Friday, August 08, 2008

Why People Fence

A rather nice article about fencing albeit with folis (we fence with sabres)from

Quoted here in case the original site gets moved around or lost:-

Foil fencing by Susie Rushton
At the age of 29, I did something I never thought I'd do. I bought a sword – a sliver of flexible steel called a foil, 90cm long with a blob of black rubber on the tip. I'd been attending a fencing class for six months, and this was my financial commitment to a sport I'd begun on a whim.
To test how the foil felt, I dropped into an en guard stance, exactly as I'd been taught, in the middle of the store: right foot pointing forward, left at 90 degrees, knees bent, straight back, head erect, left arm raised as a counterbalance to the sword arm, which, foil in hand, now practised jabbing attacks. It was the most thrilling purchase I've ever made.
Why fencing? It wasn't anything to do with Madonna, Luke Skywalker or Errol Flynn, nor was it out of nostalgia for the age of duelling Рalthough fencing undoubtedly suffers its share of pretentious idiots. And no, we never say "touch̩" when making a hit on target (which, by the way, is the torso area, excluding arms and neck).
There's no denying the loveliness of the outfit – high-waisted breeches, mask, that collarless jacket. But that's not the reason (I swear). I did hope fencing would make me more co-ordinated. Graceful, even. And it did, in small ways. But after the first months of gruelling training, that became irrelevant. The sport obsesses me for that particular feeling a fencer experiences when you're living on your wits and the accuracy of your foil. Combat, I suppose. "To face an adversary in armed combat," wrote the greatest fencer of all, Aldo Nadi, "is one of the most exciting experiences in life."
Foil fencing is one of the original sports of the modern Olympic Games. But it suffers one great disadvantage; it has almost no "watchability". Fencers of Olympic standard, loose-limbed but crouching low like stalking cats, will parry and attack at such speed that even the referee relies on an electronic scoreboard merely to keep track of who's winning.
They won't make the dramatic swashbuckling motions of the Three Musketeers. Such an easy-to-predict style of attack would be pointless. The fencer aims for tiny movements, subtlety and deception. "Feints" are fake attacks meant to provoke foolish counter-attack, and the top-class fencer uses endless tricks. Stratagems are planned four, five or six moves in advance. You could say that the real weapon isn't the foil but the ability to second-guess intentions while masking one's own. (Winston Churchill was the public schools champion fencer.)
So I don't think more people should watch fencing; I think more of us, especially children, should do fencing. Far from encouraging aggression, it teaches self-control. The instant a fencer loses his or her temper, the bout is lost. In this country, unlike Italy or Hungary, whose fencers dominate the Olympics, fencing is considered arcane and posh. Nine thousand adults pursue fencing as a hobby in the UK, but it is taught in only a handful of schools. Which makes me wonder: might not British youth benefit from a sport that channels the adrenalin rush of playing with knives into the most civilised event at the Olympics?
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JTKlopcic said...

I'm a bit jealous. I've wanted to try fencing for a long time, but I never could get it to fit into my schedule. I'm probably too old to start now -- my guess is that it would kill my knees.

Ian said...

Fascinating; thanks for sharing.

Mimi said...

I thought of you when I heard an article about fencing on NPR (National Public Radio) the other day.