Switching blades…

…not switchblades, that’s a different thing.

International épée in Doha

International épée in Doha

“I think you will be a better épée fencer than you were sabre fencer.”

[Olympia Fencing Centre]

The different weapons and target areas [Olympia Fencing Centre]

My coach in Doha has said this a few times now in recent weeks. The first time he said it, I was hit by a mixture of emotions. There was the pleasure in the compliment, a rare thing among fencing coaches, a kind of latent regret that I was leaving my ‘favourite’ weapon behind, and finally a concern that if I had fenced épée to begin with, I might have progressed to the level I so desperately wanted to reach when I was younger.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that while me now might have the “potential to one day be a decent épéeist,” (as I said, compliments are hard earned) my younger self would have been (and on the few occasions I was forced to try, was) a terrible terrible terrible epee fencer.

I guess, at this stage, I should look at the various differences between the two blades (and ignore foil completely because I know absolutely nothing about it).

The various weapons come with distinct rules and techniques but also very definite mentalities that make someone suited to it or otherwise.

Sabre - it is the slashy one...

Sabre – it is the slashy one…

Sabre – my original choice – is the fastest weapon with a target area of anything above the waist. It is slashy (technical term) as well as pokey (also a technical term) although the point is rarely used. It is so quick that instead of three sections of three minutes during a fight to 15 with a one minute break after each bit, you just stop for a minute after someone reaches eight points as it would be unusual for a fight to last more than three minutes anyway.

Because of its speed, you pretty much have to decide what you are doing between hits and then just go for it. If you mess up the next few seconds are run on instinct until one or other of you lands a hit. You have to adapt quickly and there isn’t a lot of thinking time.

This last bit is why sabre was good for me as a teenager and into my early 20s. One of the reasons I crapped out of competitions is that I had a tendency to over-think everything to the point where I was basically a ball of stress with a sword.

At the same time my concentration span was such that my brain would wander off in search of entertainment elsewhere after (at most) half an hour of thinking about the same thing. It is why I would regularly get y ass kicked playing chess, even if I had been ahead for the first half hour, my mind would give up and I would do stupid stuff and get slain for it.

So the need to think fast in sustained bursts and the fact that there was little room to think the rest of the time, made sabre the perfect weapon.

In épée, I discovered, being impatient to attack, or dropping concentration, is rapidly punished by a far more focussed opponent.

IMG_9991Epee, by the way, is the slowest of the weapons. It is exclusively pokey and the target area is anywhere on the body. When I first made the switch I was pretty awful and getting my ass handed to me by people who had been fencing a matter of months.

Muscle memory meant that successful parries were followed by cut cheek (not a hit), when I got tired my blade drifted into a sabre en guarde position (very bad times), I forgot to think  about my legs which were suddenly target area and my distance was all out of whack (which it had always been, but in épée I had no idea how to compensate.)

It was awful and added in to that was the fact that I was still too impatient. If someone didn’t attack for a few seconds I got bored and lunged in, not planning, not thinking, just going, and would be effortlessly hit for my trouble. My concentration would drop after ten seconds and suddenly the box would be beeping merrily, reminding me I just got beaten yet again.

I got more and more frustrated. I couldn’t use fencing as I had previously before the stress took over, as a way to relax, because when I relaxed my muscles were hard wired to do the wrong thing. It seemed to me then that the best thing would just be to stop, jack in the sport that I can’t really remember not doing and start something new.

Then, however, came to a new realisation. No one expected anything of me in this club. I wasn’t going to be expected to compete, or do well or be outstanding. I could just have fun fencing for the first time in possibly a decade.

With this turning point I started to relax. As I got used to everything and started to improve on the basics (one clue was when Christophe stopped having to yell “use your point” every few minutes) I started getting lessons again and slowly, slowly, I am starting to feel like maybe, one day, I could possibly be a half decent epee fencer.

Learning to be patient on the piste, to think while I am fencing, not to be distracted by the yells and gamesmanship, all that is still some way away, but I feel like it is reachable.

A fair while ago, while I was dealing with moving jobs, enforced unemployment, and a figurative landslide of paper work, I blogged about how I had rediscovered fencing at exactly the right time and how I had hated it by the time I quit in the UK.

Something I hadn’t considered before, but that my very wise coach suggested might be the case, was that switching blades was one of the reasons fencing became enjoyable again.

