Missy gets athletic: En garde!
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When we were kids all our parents told us not play with weapons for fear of poking an eye out. After being inspired by the duals in the movie “Hook” as a young child, my cousin and I took it upon ourselves to make our own weapons out of my dance batons (from my short-lived ballet days). We took off the protective rubber ends to make them look like real swords. This was a great idea . . . until an eye was indeed poked. Not out, but still painful according to my cousin. Lesson learned.
I was a bit hesitant about anyone allowing me to hold a sharp object again until I was encouraged to try fencing. Protective rubber ends and armor are required so I became less worried about severely hurting anyone.
The fencing club on campus is a group of about 10 to 15 people, made up of mainly first-years and sophomores. Junior Mikayla Hunter is the only upperclassmen in the club and has been a member off and on since her freshman year.
“It hasn’t always been this beginner-friendly,” said Hunter about her past experiences with the club.
That definitely wasn’t the case when I met the group. The new faces greeted me with a warm welcome and assisted me on getting suited up for the battles ahead. I was equipped with a mask, jacket and one glove. Michael Jackson would be so proud.
Sophomore Stefan DuBois is the club’s fearless leader, running warm-up drills and stretches before everyone starts bouting, which is another term for battling and one among many new words that I learned about the sport.
DuBois has passed on knowledge he has picked up in the last couple years to many of the other members including fellow sophomore Sam Lundberg. While everyone was busy practicing more advanced moves, Lundberg broke down the basics to me.
“It’s a lot of multi-tasking. Focus on footwork, pointing, defending yourself,” said Lundberg.
The different parries (also known as positions) with Italian names were a bit confusing at first and Lundberg’s quick defense to my initial jabs took me by surprise. Eventually, he was kind enough to let me stab him a few times to get a feel of victory.
“The challenge is having technique become second nature, which is why we have a lot of repetitive practices,” said DuBois, stressing the difficulty of getting fencing technique down.
I noticed that a lot of lunging was involved, as my glutes were feeling the burn. Sophomore Nina Estep is the only member of the group who has had prior fencing experience before coming to Whitman and can attest to the fact that the sport is a great lower body workout.
“You can feel it in your legs and develop calves of steel,” said Estep. She also mentioned that the predominant injury tends to be bruising. I was glad to hear that there was little chance of me suffering any major open wounds.
The club focuses more on classical fencing rather than sport fencing. Estep explained to me that sport fencing is more concerned with scoring points by simple stabs whereas classical focuses on performing historical battles and really going all out on the fight.
“Don’t be a coward,” said DuBois to the other fencers. Easier said than done, as I hesitantly stabbed Lundberg for fear of bruising him. My fighter’s instinct finally came out as I lunged the foil (another word for sword) toward his chest. Needless to say, fencing is a great way to let out aggression.
But this wouldn’t be a proper and full experience if I didn’t get hit. I asked the group if anyone could stab me and much to my surprise there was a lot of enthusiasm about stabbing the reporter. After filling out a liability form, I received a chest plate made for women, which later proved to be extremely necessary. Next time I’m in a sword fight, I’ll not only think back to technique, but also remember to have a plastic bra with me just in case.
Lundberg agreed to a match, in which he swiftly defeated me after many quick jabs to the chest. After struggling to think quick with my hands and feet, I started to appreciate the multi-tasking abilities that are involved with being an effective fencer. I also saw how much the sport resembled dancing and choreography.
“I like how fencing is kind of an art,” said Hunter, who has had experience with ballet and immediately noticed the similarities between fencing positions and dance moves.
Fencing is a combination of grace, beauty and sheer ferocity that is good for the mind and body. For a sport that demonstrates how people used to settle disputes, it’s a fun way to physically and mentally challenge others with a friendly match.
The club meets in Sherwood every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. and encourages all skill levels to participate. Proper gear is also provided for safety and prevention of eye-poking.