Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Fun Places Research Takes You!

You can conquer thousands of men in thousands of battles, but the greatest victory is to conquer yourself.
                                    ― Buddha Shakyamuni

  A few years ago I started writing a historical romance. The heroine happened to be an expert swordswoman-well versed in many weapons. She is a super fun character and one of these days I need to finish her story. Francoise deserves her happy ending and a world even better than when she started her adventure.
One of the things I will always be grateful to Francoise for is the research. I knew nothing about fencing except what I saw in films. So I decided to enroll in a class at the local community schools program. It was two nights a week for eight weeks.
I discovered that fencing is a blast and the workout is incredible. There is nothing better to take your mind off things than having someone charge at you with a weapon.
Fencing has also challenged me on another level. I am a gentle person and I have a lifetime of cultural training to overcome in order to keep my point on target and depress the button on the tip of my épée against my opponent in order to score. My intention must be fully concentrated on doing this, I have to fight against my nature and hit someone. At the same time they will be parrying my attack and trying do the exact same thing to me.
The last time I checked I was the lowest ranked female fencer in Alaska. For a chubby, middle-aged writer, who loves food and drink I think that is pretty good. I don’t fence to compete with others. I fence to challenge myself and it’s a lot of fun! 
By the end of my foil class I joined the club and ordered my own gear. The gear was also very reasonably priced with a club discount. At this time my gear consists of; Chest Protector, Knickers, Plastron (under arm protector), Jacket, Glove, Mask, Fencing Socks, a foil, an épée, electric cords for both those type swords and a bag to carry it in. Whew!  Sounds like a lot of stuff, but trust me don’t fence without it, some poor person discovered the hard way that all of this gear was needed.
The first weapon I learned was the foil, commonly used in early instruction. It is the lightest of the three swords that I’m acquainted with, and the rules in matches/bouts are complex. You see before all the lovely protective equipment was created they had to set up rules of right-of-way so students wouldn’t kill themselves or each other. The target area in foil is covered by a lamé - which registers when a hit occurs.
The épée is a sword created after all the cool protective equipment came into being. So the rules compared to foil are like anarchy, every part of the body is a target and there is no right-of-way. It’s heavier than a foil and no lamé is required.
The sabre target area is everything above the waist except the hands. The action for sabre is much more slashing than stabbing as with the foil and Epee. I haven’t done much sabre work but it was probably the most exertive fencing I have done.
The footwork in fencing is also challenging. Basically your knees are at a slight bend, your right foot points forward if you are right dominant, left forward if you are left dominant. You keep them about shoulders width apart as you move around until you explode into a lunge. There is a whole crazy cadre of moves I am still trying to perfect.
So I may not be the best fencer on the strip but I am having a good time. If you are interested in taking up fencing, there may a program in your community. It’s a great sport, not only will you get a sweat-drenching workout that makes your face tomato red, you’ll learn about yourself.
Be sure to get an okay from your physician before you begin any exercise regimen. And one more caveat, if you bruise easily fencing may not be for you. My husband says I have delicate flower petal skin and I do bruise easily. The worst bruises of my life have come from fencing, rivaling and surpassing some of my bike crash bruises, so keep the Traumeel or 5 Photobrand handy if you are like me. 
  Perhaps the next class I should take is Horseback riding. In the meantime, I need to keep researching so I understand my characters better.
--- Carmen Bydalek


Jae Awkins said...

Great post, Carmen!
I took fencing in college and I know what you mean about 'wear & tear' on the body - I, too, bruise easily & looked like someone beat me up sometimes; but it was fun.
I love researching new things and can get lost in the process.
(Must refocus & write!)
--- Jae :o)

Pauline Trent said...

Very, very cool! What a great thing to do for yourself, not just your characters. The research is one of the best parts for me. Now, I'm thinking I need to write a character who fences. :)

Lynn Lovegreen said...

What an awesome sport, and cool research topic! I'm glad you created that character, and know you have many more inside you. Keep on writing Carmen!

Lizzie Newell said...

What a fun blog. I tried fencing ever so briefly.

Tam Linsey said...

Neat, Carmen! And I love that you do it for yourself, not the competition.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone!