This is my last blog post of the 2013-2014 fencing season.
On May 16th, the Canadian National Championships was held in Toronto, Ontario. Nationals was the last qualification for the Pan-American Championships and World Championships. Three spots on Team Canada had already been decided, but the final spot was still up for grabs between Marc-Andre Leblanc and myself. I had the advantage as I was ahead in points. Marc-Andre essentially needed to win the tournament to qualify for his spot. Winning the Canadian Nationals isn’t an easy task. Unfortunately for me, Marc-Andre was able to put on quite a performance and beat everyone in his path on his way to becoming the 2014 National Champion and sinking into the last spot to represent Team Canada. I was a little heart broken, but I had my chance and I wasn’t able to secure my spot. The tournament was very exciting and action-packed. I had a tough route on my way to finishing 6th, but I am very happy with how I fenced. I will not be doing the usual full analysis as I fenced 12 matches (six pool bouts, six elimination bouts).
After the Grand Prix in Richmond, I had returned home to train in preparation for my final World Cup in Paris. The first day of training I was doing plyometric box jumps while holding a 35lbs weight. I jumped on the box, but my right foot slipped and I crashed to the floor. In an effort to regain my balance I let go of the weight I was holding which inconveniently landed right where my leg had crashed into the box. I had a huge mark on my shin and I felt a significant amount of pain. After continuing to train on it for a couple days I had my leg x-rayed and the results showed a vertical fracture. I was told it would take about two months to heal. With Paris three weeks away and Nationals five weeks away, I couldn’t afford to take two months to heal. I dialed back my training to adjust for my injury. This was the hardest part of my season for me as I get anxious when I can’t train and prepare the way I want to. I trained for a total of three days before heading to Paris, where I fenced very well! I didn’t make any points at the competition, but I made it out of a nightmare pool and beat Alexei Tikhomirov of Russia before losing to Grunold from Switzerland and finishing 156th/256. I wore a shin pad on my front shin to protect my leg.
When I returned from Paris, I took a couple days off before getting back in the club and training for Nationals. I had two weeks to prepare and I was going to make the most of it. I followed the taper plan and I felt absolutely amazing before catching my flight to Toronto. I felt that I had it in me to not only secure my spot on Team Canada, but to win Nationals. I knew it would be a tough day, but I always welcome a challenge.
I arrived in Toronto and had my usual pre-tournament supper, pizza and a glass of red wine. I hung out with my teammates for a bit before retiring to my room where I called my wife for my pre-tournament pep talk. Needless to say, I was confident and anxious. I wanted to define my own destiny and earn my spot on Team Canada. I had a great sleep and an excellent breakfast and I was off to the venue.
I had a great warm-up and I knew that my mind was ready and my body was firing. I didn’t care who I was going to come up against, I wanted to make them my victims.
Here are the results from my pools:
My pool was tough, but it was easier than usual because Clement Femenias-Metivet had broken his right arm while long boarding a week before Nationals. He was fencing left-handed with a French grip. Normally he is a very tough competitor, but it is hard to translate skills from your dominate side to your weak side. That being said, Richard Ishac and Darcy Gates are very formidable opponents. Richard has an excellent second-intention game and he is deceptively fast on his attacks. Darcy is tall and he uses his reach very effectively. Darcy’s point control is always something to fear, and he never backs down. I’ve come to learn over the years that you don’t get in a blade exchange with Darcy, he will win.
I only had a specific game plan for Darcy Gates. I hadn’t fenced Richard Ishac in a long time and all I could remember was that he was calm and super-fast. For Darcy I had the plan to stay at a really long distance and try to hit the underside of his hand while waiting for him to come forward with an attack. This worked for my first attack, but he was able to score on an attack when I attempted this again. When Darcy scored his first touch, he unintentionally (I assumed) bumped me with his shoulder on his way past me while celebrating his hit. Unfortunately for him, this awoke the beast inside of me. I didn’t want to poke away and wait for him, I wanted to score. I picked up the pace of my footwork and began searching for holes. I found a timing that I was sure I could use to hit his foot, and I was confident on a feint, disengage attack on his step forward as he was searching for the blade. I don’t remember if I went for the foot first or second, but I scored on both of those attacks. I knew he had to come to me so I decided to keep the foot shot in my back pocket incase the timing presented itself and I worked to set up second-intention actions to his wrist. I was firing on all cylinders and I was able to win the match 5-1.
