In fencing’s en garde stance, you want your back foot pointing out at a 90-degree angle, and your front foot pointing forward. Your knees should be bent, and your sword hand forward with the thumbs up. Your weight should be low when advancing or retreating. You’ve got to be able to move quickly.
The University of Montana Fencing Club held a free workshop last week, and a couple of dozen novices showed up to learn the basics of the sport.
Katie Bragg is the club’s Keeper of Arms, a fun title she gave herself. There are 15 dues-paying members, but the club always welcomes – and hopes to attract – newcomers.
“I really love fencing personally, so the more people that do it the better because that’s more people I get to fence against,” she said. “It’s a really fun sport because it’s physical and it’s also mental, so you get to exercise both parts of yourself. It’s easy to get the basics. It takes less than an hour to learn to move forward and backward and learn to parry and lunge. But it’s really hard to get very, very good. Fencing’s the kind of sport where it will take you a couple years to start winning tournaments and stuff.”
Jennifer Konicek, Master of Arms, joined the group spontaneously as a freshman and “never looked back.”
“It’s a really great activity,” she said. “It’s a lot more physical than people expect it to be, so it’s really great exercise. But also, you’re swordfighting. I mean, c’mon, it’s awesome. But also it’s a really great atmosphere. I’ve met a lot of my friends at fencing club. We all hang out on weekends.”
Sam Wood, a senior at UM, attended the workshop for a creative nonfiction writing class assignment.
“They want a dispatch, so we’ll see,” he said. “I wanted to try something new.”
Chris Leclercq of the Missoula Fencing Association conducted the workshop. He wanted to be a fencer after he saw the sport at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, and has taught for six years now.
“Now I really enjoy teaching,” he said. “For a long time, it was that adrenaline rush when you set up the perfect action and you hit someone just right. It’s that feeling of ‘I outsmarted you.’ Being faster or stronger is OK, but it only gets you so far because there’s always someone faster and stronger than you, so you have to be smarter.”
Leclercq said teaching the sport he loves is rewarding.
“It’s the satisfaction of seeing students, with something that we’ve worked on really hard, trying to figure it out, and all the sudden they do it independently,” he said. “I’m watching a student fence some random person and they do it all by themselves. And they do it perfectly. It’s a feeling of ‘I made that,’ you know? That is better than winning. It’s so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
There are three types of fencing weapons: Foil, epee and sabre.
In foil fencing, only the torso is the target area. In epee, the whole body is fair game. And in sabre, fencers use a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the area of the body above the waist, similar to what cavalry soldiers might have used.
The basic rule in fencing is that one person is always on the offensive, and one on the defensive. If the attacking person hits a correct part of their opponent’s body, they get a point. If they miss, they switch to defense.
“There are people who are naturally gifted athletes,” Leclercq explained. “But fencing really gives you a lot of lateral motion in that, if you work hard at it and study and apply yourself, you can go really far. It’s actually one of the easiest sports to do for college scholarships. Not a lot of people do it. It’s something like 50 percent of fencers get something.”
Konicek said she would encourage anyone to try it out, regardless of ability.
“Give it a try, and give it a try for more than one practice, because you’re not going to get it right away,” she said. “It’s tough, but it’s really fun.”