Commonwealth Championships – 6th Place

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The wonderful support I had behind me at Commonwealth!

Commonwealth Championships

I left for Largs, Scotland on November 7th. I was competing on the 10th so this gave me enough time to get over the jet-lag and fully prepare for my competition. I was approaching the competition looking to bring home Gold for Canada. My training for the competition was awesome, I felt very ready to execute my game and stand on the top of the podium. I felt very confident, but I wasn’t underestimating my opponents. No matter what competition, winning requires mental focus and determination. You still have to find ways to score points.

The Commonwealth championships was a different competition from the ones I usually attend for a couple reasons. One, it was a novelty event worth no international points. Two, it was a very small event with only 60 fencers invited. Three, my parents would be attending! My parents don’t get the opportunity to see what I love to do on the World level, so I was looking forward to showing them what I can do with my passion.

I had a great training session the day before the competition and after getting all of my weapons checked I visualized success and went to sleep. I woke up feeling so ready. I was nervous and excited. I love that feeling, I can’t explain why but I live for it. My pool was announced and I approached it ready to destroy. I won every match in my pool, not convincingly but still enough to come 4th out of pools. One of my opponents, David Gregory, chatted with me after our match. I always love meeting fencers, and David was pretty cool. I got to learn about his background and training. It is always nice to meet like-minded people.

Elimination Matches

I had a bye through the first round of direct elimination. My first opponent was Mohamad Roslan from Malaysia. I had watched his previous match where he beat Thulani Manzini 15-12. I knew Roslan was very heavy on his bladework but wasn’t as fast as me. My gameplan was simple, move in and out of distance trying to provoke Roslan into searching for my blade. If he searched for my blade I would go around it and score. He was very powerful with his actions, but I was able to stay true to my gameplan throughout the entire match to win 15-11. I was feeling strong and focused.

My match in the top 16 was against Matt Henderson from England. He had disposed of my compatriot Michael McDonnell 15-6 in the round of 64, so I was happy to have an opportunity to avenge Michael. I started off the match having difficulties with Henderson’s timing. I couldn’t quite feel out when I would be safe to attack, and this resulted in him taking a 5-4 lead after the first period. I had Kyle Foster in my corner coaching me and he made a very important observation, if Henderson was applying pressure on me and I made a body feint threatening an attack Henderson would freeze. We figured I could use this to get Henderson flat footed so I could launch a very quick and explosive attack. I tied the match up at six hits a piece learning how to use my newly found information. I had found the timing and I was very confident in the new game plan. It didn’t take long for me to pull ahead of Henderson. In only a minute I had made the score 10-6 in my favour. Henderson was visibly upset and I was confident that he wouldn’t be changing anything up because he was pretty anxious. I maintained my technical discipline and closed out the match with a couple doubles to win by a score of 15-9. I was still feeling dominant and I was happy to see that my parents were having such a good time watching me win! That was very special to me. I didn’t want to end it there.

Unfortunately for me, my next opponent Tom Edwards wasn’t going to let me continue my winning streak. He was extremely fast and not scared to attack. The match started off fine with me grabbing a two point lead, but it didn’t take long for Edwards to tie it up and take a lead that he wouldn’t look back on. He was good at drawing out my attacks and hitting me with a counter attack to the arm. I was hesitant to fully attack because of this but I kept finding the timing to go so it resulted in me not fully committing to my attacks and impaling myself on his tip. The only thing I was successful on was drawing out his attacks and hitting him with a counter attack. After a few of those he realized that he shouldn’t come forward and that forced me to play into his game. I tried to rally points against him, but he was very dangerous. He won pretty convincingly at 15-11.

I was really sad when I lost. I felt that I had let my parents down. They had traveled all the way out to Scotland to see me compete and I wanted to make it worth their while. I had failed and that was hard for me to swallow. My parents reassured me that they weren’t let down and they were still very excited that I finished 6th at Commonwealth, but it still didn’t change how I felt. I had to sleep on the defeat before I felt any better. Even though I was upset with my result, I was still so honoured to have my parents come out and watch me compete. They had brought the poster in the picture above that was wishing me good luck from all of my friends and supports back home in Canada. It was a very touching moment to feel that much love and support.

I can safely say that regardless of my result, the Commonwealth Championships was a very rewarding and humbling experience. This is one that I will be able to draw on for the rest of my life. It meant a lot to have my biggest supporters there cheering me on, and it only fueled my motivation to make Rio a reality.

/leland

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A New Personal Best: 5th at a North American Cup!

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My coach John Brunning and I after receiving my medal for 5th place!

Portland

On the 12th of October I had my first major competition of the 2014-2015 fencing season, a North American Cup held in Portland.

I flew out on Friday, which gave me all of Saturday to rest and get ready for the first counter towards making Team Canada. I arrived at my hotel in the mid afternoon, and after having a shower I unpacked my laptop and got down to some serious video gaming. My teammate, Jean-Luc D’Eon, arrived a little later and we embarked on a search for a place to eat. Our hotel was right near a very cool street that had restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, and grocery stores lined up on both sides. We walked only a few blocks before we found a nice pasta place to tie over our tumultuous tummies. The food was great and the company was excellent. I feel it is always important for me to put myself in a positive environment before a competition. After supper, Jean-Luc and I made our plan of attack for our next day as we walked back to our hotel for a night of rest.

Saturday came after a magnificent sleep, which is something I don’t get that often. I get Saturdays every week, but a magnificent sleep is once in a blue moon. Jean-Luc and I went to the continental breakfast and deemed it sufficient for our pre-competition meal which is a very important thing to have planned out. We lazily took our time getting ready before heading to the venue to buy some equipment, cheer on some Canadians, and visualize success.

