There’s this feeling I get in a foil-fight, right when it’s the crux of the battle and you can hear the blood rushing between your ears. Everything is tunnel-visioned: the mesh-mask protecting your brain-cage becomes nonexistent, and you can only focus on the movement shaking the piste, the feet scuttling on the shore, the hawks soaring through the sky. I am the predator.

In fencing, there’s a saying: your grip is a bird—hold it too tight, and you’ll crush it, but too loose and it’ll fly away. In the in-between you find this balance, where that grasp of ruffled feathers is more like a tender caress. It’s in this balance that you can make the sharpest parries, the quickest disengage—I am not the predator, it seems, but the falconer. When you’re attached to an ave, you understand that loyalty comes with the cost of cooperation. Work with your bird, lest she abandon any prospects of fresh meat. Thump, and you’ll know a rabbit has been dropped at your feet.

Thump, and the bird hits the cloudless door once, twice, and no more. You wait to watch it fly out of the screened porch, but seconds pass and you grow impatient. It isn’t until the sharp bay of that tamed beast that you draw your attention back to meek prey. Cacophony of howls; a silence of the songbird. All ruffled feathers huddled in the corner, seeking to pierce through the mesh as if by will alone. Tunnel-visioned. But it’s not going anywhere.

It takes great effort to wrestle the dog outside, to harness him on the iron-post fence and secure him away from the frightened thing. Only then do you get a closer look; it’s gray, with just a hint of forest-green. Isn’t that color supposed to belong with the trees? So with a gloved hand, you reach out for the bird. It’s a fragile little thing, wire-thin bones so easy to crush; a frightened little one, hopping and twisting out of your grasp. This feels familiar, you think.

With tender hands and a willing heart, you grab that bird with just the right hold. You feel its quivering heart beating in sync with the sound of your own. And when the battle is over, you can release, that smudge of color returning to the trees. You cry. Maybe I’m not neither predator nor falconer, you believe, but simply the guardian

Every time I hear the en garde, I think of that bird. I’ve never been the best at competing. I’ll be the first to admit that. But when I pick up my weapon, the grip feels like a glove itself. Made and meant to be held by me. And there’s a rush of blood coming from the extension of my heart; beat the blade and fly your bird towards its mark; light up the score-box, and with it the features behind the mask. It’s like tunnel-vision: I’m in the here and now. Thump, thump can mean a lot of things. But when I fly into the scene, grip guarded and careful, I know that I’ll be making my way home. Green light, or tree line—this is where I’m supposed to be.