The first Canada Cup of the 2013-2014 fencing season was held in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The hosting venue was the same venue that was used for the Canada Games this past summer. My training leading up to this tournament was quite exceptional and I felt like I had it in me to win the entire competition. I was eager to get the first major tournament under my belt.
The morning of the competition I went through my usual routine to get psyched up and mentally focused. I arrived at the competition venue thirsty for victory. I had an excellent warm-up and, despite breaking my favourite blade, I was ready to go when the pool bouts were called.
There were 6 people(including myself) in my pool, with my main competition being Marc-Andre Leblanc and Farooq Habib. I’m good friends with both of them and I’ve had the opportunity to fence them a lot recently. Here are the results from my pools:
For those of you who don’t know how to read a pool sheet, please check out “Fencing 101” for an explanation!
I didn’t have any major problems in my pool, except for my match against Marc-Andre Leblanc. I knew he was going to be my toughest match and I wanted to make sure I made the right moves to set up my actions before committing to an attack against him. My intention was to start the bout slow and get a feel for his timing before applying pressure and pushing forward. I wanted to test the waters and find out where he would extend his arm if he were to attack me. I typically do this by jumping a bit into distance and extending my arm half-way forward. This feint is usually threatening enough to cause my opponent to react, giving me the information I was looking for. Unfortunately for me, Marc-Andre used his quick reaction time and pinpoint precision to hit my hand as I came forward. If I were to give a ‘chance-to-hit percentage’ of that action, I would say Marc-Andre had a 2% chance to score that touch. I was surprised that he was quick enough to score a hit on me and I knew I had to be very careful with my techniques because it was clear to see that Marc-Andre was in the zone and firing on all cylinders. I knew that if I were to extend my arm, that I had to commit 100% to an attack or else I would give up an easy point to Marc-Andre. I pressured him back towards his end of the piste and I could feel his tension level rising. I figured I had to make an attack before he would become comfortable with my pressure and distance. I launched my attack, but Marc-Andre was in perfect balance and was ready for it, he retreated with a counter-attack to secure a double touch. I was happy with my timing, but I still had underestimated how quickly Marc-Andre could execute a counter-attack. I went back to the en garde line knowing that I had an action that could work if I could get my opponent off balance or nervous. I tried to recreate the same action, but Marc-Andre was ready for it and I overextended in my lunge to try and score which is a big no-no against fencers using the extended french grip. Marc-Andre easily scored the 3rd touch of the bout.
At 3-1 I knew I had to change my game plan as I wasn’t doing anything to secure single touches. My idea was to use my mobility and try to force Marc-Andre off balance, which is an incredibly difficult task to accomplish. Nobody said it would be easy to beat Marc-Andre, so I poured every last bit of energy into this new tactic. I was able to catch Marc-Andre coming forward on two occasions to tie the score at 3 hits each. I wasn’t sure that my tactic was going to continue working because, even though I was scoring the hits, Marc-Andre wasn’t going off balance. I guessed that he would sit back and wait for me to attack because he scored all his points when I was on the offense. I knew this would buy me some time to set up my next attack. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my 4th touch at all. I just remember feeling really lucky about it, so I’m very sorry that there is no analysis of the 4th touch! After scoring a mysterious 4th touch, I found myself in a situation that I had been in before against Marc-Andre. A few years ago, I competed at the Eastern Championships and had Marc-Andre in my top 16 match. I was up 14-13 and with 1 point to go I was looking to score a double touche to secure victory. I was too patient and Marc-Andre scored 2 hits on me and I lost the match. I had told myself if I was ever against Marc-Andre and I was at that same position with 1 point to go that I would take the offensive and score that last touch. Staying true to my inner-coach I prepared myself to go on the attack! I knew Marc-Andre needed to score a touch against me so I was going to use his aggressiveness against him and try for a double touch. I’m going to assume Marc-Andre read my mind, because as I went for the attack he took a big step back and I overextended on my attack, successfully recreating his 3rd touch and repeating my mistake of overextending against a french grip fencer. I decided to go back to being defensive and making him attack me. There wasn’t any setup on the final action as my game plan was to wait for Marc-Andre to attack, I would retreat, and then look for an opening as he would come forward to close the distance. My prerequisites were met, Marc-Andre came forward, I stepped back, he attacked, I grabbed his blade in an attempt to parry-riposte, he slipped off and hit me to score the final touch and provide me with my first loss of the day. Marc-Andre fenced a great match and I knew he would have a good day.
