Friday, 12 February 2016

Facing fears...

Like most people, I hate visiting the dentist. And when I say hate, I mean HATE! If I am honest though, I am actually afraid of going despite multiple visits following blowing out my front teeth while ice-skating in the nineties. Idiot that I was, I figured  could skate with my hands in my pockets with the oh-so-predictable result that I fell on my face and literally bit the ice. Ouch! When I am on the Chair I sweat buckets and am rigid with tension and fear, with my hands clenched into knots. I am just waiting for the pain to come. Yet after the visit, which usually turns out to be not so bad, I am exhausted and only want to sleep. Post traumatic stress disorder, indeed!

Mostly, I can conquer this fear as I can rationalise that the visit is in my own best interests and that time and money spent in the chair are well invested in my future health and well-being. I am still always ready to run though if my appointment is late and I try to convince myself that the toothache is "not THAT bad". Luckily, I have had a very good dentist over the years who makes small-talk (a rarity in Finns) while working. The last work was to replace separate crowns in my upper front teeth, which were no longer straight, with both crowns in a single block. That was over two years ago. Since then, I have made excuse after excuse for not returning; too busy at work, my teeth feel fine etc. and suddenly so much time has elapsed. I could keep on making excuses until I do have bad toothache and I really need to go. So today, it was high time to make that appointment and tomorrow is the day. I am terrified!

We experience fear (in all its myriad forms) almost every day but some of us are better at dealing with it than others. I wrote in a previous post about being afraid to compete in the Helsinki Open Longsword 2016 tournament; afraid of losing matches, of looking foolish and feeling ashamed that I would not do better. This fear troubled me enough at times that I began to think of withdrawing from the competition altogether. However, I decided to hang tough and took part and had an extraordinarily positive experience. It was totally worth feeling the fear and going forward anyway. My dental appointment has made me think about how many things scare me on a daily basis and I began to wonder why I am like this.

I remember being in fear of the nuns in primary school. Afraid I would do something wrong, terrified that some one would tell the teacher on me. One nun in particular liked to pinch, her favourite spot was the inside of your upper arm. Another method was to put her silver ring (as a Bride of Christ, hah!) on her knuckle and rap you on the skull. Infractions like misbehaving and making too much noise got you pinched or rapped, as did not joining up your letters properly. Corporal punishment continued through school but as I got bigger and my sense of boyhood bravado grew, being lifted by the ear or sidelocks, whacks across the palms of the hands with a bamboo cane, often called 'Charlie' (with a capital C) in 'six of the best' hurt but the sense of fear was gone. You took the punishment, forced a smile to hide the pain, then wrapped your hands around the cold metal legs of your desk to cool the sting. Weirdly enough, the physical aspect I do not really remember as being so bad. I mean, I got slapped occasionally but we didn't have the living shit kicked out of us. The absolute worst was the humiliation tactic, a tried and tested technique by some teachers of the 'Old Guard' of school-teaching and designed to break people. I only had limited direct experience of this but others had it far worse, especially the softer kids, sometimes feeling so bad they pissed themselves in front of the class, further compounding their shame. And we others watched and perhaps felt sympathy but were probably thankful it was not us, this time. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a sob story and I actually liked school a lot.

Inexplicable fears have stayed with me to this day. I often have that fear that I will get that sudden heavy hand on the shoulder and hear "Oi, what the hell are you doing? You are not supposed to be here!" like the centurion played by John Cleese in 'Life of Brian'. Living in a foreign country with a foreign language has not helped to soften the fear either. The thing is though, it's just in my head. How many times in life have I been afraid of new situations, job interviews, starting beginners' course in various martial arts, new jobs, giving public presentations (in Finnish!) etc. yet somehow once I get through these situations, I realise they weren't so bad. Invariably, they never are. I do try to prepare as much as possible beforehand so I can feel in control of the situation  and maybe have a backup plan. It would be great if I could follow the Buddhist tenet, "Relax, nothing is under control" but that's not very realistic for me, even though it has a ring of truth.

Three things about fear: 1. My fears are not yours. 2. We deal with our fears differently. 3. The scale of fear is relative. When I think of what Syrian refugee families have had to go through both in their home country, as well as the harrowing journey to get away to safety, my fears seem very petty. Compared to them, there is literally nothing holding me back. My fears are not mortal. Like my childhood fears in school and those of the refugees, I had no power to change the situation, my power was taken away from me. By comparison, now I have power over my adult fears. I can feel them but go through with things anyway. I can choose to face things or not. We develop our 'comfort zone' outside which we do not often choose to go.