Upon arriving at the venue I felt a stroke of familiarity. I have a pretty rocky memory, but when I walked into the Oregon Convention Center a previous tournament had flashed before my eyes. I had already competed here! I was trying to think back to what year it was that I had been in Portland, but I couldn’t pin point it.  I could, however, remember my result and the match that I had lost to knock me out. I finished in the top 64, losing to Ben Bratton from the USA by a score of 15-5. The score might as well have been 15-0. It was that match that I saw what a fencer could be, and it truly inspired me to push myself harder.

I purchased the necessary equipment, and touched base with friends that I very rarely see. Once I was feeling comfortable at the venue I put on my shorts and workout shirt, and did my warm-up. I got a feel for the lights, the strip beneath my feet, the noises, and my nerves. I was nervous. The first couple competitions of the year are always unnerving for me, because I am not used to my routine and I don’t know what to expect. The nerves are a good thing, they tell me that this is important and I need to take it seriously. I know, through past experiences, if I just go through my motions of warming up and visualizing, the nerves will turn into confidence. Once Jean-Luc and I were done our warm ups we caught a cab back to our hotel where we would relax (AKA video games) before hitting up a pizza shop for my pre-competition pizza and wine dinner. I felt excited and ready to see what I could do before falling asleep Saturday night.

Competition Day

I showered, ate my breakfast and took a cab to the venue. I knew how my morning would go and everything went exactly to plan. I warmed up fully, and I was firing on all cylinders. I was ready to make some victims when I was assigned to my pool.

Pools

Pool strips were announced and I headed over to my strip and immediately began my visualization process. I stood on one end of the strip and stared down to the opposite end. I pictured my opponent hooking up and coming to the start line to fence me. I pictured the ref testing our equipment, and I pictured my first win. I didn’t have too much time to go deep into the visualization, because our ref had shown up and requested we show him that our equipment had been approved for competition. I took a look at the pool sheet and I recognized only one name, Brian Ro. I couldn’t remember when I had fenced Ro, but I did remember that he beat me. I remembered he had blinding speed, a great flick to the wrist, and an even better toe shot. I was excited for a chance to redeem myself and beat him.

My toughest match wasn’t against Ro, it was my first match against Cramerus. He was shorter than me and not long into the match I found that I was much quicker. What Cramerus did have, was very good technique coupled with a fighter’s spirit. His fencing reminded me a lot of top American fencer, Jonathan Yergler. Cramerus’ posture was very upright, he was always balanced and he didn’t once overextend for an action or reach to the target. I got an early lead with a foot shot right out of the gate, and I was very confident in my movement. I looked to set up a fleche attack, and in my preparation I noticed that he was parrying every feint I made. This told me I needed to start my attack, wait for the parry, then disengage it and drive my tip into his chest. I pushed Cramerus back and launched my attack, I disengaged the parry successfully, but he was able to counter-attack me at the same time my tip landed to score a double. I was surprised that he was able to get his point on target that quick. I figured I would save that fleche action until I needed it because I was pretty sure I could score a double touch in the worst case scenario. I relinquished footwork control and let Cramerus dictate the distance and the pace. I wanted to stay ready and balanced for when he would initiate his attack, and I felt that because of my speed advantage this would be easy. Cramerus always began his actions by beating my blade out of the way in some form. Each time he came forward was different than the last and I was getting frustrated that he wasn’t showing me a pattern or something that I could use against him. I looked to disengage his beats, but the result each time Cramerus committed to an action was a double. Since the score was 4-3 and I was getting frustrated with him in control of the footwork, I decided to set up the fleche I had used for my second point to finish the match. I didn’t care that there was a good chance he would score too, because a double touch meant my victory. I jumped in and out of distance while feinting to the high-line and mid-line looking for Cramerus to start trying to find my blade when I pounced forward. It didn’t take long before Cramerus gave me the prerequisites for my attack and I exploded at him with a feint, disengage and my final touch of the match. I was a bit too nervous for that match, and it felt really good to get the win and calm those nerves.

My match against Brian Ro was a very fast-paced one. I had watched Ro in his other matches and noticed that if he was given time to set up his attacks he was very accurate and easily scored. My strategy going into the match was to put constant pressure on him and make him move around. If he didn’t have control over where I was, I hoped he wouldn’t be able to hit me. I was looking to make the bout a little chaotic because I would be in control of the distance and as long as I stayed balanced I would be able to use my explosion to strike whenever I wanted. The result was a match that lasted no longer than 40 seconds. Ro would look to close the distance with flicks to my hand so when I was out of distance, I would pop forward with a large step followed by a body feint hoping Ro would throw out a flick to my arm. If Ro attempted the flick I would wait for the flick to miss before using a fleche to close the distance and score before he could fully recover from his failed attack. I don’t recall in what order the hits were scored, but I clearly remember my plan was successful. To add variety to the match I attempted a couple shots to his foot from too far away to see his reaction. Every time I attempted a foot shot, he hopped back with a counter-attack to my wrist. I saw that was very dangerous and I knew not to commit to a foot shot. After a few scoring fleche attacks I could see where Ro’s hand would be when he threw his flicks out and I figured I could hit him on the bottom of his hand as he started his flick. I did this twice, but on both times his flick also landed to score a double touch. I was very confident I could score singles in that scenario, but I underestimated Ro’s accuracy. My winning point wasn’t part of my plan, I had actually hopped too far forward in an attempt to provoke Ro’s flick and instead of flicking he came at me with an advance-lunge. Somehow I was able to retreat far enough away in a panic and score a counter-attack to his wrist. My confidence went through the roof after that match and it set me up for my day of success.

