Let’s play some physical chess

By Amanda Hu

<"En garde!"

While the epic cry of d’Artagnan and others who ventured into sword-fighting duels seems like an echo of the past, modern fencers are strongly continuing the finessed Renaissance combat art to this very day.

Fencing involves the use of three different implements-foil, �p�e and sabre-to battle one-on-one with an opponent. The weapons all vary in size, shape, weight and in rules regarding valid hit points on the body during a match. The sport’s movements are more equated to strategic placements rather than spontaneous slashes or pokes.

“People call it physical chess,” says Epic Fencing Club president and University of Calgary student Brita Goldie. “It’s very pre-planned. It’s like, ‘I’ll do this and they’ll do that and then I’ll do this to counter it.’ Before you do anything, especially in �p�e, you figure out what you’re going to do and what the other person’s going to do in return.”

Points are awarded based on an athlete scoring a touch on their opponent that is within the valid hit areas for each specific discipline. Within the strategy lies the push-and-pull between taking advantage of openings the opponent makes and maintaining one’s own defence.

In Calgary, fencing has a strong following with clubs like Epic and the University of Calgary fencing club that provide a place for those with an interest in the sport to learn the skills, train and be involved in a community. The Alberta Fencing Association also plays a large role in promoting athletes that are trying to move to national and Olympic levels.

“There’s a very strong community aspect,” says Goldie. “Once you’re in it, you’re our friend for life. We also have a lot more competitions than the east does. A lot goes on in Calgary. You’re able to compete within the city if you want to compete, so you don’t have to travel as much.”

Most fencers train rigorously throughout the year under a regime of mixed disciplines to strengthen the many aspects of their technique. Epic member and junior nationals champion Anthony Prymack says that even the nature of their tournament arenas and training grounds can be injury-causing, leaving him to resort to unexpected recuperation methods.

“It’s really hard on your body, because you’re fencing in these competitions that have cement floors, almost like the Calgary Round-up Centre,” he says. “I’d be pulling my [gluteus medius] and my lower back was going out of wack, so I started doing some yoga to become more flexible and those problems went away.”

In addition to injuries, young athletes involved in fencing face challenges in balancing schoolwork and training. Most view moving over to Europe, where the sport got its start and the best of the world can be found, as the logical step when considering the Olympics, while those who choose to remain in Calgary while working towards high-level goals face lots of travelling.

As Calgary fights to gain attention as a fencing centre in Canada and in North America, the community is struggling to keep afloat, to the detriment of the athletes that pour so much of their time into being involved. Prymack cites lack of funding and attention as a made deficit for the sport in Calgary.

“I wouldn’t say [fencing] is a dying sport,” he says. “There is a super-strong community. If you stay in the sport, you usually end up volunteering with the organization, or being a coach or referee for tournaments. The Alberta Fencing Association works hard to develop athletes. The fencing community here is trying really hard.”

Goldie agrees, saying that while, priority is often placed on the high-level athletes, the community needs to be fostered in order to keep help those that want to learn more in the sport and eventually advance.

“I think there needs to be more publicity because people don’t even know there are fencing clubs in Calgary or even fencing in Canada,” she says. “Before we can start getting more support, we need people to realize that there are more communities available for fencing opportunities. Sport Canada only funds the best of the best, like the top-eight in the world. A lot of our funding comes from people joining and taking the classes.”