Last Saturday, I fenced in my first tournament in over a year. What made it more peculiar about the tournament was that we fenced on the tennis courts at a local high school. I never thought I would have to pack a tube of SPF 50 (which I didn’t) for a fencing tournament. Fencers, coaches, officials, parents, and friends at the tournament all have racoon eyes as we were all wearing masks. The day, however, started out cloudy which gave everyone high hopes that fencing would be bearable although we all could smell burning trees (later I heard a news report that a brush fire near the high school was attributed to an arsonist).
Unfortunately, around noon, the clouds started to disappear in a hurry, leaving us with blinding sunshine. With the exception of a couple of tents set up for officials in certain corners, there was quite literally no shade anywhere. The heat was intolerable, and I was so glad I had packed extra water bottles the night before because I needed all of them to stay hydrated. I stayed in this scorching tennis court like a roasting chicken for over 10 hours and left the tournament with a few battle scars. The sunburn above my nose made me instantly regret not putting on sunscreen but applying sunscreen under the fencing mask would have felt so uncomfortable. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best experience, and I now appreciate fencing as an indoor sport more than ever.
Putting aside the sun-drenched tennis courts, it wasn’t too bad for my return to competitive fencing. The adrenaline rush, the familiar butterflies in my stomach, the nervous grin, yet excited emotions – oh, how deeply I missed them! Unlike training at the club, every single point matters in a tournament. I hadn’t felt that very sense of urgency for quite a while. Things as trivial as weight/shim testing right before every bout started to wake me up and push me back into the groove of competitive fencing. That feeling when each touch has the potential to shift an entire bout is something you can never feel anywhere else. The concentration and motivation that you must maintain at all times throughout your pool and DE bouts are definitely exhilarating. Returning to tournaments (even outdoor ones) was a huge step toward getting back to some semblance of normalcy.
A big part of feeling normal was seeing old friends. It really was the best part of competing again. For me, what makes fencing tournaments so fun and exciting isn’t about winning or losing; it is the camaraderie. Especially after the long hiatus, it was good to see a lot of familiar faces (albeit covered by the hair they had grown out throughout the entire quarantine period). Catching up with all my fencing friends from other clubs made getting roasted in the sun worth it. Everyone had changed tremendously within a year along with their fencing. Although it’s an individual sport, fencing has allowed me to connect with many people from all walks of life and build lasting friendships. Fencing last Saturday reminded me of what fencing means to my life. I can’t wait for the next tournament.