Direct Elimination

I finished the pools ranked tied for 10th with 100% victories and a +16 indicator. This meant that I had a good seed and a bye through the first round. In the interest of keeping this blog a readable length, I’m going to skim over most of my elimination matches. My first match was against fellow compatriot, Sam Kardaal, who I dispatched 15-6. My next match was against Luboslav Jelev. I was leading Jelev 14-4 going into the second period and in an attempt to close out the match I tried rushing Jelev to score the final touch. The result was a mini-comeback for Jelev and a final score of 15-9. My first match of the top 32 was against Peregrine Badger. Badger presented some problems that I hadn’t experienced before, but I was able to deal with them winning the match 15-12.

My next bout was against Dylan Nollner. I am very proud of this match as I felt my hard work and training really came out.

I opened the match with a foot shot to establish a lead I would never lose. My next attack resulted in a double touch when Nollner parried my initial attempt, but I was able to renew my attack and score at the same time as his riposte. I felt great, I had a lot of energy and I was certainly moving well. My third hit was a failed toe-shot that I recovered into a ducking counter-attack when Nollner tried to fleche at me. Everything felt so right. It didn’t matter what Nollner tried to do, I felt ready to deal with it. I ended the first period with a 6-2 lead. At the period break, my coach reminded me to maintain my technical discipline and keep prepared. There was no need to change anything as we had a strong lead and everything was working.

The second period started strong for Nollner, he caught me sleeping with a beautiful fleche that left me a little stunned. He pulled the score within two after scoring a flick to my arm in my preparation. I decided to take over the pressure and I pushed Nollner back to his side of the strip. I noticed that when I would feint, he would take a very small step back and slightly load his legs. I figured he was waiting for me to commit, he would move just far enough to avoid my attack and then he would launch an attack of his own from the perfect distance with perfect balance. Since he wasn’t going to take a large step back I felt it was safe for me to set up a fleche. I prepared the attack with a low feint followed by a high feint before exploding forward and driving my point into his chest.Portland_1

 I scored on another fleche that I got lucky on because Nollner parried my action but missed his riposte. I took the point without any complains like a every fencer should. Nollner applied pressure and pushed me back into my end for the next action. I was trying to provoke him into attacking by using body feints from a closer distance. Nollner bit on one of the feints, but instead of parrying I saw an opening and counter-attacked for my ninth touch. I could feel Nollner’s frustration and it was very motivating. I felt that no matter what he did I would be able to handle it and score. Nollner, unwilling to give up, pushed forward and lined me up for his fifth touch with a flick on my arm on my attack. Nollner advanced off the line to ensure the action stayed in my end where he was most successful. I saw an opening for a foot shot and I took it, but my unfortunate miss resulted in a single touch for him when he drove his tip into my shoulder upon my recovery. He had scored two hits in a row, but I wasn’t rattled. I still wanted Nollner to bring the action to me, I just had to make sure that if I was going to risk starting an action that it was on my terms and not his. Nollner relentlessly pressed onward, he was determined to take control of the match. He got within striking distance and exploded forward with a fleche of his own. I used my long reach to counter-attack and secure a double touch to put the score at 10-7 in my favour. I knew my opponent was going to come forward, so I planned to look for an opening where I could surprise him on his step forward. I succeeded and scored my 11th touch.

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Nollner, not wanting to get caught off guard again, gave me the footwork control and we marched into his end. I pushed him back and lined up to the left side of the strip with the intention to feint attacks to his six line to create an opening to his foot. I don’t know why I strayed from that plan, but I launched a lunge that resulted in a double touch to pull me closer to securing another win. It was clear that Nollner was much more successful against me when he was pushing me into my end of the strip, so that is exactly what he did. He made me move backwards and, without much preparation, he threw out a flick to my arm that landed. I was close to victory, but I still had to be ready for anything. Continuing with allowing Nollner to move me to my end, I opened the distance to remove the option of his short lunges with flicks. Nollner didn’t care and he flew forward with a fleche. I retreated with a parry but he scored on a remise before I could sink my riposte in. At 12-10, I still wasn’t worried. I had the plan to let him push me back but I would look to surprise him again. Nollner came forward and I found my moment, I lunged forward and my light was the only light to come on. I tried to make the movement more dynamic in hopes for an opportunity to fleche, but it was a bad idea to attempt that so late in the match. We bounced around and I closed the distance quickly with a beat on his blade before trying to score, but Nollner was ready and he counter-attacked after the beat on his blade to score a single touch of his own. I wanted to take over the footwork and control where on the strip the action would take place. I couldn’t take over the footwork because Nollner would not retreat. Instead he came forward with a short lunge, I exploded forward the moment his lunge missed and scored my 14th touch.

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Victory was well within my reach, but I still had to score one more touch. Nollner wasn’t ready to give up and he pushed onward to score on another short lunge with a flick. I wanted to take control of my fate and score the last action so I debated between a fleche or hitting his foot. I knew that he wasn’t going to retreat so both options were viable. I couldn’t decide, so I kept them in the back of my mind and whichever opportunity presented itself I would take. Only a few seconds after the action started, I saw my chance to strike at his foot and I secured victory moving me into the top 12!

The Top 12

I’m sitting in Switzerland right now writing this blog. I’ve used up all the free time I could spare to write this, but I’m going to have to skim over the rest of the competition because there is a bear zoo I want to see!

My next match in the top 12 was against Ben Bratton, the man who had crushed me the last time I was in Portland. I fared a little bit better but I was again destroyed, this time by a score of 15-7. I had a rocky start and I couldn’t figure out how to solve Bratton’s lightning quick speed and intensity. I have a few ideas of what to do next time I meet him.

After losing to Bratton, I had another chance through repachage to make it into the top 8. I had to fence against Darius Zacharakis. Unfortunately for Zacharakis, his hamstring seized after my first touch and his mobility was extremely limited for the entirety of the 15-6 blowout. I felt really bad that I had to destroy an injured opponent like that, but it was his choice to stand in my way.

