Through the tears in my eyes

You are all wrong when you say there is no crying in fencing!

It’s tough. There is crying and hard work and disappointment and heartache and frustration and confusion and anger and a myriad of other emotions that come with learning something challenging, competitive, and without a single “right” path.

(I say this with a love of the game and the challenges it bring, but let’s look at reality: it is a lot of hard work.)

I cry a lot….

Frustration, adrenaline, confusion, anger, extreme happiness: all of these things make me tear up… but I don’t have to be what is traditionally thought of as “upset”. If I am frustrated with my fight or hit too much adrenaline my eyes turn into friggin’ geysers. Then I become frustrated that I am crying, which adds exponentially to the frustration. Suddenly, I am a pitiful, useless mess. UGH!

But crying comes in many forms. Mine is super obvious because there are tears flying out of my eyeballs. Sometimes it comes in the form of anger, some people shut down, some build walls, some cling to old habits, some make excuses, some seek out injustices, some get “smart” or defensive. We all express emotions differently and “cry” in some form when we are learning difficult and frustrating things.

Fencing is at times frustratingly unpredictable (because anyone can win any bout), difficult to know you are on the right path, confusing and gosh darn it sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have upped the time I regularly practice and study to get beat by someone that I STARTED TEACHING! The even more frustrating is that in some cases, I knew I had better technique! …or thought I did, until I lost like a chump and questioned whether or not that was true. It’s a situation where I should not lose, but did anyway.

This is a game that it is easy to slip into questioning yourself while playing.

And yes, it shouldn’t matter, but guess what… it does. Sometimes when you lose it sucks. It matters because it is confusing. It matters because it makes you question why you woke up extra early to practice before work 3 times a week for months. It makes you question how you can work so hard and not get an easy win. It makes you question if a whole lot of time got wasted. It is confusing which causes frustration. It’s HARD. Sometimes it is hard to keep in perspective it is how you fight not who you beat.

A friend of mine once said: “It’s easy; you just move your body in 8 different non-natural positions at the same time.”

We act like it is easy, but that is because we forget how hard it is to learn. These are not natural motions. I think fencing may be like learning a new language. We have to teach our bodies how to hear the rolled rs then, say the rolled r, then to say them at the right time, then say them naturally and correctly at the right time. People with movement backgrounds such as dancing, martial arts, or other sports may already know how to understand or be able to create unusual motions the same way that a French speaker may pick up Italian faster than a Chinese speaker.

It is not easy, and often upsetting because it seems like it is to some, or should be. These are hard actions for your body and mind to coordinate, and then to try to coordinate in a the split second of an opponent’s opening….

To top things off… there is not one “right” paths to fencing or thinking about fencing. There are as many “right” ways to fence as there are different ways to express emotions. There are a million opinions on where to put your foot, sword, hand, dagger, head, eyes, brain, butt… you name it, and there are 5 clashing opinions on it. (Except the pointy end goes in the other person; that one is kinda universal, but where that point starts is another plethora of opinions).

All of these things can add up to be ridiculously frustrating.

Personally, I have realized that I have to just let the damn tears happen and accept that it is hard and frustrating. I accept that that is how I process frustration (even though it sucks). If I ignore the fact there is water on my face I can be frustrated without being frustrated that I am frustrated. If I can accept that I am frustrated because fencing is hard (instead of being frustrated that I am not doing it right), I can prevent it from spiralling out of control.

This shit we do is hard. It’s ok to be frustrated. Do not add to frustration by feeling it should not be or feeling you “should be better”. Fencing is hard: let it be hard.

8 comments to Through the tears in my eyes

  • Tibbie Croser

    Preach it, sister!

    Ilaria is a physically and mentally tough Free Scholar, but I’ve seen her shed tears of anger and frustration. For myself, I’ve cried both literally and in other ways (cursing, shouting, stomping off the floor or field, shutting down, mentally quitting in a fight by going purely defensive).

  • Ruairc

    Is this something that can be improved upon with effort?

    I understand that an expression of frustration is natural (whether it be tears, profanity, stomping around huffily, etc), but should it be something we should learn to control and minimize – at least because it can be off-putting for others?

    Or, on the other hand, does a lack of frustration and emotionality indicate that we’re not trying hard enough? Do we always want to be pushing our boundaries?

    • Dante di Pietro

      Crying is a physiological response to stress that can be controlled about as well as a sneeze: sometimes, that is just coming out. “Stomping around huffily,” etc., are 100% controllable actions and not in the same realm.

      Frustration is something you feel reactively, but you can control how it affects you and to what degree. This isn’t automatically easy and takes a degree of mind training to accomplish. We all have these emotions, but we don’t all manage them the same ways. Some people will ALWAYS cry if frustrated, so trying not to cry is futile. Not becoming flustered in the first place is much more realistic.