The rather splendid Irish ring hilt sword logo of HEMA Ireland

In an attempt to get out of my comfort zone, I decided to take part in a fencing tournament last month. It was scary but worth it. Now I am planning to visit several different historical fencing clubs around Ireland to train with and lead some Fiore classes. There is a burgeoning HEMA scene in Ireland, which did not exist when I left in 2000. Also, meeting an Irish fencer who travelled all the way from Ireland to take part in the Helsinki Longsword 2016 tournament was inspiring and a great indication of a thriving community. This is a great opportunity for me to put myself out there, meet new people and hit them with swords! What could be better? I sent an open email to the HEMA Ireland facebook page and to several clubs. So far, I have been in contact with at least six different groups from the four corners of the island! Yaay! 
Shit! What have I let myself in for?.....

Dentist update: I will need at least two small fillings and a visit to the oral hygienist to have the plaque scraped off. Actually not that bad! The plaque removal is almost worse than the fillings. Oh well, at least I can limit the procedures to one per week until it's done. Fear in small doses is much easier to deal with. Baby steps.....

Friday, 29 January 2016

Pacing oneself....

Last weekend at the Helsinki Longsword Open 2016 was pretty intense. It almost feels like I haven't slowed down since. I talked with loads of people about a range of topics, not all sword-related. We were up at 6:30 on Saturday morning and had the whole day experience of the competition, followed by dinner and the pub, culminating in a two-hour drive back home. I finally got home around 5:30 in the morning and due to copious quantities of cola consumed in the pub I was still hyper at home and finally fell asleep around 7:00 am. That's a pretty full 24 hours!

It has left it's mark in both good ways and bad. Mostly good. I am now friends on Facebook with two new and very interesting people. I got to see photos of myself in action, some actually quite flattering and looking almost like I knew what I was doing! Some well, are a bit closer to the truth.... I guess the video material will not be so much fun to look at, or to put a more positive spin on it, they will be instructional. The bad side is that following the tournament, I realised that I have a lot of holes in my repertoire. These need to be fixed but I want to fix them ALL, NOW! I know the desire to improve is a good thing but I need to be more realistic in how quickly or slowly this will happen. I have probably mentioned in a previous post that I can get fixated on things, be it work, quadcopters or fencing. I will keep pegging away at it, all night if necessary to get to a point where I am satisfied. This rarely happens though because I am so tired and consumed, I cannot see any good in the thing anymore. Since my burnout, I really have to watch it that I realise when this manic behaviour starts and step away. Being unemployed right now has been a bit of a curse in this respect. With time on my hands, there is the tendency to check Facebook every five minutes or answer every text or message immediately. The good feeling and enthusiasm generated by the tournament experience has meant a lot of mails and thread perusal in the last few days, more than is probably good for me. All I can say is that I will have Facebook-free days and thank God I am not on either Twitter or Instagram!

Away from the interweb, I managed to drag myself to training twice this week and for the most part, enjoyed it. Last night we practiced slipping the leg in both Fiore longsword as well as in the Bolognese sidesword class, which followed regular training. I was a bit frustrated by the exercises we had to do, to be honest. Here, folks pair off and one either attacks with a blow to the head or feints high before cutting to the leg. The defender was supposed to react accordingly by either staying put, parrying and riposting for the first attack type OR slipping the leg for the second. Seems simple right? Not so, for me. I often either get it completely wrong or fluff it in such a way as to make a mad flail and a leg slip and can just about tag the attacker. To my pedantic mind, it must look awful, no response is clear, looking like a total fail (I get hit) or a weird hybrid spasm (a slip and a half-assed blow). Aargh! This apparent inability of mine to see and react to what is really happening is a real gear grinder for me and I suspect most people. It just seems to me that other folks seem to deal with it better than I do. Why do I just react and respond to what I seem to think is happening rather than what is ACTUALLY happening? 

