I Am Not the Fencer I Was

It’s been about four years since I came back to fencing.

“Fear kills dreams.  Fear kills hope.  Fear puts people in the hospital.  Fear can age you, can hold you back from doing something that you know within yourself that you are capable of doing, but it will paralyze you.” – Gym Blog Central

Coming back into fencing was not easy. When I came back into the game some 4ish years ago, it was a fearful endeavor.  For reasons that I won’t discuss here –the brain weasels had full run of my mind.  I had not been playing in a few years, and while I missed it I was too afraid of what I would be coming back to.

Over the preceding decade, I had systematically either removed myself or been removed from some of the closest circles of friends that I have had in my life. All of them having to do with fencing.  Would I even be welcomed to come back?  The outcast feeling was crippling. I told two people these fears.  These two had to deal with the raw pain, the fear, the utter devastation that was my confidence regarding my fencing.  I have a very vivid memory of one of them hugging me while I cried because I would never be a good fencer, as he emphatically tried to get me to understand that what I was believing was a lie.

As someone who used to feel things deeply, but has done so less and less in the past few years, I was confused. Would I ever feel that love for fencing again?  Or, would I be apathetic about it forever?   Pulling my case along, I didn’t care.  It was time for fencing – always time for fencing – and I wanted to get better.  I wanted to prove to people that I could.

Starting back up again was not without its twists, turns, and bumps. The brain weasels and my own awkwardness created situations that wouldn’t have been there if I had just relaxed.  But, as my favorite video by Gym Blog Central states, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking back.”  I couldn’t have known then what I know now.  I was brainwashed.  I was broken.

Don’t balk about the word ‘broken’. I was.  Not only physically – it is no secret that I cope with chronic pain.  But, mentally – I was severed from my love of the game.  I was severed from my confidence in any ability I may have possessed.  And, I had made enemies – or I should say enemies were made for me.

Over and over during this time, I told my most trusted fencing-confidant that I just wanted to love fencing again. I loved the friends I had made and was enjoying the feeling of camaraderie – something that had been missing for many years -, but I didn’t love the game.

This friend, a person who has known me for more than half of my life – who has known me since before I ever started fencing – who has seen the vast majority of my fencing story would tell me (repeatedly), “You do love it. If you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t work so hard on it.”

And I worked (and continue to work) hard on it. But, ‘it’ does not simply consist of the physical aspects of this game.  ‘It’ was a whole lot of mental work.  Not just for feeling the excitement and the love of the game.  But, for feeling more confidence than fear.  For not letting the anxiety in my mind overshadow what I looked like, or how I performed with and around others.

There have been three events in the past 8 months that have happened that cracked through that. The first was last November, when I was told that I don’t fence to improve. I don’t? Come here, let me show you who you are dealing with buddy boy.  In the end, he conceded he was wrong.  But, in that angry moment, I found my voice again.  I let go of my fear.  I had FUN.   A lot of fun.  Injured list for 7 weeks because of all the muscles I pulled fun.  If I had it to do over, I would do it again.

The second was a practice. The anxiety was so loud it sounded like someone was holding seashells up to my ears.  But, I wanted to look like I belonged, even if I didn’t feel like it.  And, I got a lot of good feedback from that day.  And while I can remember the anxiety – what I took home and hold close to me when my mind darkens, were the fun bouts I had.  The requests to warm people up (3).  The laughter.  The story of a good thing I did – being told by someone else.  I just happened to walk in on it.  People told me after that they hadn’t seen me that confident in a long time.  As my friend Judith says, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”   We can check that box.

The final event was a conversation that I had with a very good friend of mine, someone who has been mentoring my headspace for the past four years – and it dawned on me that the reason he understood my process so well was because he had gone through it himself. That floored me.  I am not the only one with demons?  I’m not the only one with brain weasels?  No. I am not. I am not alone, anymore. Truth be known I haven’t been ‘alone’ for the entire time that I have been fencing again.  But, this time I felt it.  And feeling that truth is powerful.

