Now here’s a thing you need to know about fencing, though it shouldn’t put you off. Sometimes – not often, thankfully, but sometimes – you take a hit in the nuts. If a bloke hits you in the jewels, he stops instantly, shoves his mask up, and leaps forward to check you’re OK. When a woman gives an accidental hit on the clackers, the first thing she invariably does is get a fit of giggles. Men don’t laugh when they do it ; women do. There’s probably a giggle-gene on the XY chromosome for it.
One night I was on the piste fencing with Kay. We were fencing foil, which is the one where only the trunk of the body is a legitimate target. Kay had a peculiar style with foil, she fenced it like it was sabre, and a high proportion of her attacks were ‘flicks’, where, instead of thrusting outwards at the target, the fencer throws the blade out sideways with a sudden stop of the wrist, resembling a sabre cut, so that the foremost part of the blade ‘whips’ round in a curve and in towards the target area. This can be very hard to parry because even though you catch the blade, the front part is curving round your defending parry at high speed and can still reach target. A lot of fencers dislike ‘flick’ fencers because they can hurt. And you can see it coming (which is more than I did) : Kay lunged forward, head low, and tried to flick my right flank.
Jesus! I took it full on. Kay pushed her mask up and said “Hey, are you OK?” and I put my right palm up to say “give me a minute, I can’t speak!” Then she started giggling. She giggled so much she dropped to the floor on her knees, shoulders heaving, hand trying to stifle the laughter, while I stood there wondering if I’d ever regain the power to inhale. Every so often she’d look up at me, then break down into more peals of laughing. Eventually, the pain subsided, there appeared to be no permanent damage, and I started to collect myself again. She did, it’s fair, re-collect her composure, and asked me if there wasn’t any protective gear for the men the way there is for women. And I thought that was a good point, especially as it was also a painful one, so I said I’d dig out the ‘cricket guard’ I used to use when I did martial arts training.
And so the following week, I brought the cricket guard, and put it on when I changed into my kit. I strode into the fencing room ready for anything, and sure enough, Kay came across for a few hits. I’d got onto the piste and was taking up the en garde position, as she was, when she was again taken over by a fit of the giggles. Then the giggles became peals of laughing. She strode right up to me and said “Hey, is that a protector you’re wearing there or are you just pleased to see me?” What I’d forgotten about was that when you’re wearing martial arts training kit, it’s very loose fitting, so a cricket guard just doesn’t show. But fencing kit is close fitting, and I now had this enormous tell-tale bulge of the cricket guard in my breeches. I
had a look, and there was nothing for it but to fall about laughing myself. What was worse, in practice it was awkward and uncomfortable to move in, and after just one bout I had to go and take it off again. Kay milked this for all it was worth, and whenever she squared up to me on the piste, would pretend she couldn’t walk properly and push her pelvis out as if she were wearing the damn thing.
I never wore it again, but I can tell you that my strongest and fastest parry is the parry of seconde.