We also did new footwork exercises this week. No, NOT the above. Holy Jesus, it looks like some sort of manic Shaolin track event combined with fencing lunges! Knee injury anyone? Our lesson involved doing a deepish squat until the thighs were horizontal, then powering up from there to jump as high off the floor as possible, the idea being to develop 'explosive' power. Useful for making aggressive lunging attacks, which we don't do in our regular training. They were not satisfying to do as I seemed to have very little power and not much height in my jumps. Normally, we do not do a particularly heavy workout apart from a light warm-up in class and this has led to folks being a bit shocked by having to do some hard work. The complaint is often "I'm here to swing a sword, not do aerobics!". Fair enough, but a few minutes spent on more dynamic exercise on a regular basis can only benefit a fencer. We should see the long-term goal and as our American cousins would exhort, "Suck it up!". Change, if we want it, will come slowly or quickly depending on how we apply ourselves. Actually I preferred this video, which took a lot more relaxed pace and frankly, exercise that are more likely for me to perform than the Italian Cossack dancers above! For some reason, I really like the ice-skaters jump (3:20) which I could see being used in longsword.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Helsinki Longsword Open 2016 Review

Wow! What an event! I am still recovering from the sensory overload of it all, not to mention sore muscles and a big bruise or two. The overall experience was wildly positive and I am already looking forward to having another go at some stage in the future.

I had trained quite hard in the run right up to Christmas and even when I went home to Ireland, I went jogging and did cutting and thrusting practice with my brother's longsword. After Christmas though I got lazy and even when I got back to Finland I wasted almost 2 weeks sitting on my ass playing Skyrim on the PS3. Dumb! After this I got my motivation back and dragged myself back to training. It was worth it, training was fun and my group also started a basic course in Bolognese sidesword as an additional bonus! Result!

So, what were my expectations?

1. To see if my repertoire was any good under pressure against non-cooperative opponents. Could I attack, counterattack, defend all lines, thrust, feint?
2. To find holes in my training. What am I missing?
3. To get some points from each match.
4. Not to take it too seriously and to try to enjoy myself.

To be honest, my five matches went by in a blur. I know that I lost all of them but that I gained more points as each match went on. I have yet to see the footage and I am pretty sure it will be cringeworthy. I think I managed a disarm at some stage and I tried doing take-downs in two separate matches and failed both. I got warned for hitting the tip of the sword on the floor and for turning my back on my opponent (fair enough, although it was after halt had been called). I got hit on the head a LOT, as well as getting tagged on the hands and parrying too wide to a feint only to get hit on the arm on the other side. I managed a one-handed thrust to the body. I was in good form for the first three matches but was obviously winded and blowing hard for the last two. I got hit HARD, in fact harder than I have ever been hit before in more than ten years of fencing. The experience was shocking and I saw stars momentarily. In one exchange, my opponents struck me on the head, possibly my sword was also in the way and the pommel broke on his sword. Prior to the event, I had bought a gel insert skull cap (SkullTec) to be worn under the mask to mitigate against hard head strikes. I'm glad I invested that money!

About the hard hitting: I am not complaining about it, rather it was the shock of it that I found most surprising. I have never experienced anything like it so was not prepared for it. Now I have, I understand better why it happens. It may be due to several things such as a combination of good form/structure with power generation and acceleration causing a hard strike, to intimidate an opponent and to make a sword strike on the mask so that it makes a very audible sound for judges to call. The pommel breaking I didn't really take seriously. The sword had already been used that day in several pools spanning multiple matches, resulting in breaking a weakened (and probably defective) tang. Whether one actually needs to strike hard is another matter and a personal choice. I don't think I need to do it but am glad I got this experience. It was a bit of an aha! moment for me as it does really give good motivation for parrying properly and although not terribly pleasant, it wasn't so bad.

Once my matches were over, I could sit back, relax and enjoy watching the other matches including the ladies' pools, the eliminations, the tatami-cutting competition, and then the quarter-, semis and finals. Holy moly, these were intensive with some lightning fast parry-riposte actions, disarms and incredible athleticism. The cutting competition was fun with some folks making very difficult cuts (false edge fendenti) look easy, slicing the mats and leaving clean, straight cuts. It was a pleasure to watch. More please!

