Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why in the world did I pick fencing...

and how does fencing help craft me into a most excellent piano instructor?

Well, it helps to explain first that I am a champion.

And I mean this both literally and figuratively. I am an actual kenpo martial arts champion in sparring with the waist-high trophies and the broken toes and everything, earned in Las Vegas. And I'm also a pretty ok gal, which makes me a champ in the other sense.

I'll always be an ok kinda gal, but the sparring was nearly 15 years ago, and my fighting days ended when I had limb salvage surgery for an aggressive osteogenic sarcoma. The treatment required taking out the diseased part of the bone located primarily in the humerus, and to remove the bone, part of my bicep, my tricep and my rotator cuff were cut out, and the bone was replaced with a titanium rod to preserve my ability to perform on the piano. Because I have no rotator cuff, effective blocking and punching were reduced dramatically, and the surgery was in my right arm--my dominate arm.

After a decade of working out for health and general fitness, I began to get the urge to find a battleground on which to compete. So I searched for a sport that would allow me to express my, uh, champion-ness, if you will.

I had taken a fencing class in college and loved it. I was really good and wanted to pursue it, but I was also a teenager in college and stupid. So I didn't.

About a year ago, I found the Underground Fencing Organization in Livonia, Michigan, and lo and behold, my professor from twenty years ago was coaching there and remembered me! We caught up, and he excitedly briefed me on the particulars of fencing ("It's not like it was when you went to college"), and encouraged me to take a practice session.

An instructor overheard our chatter and offered to teach me. I agreed. As I began putting on my protective equipment, this new instructor asked me, "Why do you want to fence?" Without missing a beat, I said, "So that I can represent the United States at the Olympics as an epeeist". He chuckled and kind of rolled his eyes and said, "Well, let's start off having fun first and see what happens". I caught the eye of my professor, himself an Olympic coach, and we both knowingly chuckled.

What the gentleman didn't understand is that the pursuit of the sport's greatest prize is my fun. That is indeed my point--that is my objective. The fun is in the growth, the advancement of my skills required at such an elite level that such a goal that is laughable to some becomes a real possibility for me.

When I slid on my glove and adjusted my face mask, my whole essence changed from interested observer to warrior with a blade. It feels that way every single time. Fencing is blitz chess with a pointy thing and tight capris. It is intoxicating.

I'm right-handed, so I wasn't sure how it was going to feel to switch from right to left. It turns out to be a tremendous benefit; I have no bad habits to break, so I can learn techniques and get them right the first time.

The United States has some of the most diverse teams in the world from beginner to Olympic level, and all bodies can fence--our wheelchair competitors are exceptional.

One of the best parts about this sport is a person can fence, competitively and at the elite level, well into one's life. 

The desire to be the best requires correct and measured practice, intense study, attention to minute details, that, over time, create large results, and all of the emotions that surround the pursuit of what you want, be it that smooth buttery succession of grace notes or the just-right pedal-finger transitions necessary to work Tchaikovsky properly. And who best to teach how to steady one's nerves prior to performance than an athlete whose win/lose outcome depends upon the quickness of a blade that must be able to deflect and make contact within a fraction of second?

I love fencing. That's important, you know; don't study something your whole life just so you can get a medal or some cash and still end up being miserable. You have to love the process, and boy do I. 

Same with piano.

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