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Stewart Hotston

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fencing

Reflections from a noob on the conservation of information

This weekend I went to Fantasy Con here in the UK and it was brilliant. This is the second convention I’ve been to, after Nineworlds a little earlier in the year. It was a little smaller than I was expecting but filled with people from across the industry – writers, readers, editors, publishers and even an agent or two. I was supposed to be at a LARP (but a broken tarsal put paid to that) but requests that I do a couple of panels sold me on going because, hey, I quite like talking about stuff when asked and in this case they were topics I felt I could at least contribute to without looking silly.

I also went to a bunch of panels and worked hard on BarCon (which as you can imagine included alcohol). There was a sinister room of which Allen Stroud kindly took a few of us on a tour – only to regret it almost instantly.

 

In terms of personal goals I wanted to meet people in the industry, get to know them, explore current trends and figure out where I go next. Talking to someone about pitches (I think it was Jon Oliver from Solaris/Abaddon) reminded me that I hate being sold to and although as an author I need to find a way to communicate what I’m passionate about writing, I was committed to actually having a good time, laughing and making some new friends (if that last isn’t too bold).

I was delightfully entertained by Nate Crowley every time we crossed paths and I hope we get to crew together at Empire next year because I think we’d make a frightening double act.

I have lots of people to thank, not least David Moore and Jon Oliver for always being around to chat to, Adrian Tchaikovsky (and Annie), Phil Sloman, Simon Bestwick, Allen Stroud, Jeanette Ng, Anna Smith Spark, Theresa Derwin and David Tallerman for all being sparkling company and having interesting stuff to say.

The highlight though was that after my comment last week that I wasn’t quite sure what to do next and entirely different option as presented as the most obvious answer. Roped into a discussion about cosmology (in the theoretical physics sense) I got a bit fanboy about information theory and how there’s a great first contact story in it and someone said – ‘don’t just talk about it, write it because I want to read that story.’

I was pleased to hear it but then it was pointed out that they were a commissioning editor. So guess what…I’m now writing out and planning that very novella. Which involves me reading information theory thermodynamics papers from Arxiv.org…oh, and the stages of grief as it’s that kind of story.

At the same time I got an open invite to pitch to another publisher whose work I love. I’m now also frantically editing that piece because it’s in need of it but there you go. I’m not sure it’s for them but everyone who’s read the alpha version thinks it’s the most compelling piece I’ve written so you never know…

Swordfish Prep

I’m off to Swordfish today. I’m quite nervous. There are 8 of us from School of the Sword going. Three of us have won medals this year in international tournaments, including me. In theory we should place well in the different disciplines we’re representing. However, this is the largest competition in the world (it’s not officially the world championships but it’s regarded almost as such). It’s also only my 3rd competition ever. Despite feeling like I’m nearly at my best, I’m also certain that my competition craft simply isn’t at the same level as my technical skill.

Having said that, flying into Gothenburg will be awesome and there will be lots of people I know there from around the world all looking to perform well and teach each other new things. I’m particularly looking forward to some single dagger seminars.

In the run up to the event probably the single most important thing I’ve taken away from my training was something that Caroline Stewart and Phil Marshall said on diet, nutrition and making sure that we’re all functioning with as much energy as we’ll take into the first fight by the last fight. To that end I’m resolving to take proper bottles so I can have enough liquid as well as buying some sweets for popping between fights. I guess I’ve known it’s important but it was only when someone else laid it out starkly that I realised I could see my own standard dropping as the number of fights built up and this could be traced directly back to a lack of liquid and energy. I’m going old fashioned with peanut M&Ms for quick and slow release energy, I’m not quite sure I’m star trek enough for energy gels.

But hey, I’m going to try and stab other people with swords while they try to stab me in return. I’m going to have to submit to the vagaries of judging – where even the best judges are only human and the worst…still only human. I’m going to be tentatively letting my competitive side out while trying not to allow myself to get too hyped so that when I inevitably don’t conquer the universe on my first attempt I can live with myself. The journey to this point has been quite an eye opener for me – and I’m someone who thinks they’ve got a good view of what they’re like and how I’m motivated. To discover, at the age of 40, that I’m good at a sport, good enough to win medals at an elite standard, is a shock I’m still not quite over. It’s propelled me to exercise more, to keep practising, to be more disciplined and to worry about the collection of small injuries I’ve collected over the year. At the same time I find the focus I need to fight well, to pick myself up after losing a fight or even just a point, is one I’ve realised can be translated straight across to the rest of my life. I’ve said to myself ‘get up and start again, that’s how you fight successfully’ more than once about work, writing and life in general.

