Strictly Come Fencing

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I have a confession to make. Anyone who knows me and has had the misfortune to find themselves on the dance floor when I take a notion to strut my stuff will be aware that I’m not a fan of conventional dancing. You can keep your regimented steps and synchronised movements; I’m usually the one in the middle annoying everyone with the randomness of my gangly gesticulations. This lack of fanaticism for all things Fred Astaire extends to watching other people indulging in such activity – Strictly Come Dancing? Strictly No Thank You.

And yet, perhaps worse than tuning in on a Saturday night to watch seasoned professional ballroom dancers guide gormless celebrities through a quickstep or a jive in an attempt to survive the dreaded public vote, I’ve caught myself several times this week not changing the channel when the nightly magazine programme that accompanies the weekly series appears on my television.

Strictly Come Dancing – It Takes Two (for that is what it is called) tracks the trials and tribulations of the clueless amateurs as the professionals try to teach them a new dance in preparation for the following week. Tonight, I caught myself watching it again and also noticed that I have been doing so rather more than someone with no interest in that sort of thing ought to – and certainly rather more than someone who has never watched the actual programme proper.

I’ll admit to having a slight soft-spot for the host, Claudia Winkleman, and that her penchant for a plunging neckline has done little to make me want to switch channels and watch ITN butcher the day’s news, but there’s something deeper going on. As I sit here writing with the show on in the background, I should instead be dancing up and down the living room wielding a sabre and attacking an ironing board. The reason I’m not practicing my fencing as I should be is that I’m enjoying watching other people going from a position of being all at sea to dancing a waltz as though they’ve been doing it for years.

Just now, I nodded with rueful recognition when Zoë Ball confessed to messing up her foxtrot because she forgot which foot she was supposed to start on. I felt Goughie’s pain when he grimaced with frustration at not being able to do the five things he’d been told to do all at the same time.

In an hour, I’m heading off for my last training session with the fencers before they slice and dice me in the three fights next week. Learning is repetition. If you’re the pupil, you do something wrong in a slightly different way over and over and over again until you get it right. Then you do it wrong again and swear a lot because, damn it, you had it mastered a minute ago!

If you’re the teacher, you tell the pupil the same thing in a slightly different way over and over and over again until something clicks and he gets it right. You commend him far too much for finally doing what you told him to do in the first place, and then you laugh at him when he messes it up again and gets cross.

I’ve said before, but will say again, that I greatly admire the patience being displayed by the people trying to teach me; it outlasts my own without fail and by a long, long way. The one thing I am learning better than anything else is that learning itself is much easier to do when you’re a child and repetition (as you will no doubt know if you have ever encountered a child who is asking for something) is just about your favourite thing in the world.


Jamie Kenber (foil) is the current British Men's champion, beating British Olympian Richard Kruse in the final this year. He is currently ranked 9th in the senior rankings.

Matt Dodwell (epée) is current British Junior No.3 and was the silver medallist in the British Youth Championships this year. He is currently ranked 21st in the senior rankings.

Michael Coombes (sabre) was 3rd in the Public Schools Senior Boys Championships this year.

All three are members of the University of Oxford first team.

You can think of them as the three musketeers. I shall be thinking of them as the three guys who have very kindly offered to come along and chop me into little pieces next week.


Rufus fan said...

You know you're toast, right?

Good Luck next Thursday anyway - are you taking sponsorship on the length of bout or number of times you actually manage to hit your opponent?

(just thought I'd pop on and make a vaguely sensible comment before your male readers descend into an argument about the relative merits of Claudia Winkleman's cleavage)

John said...

Sliced toast, most likely.

It was suggested that I establish a sponsorship request based on the number of hits I manage to land on my opponents, but the caveat was added that maybe I should have some underlying sponsorship too as there's a fair chance I will lose 15-0 every time.

And on that note - may the Winkleman debate begin!

Amateur said...

Hey, see if you can fit this line in while you're swordfighting: "I once fought for two days with an arrow in my testicle."

John said...

I'll try to work that in - right after I go with:

"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father: prepare to die."

I think I'll use that one right after I've given it [from the same film]: "I admit it, you are much better than I am. But I know something you don't: I... am not left-handed."

Which will really confuse them, as I'll be fencing right-handed. I think confusion is my best hope of getting a hit or two.

Paul said...

Without wanting to bring something of a downer on proceedings, I suggest your only hope of survival involves a swift kick to the crotch before running them through.

Otherwise you're a dead man.

Good Luck!

Amateur said...

No, I think the boxing will be much more dangerous. Um, but try not to think about that, John.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention taekwondo?

John said...

I'm still more worried about the 10 metre platform dive - that's like getting hit at 35mph by a boxing glove the size of a swimming pool.