Enjoy the Sport of Fencing

No, I don’t mean chain-link fences or selling stolen property!

(Published in the April 1, 2013 edition of the Ocala Pineapple Post)

We’re talking about the sport of fencing. Fencing is one of those sports people know of but understand very little about — and often misunderstand. One big misconception is that fencing is “sword-fighting.” You won’t find chandeliers to hang from in Florida’s fencing academies. Another is that isn’t a “real” sport like, say, football or basketball — it’s just something you might have to take in PE class and then forget.

Unlike some of the more popular sports in America, fencing has a long history and a global reach. Fencing, of sorts, can be traced back to the Germanic tribes at the fall of the Roman Empire. But, it isn’t until the 15th Century that fencing is first recognized as a “sport.” In the late 1400s, a Spaniard named Diego de Valera authored Treatise on Arms, regarded as the first book on the sport of fencing. Fencing had its starting point in Spain and then spread worldwide by travellers when Spain was the world’s superpower.

Although fencing grew out of Spain, it was France and Italy that really promoted the sport by opening fencing academies — the first being the French Royal Academy, circa 1567. America was late to jump on the fencing bandwagon. It wasn’t until 1850 when a German school, the New York Turn-Verein, began offering fencing classes. Fencing was first recognized as a sport in America in 1888 by the Amateur Athletic Union. Then in 1896, fencing was included as an Olympic sport at the first modern games in Greece. Fencing is often referred to as “physical chess” for its reliance on strategy and finely tuned skill.

What’s the Point?

A fencing bout pits two people — using the same weapon (foil, épée, or sabre) on a piste (a fencing strip). The foil is the most popular weapon and dates back to 17th Century France. Epées grew out of dueling swords and the word épée, actually means “sword” in French. The sabre can also be traced back to the 17th Century.

Fencing has been popular with people from all segments of society for many years and has been enjoyed by some well-known people, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini, Neil Diamond, General George S. Patton (1912 Olympics) — and me. World-class Florida fencer, Race Imboden, from Tampa, won gold in foil at the 2012 Pan American Games and competed in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

En Garde!

So why would anyone want to fence? Doesn’t it hurt? Isn’t it hard? Isn’t all that protective gear uncomfortable and sweaty? The answers are yes, yes, and yes. The protective gear is necessary to avoid injury, although, on occasion, there can be some discomfort from being hit by a fencing weapon. All that protective gear does get a bit bulky and smelly after a while, but without it, you can suffer great harm.

One of the coolest things about fencing is that it can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone can participate together. It is not uncommon for brothers and sisters to fence each other, or fathers and daughters, or even grandmothers and grandsons. Fencing is a sport that involves individuals, groups, couples, families, and communities. At Treasure Coast Fencing Academy in Port St. Lucie, there are several families, parents and children, preteens and seniors — all fencing each other. Age is not always an advantage (or a deterrent). Height can sometimes be an advantage and sometimes not. Being left-handed is considered an advantage (doesn’t always work for me, though!) Fencing is truly an all-inclusive sport.

Another benefit of fencing is that it is a great workout for body and mind. Two hours of fencing burns approximately 400 calories for a 150-lb. person. That means that for every two hours of fencing — you’ll burn off one Big Mac! You will also feel like you ran sprints or spent the day at the gym. Once you try fencing the first time, expect some achy muscles the next day. Not only does fencing exercise the body, it sharpens the mind, too. Fencing focuses a person’s powers of observation, split-second decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. It also makes for a great stress reliever.

What Do I Need and How Much Will It Cost?

Yes, you have to buy stuff. The first thing to do is get a starter set of gear. This will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $150. The set will consist of a mask, a glove, a weapon (foil typically), and a jacket. It is important to note whether you are left- or right-handed when ordering. This is usually enough to get you started taking lessons at a fencing academy, like En Garde Fencing Academy in Ocala. It’s a good idea (if you have some spare cash) to get a second set of equipment, as fencing gear can break, get misplaced, left behind somewhere, or become unusable for a variety of reasons.

Fencing can be a sport for people who just want to fence for fun, maybe just once a week at a fencing club or you can step it up by fencing competitively. There are many amateur fencing competitions held around Florida that are open to club members and members of the United States Fencing Association. You can find information on competitions at www.askfred.net.

Two important terms to learn in fencing are “dry” and “electric.” In order to use computerized scoring, it is necessary to fence “electric.” This is where you will need an added piece of equipment, known as a lamé — a metallic vest that goes over your jacket. Add to this a body cord that connects your weapon to your lamé to the scoring machine and even to your mask in some cases. “Dry” means that you are fencing non-electric.

Get in the En Garde Position

Are you ready to step onto the piste and show us what you’ve got? If so, you’re in luck. In the Ocala area, you can learn and practice fencing at the En Garde Fencing Club. EGFC is located in downtown Ocala at 20 W. Silver Springs Blvd. Coach Phillip Vincent is an “A” rated sabre fencer and he has competed at the University of Pennsylvania and in competitions around the world. En Garde has classes for beginners, intermediates and advanced. Visit www. engardefencingxxxxxxxx.com to find out more or call them at 352–286–xxxx. If you are in the Treasure Coast area of Florida, check out the Treasure Coast Fencing Academy in Port St. Lucie. Classes and open fencing are available to fencers of all ages and abilities. Contact Coach Ken Moran at www. tcfencingxxxxxxx.com or call 772–618–xxxx. There are many other fencing clubs in Florida where you can sharpen your skills. Go to www. usfacentralflorida.com for a list of more clubs. If you’re a Gator, a Seminole, a Knight or a Bull — there’s fencing at college, too. The University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, and the University of South Florida all have fencing clubs — in fact, you can find fencing at just about any college.

You’re never too old — or too young — to get into the sport of fencing. Bring your family, bring some friends, or come solo. You’ll meet some great people, have a lot of fun, get a great workout, sharpen your mind and participate in the greatest sport ever. Whether you’re in Ocala, the Treasure Coast, in college, retired, or wherever or whatever you are in Florida, there’s a fencing opportunity near you. Grab a sabre, foil or épée, suit up, and get on that piste; you’re opponent awaits you!

2013— Jeff Macharyas is a graphic designer from Port St. Lucie, a charter member of the Treasure Coast Fencing Academy, a certified fencing instructor, and a pretty good sabre fencer (some times).

2022Jeff Macharyas is the Director of Marketing for SUNY Corning Community College and a certified Fencing Instructor. Some of the contact information has been changed since publication.

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