Once the awards ceremony was over, folks started to leave and while some headed home, others continued on to a restaurant and later the pub. For me, this social side capped the day off perfectly. It is always great to come to a meet like this because the HEMA community is just that, a community. We share a passion, making it easy to walk up to strangers and just start chatting, about swords, fencing, manuals and BEER! For example, while not fighting in the pools, I chatted about pedagogic techniques and kettlebell training with Norwegian fencer, Petter Brodin, as well as having the craic with compatriot Christine Maunsell, who had come all the way from Ireland to compete in the Ladies' competition. She is the first Irish HEMA practitioner I have ever met and it was great to get the low-down on the Irish scene. As the Health and Safety Officer of the newly-fledged HEMA Ireland organisation, Christine was also on a fact finding mission to glean best practices for holding similar competitions at home.

This camaraderie continued all evening and we left the pub around 2 am before driving home to Turku. Since then, my mind is still whirling with possibilities of how to improve on my fencing in general, what holes I need to fill and where my mindset needs to be at. My thanks to my club mates Markus, Tuomas and Niko for sharing the experience. Finally, a big thank you and appreciation for the hard work of the Espoo Association for Historical Fencing (, as well as the other volunteers, for organising and efficiently running an international-level fencing competition and event. You made it look easy!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Training update....

Training is proceeding well. I train at home with calisthenics and weights, as well as Indian clubs and club-bells. I also practice hand-eye coordination by catching a ball bounced off the wall using only my peripheral vision. I hope to be able to blade grab without actually having to look at the blade. Let's see how that pans out. Either way, it's a nice way to get my breath back after doing three minutes of kettlebell.

I have two kettlebells, weighing 8kg and a 16kg. The 8kg one is fun to use but the 16 is a bruiser and I have already pulled/stretched small muscles in my back and sides by not being careful when using it. I certainly do not have to worry if there is enough resistance! I have 1kg wooden Indian clubs, which are great for warm-up and cool-down, they really open up the shoulders and upper back nicely with casts and mills. They are also very good for learning club techniques before grading on to heavier clubs. I have 3kg steel clubs also. which give a really good workout with squats as casts but they become hard to grip for the mills and are not very for giving on the wrists either. Most useful for practicing sword skills indoors is the Swingblade but combined with the steel clubs, my elbow joints have started to complain a bit, needing self-massage and Tiger balm applications. Lastly, after a blogpost by Guy Windsor, I began to do very short (5 minutes) session of sitting meditation. These are fun and more about me being more organised in my daily life than anything to do with fencing per se. I do not have a very organised mind and often try to do about 4 things at once or if doing something, I will break off suddenly and shift my focus to something else for a few minutes. For example, I arrive home from the shops and start unloading the food into the fridge only to (as my mum would say "take a vagary") start messing with a gopro camera. I come back to the kitchen five minutes later and the food is still half unpacked and the fridge door still open! 

I used to run a lot back in the day, when I was 10kgs (!) lighter. I tried to start up again a few times since but never got past the point where I could barely breathe and had that awful copper/blood taste in my mouth. What I have noticed over many years is that I really enjoy walking and hill-walking especially. As I live in Finland, it just seemed natural to get sticks and start doing Nordic walking too. At the start of 2014, I spent 2 fantastic weeks hill-walking in Tenerife and a good pair of sticks were invaluable over rough terrain, particularly while carrying some gear in a backpack. I admit it looks dumb but I don't care. It allows working the arms and shoulders while walking and is a great aerobic exercise, especially as now I am doing interval walking (5 minutes) followed by a period of jogging. Over time, the jogging period has increased and has even become enjoyable!

Classes have been very enjoyable too this autumn/winter season. Last night we trained using thrusts against thrusts (scambiare di punta) or blows to make single time counterattacks from different guards. Compared to how we usually trained it as a due tempi action, this was horribly quick and aggressive! Two key points to remember, regardless of from which guard the thrust comes;
1. Throw your point into their face, using their eyes as your targets.
2. Close the line with your hands to the side and extended so that their mezza spada is on your forte. 
This technique further confirms to me the idea that Fiore's style can also be super aggressive and to my mind, is indicative of a stesso tempo action (an immediate action or one happening at the same time as another) or an action happening in indes. It works beautifully as long as you trust it and your ability to close the line but if you hesitate, there is the possibility that you will miss with your point or that your opponent might have time for a counter. It was great fun to look at the giocco largo plays with others in the group and discuss the pros and cons of say, disengaging from the crossing and cutting at the leg. Not a super clever idea unless your opponent is backing off and you pursue. Also, I always just assumed that all of the the giocco largo plays come from the second crossing of the second master. After it was pointed out to me and I looked at the text and pictures, I had a "aha" moment, they are not.  There may be a crossing, but not necessarily at mezza spada, or as in the case of exchanging thrusts, the crossing can occur almost simultaneously with the counterattack.  How did I miss that?? This shows me that we really need to reinstate the weekly kebab/beer evening meet-up with a treatise, pen and notebook in hand to discuss what we train and just as importantly, why. It's not all about tournaments and fighting, it can also be academic. Either way, more fun than you can shake a stick at. :-) 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Sickness, meditation and outbursts

