DURING THE technical portion of fencing class, when we learned to thrust and parry, Annie was sweet and friendly, someone I could commiserate with about learning the moves.
But once her mask was on and her weapon up, my fencing friend pounced, jabbing at her opponent, i.e. me, with vim and more vigor than I liked.
Fortunately, I had mastered at least one element of fencing strategy. Retreat! Retreat!
Fencing is not a sport you can learn in one go. I dived into a four-week intro series at Salle Auriol in South Lake Union (They plan to be in their new location, 1419 Eliott Ave. W. by October.) so I could get an idea of what it felt like to fence.
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I had no illusions I would leave a master fencer, although our teacher, Lucas, claimed we would know every tool needed by the end of eight classes to win fencing competitions. Not this student!
Lucas walked us through fencing basics the first day, focusing on footwork. He allowed us to handle a weapon — a bold move. Please note, fencers really use the term “en garde!” Technically, they probably say “on guard.” I prefer a French accent.
By the second week, he was drilling into us the four keys of fencing — distance, speed, blade work and the mind.
As it is with most sports, footwork is key. Fencing requires a lot of balance, and it’s a dance to move against an opponent. Lucas taught us to advance and retreat, and showed us a feint, a foot slap that is intended to surprise your opponent. (Annie liked this one. I never remembered to use it.)
We also got into blade work with our epee weapons, learning the proper technique to thrust and some defensive parries. During the series after beginner, students learn to use the foil and saber blades.
The fun really started when we put on the all-white, and slightly awkward, uniforms, hooked up the electrical cord to connect us to the scoring system, and donned our heavy face mask. (All fencing these days is scored electronically, with cables attached to your weapon.) After a few classes, Lucas unleashed us on each other.
I quickly saw I might not have the mental fortitude for fencing. I didn’t like jabbing others. Getting jabbed, despite the thick protection, was even worse. Retreat!
We learned other defensive moves such as attacking after a parry, called a riposte. We worked on one helpful drill where we were assigned a focus — blade work, aiming at a section of the body, or luring our opponent to one area of the fencing strip. It’s all about figuring out how close you can get to your opponent to hit them without getting hit back, Lucas said.
Sounds easy enough. If you haven’t met Annie.
Most of the time, I was scampering back and forth across the fencing strip, trying with all my might to predict my opponent’s next move, thrust and not get hit back. You have to think fast, stay on your feet and try to figure out your opponent.
When we really dug into our fencing, I was gasping for air and my legs burned from advancing and retreating.
Fencing is about finesse. If you’re interested in a mental game that requires great technique, this could be the sport you have been looking for.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: email@example.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.