Friday 11th August 2017

Today has been a day of incredible mental and physical resilience.
I’m at Fightcamp this weekend.  It’s basically a weekend in a field with lots of people with lots of different weapons.  There are a load of seminars with some of the best instructors in the world, so if you want to learn trench warfare or knife fighting, then there’s a seminar on that for you.  And by seminar, I mean kitting up in armour and stabbing each other.
There are also a number of competitions, and that’s predominantly where my interest lies.  With the advent of the world rankings, this is probably a less serious competition than it once although many will tell you that this has always been a more relaxed fun competition.  (when I started swordfighting there was a weird glut of tournaments and Fightcamp was always seen as the thing).  However, I think for people competing to win, I would say there’s no such thing as a relaxed comeptition.
But you get great fighters from clubs all across Europe and it does weapon combinations you don’t see in the more serious tournament circuit.
My first competition was the Assault at Arms.  This is a backswording competition.  Now the intelligent amongst you will note that I do not do backsword.  For years I hated people who would come into a discipline with no knowledge and basically get by with another discipline  (Such as people doing sabre in a sword & buckler competition).  But in recent months my attitude has changed.  If you are doing the set discipline properly you should win and the fact that someone is quicker with a different discipline is a reflection on you rather them.
And so I decided to enter the Assault at Arms and basically do single sidesword.  This was my fun competition.  I wasn’t trying to win, I just looked at it as a way to test myself by using my weakest discipline in a competition where that discipline was already at a slight disadvantage.
I came comfortably second in my pool which I’m really happy about as it was really nothing more than a warm up for the main event.  Unfortunately, only the top person from each pool went through, but given I had single rapier coming up, I wasn’t disappointed.
I used to think single rapier was my best discipline, but with tournaments more focused on rapier & dagger I don’t do so much of it any more.  Indeed, in the few weeks since Astolat, I feel like I’ve been doing it for ages, and couldn’t wait for next Monday when I’m back with the dagger.  But I wanted to do well in this tournament.
A year ago, at Fightcamp, I had my tournament meltdown.  It happens, and I’ve seen it happen to other fencers.  You tell yourself that this is a fun competition, that sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes bad, and then suddenly it becomes the most important competition in the world.  And then you underperform, and all that frustration, anger and hurt just comes bubbling to the surface.
A year ago, I was 6 months into upping my training.  I was training harder than anyone, I’d rebuilt muscle.  I wanted to be one of the top fencers but whilst no-one was trying to stop me, I honestly think people respectfully believed that I wasn’t capable.  I underperformed in single rapier and came so close to giving up.
So this tournament has history with me.  As much as I say it doesn’t matter (it won’t improve my world rankings) I wanted to do well in this one more than anything.
We had three pools, and I was in the last one.  That meant hanging around a lot and help judging.  If I was impressed with anything it’s how our students are really good at judging and ended up getting involved.  However, I need to learn that me being outside, even on an only partially sunny day, is a bad idea.  I have no UV protection on my face and burn incredibly easy.
And I did, and basically came down with a touch of heatstroke, although I did not realise it at the time.  I had a banging headache and was asked to judge but asked someone to help with scores and my head was a shambles.  And then we somehow mixed up the scoring on Christophe’s and Masha’s fight.  It would be bad enough if it was anyone’s but given as it was fellow students, it was doubly bad.  I felt awful both physically and emotionally.  I felt I’d just dicked over their chances.
But then another fighter came on  (who shall remain nameless but will now forever be a dick who I will remember beating in rapier & dagger) and started taking the piss.  It was totally uncalled for and completely took me off my game.  My head was too busy being pissed off and upset and ill to focus on my fights.
I didn’t feel I fenced well.  I was off my game.  But the battle wasn’t with the other person, it was with myself, trying to regain focus, trying to turn my mental state away from feeling already defeated.  I cannot tell you how most of my fights went, because I was mentally fighting with myself the entire time in an epic battle that totally dwarfed what was taking place on the field in front of me.
But somehow, I did OK.  I’m not sure how, but as the fights progressed and I got a handle on my mental struggle my game improved.  I ended up coming joint 2nd, and so had to go into a sudden death elimination, as the top 2 from each pool went through.
Jesus, as if this day couldn’t be any more tough:  mentally out of the game, with heat stroke, and a sudden death elimination.
I do not remember that fight.  I was inside my own head the entire time, trying to control my breathing, bring my head into a place where I was in the moment, not looking at the past or dreaming of the future.
I won.  I do not how but I made it to the semi-finals.  I made the top 6.
To say that this felt better than if I had one gold would not be a lie.  I fought like I never fought to get there, and after such a tough fight and last year’s disappointment, people will probably never know JUST how much that meant to me.
Now you could say that if other fighters had been there (Pim, Jay, Stewart) had been there I might not have made it… but I’ve come to realise that my greatest challenges come from inside the school, not outside it… and we train together all the time.
I got eliminated in my semi-final by the person who eventually won.  Matt said I fought really well.  I don’t know.  Dan videoed me fighting and Fightcamp filmed the semi-finals as well so I’ll be able to review.  But even Sasha said I did well, and Sasha NEVER says people do well (Russian feedback).
So today was a massive, massive victory, but it was over myself rather than any competitor.  The more I progress, the more I’m convinced that good fighting is with yourself and not with anyone else.  Maybe that’s true for any competitive sport but I’m proud of my mental game today.
Best of all is seeing that facebook post that said that Matt, Sasha and myself got through to the finals.  I can’t explain why that feels like such a validation.  I guess fighting in a school with so many good fighters it’s easy to feel that you’re behind the pack.  I suppose, in other ways, casting myself as the underdog craving that validation really fires me up.
I got very, very drunk.  As I said, tonight was either going to be toasting my victory or drowning my sorrows.  Tomorrow is a hangover day as I have no competitions.  But on Sunday there’s the team melee (The Hangover Games as I like to call them) and then the Eggleton Cup (which I will be fighting with sword and buckler).
Given that rapier went so well  (the pressure was on for me to reach a quarter final to continue the streak) if I do rubbish in  Eggleton, it’ll still be a successful weekend…. but now I’m hungry.  Now I’m really hungry.  I want gold.  I really, really want gold.  Imagine what I could do without heat stroke and an off mental game.
And whilst I think that’s extremely unlikely this year so was the thought of me ever making a semi-final a year ago.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels.  Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.

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