To start each practice, members of Fencing Club start with sprints or a game involving running, such as tag. Once their muscles are loose, members gather to engage in dynamic stretching to increase their range of motion and prevent injuries. Not until the last 15 to 20 minutes do members get to suit up and handle their blades. Having to observe their opponents and predict their next moves, members are challenged both physically and mentally as they strategize ways to catch their opponent off guard and hit their target.
According to freshman Kyran Blissett, PR Chair, the drills serve to teach the members different techniques to stay balanced and move more quickly or slowly in different situations. After the footwork drills, the last part of practice is dedicated to free fencing, during which members are able to choose their preferred weapon and fence against each other.
Despite the differences in skill levels, the members of the club make an effort to accommodate beginners, while allowing more experienced members to offer their own input.
“There’s people like me where it’s my first year fencing. But there’s another first-year who has been fencing most of her life, so there’s very noticeable skill differences. But they do a really good job teaching you at whatever skill you’re at,” Blissett said. “She’s very advanced and learning different things than me, who is learning very basic things. They do a good job at splitting us up by skill level and teaching that way.”
Sophomore August Anderson, President of Fencing Club, described that the three different weapons used in fencing are foil, saber and epee. He mentioned that the three require different skills and tactics and are generally used for different things. He specified that foil is the standard weapon used in the beginning, and is a stabbing or poking style weapon. When using foil, one targets the chest area. He noted that saber matches target the chest, arms and head in a slashing motion, and that epee targets anywhere on the body with a poking or stabbing motion.
Anderson noted that the most appealing part of fencing for him is the mental aspect of the sport and feels that it distinguishes it from other sports.
“I like it because of the strategy of the sport. There’s a lot of mind games and in the moment decision making,” Anderson said. “I would think it’s a bit more mental. We’re not so much focused on building strength as much as we are the rules of the sport and knowing skills and strategies to employ and when to use them.”
Sophomore and vice president Mitchell Sullens aims to teach more people the rules and skills in the early parts of the year, so they will eventually be able to learn and mold their own styles and preferred strategies.
“We teach them how to pair or block in a certain way, or how to counterattack in a certain way. And eventually people just kind of just do it automatically. Even if you don’t realize it, it’s in your body’s memory,” Sullens said.
Outside of practices, the team members organize activities to encourage team bonding and cohesion. Sullens noted that, while the sport is generally based around individuality, the team works together to learn and do drills and help each other to improve.
“Typically, once a week, we’ll do some small bonding activities. We’ll do some bigger ones every now and then. But about once a week we’ll hang out, get some food and play some board games. It’s a good community, everyone’s friends with everyone and we’re open to new people. We definitely have the bonding events available to get closer as a team,” Sullens said.
Though the club gets involved in some tournaments with other schools, sophomore Shannon Brooks feels that the club doesn’t intend to be competitive. However, she feels that fencing against other schools provides an opportunity for members to learn and pick up quick thinking skills.
To prepare for a tournament at Augustana College this coming Saturday, the club members are working on improving their skills with epee, which is the style being used in the tournament. Brooks described that preparing for tournaments usually involves practice as usual with an emphasis on a particular weapon.
“We’re not a very competitive club, and you don’t have to go to competitions to be a part of fencing club,” Brooks said. “If you spend time at practice and you fence the same person, it’s good because you can kind of talk with them about what they’re doing and they can talk about what you’re doing. But, for example, if I fence someone here, they’ll know the moves I always make and will know what to do.”
She feels that one of the challenges of fencing new people is not being able to predict their patterns or strategies, but that this challenge is a necessary part of improvement.
In the following years, Anderson and Brooks hope to participate in more tournaments with other schools and groups, and hope to increase the size of the club. Brooks plans to have a greater social presence and hang posters throughout the school to spread the word of fencing club and gain more members. Despite the varying skill levels going into the first meetings, Brooks and Anderson intend to teach everyone at a similar pace before splitting up the group by experience.
“There’s nothing wrong with going over the basics and making sure that you have the basics perfect,” Brooks said. “Sometimes if people come in and they have experience, they can offer input to those who don’t.”