Wednesday December 6, 2006

Fencing in Germany

For the last couple of months, I've been fencing twice a week at the local club over here.  Everyone seems to be younger, faster, and more precise than I am, but they've been very friendly, patiently putting up with my terrible German and my slow, never-gonna-be-better-than-intermediate fencing.  What's impressed me the most, though, is how fencing is clearly a bigger deal over here than in the US, and that's reflected in the quality of the facilities.  For instance, the gravity controls are way more advanced than any I've seen in the States.

The one-g gym is where beginning classes, free fencing, and tournaments take place.  That's because they believe in the old adage "practice how you play", and also because it's gentler on us older fencers who don't have the cartilage to spare.

The dedicated two-g gym must have sounded like a good idea when they installed it, but it isn't used much any more.  (Notice that it's dark inside—they keep it powered down to save money.) They used to use it all the time for strength training and footwork drills for the advanced students, but after a few unfortunate incidents, they eventually decided there was just too much risk of blowing out a knee—or an ankle, both knees, then a wrist, an elbow, and your back as you hit the floor under twice normal gravity.

The room that sees the most use these days is the new EG (Einstellbar Gravitation, 'adjustable gravity') gym.  They regularly crank it up to 1.1 or 1.2 g for training and bouting.  I got to try it a few times, and it's an interesting experience.  Walking over the threshold is a little disorienting, but you quickly get used to it and hardly feel the difference while you're fencing.  (But I definitely felt it in my quads the next day.)  Later, when you move back to the one-g floor, you feel as if you have an extra spring in your step—which you do, sort of.

I have to say, even though I know it's considered the wave of the future, I'm skeptical of g-conditioning.  I admit it's clearly to an athlete's advantage to have the added muscular strength it helps develop without the separate weight training that used to require.  But I think inevitably you pay a price on the strip in the loss of fine point control.  If you practice all the time in 1.1 g, you're going to develop 1.1-g reflexes, then when you compete in boring, vanilla Earth gravity, the reflexes built into your hands and feet won't quite be appropriate.  Improved physical development shouldn't come at the expense of proper bladework.

Still, the march of progress continues.  I hear they're lobbying for funding to upgrade the EG gym with one of the new pseudo-Coriolis generators, which will allow them to train for tournaments on space habitats without leaving terra firma.  So far, only the Japanese have such equipment (at their famous Side Zero facility), which will probably give them a leg up in the 2008 Olympics.  Everyone admits, though, that the hometown fencers in High Beijing are nearly certain to sweep the medals.

I've never fenced under centrifugal grav, but I hear it feels weird.  This is especially true in habs with smaller diameters around the spin axis, where the fencer facing to antispinwards experiences noticably lower g when advancing or lunging, while his or her opponent experiences higher g.  This can be a real surprise if you're not used to it, and fencers used to natural gravity tend to lunge too hard to spinwards, land hard on their front foot, and fall flat.  What's more, experienced hab fencers have some tricks that take advantage of their peculiar environment.  For example, they'll do a quick little jump-advance to antispinwards to startle their opponent into retreating too hastily, causing a sudden loss of traction as perceived gravity drops.  It creates a beautiful opening to get the touch with a quick lunge or fleche—but be careful using this trick, because if you miss, you'll have even less traction than your opponent, giving them a nice opportunity to hit you as you sail gracefully by.

Gravity generation is going to turn fencing into a whole different game.  At least the FIE has finally restricted Earth-bound tournaments to one-g venues, and the new rules for strip assignments on space habitats should ensure that every fencer is guaranteed an even mix of spinward and antispinward bouts.  This is what the future of fencing looks like, and the Germans are embracing it wholeheartedly.  We'd better get it together and modernize our facilities soon, or else our fencers going to be left back in the dust—or rather, down on the dirt.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
03:47 AM in Fencing , Science Fiction | Submit: | Links:

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Comments

You made my day :)))

Thanks!

Posted by: gabr at Dec 6, 2006 6:20:42 AM

Excellent and timely article! Thank you.

Posted by: Erkki at Dec 6, 2006 8:23:13 AM

I am reminded of The Speed of Dark, which has fencing and is scifi (though otherwise has little to do with this post). :) The photos make me think of this photoset.

Posted by: Erin at Dec 6, 2006 11:51:46 AM

Let's see... zero gravity fencing... makes me think of that team sport from Ender's Game. Assuming a "strip" 14m x 14m x 2m (have to keep some semblance of tradition), pretty much every action would be a fleche. It would turn in to jousting. Nah, let's skip vero g.

Variable gravity could come in handy at the end of the strip (NB: retreating off the end of the strip earns one point for your opponent on account of bloody cowardice). You could work it either way - a strong gravitational field pulling you more and more the closer you get to the end of the strip (assuming a generated field could simulate any diameter of m1 you choose and thus have any chosen difference between two points in the field), or the exact opposite (assuming for no good reason that the ability to generate gravity implies the ability to generate negative gravity) - a repulsive field at the end of the strip acting as a safety buffer.

It could be taken even further by giving the blades themselves strong gravitaional fields, either attractive (nearly every attack would be pris de fer, but you wouldn't have to worry much about point control) or repulsive (parrying could be made quite easy but the only attacks that would land would be either *very* point-in-line or the strongest of flicks).

Posted by: Erik at Dec 6, 2006 11:55:58 AM

I don't think there's any need to make use of artificial gravity at the end of the strip. I have long maintained that the strip should end with a staircase leading up, which the retreating fencer could back dramatically up while continuing to engage in witty Errol Flynn-like banter. Ideally, there should also be a wall with a rope attached to it holding up a chandelier that one could cut to either (a) drop the chandelier on one's opponent or else (b) grab one-handed and swing behind him.

Posted by: The Tensor at Dec 10, 2006 4:37:27 PM