I have been sick for the past two weeks. It might well be that this is the annual winter flu bug that is doing the rounds and that nowadays, no-one seems to be sick just for a day or two and then recovers. It takes a week. The bloody thing lingers! Then again, it may have been work stress coming out. Now that I have holidays until the end of the year, I have time to be sick and my body somehow senses this, then WHAMMO! I get a really bad dose. First, sore throat, lost voice, general malaise, followed by lots of snot and phlegm (love that word!) and it all goes down onto my lungs and I am racked with coughing for several days. Lovely!

I have seen this delayed reaction to stress manifest itself before when doing my Ph.D. Student colleagues of mine would work insane hours over the final months of writing their theses, often sleeping at their office and eating poorly. Yet, they didn't get sick until the work was done and the pressure was off and then they got a really bad dose of flu which knocked them out for 2-3 weeks. I sort of dodged that bullet in my case because two days after handing in my thesis, I was sitting in the warm September sunshine in southern Finland, watching grasshoppers on the lawn and clouds scudding across the indoan summer sky. And I didn't get sick.

Now that I really know how depression and work stress can negatively affect someone (burnout), as well as environmental stress, i.e. Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD-kaamos/winter blues), I am convinced that stress, like money, can build up a debt. And boy does it need to be paid back, often with interest! Finnish winters can be fantastic IF there is a suitable amount of snow, the weather is below at least minus 5 degrees (dry cold) and most importantly, that there are enough sunny days to maximise the light available. Sadly (pun intended), the last few winters in southern Finland have not seen much snow, the days are short and grey, and the temperatures are around zero most of the time. This is when kaamos or winter blues strike. For some it is the darkening time up to the winter solstice, for others, like me, it is that long painfully drawn out drag through February-March that depresses me. Even with the extra light, there is still no life, everything is brown and dead. While it can be equally grey (and wet!) in Ireland in this period, it is at least green throughout. The first flowers start appearing alreading in February. In Finland nothing happens until May, then within a week, nature goes POP! and suddenly everything is green again. I love it when this happens, I just wish it would happen sooner!

As part of my climb-out from burnout, I need to be able to feel feelings rather than shutting down and trying to suppress or ignore them. This has been difficult because I think I have nice-boy (kilttipoika) syndrome.  I don't like to say or do anything to cause conflict, so I swallow my feelings and feel it afterwards as anger and frustration and shame. There are no good feeings or bad. They are just labels to describe what we feel. And yet those labels are what help us to realise what we feel. Following an interesting blog by Guy Windsor on using meditation to mindfully observe feelings and so better deal with them, I have decided to start meditation again. This decision is timely. I had a temper outburst today, something I don't normally do. I felt the anger bubbling up and just let it come out. It was something I decided to do and it felt good. Afterwards, when I cooled off (after solo training with a sword for a half hour, try it, it helps a LOT!), I felt some shame that I had let myself go. I think it is ok to get angry when boundaries are crossed but it is not so good to pop your top for no good reason and you can be angry without being aggressive. I don't think I handled myself so well, I was aggressive and rather than using my brain to state my case properly and respectfully, I was almost willing to use my fists instead, hence the shame. Anyway, long story short, I apologised, shook hands and drew a line under it. Done. The sooner I start meditating, the better!

New Perspectives

I have been messing around with a quadcopter this last week, trying to get aerial footage that I can turn into spherical panoramas. I have read a lot about it on the net; techniques, fields of view, panorama software, etc. December weather being what it is, I have only managed two separate flights on the hill behind my house. It was sunny on both occasions and the low hanging sun caused exposure problems due to effectively being 'under' the propellers. I have tried three different software programmes to produce the panoramas, with greater or lesser success but it has been fun, if a rather steep learning curve. Above is a 'little earth' projection. Rather pretty!