When my pool was done, I was thirsty. Not for water like most athletes want/need, I was thirsty for victory. Unfortunately I had to wait until pools were done and the seedings were posted to see who I would fence next.
I finished 1st out of pools, ahead of my mortal enemy of the day by only one touch! Marc-Andre had finished 2nd. I was a little sad because this meant the only way I would fence Marc-Andre was if we met in the finals. I wanted to meet him earlier and go toe-to-toe with him for the last spot. We had an incomplete tableau of 128, so I had a bye through the round of 128. My first match was against Matson Lalor from BC. I felt like Matson was having some blade problems as he would get close to hitting me but his light wouldn’t go off. After pulling ahead 12-0, I looked to close the match out with double touches. I finished the match 15-4. I was feeling very confident and very sure of every little bit of training I had done up to this point. My next match was against Maxime Gerin-Lajoie from Quebec.
Guillemin 15 – Gerin-Lajoie 12
One of my first ever national competitions I had competed against Gerin-Lajoie. At the time he crushed me 15-1. I was happy that about 10 years later I had my chance for revenge! My game plan was to find out how long his attacks were so I could sit safely outside of that range and set up my own long attacks. All I knew was that he was very fast, and really hard to hit on his attack.
The first period was pretty anti-climactic. I was trying to establish a safe distance and Maxime wasn’t looking to take any risks. I attempted a handful of foot shots, but he dodged each one. We scored a bunch of doubles, but he took a lead capitalizing on a sloppy attack on my part. I had attempted a beat attack, but my point soared high over his shoulder. He was ready and scored an easy touch. I believe the score was 4-3 for Maxime after the first period. I walked back to my coach to discuss my findings, but before I got there I looked over at Maxime and noticed how tired he was. I am very glad I saw that, because I knew what I needed to do. I needed to wear him out and catch a lead in the third period when he was tired. I discussed this with my coach, and I was ready for two periods of intense work. I wasn’t concerned so much with the score as I was with keeping Maxime moving and busy. I applied a significant amount of pressure to my opponent and I was constantly beating his blade out of the way. I found that if I pushed him near his end of the strip and I hit his blade around before attempting an attack, I could surprise him and then he would expend a lot of energy with a jerking reaction. This was all fine, but I still needed to score points. I had found an opening on an advance lunge accompanied by a disengage and I was able to score the tying touch. We scored a couple doubles and ended the second period tied at 7-7. I told my coach that I had it. I knew how to win and I just needed to keep the intensity up. I was going to use the same attack I had scored with earlier to ensure I kept a lead late into the third period. It was going to be a dog fight, but it was clear that Maxime was exhausted and I was just started to sweat. I have my personal trainer to thank for that. All of those 5:00 AM workouts were proving their worth.
The third period started much like the second with me applying pressure and keeping Maxime extremely busy. After every stop in the match, he was looking for a way to catch his breath. Maxime wasn’t out of it though, and he fought on regardless of how tired he was. We scored a couple single touches back to back and with less than a minute the score was tied at 11-11. I looked at the clock and knew that it was my time to pull out this action and grab my lead. I set up the action with a lot of shallow feints to his hand and arm until I knew he would think to parry any attack I would launch. Once I was confident that his reaction would be a parry and not a counter-attack I threw out the best advance lunge in my arsenal. I disengaged his inevitable parry before sinking my tip into his chest. There was about 30 seconds left in the match and I had my lead. It was all on Maxime to score the tying touch and I expected him to come with full force. Maxime is not a guy who gives up. He was tired, and I was hoping fatigue would play into his action. I braced myself for his next attack and I was planning on retreating with a parry, then throwing myself forward with a riposte. I was just looking for a double touch. Maxime took his time advancing forward, I believe he was only looking to tie the match and head into overtime. He was looking for his one shot, I wasn’t going to react until I knew he committed on his attack. Time was on my side, so Maxime eventually had to initiate an action. He came forward with a beat attack, I retreated and was able to bind Maxime’s blade, and before I could throw myself forward Maxime closed the distance and we were side by side. I jumped to free my blade from the bind and I secured a hit on Maxime’s flank. I knew I was lucky to have scored a single touch. I feel that 9/10 times that touch would’ve been a double. With around 15 seconds left and a 13-11 lead I had no time to celebrate. I still had two more points to score. Maxime charged at me off the line and we scored a double touch. He didn’t do a direct attack, but instead he attacked with an octave bind. I assumed this was his best action and that he would try it again. To deal with it, I lined up to his left so that when he started his octave I could simply counter-attack and the weak part of his blade would land on the strong part of my blade. Maxime sprinted off the line and as soon as I saw his blade moving in a circular motion downwards, I launched my counter-attack to score the winning touch of the match!
