a “u”, and an “e”, of course.

I achieved everything that I set out to do in my first fencing tournament, and then some.

In the first phase, I went into every bout thinking ‘Just one point. Just one point.’ And when I scored the first point, I would think to myself  ‘One more point. Just one more point.’  Evidently this mindset worked as I was indeed able to score at least one point on everyone I faced. It was easier said than done though, as just about everyone in my group was much better than me. My first bout was against my team captain actually, so I went in knowing that I was screwed. I lost 5-1 in the end.

Second bout was against a guy who I felt like I could beat. I’d seen him get absolutely demolished in his first bout, and so I went in confidently. I ended up taking him 5-2.

The five bouts that followed were all against people who were better than me, and I lost all five with scores varying from 5-3 to 5-1. On one hand I never really threatened to win any of the others, but on the other hand I never got shut out, which was what I went in there hoping to accomplish.

With my 1-6 record I ended up ranked 41st after the first round. My elimination bout was slated to be against the 24th seed.

He was tall. Really tall. And while height isn’t as big an advantage in sabre as it is in other disciplines, it still meant that he would be able to hit me before I was in his range, which called for extra caution on my part.

‘Just one point.’ I told myself. In the knockout phase bouts go up to 15 rather than 5, so realistically I was hoping to score more than just one point, as 15-1 looks a lot worse than 5-1. But I took the bout one point at a time. I was relatively relaxed. No one was expecting me to advance beyond this stage after all, so there was no pressure on me.

But then I scored the first three points of the match, and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I could win this. I lost focus on the point at hand and started to think ahead too much. As a result, I dropped the next three points and the score was even at 3-3. From then on it was a close match, with no one having more than a three point advantage at any time. I was ahead for the majority of the match, but I was unable to gain a comfortable advantage at any point.

I led 12-10.

Then 12-11

Then 13-11

Then 13-12

And then we were tied at 13. I knew this would be a vital point. Whoever scored next would have two chances to win the match, and whoever was hit would have to score two in a row. A critical juncture.

I lost the point.

I swore at myself under my breath. I’d been up 13-11! Allowing three points in a row is never a good thing, but there’s a big difference  between allowing three points in a row when you’re winning 3-0 and allowing three in a row when the score is 13-11. And although I hadn’t gone in expecting to win this match I knew that I couldn’t lose now, having been so close to victory. I scored the next point.

14-14. La Belle. I saluted my opponent and the referee as is customary when a bout comes down to a final point.  The name for this comes from the French tradition, where the winner of a duel would win the lovely maiden. Although there was no maiden present, a berth in the second round was enough to motivate me. I was vaguely aware that a few of my teammates were cheering me on, but I was completely focused on the next point. ‘Just one more point. Just one more.’

“En garde. Prêt? Allez!”

I advanced toward my opponent. He retreated. Just as I hoped he would.

I knew what was he was thinking. As he retreated, he was keeping a careful eye on the distance between us. When the distance was such that he was close enough to hit me with his long reach but far enough that I could not hit him, he would strike. He’d tried this four or five times over the course of the match and had succeeded in catching me off guard a few times.

This time I was ready. And I used a simple tactic that I’d done a hundred times before in practice, but hadn’t really made enough use of in this match. I slowed my advance. Accordingly, he slowed his retreat. He was waiting for me to get into his range.

And then I exploded forward as quickly as I could. The idea was to pass through the “Danger Zone” where he could hit me but I couldn’t hit him as quickly as possible so that he wouldn’t have time to react.

What happened next was something of a blur. I hit him, on his right shoulder I believe. He hit me as well. The referee called a halt. I turned towards the electronic scoreboard. The red light was on. My point.

I shook my opponent’s hand, and saluted both him and the referee. I said “Fuck yeah” under my breath. Then I turned towards my teammates and gave a little fist pump. Everyone was shocked and thrilled and proud of me, and it felt damned good.

I didn’t have much time to whoop it up though before I had to face my next opponent though. The #9 seed.

Now for this match I really had no expectations, and that was probably for the best. To my credit I scored two of the first three points and took a 2-1 lead, but that was the last time I’d come even close to mounting a challenge. I gave up seven points in a row thereafter, and at that point it was pretty much over. I managed to made the score a slightly more dignified 15-6 in the end, but a slaughter’s a slaughter.

Still, I wasn’t down at all about losing. I’d come farther than I’d expected to, and in fairness the other guy was the better fencer by a mile – there’s a reason he was ranked 9th and I was 41st. After the match I was still grinning from ear to ear.

As a result of my good showing, I got bumped up from the “D” team to the “C” team, and got myself a little mention on the Queen’s website. So that’s cool.

Can’t rest on my laurels though. The next tournament is tomorrow. It’s a team-based competition, so my success will largely depend on my fellow “C” teamers. Hard to set any expectations for this one as I’m not really sure what it’s going to be like over there, but I’m sure it’ll be an enjoyable day.

And as an added bonus, extra hour of sleep tonight! Woot!

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