I cleaned up the rest of my pool, including my match against Farooq. Normally he causes me problems but I was able to provoke his parries before I would pick a hole and attack. I wasn’t sure how the bad was going to pan out for me, but I took a dominant 5-2 victory. I finished my pool with 4 wins, 1 loss and +12 points for my indicators. I finished 8th after pools.
I was happy with my fencing leading up to the elimination matches and I knew I would be in a good spot to progress through the tournament.
My first direct elimination match was against Claude Plasse, an older fencer who certainly has tricks up his sleeve and is not to be underestimated. Whenever I fence someone who has been fencing longer than I’ve been alive, I know they have a few tricks and traps that they use because they, typically, can’t compete with most fencers on a physical level. They have to use their practiced point control and tricky actions to score their hits. I am always very hesitant to attack these older fencers until I can figure out what they are baiting me with and how they are wanting to score their touches. This usually results in a close early game. With Claude, he was eager to show me the underside of his hand. Unfortunately for me I really like to hit that target so I had to make sure that if I was going to attack his hand, that I was ready for whatever he had in store for me. In this case, Claude had a counter-attack ready as soon as I began my attack. I poked around before I tested the waters with a direct fleche on him and he responded with a counter-attack. Since Claude was only attempting counter-attacks I felt it was safe to assume that would be what he would rely on for the duration of our bout. By the time I had this information the score was 3-3. I knew that if I were to set up second-intention attacks I could provoke his counter-attack and then finish to whatever target was available. I used this strategy to finish the match 15-6, and to earn a spot in the top 32 fencers at this event.
My next elimination match to get into the top 16 was against a fencer from Quebec named Matthieu Robillard. He fenced in France for a number of years and I know he is an extremely talented and dangerous fencer. I knew this match wasn’t going to be an easy one. My game plan going into the bout was to push the pace and try to get him to over-commit on his actions before I would attack. I was able to pull a 4-2 lead using this strategy before the end of the 1st period.
At the start of the 2nd period, I could tell Matthieu was looking to cover a bit of ground with deep feints and then based off my reaction he would commit to an attack. I didn’t like the control he had while he was setting up his attack so I knew that I needed to regain footwork control and pressure him away from my end. We fought for control which led to a lot of actions in close quarters, and by the end of the 2nd period I was up 9-7.
After talking with my coach, John Brunning, I decided that I was going to try and attack into Matthieu to score a few points. It had worked earlier when we were fighting for piste control, but I didn’t have enough space or time to set up those actions. I figured that with enough setup I could make the actions work.
I was able to score early in the 3rd period with this tactic and I knew I just needed to hold onto the lead. Matthieu picked up the intensity of the match and I relinquished footwork control and switched to using confusing footwork to jam up his momentum and setups. In doing this I saw an opening for my attack into his preparation, but it was met with a parry-riposte and a single touch for Matthieu. I felt like I had just barely missed him and that I could still hang onto the action. Matthieu immediately took control of the footwork and I could tell his confidence was high. He knew he had control and I could only react to him. He launched an attack at me but I was ready for it and we scored a double touch to make the score 11-9. I really didn’t like how he was advancing on me, but I knew I was successful on defense and he was running out of time. I was able to take control of the footwork off the en garde line and I was looking to set up the feint, disengage attack that I was using all match. I pushed him to the end and when I felt him coming forward I initiated my attack. I threw the feint out, he bit on it and then I disengaged his parry and began my lunge into him. I felt like I had it, but he was quick enough to parry my blade and score to bring the match within 1 point at 11-10. I had to abandon that attack. If I attacked Matthieu he was ready for my attack and he would be able to score. I knew I had to sit back, give him control of the footwork and try to stall him and wait for him to commit while off balance or out of distance. It was a tactic I wasn’t very comfortable with employing. Matthieu pushed me back to my end and I tried to be spastic in my actions to show him that I was on edge or in a panicked mode. I was hoping this would draw an attack from him from too far of a distance. I believe it worked, because he attacked and I was ready for it, unfortunately for me, we scored a double touch.
