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Posts Tagged ‘sport’

My love and hate affair with fencing

Posted by E on August 13, 2012

Fencing Olympics controversy

In light of the recent events involving South Korean fencer Lam Shin being robbed of the oportunity to fence the gold-silver medal match at the London 2012 Olympics, my thoughts once again return to fencing. How could I not think of it, seeing this 25-year old girl sobbing on the piste, reliving every moment of hard work and passion that led her to this moment of travesty?

Can the skills of sword-fighting survive as an art and a sport alone, without the bastardization of modern competitions? Can fencing move beyond a long history of dirty backroom deals and bought bouts?

I don’t know, and I’m not optimistic about it. But every time I realize how out of shape I am and how much I’d like to pick up a foil again, the traumas of my varsity years at the University of Ottawa come back to me. The unjust coaches who slept with athletes, the overt favouritism, the occasional fencing scandal that broke out (in magazines such as Sports Illustrated) involving money exchanging hands and bouts being sold off….and yet in my hearts of hearts, I must confess that I miss it – the sensation of that metal against my hand, the sound (the music) when blade meets blade, a cacophony of excitement, a dash of fear, and more than your fair share of exhuberance.

I have to thank fencing for letting me explore my demons. I first picked up a foil the year after I’d come out of hiding after providing information against a group of dangerous white supremacist extremists, information that was used to dismantle their organization. I lived in hiding for over a year all across Canada and by the time I managed to get myself into university as a mature student, I was full of anger and resentment at having discovered that our own government – through its intelligence body, CSIS – had co-founded and bankrolled the very group that had recruited me and other teenagers.

Fencing helped channel my anger into purpose. It drove me to pursue excellence. It empowered me to finally believe, for the first time, that I could be a normal human being. A normal nineteen-year old, whatever “normal” meant. Sure, I didn’t have parents cheering from the sidelines at competitions or coaches who rubbed my shoulders between bouts, but on that piste, across from average college girls, I felt like I was finally on par with the rest of the world – and consequently, that I could have a future once again.

And then I came crashing into the injustices of the sport, the daily murdering of the spirit that favoritism can deliver, and the overarching elitism that lays entrenched in the foundations of the sport.

With no money and no coaches willing to give me free lessons (all the while other girls were being invited to coaches’ houses for lunches, dinners and free training), my fencing days were numbered – sure I could have continued,but the track I was on involved a rapid trajectory to the top, and I refused to accept recreational goals.

And yet I miss it. With age comes perspective, and I realize that competitive fencing made me miserable and angry. Sure I won bouts, but at what cost? These days, with my goals changed and wisdom stemming out of experience, I long for that sensation of being in control of my body, of a blade that is an extention of both my arm and my will. And yet I am afraid that the sport has been utterly corrupted by the competitive slant that has overtaken it over the last hundred years. Whereas once upon a time fencing was practically a requirement, it slowly receded into the arms of the noble classes and the elites who have since turned it into an ugly and corrupt enterprise.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I miss it, I’m afraid of it, I long for it.

I long for the days when fencing will be less about the Olympics and more about the sheer love of bettering oneself. But in the end, unlike soccer or volleyball or swimming, which can be played simply for the fun of it, when it comes to fencing I don’t really think that it is possible.

But oh, how I’d like it to be.

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Posted in fencing, korea, longing, media, news, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another reason why fencing sucks big time in Canada

Posted by E on August 22, 2008


One of the comments left on CBC following the expletitive outburst of  Sherraine Schalm led me to thinking, and sure enough another reason came to me as to why fencing sucks in this country. (By the way, read the original why fencing sucks-big-time article here). And below is the original comment, from someone named Elberich:

I have fenced for over ten years. Unfortunately competition is about winning and losing, it is not about fencing. This has degraded the culture of fencing. You can see this clearly when each few seconds of fencing (notably in foil and saber) is followed by ten seconds of posing and gesticulating directed at the judges to convince them that you did initiate the attack, have right of way, etc…

It has become more important to convince the judge and score the point than engage in the sport. Fencing is a wonderful sport and when it is practiced with good conduct and within the spirit of fencing it is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately competition has destroyed this.

I hear you. Competition, and the histrionic tantrums and theatrics that accompany it, have destroyed the soul of fencing. Then again, did it ever have a soul, or was it always dominated by a few, “high-bred” snooty white guys? Things haven’t changed much, have they? hmm….

Fencing is one of those unique sports where screaming and “being nasty is what is required” (to quote my former schoolmate Sherraine, who I agree with on this one). I remember being in competition years ago at some Ontario university or another (they all blend it after a while), and there was this one big, tall, ugly girl who kept screaming bloody murder after every touch. Actually, she didn’t just scream. She went: “OOPAH!” like a drunken greek tavern-keeper. Of course, she did well. Everybody thought she was out of her mind. I thought – here’s a psycho who’s obviously found a place to fit in and actually thrive.
And the higher you go through the fencing ranks, the more screaming and nastiness goes on.