It was a well-fought match and I felt like if I could beat Maxime, I could beat anyone. My next opponent would be Maxime’s teammate, Marc-Antoine Blais-Belanger.
Guillemin 15 – Blais-Belanger 12
I hadn’t fenced Blais in an elimination match for a couple years. The last time I had fenced him, I was fencing with a broken arm. He won quite easily 15-7. It felt only fair to give me another shot at him, this time only with a fractured leg. I had spent a lot of time analyzing Blais, and I felt I had a great strategy going into the match. I was eager to test it out. Marc-Antoine has an incredible amount of talent. He is a great down-to-earth guy and he is very intelligent. I have a great deal of respect for him and his fencing. Just last year at World Championships he beat a number of top ranked fencers to finish in the top 64 in the World! He has a pretty simple game based around parry-riposte. He has his weight mostly over his front foot so he can quickly close the distance on his riposte. He is a dangerous fencer to attack, and he has a lot of patience. He tends to favour his quarte and octave parries. Going for his foot is usually a bad idea because he typically will be able to parry your attack and since his weight is already on his front foot, he doesn’t have far to extend his arm to hit you.
My plan was to put pressure trying to draw him out while throwing out attacks to his hand. I had figured that I could fleche to his flank instead of his arm or shoulder and even though he would parry I would be able to continue my attack through the parry and score the hit. That was what I had planned to set my game up around. I wanted to get an early lead and force him to play into my defensive game. I wanted to eliminate his strength (defense) and force him to fight into my strength (counter-offense).
Less than a minute into the match I had attempted a fleche to his flank and to my surprise he was still able to parry my blade and score a riposte. I had tried to poke away at his hand but he was able to hit my hand in return. Less than two minutes into the match and I had to throw out the entire game plan I had. Everything that I thought would work, wasn’t. I can’t clearly remember the score at the end of the first period but Blais had a lead of one or two points. I spoke with my coach at the break and we figured my best chance was to close the distance quickly, forcing Blais to react and if Blais stood up then I could launch an attack with a disengage of his inevitable parry. Easier said than done. I used this strategy to tie the match up but Blais changed what he was doing and we finished the second period with Blais winning 10-8. We didn’t have a strategy change, but I decided I would line up to Blais’ left side because he has a tendency to lean into his actions. I figured that if I was lined up to his outside, when he overextended I would have a free shot at hitting his shoulder. Staying on the outside would also make it harder for Blais to parry me. I also had an action in my back pocket that I had used with great success in a pool match against Blais. I was going to feign a flick to his wrist and immediately follow that feint up with a flick to his leg. The theory behind it is he won’t respond to the first flick, allowing me to get a little closer than usual to him and when he realizes I’m too close he has to try to parry a flick attack, which is extremely difficult without moving backwards. I didn’t want to use this to try and tie up the score because I felt I had a good idea in lining up to his outside.