      To use myself as an example, I was pretty disappointed in my performance at Ruby Joust. In fact, barring one year where I had to withdraw over a bad reaction to an allergy medication, it was my worst performance since 2004! I wasn’t happy with any of my fights, win or lose. I didn’t get into any negative self-talk, but instead looked at what I had done poorly and worked backward to determine why that had occurred. Ultimately, I discovered that the ankle sprain I’d had in September had really screwed up my measure and form because I had to go without fighting for a couple months, and then fight without lunging for a few more. It’s nearly 11 months later and I am finally feeling like I am back to where I was LAST August again. Frustrating? Yes, absolutely! Have I let it bother me? Not to any degree that it might affect my performance. If I’d been more diligent, it wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place, so what right do I have to be annoyed with myself? Far better to use that energy to fix the problem and to not make the same mistake twice.

  • Raphael

    Well said, Letia. More people should read these words.

  • Khaula

    This hits at exactly what’s been bugging me. I’ve been driving myself crazy for months over not being good enough to beat a particular fencer I feel like I “should” be better than, and acting really grumpy about it. Thank you for the post.

  • Dom

    I wanted to write a reply to this earlier but I didn’t have time to give it the attention that I wanted until now.

    First of all there IS absolutely crying in fencing. Fencing is a highly competitive art that we pour our heart, body and soul in to. And it can take a giant load of all three of those to achieve success, which naturally means that along the way our failures will be disappointing enough to evoke an emotional response. You can’t have the thrill of victory without risking the agony of defeat. You see football players etc cry all the time when they lose, nobody accuses them of hating their sport or not having enough fun. Whomever told you that there is no crying, probably saw you crying and wanted to comfort you so that you would feel better in that moment. But there is a larger attitude in SCA fencing, one that says that if you are crying or showing emotion then you are taking it too seriously(usually perpetuated by fighters who have already achieved large amounts of success). You hear it a lot in the forms of “this is supposed to be fun” or “don’t expect to win every time” and many other variations. As if the entire endeavor should be like eating ice cream and cake. No. Hell no. This is unrealistic. Fencing, and the SCA, are things that we pour ourselves in to, spend large amounts of time and money on, and it’s all oriented towards bettering ourselves(yes, even when we are teaching others). We have to take the bad with the good, obviously, but make constant effort to tip the scales towards the good. And there is nothing wrong with putting so much of yourself in to it that there is disappointment when we fail and elation when we succeed. The pressure to be happy all the time stifles this natural conflict within us. Don’t worry about being happy and cheerful all the time, give yourself permission to embrace the struggle, fight hard and give it everything you’ve got.
    How do you do that? Well, you alluded to the answer several times in your post without realizing it. You mentioned getting beaten by people you once taught, and how there is no “one way” to follow, and how frustrating and counter intuitive techniques can be. You have fallen in to a very common trap of mixing up your individual skill techniques with your performance. The line between learning and executing has become blurred. Execution is it’s own separate animal. We spend lots of time learning technique, theory, movement patterns and strategies but the act of putting all of that together to win a fight is a skill all it’s own. A skill that has to be practiced and learned in it’s own right. When someone beats you even though they may be less experienced or know fewer techniques, they have done so by executing their repertoire more effectively. When people talk about knocking the rust off, or when you mentioned ramping your game back up because you got beat by someone you used to teach, what’ we’re doing is trying to make our execution better. It’s the same way you are tuning a race car engine, you aren’t re-teaching the car how to be a car, you are looking for better performance when the race starts. So you have to get out there and get racing! Don’t treat SCA events like your middle school home room, they are your own goddamn Rocky movie! Figure out what techniques work best for YOU(training in a meat locker?), figure out what gets YOU performing at your highest level, pick a goal to strive for(remember Rocky didn’t win his first fight with Apollo). Look for chances to pull out all the stops, dig deep within yourself to get that last bit of performance. And above all we have to embrace the journey, don’t hide your passion.

    Note. I am specifically not referring to issues like angry outbursts, constant emotive frustration, being unable to emotionally handle failure, or bad sportsmanship. Basically I see the subject of Letia’s post as a separate issue from someone being a jerk due to their frustration.

    • Dante di Pietro

      Oh, hell yeah.

      Fencing is very fun, but it’s utterly false to say that it has to be constantly pleasurable or that it ought not be taken seriously. In a given week, I put close to the equivalent of a part-time job into becoming a better fencer if I include practice, fitness, research, and other training. I have no problem with people doing it as hobbyists who are purely fencing for entertainment the same way that I might play MarioKart, and it frustrates me when the competitive side of it is looked down upon. No one who is good at anything got that way by being disinterested.

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