It all started with an unsuspecting email in my inbox, an invitation to attend a free taster session at the Fighting Fit Fencing club. Fencing? Aye sir!
So on the wintry afternoon of 1 April I set out to make a fool of myself. A bit nervous, I walked in and announced myself to the lady at reception who was drowning in a sea of papers and questions from curious customers. I was instructed to change into my trainers and sat down on the sidelines to take in the scene. The clash of swords, the sporadic yet frequent buzzing garnished with the smell of musty kits and the glare of the silver runways made my heart pump. I watched as seasoned and not-so-seasoned fencers swatted each other, a couple of them appearing as knights in their white garb and flowing shoulder length hair.
The clock struck 3. Time to suit up!!
First came a white vest with a sleeve for my dominant hand. Next a blue straightjacket complete with… guess what… boobie cups! I was ecstatic at this point as I’ve always been a little…errr… small in that area.
I was given a matching blue glove and to top it all off, the infamous meshed facemask. This heavy piece of armour hugged my face and imitated my neck’s every move. At first it was disorienting peeping through the million tiny holes, but a few seconds in and my eyes (and mind) adjusted.
We were lined up on the sidelines like eager school children on their first day of school to await further instructions.
Our dancing master, a round and comical fellow, began bellowing out instructions. The first and most important rule of fight club was: ‘NEVER take your mask off!’
Our foils – the thin lightweight curved swords – were our weapons. To score points we had to “Stick them with the pointy end.” Taps to the sleeve don’t count.
‘Do NOT slash your swords! This is NOT Pirates of he Caribbean!!’ blared the dancing master, ‘Except for that guy over there.’ he added, pointing to a character who eerily resembled Johnny Depp, complete with a lip ring, a feather in his hat and did I detect a hint of eyeliner and a some blond dreads? Sigh… I may have been fantasising.
So how to carry our playthings? ‘Pinch the handle real tight with your thumb and first finger, then wrap the rest of your fingers as close to guard as possible’
Now, how to stand. In the enguard position, I placed my feet at a 90-degree angle and bent my knees slightly. Wobble wobble. Yeap! Ready now. My dominant hand was extended outwards to carry my needle while the other hand nested behind my head.
Time for tactics! ‘Keep your body facing sideways to make you a smaller target for your opponent,’ demanded dancing master. ‘Fencing is two parts, attacking but also defending yourself. The word fence comes from defense.’ We were shown how to execute a parry and to lunge.
At this point dancing master thought he had equipped us with enough knowledge to fence.
Grouped in pairs, opponents stood on each side of the runway. My favorite part was saluting and greeting our opponents in a show of respect. To do this I had to point my foil to the floor, bring the guard up to my chin, point to the ceiling at a 45 degree angle; back to chin; back to floor.
‘On guard! … FENCE!!’ came the commands. My heart pounded in my ears and all butterflies were set loose!
My first opponent was a meek lady, an easy target, who retreated with every step I took forward. I was playing a game of thrones and I had waged war! The Brienne in me craved fiercer competition. ROAR!!
Second in line was a younger opponent, an Arya of sorts, deftly skilled at executing a parry and I think, I’m not entirely sure, he killed me a little. Sigh.
Back from the dead I faced my 3rd opponent, a middle-aged Italian fellow, skinny as hell, and left-handed. Now, I remember dancing master saying that lefties had a natural advantage over us righties. OK, lets put that theory to the test. As our foils played tag, a couple of taps to his sleeve, a few to mine, a lunge straight to his heart and he was down.
‘Haaaaalt’ brayed the dancing master.
As we shook hands, Fabiano said to me with a crestfallen look on his face, ‘You killed me,’ then walked away with not a broken bone in his body, but a largely bruised ego.
Winter was over. Pleased but not satisfied, I had decided that I abso-fencing-lutey loved this sport and defo wanted to play again.
As I was leaving the battlefield that day, dancing master reminded me, ‘Don’t just ring your friends, invite your enemies as well. You’ll finally get a chance to take a stab at them!’
Wise words my man. Maybe when winter comes around again.
“What do we say to the Lord of Death?”
I will fight again one day!
I’d like to say a big thank you to the staff at Fighting Fit Fencing club, for being so welcoming and informative!
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