My final match of the day was a loss to Jimmy Moody. I was completely outclassed. Nothing I tried worked, and Moody had a very similar approach to that of Bratton. The result was 15-7 for Moody. I had two strong actions that I remember, both were fleches. Other than those two fleches everything I attempted Moody had an answer for. It was a disappointing finish to a very long and fun day. I have watched the film of the match and it is hard to see me struggle that hard. I know there is valuable information in there, but I won’t be addressing it until December when I have some free time to look back on the good and bad things from this tournament. I am happy with finishing 5th.

Look forward to another (less wordy) blog after Switzerland!!!

 

/leland

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First Tournament of the 2014-2015 Season. Starting on the right foot.

A brand new season!!!!

If you’ve been following me this summer, you know that I’ve been working extremely hard to prevent a finish like last year. For those of you who don’t know, I missed qualification to represent Team Canada by one match at Nationals. If I had won that, I would’ve went to the Pan Am Championships and World Championships to represent Canada. I was heart broken, but not deterred.

I spent most of this summer getting stronger, leaner, more flexible, and I’m currently in the best shape of my entire life. This past weekend was my first opportunity since Nationals to compete and test out my new physical attributes.

A few days before the competition, a large blister had formed on the bottom of my left foot (my back foot that I push off of in fencing) and I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. The blister had been bothering me for a couple weeks prior, but I refused to stop training to take care of it. I was paying the price for my mistake. I took a couple of days off before the competition just to rest it enough to try to compete on it. I won’t post the picture here, but if you’re into gruesome things like giant blisters send me an e-mail and I’ll show you the monstrosity that was plaguing my movements.

The competition

The competition was small as all of our Provincial tournaments are, but the talent pool is very good considering the turnout of just 13 competitors. Three of those 13 finished in the top eight at the previous Canadian Nationals.

Pools

My pool consisted of Riley Norman from Alberta, Saskatchewan residents Zachary Beasley, Justin Neumeyer, Ian Pederson, and Elliot Dillabough. I had fun shaking the cobwebs off and getting back into the competitive spirit. I always find it amazing how the first tournament of the year is always the most stressful. I get so excited to fence, I don’t remember how the nerves feel, and I’m eager to fight my heart out. Fortunately, everything fell into place and I won all of my pool bouts and finished as the first seed after pools.

Direct Elimination

My first elimination match was against Kieran Ramaswami from Saskatoon. I train with him on a regular basis, so we both know each other pretty well. Kieran took an early lead due to some technique issues I was having. I wasn’t getting my hand high enough when attacking to block out Kieran’s greatly timed counter-attacks, and my beat attacks were fairly sloppy which resulted in me missing my target and giving Kieran an easy target to hit. I decided halfway through the first period to just sit back and get my feet under me and let Kieran make the mistakes for a change. That strategy switch was the correct move to make because Kieran overextended on a couple lunges which I had no difficulty dealing with. At the end of the first period I had pulled ahead with an 8-6 lead. At the start of the second period Kieran was lining up on my right side, so I moved to my left to set up second-intention actions to catch his blade when he counter-attacked. Lining up so far away enabled me to use my six parry effectively, and it eliminated the risk of him attacking to anything but my arm/shoulder. I baited out an attack from him which I easily parried in six before flicking his wrist for my riposte. I tried to bait out the same attack again, but Kieran switched from counter-attacks to a straight defensive approach. I used his switch against him by feinting to the outside of his hand, disengaging his parry and then lunging into his chest. If he had counter-attacked he certainly would’ve scored the point. I stuck with this tactic until I was victorious winning 15-11.

I felt strong, I felt fast, and my blister wasn’t hurting me at all! I had one more match to make it into the finals and I had the hunger to win.

My semi-final match was against Zachary Beasley from Regina. He is a tall fencer with good balance and a very calm approach. I find it very difficult to get him wound up enough to make large parries so I have to opt for a more subtle approach of beat attacks and off-tempo toe touches. I was feeling on my game and by the end of the first period I had taken a 9-1 lead with a mixture of direct fleche attacks, toe shots and beat attacks to the wrist. During the period break I overheard that Zach was working on his distance against me so, being the kind gentleman that I am, I decided I would play at his distance and give him what he was looking for. I let Zachary dictate the distance, and I gave him an opening to my arm but as soon as he went for it I took it away and scored a touch of my own. Such a gentleman. Normally I don’t like to play around with my meals, but Zach and I have a good relationship and I wanted to make him work hard for his touches. To his credit, he surprised me on two actions that I was not expecting at all. One of those actions I got lucky when Zach’s tip soared just past my wrist. The other action was a beautiful two-time attack that Zach landed on my hand when I opened up to parry him. I continued to give him openings to my wrist and taking them away when he began his actions, and I was able to finish the bout with a score of 15-3. Zach hasn’t been fencing all that long but he continues to show huge signs of improvement and it is clear to see he wants it.

With the win over Zachary it secured my spot in the final against Jean-Luc D’Eon who had defeated William Brooke (Nationals Silver Medalist) by a score of 15-14. William had the lead at 14-12, but Jean-Luc was able to maintain composure and come back for the win.

The Gold Medal Match

I was still feeling great and my blister hadn’t bothered me at all. I was very confident that if my blister could hold up, I would be able to walk away with Gold. I opened the match with a direct attack to Jean-Luc’s foot to let him know that I was serious and I wanted the win. We rallied back and forth for distance, and when I felt the time was right I pushed off my back leg to try and fleche. As soon as I pushed off my back foot, I felt a sharp pain at the bottom of my foot telling me that my blister was not fully healed. I was worried, I could barely put any weight on my foot but I knew I needed to fight through. In that moment of mental distraction Jean-Luc was able to pull a 4-1 lead on me. Jean-Luc is very dangerous to attack, so my worry compounded a little bit. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was not present and not focusing on what my opponent was doing. The first period ended with Jean-Luc leading at 6-3. I took the period break to regroup myself and focus on the match.