It didn’t take long in the third period for me to score my ninth touch. Blais had done a beat attack and I retreated and was able to hit his shoulder on his way in. Lining up to the outside had definitely paid off on that attack. I tried to get in a similar situation by creeping a little too close to Blais in hopes that he would see his opportunity to score and lunge for it. I was a little too close when he launched his attack but I was able to secure a double touch. I could tell that Blais was adjusting to me lining up to his outside, but I was sure I had another hit with that tactic. I didn’t change a thing and pressed forward. The score was 11-10 for Blais with about a minute and a half left. I was throwing attacks to his hand and foot trying to provoke him into coming forward, and when Blais saw his opening he went for it, but I was able to hit right on top of his hand to tie the match and swing momentum in my favour. I was sure Blais was going to let me get close enough to launch the flick attack I had been saving. I took my time pushing Blais back because if I did score, I didn’t want Blais to have too much time to plan an attack. When I got into position I did a half step forward with a flick to the hand, missing by a mile, then I immediately exploded forward landing a flick to Blais’ leg. I took the lead and the pressure was all on Blais. Blais had less than 40 seconds to tie the match and much like my last opponent, he came out of the gates looking to score a touch. I had lined up to the outside to increase my chances of landing a counter-attack and decrease his chance of finding my blade in a beat or a parry. Blais launched his attack but I was able to avoid his blade and secure the double touch. The score was 13-12 for me with mere seconds remaining in the match. Blais had no choice but to run at me. I decided to line up to Blais’ right this time because on his last attack he had his arm high and the line I was trying to score on was almost fully closed. I wanted to mess up Blais’ distance by suddenly changing where I was trying to score from and I think it worked, because when Blais came forward I was able to attack into his movement and secure a single touch to give me a commanding lead at 14-12 with only a couple seconds left. I lined up the same way as the previous hit and waited for Blais to sprint forward. Blais ran at me, and again I found my timing and scored the final touch of the bout to put me into the quarter finals.
Jones 15 Guillemin 9
I had just taken out two extremely tough opponents and I needed to win my next one to secure my spot on Team Canada. My opponent was Mark Jones. Mark beat me last year, and it was a very frustrating match. His style matches up really well to mine. I like to get close to my opponent and use my explosiveness to get past his defenses. The way to counter that is to never let me get close. Mark Jones’ style is based on a long distance, where he methodically comes forward with dangerous attacks to the hand and arm, and if he gets close enough to you he attacks with a very technically sound lunge. It is a style that I have a lot of trouble with. To add on top of his style, Mark Jones is also left-handed. Left-handed fencers are my bane. I don’t have the same accuracy or confidence against left-handed fencers as I do with right-handed fencers. My point accuracy is close, but that doesn’t help when your opponent’s accuracy is pinpoint. Another thing that makes Mark Jones a dangerous opponent for me is he almost never is off balance. When I attack his foot, he moves his foot out of the way and is then able to follow up with an attack before I can recover. He is able to eliminate my explosiveness, my point control, and my attacks to the foot. I wasn’t concerned, I felt like I could beat anybody that day.
The first period opened pretty poorly. I tried to find a way to attack Jones’ foot and hand, but every attempt I made was met with a perfect response from Jones. My foot shots were met with counter-attacks and my hand hits were met with flicks to my wrist. When I wasn’t attacking, Jones was methodically advancing forward with flicks to my hand, some would land and some wouldn’t but he was able to score a few hits that. I believe the score was 7-4 in Jones’ favour after the first period.
During the break I told my coach that Jones’ game is to get in my distance with flicks to the hand and then finish with a long lunge to my body. I said there is an opening each time he starts a flick that I can try to hit, but then I’m effectively playing into his game. My golden rule is to never play into my opponent’s game. I asked my coach what I could do to eliminate his game or steer him away from it, and the only real way is to make Mark Jones feel threatened when he starts the attack. I needed to hit him on the hand as soon as he initiated his attack sequence. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so I prepared myself for the task at hand. I was certain Jones wouldn’t change what he was doing, he was in no danger at all. I decided I would try to use my movement to catch Jones off balance and maybe surprise him with an attack, but even though I was able to get him where I felt he would be surprised he was always able to score a double touch. Sometimes when I would get a bit close to him, he would start his flicks to my hand and I would have to break distance to return to safety. Halfway through the second period I hadn’t found a single opening and Jones was walking away with the match. The score at one point was 11-7 and I had exhausted everything I could think of that wasn’t playing into his game. I decided that the only way for me to win that match was to beat Jones in his area of strength. I closed the distance and let Jones begin his attacks. Each time he would do his flick I would try to hit his hand, I would get close but he was closer to hitting me. I could see what I needed to do, but I feel that my technique wasn’t able to score the hits. I managed to get one hit on Jones’ hand as he came forward, but he scored three. At 14-8 I was prepared to make the most meaningful comeback of my entire career. He started his flick to my arm and I launched a fleche with all of my power. I scored my ninth and final hit of the match. I attempted another fleche on his next initiation but he expertly flicked my hand as he had done multiple times in the match. With that touch, my pride, and my spot on Team Canada deteriorated.