At the same time, such focus is exhausting and can’t be kept up for extended periods, it’s simply too intense and anti-social. By this time next week I’ll be taking, what I consider to be, a well earned rest. For now, en garde you curs, cos if you look at me like that I’ll cut ya.

Swordfish

I’m currently ‘training’ for Swordfish. By which I mean I’m slowly racking up a series of minor but frustrating injuries that are hampering my ability to keep pushing through. Without boring you I’ve had aggravated nerves, ligament strains, hyper-extensions and muscle locks.

However, every time I feel a little annoyed or down about it I look at this photo and think happy thoughts.

It’s less than three weeks to Swordfish now, the flights are booked (God bless Avios points that made it pretty much free), the hotel’s all done and I’m considering buying some breeches if only because Josh Davies and Adrian Faulkner have done the same. (I think I’ll end up with some slim fit tracksuit pants). We’re into the final stretch and I think I can make four more training sessions before it arrives.

Last night I fenced even though I am/was nursing an injury to my ankle – so at less than full speed, but Pim, a two time winner of the rapier and dagger at Swordfish, was taking us through competitive stress situations in preparation. The main learning point for me was about demonstrating clear hits. We were only half judging the bouts last night (as in the scores weren’t really important) but there were several occasions where hits were called that neither fencer felt were given/received and then occasions where there were definite hits but no one called them. For me it wasn’t about the frustration of not having hits called but actually about finding a way to ensure that the hits I’m delivering successfully are clear and obvious. It means no thrusts to the wrist above the hilt (because even though it’s good fencing NO ONE EVER SEES THEM) and several other factors. It also means moving quickly to take advantage in the fight but not giving up your sense of your own style.

This year is the first year in which I’ve been fighting competitively and I’ve still got a lot to learn. As it stands I’d be happy to get out of the pools stage but we’ll have to see.

Fightcamp review

I’m now in Portugal after my first fightcamp, which coincidentally is my second tournament both for this year and ever. I came away with some real learning points which is what I want to talk about here.

First though I have to say that I had some of the best exchanges I’ve had in a long time in that top field at the Grange. Especially with Sam Booth, Christophe Loyce and Adrian Faulkner who I fought extensively as part of my rapier qualification pool. The technical fencing, judging and sense of sportsmanship was hard to beat – so much so that Sam, who’s a member of the London Historical Fencing Club, awarded their Fencing Award to us – which was really humbling.

I came away from the tournament having been knocked out in the finals – so a good result BUT crucially I feel I could have done better – and will do better – if I focus on two points. One, technically my thrusts were not strong and that’s something I need to work on and two, I need to take my chances. Three times in my fight with Sasha I felt I made an opening but didn’t take it. I have the same with Reinis Rinka in an informal exchange where he said a couple of times to me – you could have thrust then. I find that I default to a defender’s posture even after I technically make good openings for attack and I’m going to focus on getting that right over the next three months before we get to Swordfish. I think the latter point is the more important of the two because I know I’ve got there in my sidesword and buckler and feel pretty much unstoppable in that discipline right now (so you can imagine how downhearted I was that I had to head off before the Eggleton Cup began – although props to Jay Maxwell, another School of the Sword member, who won Silver and who I’d love to have fought in a competition setting).

Having only done two tournaments for anything ever, both this year and delivering what I think were solid performances in both I am both still disappointed with my achievements but also aware that coming out of Fightcamp I can look at what I did there and see how tournament experience is critical in performing well – I look back at my fight with Alexander Makarov and see where I believe I went wrong, what i could have done to make it better and what he did that i should have taken advantage of. It’s a fascinating position to be in and something I’ll be reflecting on hard in the weeks to come.

Finally I want to write about the judging. It was mixed. I saw a number of missed hits, some hits that never existed and a good deal of inconsistency among judging at all levels. It was most disheartening to see it in the finals of each of the competitions I watched. I’m not a longsworder or sabreist so I can’t really speak with authority there but I can say that i think there are better rule sets for producing good fencing in Rapier. In particular I’d prefer to see rules that promote rapier exchanges that are about the technique not the hits nor the vicissitudes of what people think is historically appropriate. I’ve seen it run really well elsewhere – it’s intensive judging because of the speed but I think other rulesets can help judges produce more consistent results while also promoting more beautiful fights. Having said that I also think inconsistency is most often down to judging. No one is EVER going to get it right every time BUT I think judges should at least be practitioners of the specific discipline they’re judging and they should also have plenty of experience in judging. To that end, as part of School of Sword, we’re going to look at some opportunities for judges to train (and fight too) to be as good as they can be.

It might be that judging feels somehow less important than exchanging – but when a poor judging decision impacts the outcome of an exchange it should be a responsibility for us all to get right because we owe it to each other to help fighters get the outcomes their fencing deserves.

 

 

 

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