At the start of the second period I took over footwork control and I worked to set up attacks from a long distance looking to make him uncomfortable enough to attack me. In that process he gave me two openings that I took advantage of to bring the score within one. I was moving a lot better and I was adjusting to the pain in my foot from the blister. I relinquished footwork control in hopes that Jean-Luc would get impatient and attack me but after a while I noticed he was just waiting for my attack so from a long distance I launched a foot shot that tied the score up at six hits each.

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I then took the lead with a very subtle parry-riposte, but Jean-Luc quickly tied the match up. At this point my foot was killing me and I was having to regroup after every touch to stop focusing on the pain and keep focusing on my opponent. I know how to score double touches on Jean-Luc so my plan became to fight for doubles until we were around 10 hits each. I figured that I would be sort of fast-forwarding the match so that I could save my foot for the hits that really mattered. I realize this isn’t a very safe plan, but at the time I was very confident in it. Jean-Luc and I exchanged points until we were tied at 12. I took a moment to dig down and fight the pain. I knew I had three touches to go to win and I was going to make them count. I scored my 13th touch drawing an attack out and blocking his blade out in parry four. My 14th touch I pushed Jean-Luc to the end of his piste with long attacks that didn’t land and when I had him at the end I did a simple body feint looking to provoke a counter-attack, and when the counter attack came I grabbed his blade in octave (parry eight) and held onto his blade while landing my riposte. I had one more touch to go and I felt that there was no way I wasn’t going to score it. Jean-Luc pushed me back into my end, and when I felt him give up footwork control I flew forward with a feinted fleche expecting a counter-attack from Jean-Luc. I searched for his blade but it was no where to be found, he had retreated so I pressed the action. I made use of a small step followed by a large step to cloak my intentions of a long attack to his leg, and when I got within range of my target I exploded forward to secure my first Gold medal of the season!!

lelandFinalshot

Overall it was a great tournament, with the exception of aggravating my blister. The blister was a really painful thing to work through, but it is good experience to adapt to the pain and fight through it. I feel this is excellent preparation for my upcoming World Cup season where I am committed to not only securing my spot on Team Canada, but finishing 1st in the Country.

Wish me luck.

/leland

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Hurley vs Vincenti – July NAC Semi-Finals

Courtney Hurley vs. Margarita Guzzi Vincenti – July NAC Semi-finals

Olympian Courtney Hurley and Margarita Guzzi Vincenti fought for a spot in the finals at the July North American Cup in Division 1 Women’s epee. The match was very close and hard fought right down to the finish.

Both fencers started the bout slowly by gauging each other’s distance and timing. Hurley was happy to apply pressure and push Vincenti to the end of Vincenti’s side of the strip. It appeared that passivity would be called, but after 49 seconds Hurley took a risk and advanced into range and extended her arm to attack Vincenti’s chest. Vincenti seemed to read Hurley’s advance as a feint, not expecting Hurley’s direct attack. Vincenti realized her mistake almost immediately and she tried to parry Hurley’s blade, but the distance had already been closed resulting in the first touch in Hurley’s favour. Again both fencers took the action to Vincenti’s end, where Hurley attempted a flick to Vincenti’s wrist. The flick missed and Vincenti capitalized with a fleche to tie the match. Vincenti was comfortable fencing in her own end, willingly relinquishing footwork control to Hurley. Hurley moved in and out of distance with very small steps, but she took one step that was too big and the result was a scoring lunge from Vincenti. Hurley did not expect the attack at all.

Hurley vs Vincenti

Hurley vs Vincenti

Hurley was eager to make up for sleeping on the last hit by pushing Vincenti back and attacking to the foot, but fortunately for Vincenti the foot-shot missed allowing Vincenti to score with another fleche to take a two touch lead. Hurley’s body language showed frustration. Again Hurley pressured Vincenti back, but this time she was looking to draw out an attack from Vincenti and land the counter-attack after a single retreat. Hurley bounced in and out of distance effectively and Vincenti was provoked into an attack. Vincenti slightly extended her arm showing intent of a direct attack, but she quickly parried Hurley’s counter-attack and scored with a riposte before Hurley had time to react. Vincenti had a three touch lead, and although Hurley was obviously frustrated the match was far from over. Hurley advanced forward with a bit more aggression, looking to draw out another attack from her opponent. Feeling the pressure, Vincenti threatened with a small extension that Hurley quickly parried which was followed up with a missed riposte but a successful remise. Vincenti was not quick enough to parry Hurley’s remise resulting in a single touch for Hurley. Only 10 seconds later Hurley unleashed a long octave beat lunge that was so fast Vincenti reacted with the parry after she had already been hit.

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No touches were scored in the remaining 19 seconds of the first period. Vincenti would hold a lead going into the one minute break with a score of 4-3. Vincenti had scored all of her four touches attacking into Hurley’s forward movement. Hurley was successful when making an action on the blade before committing to her attack, but she needed to respect Vincenti’s deceptively long distance. Hurley missed on both of her counter-attack attempts.

The second period started off much like the first period with Hurley pressing forward into Vincenti’s zone. Vincenti found a timing she liked and exploded forward with a beat lunge, but Hurley stood her ground and scored on a quarte parry-riposte to level the score at four hits each. Hurley looked to utilize the same tactic to score another point, by jumping in and out of distance trying to provoke Vincenti’s attack. Hurley realized Vincenti wasn’t going to bite on the bait, so she used her defensive set-up to cloak the start of her advancing beat lunge. Hurley bounced forward, but instead of backing out of distance she continued forward taking Vincenti’s blade. Vincenti counter-attacked with a duck which caused Hurley to search for Vincenti’s blade instead of attacking to the target. Hurley made no secret of her frustration.