Failing to make Team Canada
Even though I had lost in the quarter-finals I still had a chance to qualify for the National Team. I needed Marc-Andre to lose his quarter-final match to #1 Canadian, Vincent Pelletier. After my match with Jones, I went over to watch Marc-Andre take my spot from me. When I joined the action Marc-Andre was up 13-9 and he was looking fantastic. Vince was able to get a single touch on Marc-Andre’s hand and my hopes began to rise. Vince is an incredibly difficult fencer to compete against, he is long and deadly accurate. Vince peppered away at Marc-Andre’s hand, but as soon as Vince came too close Marc-Andre launched a fleche attack. Vince counter-attacked on the fleche and both fencers scored. Marc-Andre set up the exact same action to score his final touch and send him into the semi-finals. I still had two relegation matches to fence to fight for 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th place, but the only way they would matter was if Marc-Andre would’ve lost in the semi-finals or in the final. I needed to finish 5th and Marc-Andre needed to finish no higher than 2nd place for me to get on Team Canada. I won my first relegation match against my teammate Jean-Luc D’Eon, but lost for 5th place against Vincent Pelletier. Marc-Andre won his semi-final match 15-14 and went on to beat my other teammate William Brooke in the final.
After my match against Vincent, I was crushed. I felt it wasn’t very likely that Marc-Andre was going to take that last spot from me, but I knew it was a possibility. It wasn’t my goal this year to make Team Canada, but because I was so close I wanted it so bad. My goal was to prove that I can compete with fencers from around the World and to prove that I am one of the best in Canada. Prior to Nationals I felt that I had proven myself over the year so as far as my progress chart was concerned, goal accomplished. That didn’t make up for losing my spot on the team, though. I was heartbroken. My good friend Scott Dudiak was there and he knew what state I was in, so he gave me a much-needed hug before I grabbed my phone and went outside to call my wife. I sat outside trying to talk in between tears, but I was too choked up to get anything meaningful out. My wife was in tears as well, so our conversation didn’t amount to very much but it was everything I needed. My teammate and good friend was fencing in the final and I needed to go support him just as he had supported me all year. After talking with my wife I was able to regroup and go cheer on William in the final. William fought a great match, but Marc-Andre was on fire and he wasn’t going to let anyone take the National Champion title away from him. After the match I congratulated Marc-Andre on winning and successfully earning a spot on Team Canada.
For some people coming so close and falling shy can be very discouraging. For me, it has told me that I am exactly where I want to be. Muhammad Ali has a quote that reads, “Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” I took that quote out of context, as for Ali it referred to his hate for training. For me this quote hits home with all the pain and heartache there is in the journey for success. I feel you have to take your bumps and bruises along the way and appreciate them, for those aches and pains serve an important lesson in getting better.
My motto is this:
Learn from your mistakes, push your boundaries, and believe in yourself.
Hard work is the foundation for improvement. You can train hard, but you need to analyze your situation for that hard training to be effective. Learn from your mistakes and figure out a way to prevent or minimize them and apply them to your training. Believe in yourself. Believe that every training practice will make you better. Believe that you have what it takes to achieve your goals. Believe that no matter the obstacle, no matter your opponent… you can succeed.
For now I am taking a break to let my body recover, but this summer will be a long one filled with excellent training to prepare myself.
I will be stronger next season.
Thank you for your support throughout this past season.
All photographs courtesy of Devin Manky