Spotlight on Whitman’s fencing club


Two students in fencing club duel in Italian style, the more artistic of the two fencing styles. Photo contributed by West Skrobiak-Bales

Lennae Starr, Staff Reporter

With roots dating back to the 1930s, Whitman’s fencing club is one of the oldest organizations on campus.

While the club is less than a century old, the art of fencing dates back to the renaissance. Through the fencing club, students are creatively incorporating this old practice into their weekly routines.

There are two types of fencing: Italian and sport. Sport fencing is more commonly seen, and focuses on scoring points by striking the opponent, like in the Olympics. Italian style, on the other hand, focuses on self defense and is more artistic. Whitman’s club focuses on Italian style.

Like other ancient arts, the way of the Italian sword is passed down from teacher to pupil.

Sophomore West Bales, who is also president of the club, takes his role as both student and teacher seriously, but also leaves room for fun.

“We’re entirely student-run, meaning we all learn from senior club members or read and educate ourselves on historical techniques to teach others,” Bales said. “Our regular members are passionate about learning the technique of classical Italian foil and we take it seriously, but there’s never any pressure to learn quickly or advance through the lessons at a specific speed.”

Bales leads the club despite only fencing for two years. He saw it as an opportunity to try out an unexplored interest.

“I had never actually fenced before coming to Whitman but it was always something I was very interested in, so when I saw that we had a club here I was instantly sure I had to try it out,” Bales said.

In fact, most of the club members came to Whitman with no experience. Ilse Spiropoulos is a first-year who began fencing her first semester at Whitman. She has been a dedicated member of the club, attending every practice and learning how to use several types of swords and knives within the span of only two semesters.

“We started with Italian foil, they taught me the most basic kind of fencing. Then, we moved into a couple other kinds of swords. We’ve done foil, saber, a little bit of rapier, some longsword and then we’ve done things with rondels and knives too,” Spiropoulos said.

Even though it provides an opportunity to engage in a unique and long standing traditional sport, Whitman Fencing Club has almost died out several times due to a lack of interest.

We didn’t have a lot of new people last semester, I was basically the only new person. This semester we’ve had some new people come in which is nice,” Spiropoulos said.

Despite low membership, Bales emphasizes the benefits that come with being part of a close-knit group.  

“We’re a small club so we’ve really grown to be friends through our shared interest,” Bales said. “Also, getting to fight with swords is pretty fun.” 

For the people who do choose to join and stay in the club, a shared passion for the sport has provided them with community.

I joined the club because I love swords and swordsmanship, and have stuck with it both due to that and due to the wonderful people,” said sophomore Jacob Grisham. “The fencing community is full of both fun and kind people who care about sword fighting and improving their sword skills while also having fun.”

For members of the Whitman community that want to learn the sport, the fencing club is standing by, en garde.