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Hurley had confidence in playing the distance game, so again she pushed Vincenti back trying to provoke an attack from too far away. Hurley was successful in this tactic and scored a stop-hit to Vincenti’s wrist when Vincenti advanced forward. Tied at five hits each, Hurley tried to take the lead with a beat attack, but again Vincenti counter-attacked at the right timing scoring a single touch. Hurley could be heard complaining to her coach about not being able to hit on that action. It appeared as if Hurley wasn’t sure of how to proceed, and the next four actions in a row her response was to just counter-attack. This follows the old epee adage of, “When in doubt, stick it out!” The result was of those four actions was one double and three singles which gave Vincenti a sizable lead at 10 – 7. The final scoring action of the second period went in Hurley’s favour which reminded her opponent that the match wasn’t over. The action was a simple parry-riposte, where Hurley scored on the remise instead of the initial riposte.

With a strong lead heading into the third and final period, Vincenti approached the en garde line with a certain confidence about her. Vincenti took a risk early into the third period with a lunge from too far away and she paid the price for falling short, Hurley quickly scored on the counter-attack. Eager to get the point back and increase her lead, Vincenti initiated another long lunge which was met with Hurley’s blade. Before Vincenti could attempt a renewal of her attack, Hurley scored on the riposte. Vincenti was confident in her attacks because she scored four in a row at the end of the second period. Vincenti, again, attempted another attack from too far away, this time a fleche that Hurley easily defended and then scored to swing the lead in Hurley’s favour. Hurley, knowing Vincenti’s attack was inevitable, was perfectly content to wait for her opponent to attack. Eventually, Vincenti found her timing to attempt another fleche but this time she aimed for Hurley’s mid-line. The mid-line target was a bad choice as Hurley would be happy to score a double touch on a counter-attack, so the chances were very high that Hurley’s reaction would be a counter-attack. When you attack to the mid or low-line you leave your shoulder and arm exposed which is easy pickings for the counter-attack. The result of this attack was a double touch.

Hurley vs Vincenti

Hurley vs Vincenti

Knowing full well that her opponent would be attacking, Hurley maintained a distance that was suitable for her to score on counter-attacks. At 1:07 left in the match, Vincenti rushed forward with an advance-lunge, but Hurley expertly countered to raise the score to 13 – 11. Only six seconds later, Vincenti rushed forward but was caught when she pulled her arm back trying to parry Hurley’s counter attack. 14 – 11. Immediately off the line Vincenti tried a pumping two-time attack which Hurley had no problems scoring on a counter-attack to score the final hit of the match and secure a spot in the gold medal match.

Ultimately this match came down to composure. The match was tight until the end when Vincenti rushed Hurley, only to give up three hits in a total of eight seconds.

Thanks to Al Navarro for requesting an analysis of this match. I hope it is what you were looking for!

/leland

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Uncrowning the Champion – Ulrich Robeiri

2014 World Champion Ulrich Robeiri is a very strong fencer. He has a great sense of distance and extremely accurate point control.

This analysis looks into Robeiri’s game of counter-attacks, fleche attacks and a small tell that could be his downfall.

I apologize in advance, the audio was stripped due to copyright infringement so an ambient track was put in place.

Please leave a comment, question or suggestion below!

/leland

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Fantastic Finish for the Friendly Frenchman

The 2014 World Championships were held in Kazan, Russia from the 15th to the 23rd of July. The Senior Men’s Epee final match was between Kyoungdoo Park and Ulrich Robeiri who fence for Korea and France, respectively.

Both fencers had a very tough road in the quarter, and semi-finals. Park eliminated Ukraine’s Bogdan Nikishin 15-13, and Park dispatched of Italy’s Enrico Garozzo 15-10 to secure his spot fencing for gold. Robeiri fenced to a victory against Anton Avdeev from Russia 14-13 before defeating teammate and compatriot, Gauthier Grumier, by a score of 15-11.

Kyoungdoo Park is an exciting fencer to watch. Park brings a very high intensity and work ethic to all of his matches. He is shockingly fast with his attacks and he is extremely strong on the blade. His game mostly revolves around setting up change of direction attacks and compound attacks from a long distance.

France’s Ulrich Robeiri fences a simple and disciplined game. Robeiri has an expert sense of timing and distance and he uses his long reach and pinpoint accuracy to score impossible counter-attacks. Robeiri is also known for pronating his hand on his fleche attacks, which makes it notably harder to parry his attack. Robeiri compliments his extremely dominant defensive play with a mixture of direct attacks and second-intention actions that make it very difficult to predict what action Robeiri is committing to. Stylistically, Park and Robeiri clash quite well together and I feel we were treated to a very good match that decided the 2014 World Champion.

 

First Period

The match started off slowly with both Robeiri and Park working to get comfortable with each other’s footwork and tempo. The action moved into Park’s territory due to Robeiri’s forward pressure. The distance between the two competitors inched closer until Park found a distance he liked and launched an explosive binding fleche to score the first point of the match. Robeiri decided to lengthen the distance so if Park were to fleche again, it would be done from a safer location and it would give Robeiri an opportunity for a counter-attack. It was obvious that Robeiri was aware of how dangerous Park’s speed was going to be. From the longer distance, Robeiri prepared a flicking attack to Park’s body but Park was able to retreat with a parry of his own and then burst forward with a fleche. Park looked very comfortable scoring his second point of the match. Shortly after Park attempted a long attack with an octave beat to Robeiri’s foot, but Robeiri had quickly dodged the toe shot by withdrawing his foot. Park attempted an immediate fleche upon recovering from the foot shot, but Robeiri was ready for it and scored with a gorgeous touch on Park’s arm.