“Most people give up on themselves easily. You know the human spirit is powerful. There’s nothing as powerful. It’s hard to kill the human spirit… The real challenge of growth mentally, emotionally, and spiritually comes when you get knocked down.” – Gym Blog Central

Recently, I was engaged in a conversation about goals, and the conversation rolled around to my own. I mentioned what I wanted to get to.  Then I mentioned what one I think I had obtained.  That one I will share.  I wanted to be ‘not salad.’

In the first year that I had come back, there was a tournament and I was seeking warm up bouts. I asked someone, and their response was, “I don’t warm up with salad.”

To be honest, I had never heard the term before. My first thought was wondering if he was calling me dumb as grass or something.  I was hurt.  Very hurt.  I fenced through the hurt.  I did all right, and I wanted to ‘show him’ that I wasn’t salad.  Whatever it was.  Because obviously it wasn’t good.

Later I found out that ‘salad’ is what you have to get through before you can get to the main course – the good fencers.   Basically he told me I wasn’t worth fencing.  I wasn’t good enough to warm up with.

I was crushed. I had not fenced in a while, but was I really that bad?  Did people really have that low of an opinion of my skill?  The brain weasels had a field day with that.  Ripples from that lasted for two years.

“I’m in control now. I’m not going to get this get me down. I’m not going to let this destroy me. I’m coming back. And I’m going to be better and stronger because of it.” – Gym Blog Central

It has been confirmed by several people that I fence regularly and some that I fence sporadically, that I am no longer salad. And more than one person is a little pissed off that I was ever told that I was.  Apparently, what happened to me is poor form.  And while it sucks that it happened to me, better me than someone it would drive out of the game.

Since then it has been brought to my attention that more than one person thinks that I have the capacity to surpass my goal. The specifics of what they think I can attain are not the important thing here.  The important thing is that I have no coping skills for the compliment.  The first person who told me that, I honestly thought he was being facetious.  It didn’t bother me at all.  I actually agreed with him with that assumption in mind.  The second person who said it I thought he was being nice.  Trying to push me forward, you know? The third gave me details – hard fast details of why he thinks this goal is attainable.

It’s been a few weeks, and I’ve spoken to my Don about it. He was pleased that I had gotten the compliment.  I told him I had to put the compliment on the shelf because I don’t know what to do with it.

You see, I entered this game with the ‘knowledge’ that said goal is not attainable. I don’t consider myself to be a very athletically competitive person.  Hell I don’t consider myself to be athletic.  Yes, I’ve done dancing (32 types when we sat down and counted).  And I’ve done gymnastics (10 years), and I’ve done tennis and swimming.  But swimming was the only type I did competitively, and I stopped doing that when I was 9.  I just wanted to have fun.

Then when I was being trained by my first trainer, I came to understand that I did not have the attitude or skill to attain said goal. I gave up any last hopes of it.  Every once in a while someone would say that I would attain it in spite of certain forces that they saw holding me back.  I thought it was a nice dream, but one I dared not have.  Even now, it’s beyond my goal.  So it’s not my goal yet.  So that’s going to be shelved for now.  Because it’s beyond what I have spent 17 years knowing.

“The last chapter to your life has not been written yet. And it doesn’t matter about what happened yesterday. It doesn’t matter what happened to you. What matters is what you do about it.” – Gym Blog Central

Recently I have gotten some very good feedback regarding my journey. And my Don is proud of me.  This may not sound like much of anything.  But pride is not something I receive from people in mentorship positions.  More often than not I have been told, “they are proud of you, but they’ll never tell you.”   Any time I show pride in myself or my accomplishments, I get beaten down or beaten back.

It’s nice… It’s nice to have a Don who is proud of me, and then pushes me to continue. It’s nice to have a support system that is proud of me and how far I’ve come.  It’s nice to now understand what it is to have a positive hit to my confidence.

“Accept where you are, and the responsibility that you are going to take yourself where you want to go… Live your life with passion. With some pride. Decide you are going to push yourself… This year I will make this goal become a reality. I won’t talk about it anymore. I can!” – Gym Blog Central



The video I have been quoting can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FGymBlogCentral%2Fvideos%2F1150137638365410%2F&show_text=0&width=560


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