There is no such thing in this country as “recreational” fencing. Everyone is pushed to attend competitions – hell, you can’t even fence without being forced to buy a “CFF” licence. What the f*ck is that??

“As of July 2006 the CFF is requiring all participants in fencing in Canada to hold a license.
$10 Register on line from CFF website
All OFA members are responsible to register for this license independently of the OFA.”

SO here’s another reason why Sports Canada should cut funding for this tightly-controlled “sport”.
You don’t see people shooting hoops or playing soccer in the park being forced to buy licenses, do you? I think the true measure of a sport is whether an average kid can play it in the park. Instead, it is an inbred little fraternity where everyone knows everyone by the first name.
(*waving hand* Oh, hi, Don – thanks for forcing me to buy a CFF licence this year – as if!)

Even if you don’t want to compete, there is no choice. This is how fencing is forced to remain in the hands of an archaic, elitist little bunch of snooty, inbred morons. Who force you to cough up some dough just for the privilege of participating in the sport.

Otherwise, why do they force fencers to register? Are we in a communist country where a head-count is necessary to prevent insurrections? What other sport mandates such exclusion? What other sport demands a fee to a hierarchical institution in order to be played?

This is a case of not being able to see the forest through the trees. If they really want this sport to last, they need to make it accesible to everyone. Why do you think so many people quit fencing after a couple of years? You cannot do this recreationally, and anyone who says so is lying or hasn’t been in the sport long enough to observe that competition is its only embodiment.

This is why fencing is going extinct. Not because we don’t have the need to defend ourselves through swords anymore, but because overseeing bodies like the CFF (Can Fencing Federation) have such tight controls, and nobody is playing it in the schoolyards, on the playgrounds, in the outside world.

And lastly, THIS is the reason why martial arts are so much more popular – because they can be done recreationally, for fun and relaxation, and they encourage a holistic, spiritual merging of body, mind, and soul.

Unfortunately, fencing lacks sorely in the latter.

Posted in canada, fencing, rant, wtf | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

2012 Olympics: Sherraine vs. Hungary?

Posted by E on August 14, 2008

In the furious media blitz that followed Sherraine Schalm’s defeat at the hand of Hungarian epeeist (and former teammate) Ildiko Mincza-Nebald, two battle-camps quickly formed: those eager to defend her heated outburst at the end of a rough match, and those who called her conduct unsportsmanlike and shameful to Canada. So which is it? What really happened?

Thanks to CBC’s sanitization of the tape, Canadians won’t really know, unless they were up at 4 or 6 am and happened to catch a glimpse of the scandal that was to come. I use the word “scandal” loosely, since to a certain degree this is a lot of hoopla over essentially a bag of beans. But it got sensationalized because Canadians just don’t do these things, especially pretty blonde girls from Alberta who are regular guests on CBC radio.

So what is this big thing that Sherraine did? Apparently, the match itself wasn’t pretty. A lot of uncontrollable screaming went on, both herself and Ildiko trying to one-up each other, getting overly aggressive, etc. I’ve seen that a lot more in men’s fencing, but that’s not to say it isn’t common in women’s events. There’s a lot of theatrics, temper tantrums and bullying that go into screwing with your opponent’s head – I’ve been guilty of it on rare occasions, and I challenge any fencer who’s been around the block once or twice to tell me this isn’t so.

So after Sherraine’s match ended, she refused to shake Ildiko’s hand – which I’ve also done once after a particularly emotional bout a long time ago (and I got yellow card-ed for it). I don’t think that’s a terribly huge deal, considering the frenzied battle-cry that came out of Ildiko when she won and the way her eyes rolled back in her head – let’s just say she didn’t come across as a likeable person or one you’d run into in a dark alley at night.

But then the moment came that everyone’s been talking about: after refusing to shake Ildiko’s hand, Sherraine turned to the Hungarian team in seething anger and pointed her epee at them, then shouted “Fuck you all!”

Later she apologized, the kind of apology you make when you’ve been caught with your pants down in front of the camera and you have no choice but to say something to make it all go away. Did she mean it? Hell, no. She was sorry that it was caught on camera, that people were offended and that she came across as unprofessional because of that – I’m sure she feels sorry for the way things unfolded. But does she still carry that anger in her which spilled out on the piste yesterday? Yes, of course she still does. It came across scathingly clear in the interview with CBC the following morning.