The score was 12-11 with less than 30 seconds left in the match. I knew Matthieu was going to come out strong and fast but I figured he would waste time trying to provoke me into attacking him. He pushed me back to the end of the piste and his feints became deeper and deeper. I knew he would have to commit on one of them so I was looking to keep my point aimed at his body and I would attack into him to secure a double touch. Matthieu surprised me by feinting and then instead of committing, like I thought he would, he stepped back and then attacked me with a lunge. I was able to parry his blade but my tip was nowhere near him to score the touch. His tip was close to me so I tried to lock his blade up and move into him to get the referee to call a halt to the action. In most cases this is considered a cheap tactic and I would get penalized with a yellow card, warning me that if I make body contact on purpose again the ref would give my opponent the point. I was willing to risk a warning to keep my 1 point lead with 12 seconds left. The ref stopped the action, but he did not penalize me with a yellow card.With the clock running out I knew Matthieu was going to be hasty with his next attack, I anticipated it and I attacked into his first feint scoring a single touch. I was up 2 hits with 6 seconds left. I have drilled this situation many times and I knew I could take off 4 seconds each action. I knew he wouldn’t be able to win at this point. The ref started the action and I did my footwork pattern to stall Matthieu from launching an attack, by the time he attacked me I had shaved 5 seconds off the clock. I counter-attacked into his attack and we scored a double touch. The score was 14-12 with 1 second left on the clock. We returned to the en garde line and I was ready to run backwards to waste the final second on the clock. As the action started I retreated as fast as I could until I heard the ref call ‘halt’. The match was over, I had won a nail-biter and moved onto the top 16.
My opponent in the top 16 was Alexandre Lyssov from Ontario. Historically we have always had extremely close matches. Last year I beat him 15-14 in the quarter finals and I was eager to beat him again. My game plan approaching this match was to use second-intention to pull Alex out and parry or bind his blade before attacking him.
The match began with a short feeling out process. It didn’t take long for me to gain control of the footwork and push him to his end of the piste. I was using body feints to try and provoke an attack but Alex wasn’t ready to commit just yet. I was inching closer and closer looking to really mess with his nerves, but he stayed calm and cool under pressure. When Alex’s patience broke, he would attack, I would grab his blade, but then he would slip off and hit me. I tried a multitude of different setups to catch his blade but after the 1st period I was down a significant number of touches, 8-3.
When speaking with my coach he identified that I was not in balance when he attacked and this had to do with me becoming static in my movements which would allow Alex to time a hit and score on me while I was moving forward. This boiled down to a lack of discipline on my part. We adjusted my game plan and I felt confident that I could regain control of the match. Alex, just like Marc-Andre, uses a french grip so he has a natural reach advantage. Alex is also a couple inches taller than I am so his distance is a bit longer than mine. Right off the start of the 2nd period I was trying to pressure Alex and make two actions on his blade before attacking. I was trying desperately to anticipate his blade movements, but he was so slippery that even if I did beat his blade, he was back on target before I had recovered from my parry. I knew that I couldn’t rely on the tactic of finding his blade before attacking. I was able to get close enough to Alex that I felt I could score with direct actions, but because he had such a big lead I knew I needed to be cautious. I threw caution to the wind on two direct attacks, one which we doubled on and the other he scored a single touch. I had to abandon that tactic as he has a commanding 10-4 lead and I couldn’t give up any more double touches. I decided to take my time and try to catch him off guard when he came forward on me and I was able to pull some points back. I believe the score was 10-7 after the 2nd period.
At the period break my coach emphasized how important it was for me to stay in balance, as every time I was off balance Alex scored a single touch. The plan for the final period was to put pressure on him and as soon as he attacked, jump out of distance and look for him to overextend. The third period started out pretty rocky as he caught me coming forward twice before I could set up my actions. He was up 12-7 and I had some serious ground to cover. I kept true to my game plan and it allowed me to find a chink in Alex’s armor. I knew I could make that tactic work, I just had to be completely disciplined in every movement I made. I was ready for the challenge. I clawed my way back into the match and was able to score some nice touches on Alex. Unfortunately, in the process of gaining these hits my discipline had slipped and Alex was able to catch me sleeping. Even though the score was 14-10 at this point, I felt that my tactic was working and I just had to watch out for his early surprise attacks. I continued with my plan and I pushed Alex back to the end of the piste. I was able to provoke his attacks and score 3 more times in a row to be within one point of him at 14-13. I looked at the clock and saw there was less than 30 seconds. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spend very much time trying to provoke Alex and I had to get right in his face and make something happen. I was worried about his counter-attack and his displacement attacks. I knew my only chance was to let him attack me, and in order for him to want to attack me I had to get way too close for comfort. I pressured him hard and closed the distance, but he wasn’t committing. I knew I was running out of time and I needed to make something happen. I jumped into his distance and made a big inviting parry, hoping he would see the opening and go. He started his attack but realized it was a trap so he backed out. I had to chase him, he saw I was coming forward and stepped into me. Both of our lights went on but that meant he had scored his 15th hit to win the bout.
I was heartbroken about the loss, but I knew I had still made a great result in finishing 9th. I suffered two losses in that competition, both of which were by 1 touch.
There were a couple flaws in my game that were highlighted to me and I will be working very hard to address them before my next major tournament in Ohio on November the 10th.