It is like a new sport without any of the baggage left over from the sabre years.

IMG_0088

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The things I miss…

… when I leave Qatar.

Ha! Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Most expats who haven’t brought their lives and families with them perpetually have half their brain at home, thinking about pub quizzes and jelly babies (although that could just be me) and fields and trees. And cricket. *Pauses to check scores.*

Oh yeah, and my family, obviously, goes without saying, ahem.

Moving on.

When I eventually do get back to all these they are just as wonderful as I remember them being, but being away from Qatar is also the time that I realise what I love about the place and what is keeping me here.

Within a few weeks of flying back in to Doha, though, I start pining for the things Doha can’t offer once again and it all goes round in a big loop that sees my always wanting to be somewhere I’m not.

Which is ridiculous because everywhere I have been/lived/visited has amazing things that you should focus on while you’re there rather than when you’ve left and it is too late to appreciate them.

So here are the things I miss about Qatar when I am in the UK, being thought about, for once, while I am in Doha.

1) People.

My friends in the UK are amazing and I miss them every day, but by virtue of the fact we have either grown up together, or had our formative university years together, or generally were drawn to each other, we are all more or less similar as far as upbringing, education and opinions are concerned.

The people here hit such a diverse range of nationalities, opinions, jobs, ages, opinions, upbringing and experience that I feel as though my understanding of the wider world as grown exponentially since I moved here.

Of course, you have the few that fit into the typical expat cliche of being here for the money and not much else, but it is easy enough to steer clear of them and seek out people that will add something to your life, either as a passing acquaintance or a close friend.

Having people to share Doha with makes Doha so much more full of joy than it seems when you first find your feet here.

2) Balloo.

I mean, look at the little guy:

I'm sorry, you seem to be under the impression that this bed belongs to you...

I’m sorry, you seem to be under the impression that this bed belongs to you…

He’s just a fluffy, vaguely sadistic, ball of adorable psychosis.

3) Work.

Yes, shut up, I miss my job.

I am still in the heady stage of loving my job and the opportunities I hope it will bring me.

I might have managed to and the same job if I had stayed in the UK, but it seems unlikely, and I will be forever grateful that Doha gave me the opportunity to do something I love to do.

4) The hidden joys.

Okay, a while ago I wrote a piece about how Doha isn’t boring, but that you just need to make more of and effort to find stuff to do.

The other thing is that, once you find something like the mangroves in Al Khor, or the random exhibits at Katara, or a cool display of swords at the MIA that your friend curated (go Bill), it means so much more because you found it and are able to share it with people.

Qatar is increasingly bringing in things to the country that might surprise people on the outside. Cirque de Soleil was here a while ago, today I am off to see Stomp, and there is a modern art gallery that is slowly becoming a pretty good place to be.

While I don’t specifically miss these things, when I’m in the UK there is less desire to do stuff I wouldn’t normally do, because I am doing the things I used to do all the time and now can’t.

Qatar is a place that encourages trying new things, because you’re old things don’t exist.

5) The down time.

When my mum visited at Christmas she observed “your weekends are real weekends”.

And it’s true (although now I’m doing shifts ‘weekend’ is any point I have more than one day off at a time). When we all have time off together we go and do things. Weekend things like shisha at the souq, or visiting the inland sea, or red bucket beach can just happen. No excessive planning, no worrying about the weather (most of the time) and no stresses.

Also, the head-clearing space and tranquility when you get there kind of makes you forget the construction noises the rest of the time.

The contrast almost makes the noise worthwhile.

Red Bucket Beach. I would tell you where to find it, but I don't want to...

Red Bucket Beach. I would tell you where to find it, but I don’t want to…

6) The inside spaces.

Green outside space does exist, don’t get me wrong, but it is getting to the time of year that Qatar’s five months of perfect weather are ending and the humidity and heat is beginning to kick, so being outside isn’t that fun.

When it is perfect for being out and about, everyone heads to the same parks and greenery, so Aspire Park and the MIA park both tend to be full of kids, as they should be, because they are parks, but it makes sitting out under a tree and writing kind of difficult.

However, some of the architecture in Doha is frankly amazing. The Museum of Islamic Art has one of the best foyers I have seen, and the QNCC looks like a frigging tree, so that’s awesome.

Also, it contains this.

Also, it contains this.