There are certain things Sherraine talked about in that interview that no one in their right mind would question – the lack of funding, for both training and hiring coaches, and the resulting scarcity of quality training in Canadian fencing programs. It’s the same thing I blogged about yesterday, the day before her last Olympic bout. The problem is, there is a lot of emotion, passion and anger interwoven in her words, and those which made me bristle, like so many others, were the blanket statements regarding how Hungarians hate Canadians simply because they are strangers on their turn.

First of all, in order to believe this we are to assume there are no personality clashes between fencers, which let me tell you, is a pipe dream. I’d wager anything that hostility was there before this bout – those two women I saw in that Olympic bout hated each others’ guts. When you add the fact that Ildiko and others on her team obviously felt threatened by a foreign fencer coming into their country, into their gym, training and yes, bettering herself, they wanted to get rid of her. As much as I actually do sympathise with Sherraine, when it comes to the Olympics, it’s every woman for herself.

From what I gather, Ildiko was ranked slightly below Sherraine on the world ranking list (Sherraine in 5th place, Ildiko in 12th) and possibly felt that she was giving Sherraine the advantage of using a Hungarian coach, a Hungarian gym, and practice with fencers who she would have to defeat – in the process “stealing” ideas, learning of other girls’ secret fencing habits and shortcomings, etc. So Ildiko went to the coach and complained, and probably other Hungarian fencers did as well, as Sherraine was shut out of the 2-week training camp just before the Olympics.

It’s really too bad that happened, although the coach did do his best by apparently hooking her up with another athletes’ training regimen. But imagine what would’ve happened if Sherraine DID beat Ildiko in Beijing – and the scandal that would ensue in the Budapest papers – we allowed a Canadian to train with us, learn all our habits, steal our tricks, and now she beat us out of the Olympics. What I am trying to say is – the coach had no choice but to listen to the complaints of his Hungarian athletes. His job and reputation were at stake.

Sherraine, if you are reading this, it’s not because I disagree with your opinion, because if I were in your position I’d be mad as hell, and I’d need more than “a couple of brandies” as you put it, to hold me back from trying to wring Ildiko’s neck. But you need to tell yourself that your Hungarian coach didn’t really have a choice in doing what he did. And in the end, your opponents and you ARE on different teams. But that doesn’t mean that Hungarians in general hate Canadians – although many of them may tend to be more than a tad bit xenophobic and abrasive. This wasn’t personal. Perhaps winning gold isn’t all that you are meant for. Maybe this event is meant to inspire you, down the line, to become an advocate for increased athletic funding, or recognition of fencing as a sport in Canada.

No matter what happens, I wish Sherraine will take the time she so desperately needs to regroup – and actually think not only about “showing them” or “beating them” in 2012, but whether she really needs this in her life right now. I know from the media coverage and her own blog that things have been difficult in her personal life, and I assume that now she will have to leave Hungary and find a place for herself again. For someone of her age, a cross-roads lays ahead – there are questions of life and priority, biological clocks and decisions to be made. Another 4 years of training, for a few minutes on the piste might be a glorious thing when you have a medal around your neck, but honestly, what does it all mean?

There has to be more than this. There is more to the universe than winning and losing a bloody match in an obscure sport that most people ridicule as elitist and biased, both observations not entirely untrue.

I remember the moment when I chose to walk away from fencing. It wasn’t simply a decision to either quit and be a loser, or be an athlete in a Nike ad and “Just do it” – give my life to fencing and never ever question that decision; to forsake travel and studying and writing books, to give up meeting someone who appreciated my mind rather than my exotic ability to fight with swords. No, when I walked away from fencing, when I divorced fencing, I didn’t quit – I saved myself. My pride, my sanity, the very meaning of my existence as a human being.

My worth didn’t reside in that metal stick in my hand. In that moment, I became a multi-faceted person, a human being once again instead of just a fencer. I became the writer I was always meant to be. It was the best decision I could have made for myself.

The sad thing is, when people leave their sports, when they get older – professional ballet dancers, gymnasts, and yes, fencers – they look back at their life (if lucky, a life filled with accolades and medals) and live on that for sustenance. They live in poverty, like so many artists and writers do, surrounded by masses of other people who simply don’t understand the kind of dedication that had compelled them to forego financial decisions that would prevent them from ending up on social assistance.

The answer to the question “Was it all worth it?” can only be answered by the same individual who is asking it. But if you’re not certain of the answer, if you judge your personal worth as that stick in your hand, that four-minute bout overseen by a biased referee, then you need to reinvent yourself. To drop the excuses, as valid as they may be, and realize this isn’t about the sport, or the sword, or the Hungarians – but about you. And what you are supposed to do with the rest of your life.

Posted in canada, fencing, hungary, life, olympics, press, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 37 Comments »