Tough Rivalries

 I seem to have a knack for getting into niche sports and recreations and having to compete and compare against people who are much better at them than me. I was reminded of this in the weekend just by when I picked up a bow and arrow for the first time in what…fifteen years? It was for a friend’s stag night which included both an archery and a laser clay bird shooting component. I managed third in my team with a suitably macho score of 66 against the defenceless clay birds, which given we had some sharpshooter from Zimbabwe on our team who seemed incapable of missing a shot I felt pretty happy about. When it came to the archery, boy was I rusty. In the first round I was lucky to break double digits, with archery this is really bad as you can do that with a single arrow. After that it started coming back, enough that I managed to take out the top score for the whole party, hitting that pesky balloon for the bonus point rounds. I did lose an arrow, but only because it punched clear through the centre. Despite taking out the top slot in the Robin Hood category and my Zimbabwean compatriot doing the same for the gunslingers we still lost on total points to the stag’s own team. I suppose you have to cut the guy in the dress some slack.

It made me wonder why I hadn’t kept up with the hobby beyond the age of ten. Then I remembered the two guys I’d had to compete against back then. One went on to represent the country at the Commonwealth Games and the other was named Robin. Yes, Robin. If you’re going to try your hand at archery and that’s your given name you better be good at it. Yes, he wore a hood(ie). We insisted he did. We were mature ten-year olds like that.

All through high school I took up fencing. One to many times watching the Princess Bride and Musketeer movies. I’m naturally left-handed for most things but for some reason but swordplay came more easily with my right. Weird. It did let me pull out that ‘actually, I’m not left-handed’ line a few times though.

The problem with fencing though? I was thirteen. The rest of the members of the Salle Jean Louis Fencing club were university age or older. And the national champ happened to be a member at my club. Guess who the second person I had to face on my first day was? Guess who doesn’t like to lose. At all. National champs. It took me until my final year of school before I started winning against most of those guys. Never did beat the champ though, the best I managed was a 5-3 bout. The best moment was the first time I beat one of the older guys 5-4 after several years of trying and he just grinned at me, saying ‘F***ing awesome!’ Respect. Still have the scars to prove it.

What’s the payoff from that? Turns out a senior manager at a company I worked out later was a member of that same club. When I found out I managed to subtly slip a reference to pistol-grip foils into the conversation. He asked me how I knew what that was, I revealed the name of the club I’d belonged to and he asked me if I’d ever competed at a particular tournament. I had. He’d founded it. Networking. We agreed to settle any future employment disputes with a duel.

What came next? Martial arts in my twenties. That’s manly and macho and suitably masculine, right? I chose Wing Chun Kung Fu. Turns out it was invented by a woman and there were a lot of them in the class. Now, mum and dad raised me right, not to hit women. During this class it wasn’t for lack of trying, turns out if you’re a woman in a class full of bigger, burlier, more aggressive males you get very good, very fast. This was suitably illustrated when I had to carry my Scottish-ancestry friend out of the class with a dislocated knee cap courtesy of a five-foot nothing girl. I said this stuff was designed for woman, by woman, right? Case in point.

Not to say that the men didn’t figure it out every now and again. I’m going to name some names here. You might have heard of Bruce Lee, he did the same style. His teacher was a man named Ip Man, who had a son named Ip Ching, who had a student named Ron Heimberger. My own Sifu (teacher) Tony Brooks learned directly from the last two. I don’t normally like to name names and trade on other people’s success but I’m doing so out respect for these particular people and their accomplishments. Sifu Ron was president of the Hong Kong World Wing Chun Council, but died several years ago from a brain tumour. I had the privilege to attend a seminar in my own country from Sifu Ron before this. This resulted in me being thrown halfway across the room as part of a demonstration. I came up grinning and had to resist the urge to yell ‘again!’ to the rest of the class. When the seminars came round again the next I was the object lesson. ‘Do be careful, because last year someone got sent flying.’

‘Yeah (raises hand), that was me.’

I like…challenges. And adversity. Like your classic fantasy, I guess. Because if it’s not nigh on impossible odds with slim to nadda chance of succeeding, where’s the fun in that? I like the idea of trying something that you probably won’t succeed at and doing it anyway. The old saying (I like sayings) is ‘choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them.’ I’d say it works better with rivalries, because you’re more likely to get along with rivals than friends, and if you end up like them it makes for a less tragic ending.

I think I need a new rival actually? Possibly even a nemesis…any volunteers?



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