"Okay, check-in is now open," declared John Anderson, pen in hand, ready to register the epee fencers for the day's competition. Most of the fifteen people that had gathered in the academy barely heard him, as they were discussing movies, bad calls in previous competitions, job situations, and injuries. Mark Stevens, perhaps a bit anxious, had been waiting to register at the desk for ten minutes. "Do you have a rating, Mark?"
"I don't think so..." Mark replied hesitantly. "How would I get one?"
"You'd have to do well at a USFA tournament with the right number and combination of fencers. It's far too complicated to explain, you can look it up in the rulebook. I'll just assume you're unrated. Just give me your money and you're checked in."
Mark handed over the money, then retrieved the rulebook from the desk. He stood off to the side flipping through pages until he found the section on competition ratings. After reading for several minutes, he was greeted by James Murphy.
"Hey Mark, trying to find a way around the rules for the competition?" Murphy asked.
Who came up with this stuff?" asked Mark. "You need an engineering degree just to figure out what you're rated!"
"A bunch of sick, sick people lock themselves in a rubber padded room for a week and decide on the rulings. Seeing as how their hands are all fastened behind their backs, they have to write with their mouths, so it takes a while. Plus, they gather a couple of times a year so that nobody can ever get a good grasp on the rules. Welcome to the USFA!"
"Uh, thanks," said Mark. He would have laughed if he weren't so disturbed at how quickly James was able to think that up. "So, when de we start?"
"In a little bit. Get used to the fact that these things never start on time. You should start warming up a bit. I'll fence you if you want."
"Sure, thanks," Mark replied. He had already stretched, done calisthenics, and fenced against a wall target, but nervousness made him want to keep active. He grabbed his weapon and plugged his body cord into the waiting floor cord socket on the nearest strip.
After fencing five or six touches, many of the other competitors who were not busy warming up themselves had gathered to watch James and Mark go at it. James would score, then Mark would, and then they would hit simultaneously. One thing remained constant: each touch was contested with an intensity far surpassing that of a warm up session. Both fencers were in constant motion, retreating a step, then advancing two, beating the others' blade, lunging, even running at each other. The gathered fencers, mostly local people attending what they believed to be a casual competition, saw by their determination that James and Mark would be the ones to beat.
"Okay, let's start!" came a shout from John, and the show came to a halt. As he went to shake James' hand, Mark was surprised to see that, although he did not feel tired, he was sweating profusely. He wondered to himself if he might have overdone it a little.
"I think you overdid it a little," said the approaching Michael McIntyre. "You're supposed to save your best stuff for the tournament, not the warm up."
"I didn't even realize how hard we were going. I didn't even feel like I was doing my best stuff out there," replied Mark.
"Well, I hope you have something left, because we're starting now."
The day went better than Mark expected. He won three of his four first round bouts, and three of his five second round bouts to put him in the eight-man direct elimination final round. Overwhelmed by the position he found himself in, he lost his first bout, eliminating him and putting him in seventh place.
"Not bad, Mark," congratulated James, "but you didn't fence at all in the final like you did when we were warming up. You should have finished at least fourth."
"I'm just happy I made the finals," returned Mark. "I thought I'd get blown out in the first round!"
"Well, that's what separates the high-level competitors from everyone else. They go into every competition believing that they're going to win, and they're never happy with anything other than first place. Even then, they're sometimes upset that they didn't win more easily, I finished second, but I should have taken first, so I'm a little upset with how I did, After you've been into it for a while, you'll develop the competitive attitude."
"I don't know, it doesn't seem like you can have much fun with that kind of an attitude."
"The fun is in Winning. You'll understand in a year or two."
"I suppose," replied Mark, no longer quite as happy with his performance.