Saturday, 28 July 2012

Right, so far, I’ve watched fencing, judo, swimming, rowing, archery, shooting, cycling and handball. I may be going a little overboard with the Olympic coverage. I think watching the judo brought home to me all the bits of it I don’t like as a sport more than the bits I do, but the fencing was fun.

The opening ceremony was… interesting. There were some very spectacular elements, but I have to admit my favourite bit was Rowan Atkinson’s role in the Chariots of Fire section. It was certainly better than Danny Boyle’s vision of British history, which seemed to be a collection of random stereotypes.

As I’m writing this, Natalia Sheppard (our only fencer through to the last 32) is 5-0 down in the women’s foil. It’s about what we might expect, but it’s amazing how just a small difference in ability can make a huge difference to the score line and the apparent ease of victory in this sport.

A quick explanation of the fencing concept of Right of Way, without which the Olympic foil and sabre will be incomprehensible. Though it will be anyway. The idea is that, in a sport where the weapons are blunt, it’s quite easy for people to hit their opponent just by ignoring an attack being made on them. To counter that unrealistic tendency, the rules say that if both fencers hit, only the one with right of way gets a point.

If no one is doing anything, right of way is gained by starting an attack (by extending the arm with the weapon threatening the target) or bringing your arm up into a point in line (fully extended) position. For your opponent to get the right of way from there, they have to parry your attack or beat your blade. That, or they can just dodge as they hit you so that only one light comes up on the scoring box.

On a couple of non-Olympic notes, It’s been a while since I’ve said anything about my own writing. I have some friends beta reading a long-ish piece at the moment, so there might be more on that in the future. I’ve also been playing with the way I play the guitar, going back more to the way I played it a few years ago (very legato). In doing that, I’ve been thinking about how often the ways we do things naturally get swamped under a wave of later lessons.

In playing the guitar, for example, picking a lot of notes is common, not necessarily because it’s the best way to do things, but simply because it’s the most difficult thing and there are consequently lots of exercises around for it. People practise what they can’t do, or what they think they ought to do, rather than what they do beautifully. And the whole structure of music teaching encourages that, because telling people that they need to be able to play these things is a good way to ensure lots of business for the people teaching them.

I think that’s often true for writing, too, as people’s early tendencies can find themselves slightly squashed as they try to learn all about form and structure, the ‘rules’ of dialogue and characterisation. I’m not saying that you can just ignore all these things, but I do think that it’s important to remember what you do well, as well as what you can’t do.

For now though, I’m back to watching the fencing.

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