toehit

Robeiri appeared to be in control of the footwork and comfortable with pushing Park on the strip. Robeiri attempted an attack to Park’s chest, but Park parried the attack and launched forward with a fleche, Robeiri was able to dodge Park’s tip long enough for his own tip to land and secure a double touch. Park was disappointed that his beautiful attack resulted in a double and not a single touch. Down 3-2, Robeiri was looking to tie the match up before heading into the first period break. Robeiri brought the action to his Korean opponent by pressing forward and beating Park’s blade out of the way. Every time Robeiri would beat Park’s blade, Park would take a small step backwards and a short hop forward which told Robeiri that Park was looking to quickly close the distance if Robeiri fell short on an attack or if Robeiri’s preparation became sloppy. The Frenchman must’ve felt confident in his speed and preparation because instead of extending his arm to beat Park’s blade, he extended his arm and launched a lightning quick fleche. Park tried to counter-attack, but he wasn’t expecting a fleche and the result was a single touch for Robeiri to level the score. Both fencers were content with finishing the first period tied at three hits each.

 

Second Period

The second period started slower than the first. Robeiri was quick to take over control of the piste and move the action into Park’s end. Robeiri used a variety of small extensions to cloak his true intentions of launching a direct attack, but Park was patient and ready. After a couple more subtle feints Robeiri quickly drove a direct lunge at Park, but Park calmly parried Robeiri’s blade and immediately followed up with a scoring flick to the top side of Robeiri’s arm. With the single touch being awarded to Park, he pulled ahead in the scoring race at 4-3. Park took control of the footwork, backing Robeiri into the warning zone before initiating an advancing lunge with a beat-flick to Robeiri’s arm. Unfortunately for Park, Robeiri was able to block out the flick and score with a counter-attack to tie the score at 4-4. Unsuccessful in pressuring Robeiri, Park decided to pull his opponent near his own end and fight from there. Being patient and waiting for Robeiri’s attack to come had already worked out in Park’s favour once in this period and twice in the first period. Taking a risk Robeiri attempted a fleche attack, but the moment his blade was extended, Park used a technically beautiful binding parry from quarte to stop Robeiri’s attack and score on a riposte to once again take the lead.

toehit

With the lead in hand, Park again took the action to Robeiri’s end and again the result was a single light for Robeiri. In this particular action, Robeiri had lost balance on the side of the strip and Park tried to take advantage of the situation, but Robeiri used his long reach and scored a single touch before falling off the side of the piste. I’m not sure if Park realized he was only scoring touches in his own end, but he backed off at the start of the next action, allowing Robeiri to take the footwork lead if the Frenchman would be so inclined. The two fencers opened and closed the distance but it was quite clear that Robeiri wanted to pull Park into his own territory, but Park was hesitant to take the fight there. Robeiri was successful in pulling Park forward, so Robeiri set up an attack that was timed to hit Park in Park’s forward step. Unfortunately for Robeiri, Park was able to score a single touch with a perfectly placed counter-attack to the shoulder. With under a minute left in the second period, neither fencer was willing to commit to another attack so the second period ended 6-5 in Park’s favour.

 

Third Period

A minute and a half passed in the third period before any action occurred. Robeiri had pushed the action into Park’s end before doing a short lunge accompanied with a disengage to evade Park’s parry, then compressing his tip on Park’s leg to tie the match at six hits apiece. Previously in this match, every time Robeiri attempted an attack Park would react with a parry-riposte. Robeiri’s disengage perfectly exploited Park’s tendency to parry and Robeiri was easily able to hit Park’s unprotected target.

toehit

In an effort to quickly regain the lead Park offered a high-line extension to Robeiri, eagerly awaiting a reaction from Robeiri. Robeiri did not respond to the invitation, so Park exploded forward with an octave bind hoping to surprise Robeiri. Whether or not Robeiri was surprised was irrelevant because he was fast enough with his counter-attack to score a single touch and take his first lead of the match at 7-6. At that point in the match, Robeiri was very successful with counter-attacks and in his back pocket he was holding onto a short lunge with a disengage if he had to attack. Robeiri was weakest when he attacked, giving up touches every time except for his 6th touch where he scored by disengaging Park’s parry. The key to victory for Robeiri would be to wait for Park’s inevitable attack and initiate nothing on his own. If Park were to take the lead, Robeiri would be able to rely on his disengaging attack to score, which would provide Robeiri with an effective safety net if the counter-attacks stopped working. Park faced a much more difficult situation in that his strength for the match was in his ability to score on parry-riposte actions, and Robeiri had no reason to risk the lead and attack. Park knew that Robeiri would simply counter-attack, so his options were to either get close enough that he could score with a direct attack before Robeiri could react, explode forward with multiple actions on the blade so Robeiri would have difficulty finding an opening for his point, or use second-intention tactics like a body feint to provoke Robeiri’s attack and meeting that attack with a parry-riposte. Of those options, a simple direct attack and second-intention actions would have a lower chance of scoring because of Robeiri’s long reach and incredible timing on his counter-attack, and because Robeiri would have no reason to bite on a second-intention invitation. Enough speculation, back to the action.