What I am actually trying to get is this:

Ok, it's not perfect. I am still working out how to get the best angles so that the fields of view overlap and I don't have any holes. It is supposed to be completely spherical, which means if you scroll upwards you should see sky all round. Here, we have more of a cup or a sphere with the top cut off. Getting the sky in is easy to do with a terrestrial panorama, just point straight up to your zenith and shoot. With a quadcopter though, all you will see are the undersides of the arms and the propellers. Some panorama folks like to photoshop in stock images, I don't really see the point. As long as I have some sky and a horizon, it is what is on the ground that holds my interest.

Meanwhile I will play some more with the software and see what I can produce.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Focus, Focus......FOCUS!!!

After much though I have decided to take part in the Helsinki Open tournament (longsword) in January 2016. I have taken part in one competition, Swordfish 2008 (!). God, tempus fugit! Here's how I did (cringe)..

In short, shite! Still, it was a super experience and quite an eye-opener in terms of how to move, how to think tactically, levels of aggression etc. Basically nervousness took over and I just stood there like a lemon and let my opponent bring the fight to me, only reacting after he had attacked. Why? Because we had been taught that we should wait for a committed attack before parrying. Nothing wrong with that in a medieval duel context, not so useful in a modern tournament one. Hmm, back to training!

Fast forward a few years to a sparring camp in Jyvaskyla in 2014 (footage from 11:00 onwards).

Different scenario, much more relaxed and with friendly sparring with fellow THMS member Ikaros A.  I moved a lot better and there is a sort of flow to the exchanges. There was still the tendency to stand too still for too long and to come to too close measure, look at each other and then see what the other would do. We didn't snipe the hands although we could have done so easily. Instead there are some feints in largo and pommel strikes by entering into stretto, including a bit of grappling. Still lots of room for improvement but it looks more like I want to look like when fencing Fiore. And the bout was FUN! I highly recommend attending the sparring camp in Jyvaskyla: good people, nice salle and a really good and useful  way to test your fencing in a not-overly competitive environment. I also attended the camp in 2015 and it was also lots of fun. Such camps offer a brilliant opportunity for fencers of all levels to test their skill sets against other of varying levels. Do not worry if you think you don't know much and are nervous about sparring with someone of a higher skill level/experience. They will happily reduce the speed/intensity to suit you and very often you will get an informal coaching session! And they are also really nice folks!

In January 2015 a few of us got together and rented out the badminton court at a local gym to specifically practice sparring in full gear. It was funny walking through a gym holding swords and sparring gear and we got some funny looks from those people pumping weights! However, the staff at Sali 82 were very friendly and seemed quite happy that their badminton court was being used for something new. We would quickly warm up, gear up and set to. Two of our group were planning on taking part in tournaments and so were quite motivated, while others (including myself) were along for the experience. It was a bit tough adding an extra training evening to but overall a worthwhile exercise and well worth the effort. There was also the added bonus of kettlebells for use in the space we were in. Result!

It's now November and approximately 2 months until the Helsinki Open. I go to regular trainings and have started to do stretches, clubbells and kettlebell workouts most days. I also got a swingblade so I can do all the cutting practice I want without putting holes in the walls or breaking the lampshade. How am I feeling mentally? Good. Focused, but scared, very scared. I am afraid I will look a fool, that it will not even look like Fiore but some mad flailing. Do I expect to win bouts? Honestly, no. I do not expect to do "well" if that means winning points. I hope to hold my own and if I do that I will have done well. So,  you might ask, "why bother?"  It's a fair question. There are 2 reasons. First, it gives me the focus and drive I need to train as well as go to regular training. I enjoy the training too. I want to make it a good habit that will help to anyway keep me stronger, healthier and happier, not just benefit my fencing. The second reason is simply "because it scares me". I have been critical of tournaments before and following my tournament debut at Swordfish in 2008 this has been a background but ever present reason for being critical and not participating more. I need to put myself out of my comfort zone. The funny thing is that it's all in my head! I am pretty sure that I could go to the upcoming tournament and do really badly and actually no-one else will bat an eyelid! They have their own things going on that day and will not think less of me if I am not successful. It really is the taking part that counts. It will be interesting to see how my focus will be affected by the Christmas break!