 

Park pressured forward looking for an opening for a direct attack, Park found his opening and lunged into Robeiri’s advancing footwork. Park’s tip sailed above his target and flew behind Robeiri. Robeiri tried to counter-attack, he missed on his initial attempt but he was able to secure the touch over Park’s back. Down two points with only two minutes to go in the final period, Park needed to make a change. Park pressured Robeiri with invitational feints to the leg and hand, but Robeiri didn’t respond to any of the traps Park laid out. Eventually Robeiri was cornered with only one foot in the warning zone, so with nowhere to go Park exploded forward with a direct fleche. Robeiri was able to parry the blade in prime but in an attempt to score on the riposte he hit his own leg instead of his opponent. In a show of great sportsmanship, Robeiri waved the point off saying that it shouldn’t count because he hit himself.

toehit

Park was appreciative of Robeiri’s honesty, but not enough to let Robeiri off the hook. Only four seconds later Park launched an awesome advance lunge to the leg of Robeiri. Robeiri was caught surprised and was unable to land his counter-attack. Down by only a point, Park continued with the forward pressure looking to inch closer and closer to Robeiri. Park was more active with his bladework as he tried to disrupt Robeiri’s comfort level and provoke a counter-attack. Park made a short lunge to elicit a reaction, to which Robeiri threw out a counter-attack. Park maintained distance to keep his opponent’s tip safely away from his own body before reaching to place a touch on Robeiri’s leg. The score was 8-8 with only 50 seconds left to determine the 2014 World Champion in Men’s Epee. Park continued forcing Robeiri back, but he relinquished pressure and retreated to regroup. Robeiri wasted no time in taking advantage of Park relaxing, as he marched down the piste and scored a single touch to take the lead 9-8. The pressure was on Park to take a risk and reel in another tying point and he only had 30 seconds to accomplish the task. Park forced Robeiri back with a high intensity, but Robeiri was calm and confident. In Park’s effort to force Robeiri to attack, he took one step too close and Robeiri capitalized on the mistake instantly.

toehit

Robeiri held a commanding lead of 10-8 with only seven seconds remaining. Park had no choice but to go for broke and charge the Frenchman. Park sprinted at Robeiri off the line and a double touch was scored. Robeiri noticed no time had been taken off the clock and a timekeeper was brought in to ensure the time ran out in a realistic fashion. Park continued with his sprinting tactic and was never once met with a single light. In an unbelievable three seconds, a total of four double touches and one single touch for Robeiri were scored. Robeiri kept Park at bay, and was rewarded by being crowned the 2014 Men’s Epee World Champion!

toehit

Congratulations to France’s Ulrich Robeiri for fencing an incredible tournament all the way through to the final match. Robeiri showed consistent point control, perfect timing, and sportsmanship. Congratulations to Kyoungdoo Park from Korea for putting on an excellent display of athleticism and speed on his way to a silver medal performance. The performance put on by both fencers in the final match was inspiring. The mutual respect between Park and Robeiri was great to see, and the sportsmanship on Robeiri’s part was enough to make him a champion in my books.

/leland

 

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Utilizing the Off-Season Effectively

 

Always room for improvement

Always room for improvement

 

Off-Season Preparation

I often get asked what I do when I’m not training during the fencing season, and I urge you to take a stab at what it might be. If you said, “eating an Oreo filled pie baked inside a Turtle Skor ice cream cake while washing it down with a strawberry milkshake” you were close. Well, as close as you would be comparing the buoyancy of a slab of granite to a feather. I wish I could eat a meal that would arguably top calorie charts, but the off-season for me is a slight bit more demanding than the regular season. The off-season is the perfect time for taking care of your body and preparing it for another grueling, demanding season. I take the time to rest my body first and foremost before tackling obstacles such as flexibility, general fitness, power through range of motion, and fencing specific strengthening.

After the last tournament of this past season, I immediately took two weeks off to recover from the many aches and pains that I had been enduring. During those two weeks I met with my nutritionist and my personal trainer to come up with a game plan for this summer so that when the fencing season starts up again, I’ll be in the best shape of my life and I’ll have a step up over the competitors who take a break from training. I made a gap analysis comparing where I am at today and where the champions are at and we devised a plan to bridge that gap day-by-day.

My advice to anyone who is eager to prepare for the upcoming season is, if you can afford it, go to a personal trainer and have them do an overall fitness test. This test will highlight strengths and weaknesses in your mobility, stability, and strength. With this information you can come up with a plan to take care of things that are likely to be limiting your performance or things that may lead to potential injury (tight hamstrings for example). Commonly in fencing I see two issues that if addressed, can drastically improve performance.

General Fitness

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all” – Vince Lombardi

I enjoy this quote because to me it represents the feelings of indecisiveness, hesitation, and self-doubt. These three feelings have, on their own, the capability to lose you matches. Indecisiveness could be that action you know is coming but you can’t decide whether to counter-attack or to parry and your opponent scores before you make up your mind. Hesitation could be that same action where you know you should counter-attack, but you’re opponent feigns a movement before committing to that action and the feint is enough to cause your counter-attack to arrive too late. Self-doubt could be that same action where you know you should counter-attack but you don’t know if you are fast enough to score the touch, meanwhile your opponent scores. Since the natural way to counter fatigue is general fitness, why not improve it as much as you can? Again, if it is within your means, consult a personal trainer.

Flexibility

Fencing can be a very physically demanding sport, and since the techniques put a lot of tension in our hips, hamstrings, and calves, it is important to maintain proper range of motion and flexibility. Throughout the fencing season our bodies get beat up, bruised, sprained, strained and sometimes even broken. The most common injuries are ankle and knee related, and they mostly stem from a lack of flexibility in the lower half of our body. With such a real risk of injury it makes sense to take care of your body and stretch out your muscle groups appropriately. The other important part of flexibility is that flexibility directly translates into speed. If your muscles have a full range of motion, there is nothing restricting them from expanding and contracting. Think of a long lunge, with proper flexibility you will be able to have a deep, balanced lunged that you can recover from almost as quick as you can launch it. If your hamstrings are tight, that lunge won’t cover as much distance, and the tightness from the hamstring can pull you off balance and make it harder to recover.

Take some time this off-season to reassess your goals. Take a look at where you are, and where you want to be by the end of next season. Develop a plan for yourself highlighting what steps you plan to take to reach your goal. Please feel free to share it with me either in the comments section of this blog post or email me at leland.guillemin@gmail.com. I would love to hear what you’re working on during the off-season!!!

Keep working hard and be kind to your body!

/leland

 

 

 

 

 

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