Over
the past seven months or so, I’ve used this blog to talk about my experience
here at Queen’s. I’ve mainly focused on the negative aspects, and ignored the
positive ones for the most part. Today I’d like to reverse that trend and talk
about what has become one of the best parts of my week: Fencing.

A lot of people are aware of the basics of fencing: Hit the other person with
your sword, but don’t get hit by the other person. But there’s a lot more to
the sport than I was originally aware of, and I’ve only grown to like it more
as time goes on.

I first became aware of the fencing program at Queen’s during frosh week, when
I saw a poster advertising a demonstration on the weekend. At first I was
unsure of whether or not I should go. But, the weekend came, and I had nothing
better to do, so I figured I’d check it out. It took me a long time to find the
place, since it was on West Campus and I’d never been there before. But
eventually I found it and sat with a bunch of other people in the stands and
waited for the demostration to begin.

In came Coach Hugh, a bearded man with a Scottish accent. Sean Connery lite,
basically. He gave us the first plot twist of the day: In fencing, there are
three different weapons, not just one. Like a lot of people I just assumed that
a sword is a sword. But no. Hugh informed us that there is the epeé, the foil,
and the sabre, and each one has a different set of rules associated with it. The
basic "hit-or-be-hit" rule applies in all of them, but they all
differ in the size of the weapon, how hits are made, and what part of the
opponents body is a target.

In epeé, the whole body is target. That means if you get hit in the toe, it
counts as the other person’s point. Points can only be scored by making contact
with the tip of your blade, and double points are possible. By that I mean that
if I hit you and you hit me at the same time, we both get points.

In foil, only your opponent’s torso is a target. That means that headshotsts,
hits below the waist, and hits to the arms are invalid. Like epeé, you need to
make contact with the tip of your blade to score. Unlike epeé, however, foil
follows "priority rules" other words, if I hit you and you hit me,
there are a set of rules to decide which one of us gets the point. I’m not
going to explain priority rules here because they’re too damn complicated.

In sabre, anything above the waist is a target. That includes the arms and
head. Unlike the other two weapons, you can score points by hitting with any
part of the weapon, not just the tip. And like foil, sabre follows priority
rules.

So we watched a demonstration of these three weapons by the Queen’s team. Hugh
said that the vast majority of fencers specialized in just one of these three
weapons, and told us to pick out the one that interested us the most. I took an
interest in epeé because I didn’t like the concept rules of priority. If I hit
you, I should get a point, and that’s that. Plus, I liked the fact that the
whole body is target in epeé.

Then Hugh hit us with the second plot twist. He ushered us into a small room
wherein dozens of fencing outfits were hanging on the walls. He told us to get
changed, pick our favourite weapon, and return outside. It was only supposed to
be a demonstration. I didn’t think that we would actually get to fence. But we
did. It took me forever to figure out how to put the stuff on (the zippers are
on the back), but eventually I got myself sorted out. I remember seeing myself
in a mirror shortly thereafter and laughing at how silly and cool I looked at
the same time. In my excitement, I ended up picking a sabre instead of an epeé,
but whatever.

We all went back into the gym and learned the basics. How to move, how to
strike, and how to lunge. It was a lot of fun. Two hours later the lesson
ended. I was exhausted and dripping sweat, but I was also happy. I decided then
and there that I would sign up for the Queen’s fencing team.

The way varsity fencing works at Queen’s is that anyone can join the team, but
you have to be good in order to get to go to events. With so many experienced
and skilled fencers already on the team, I knew that there was no chance in
hell that I’d get to go to any events this year. But being on the team would
give me the opportunity to get better, and that’s what my goal was. When I saw
the practice schedule, my heart sank a bit. The Queen’s fencing team practices
four times a week, but two of those practices are during my psychology class,
and one is on a weekend. So no matter what, I would miss two out of four
practices every week, and possibly three out of four if I wanted to go home for
the weekend. As such, joining the Queen’s team was impractical.

However, there was another option for me. For about half the price of joining
the Queen’s team, I could participate in the weekly instructional class. This
class was available to anyone between 15 and 22 years of age, be they Queen’s
students or not. Since it was my only other option, I decided to sign up. A
very good decision, since these classes have become the one of the best parts
of my week.

For the first few classes, we all used foils, since foil is apparently the
easiest weapon to learn to fence with. After that we were allowed to branch off
into the other two weapons. I tried out all three in turn.

Epeé was a nightmare for me. Because of the nature of the weapon, having a long
reach is vitally important, which means that tall people are generally better
at it than short people. And my fencing partner was usually the 22 year old Nick,
of Sweden, who was at Queen’s for an international study program. He was around
6’2", and not surprisingly he slaughtered me when we tried epeé. I quickly
gave up on that weapon.

Foil was better. Although tall people still have the advantage in foil, short
people have the advantage of having a smaller target area. I think that me and
Nick were about equal when it came to foil. He might have been a bit better
overall.

And then I tried sabre. A match made in heaven. Since sabre allows you to hit
with any part of the blade, your attacking motion is a slash as opposed
to a stab. Thus, while people with longer reach still have a slight
advantage, reach is less important in sabre than in the other two weapons. In
sabre, speed and reaction time are far more important. That’s my kind of game.
If I’ve gained anything from my many years of video gaming, it’s a speedy
reaction time.

For the first term, me and Nick squared off about a dozen times. We split our
time between sabre and foil. We were fairly even at foil, but I had the clear
advantage at sabre, and so sabre quickly became my favourite weapon.

After the first term, Nick went back to Sweden, and I found a new partner by
the name of Tristan. Tristan was the opposite of Nick. As I mentioned, Nick was
22 years old and well over six feet tall. Tristan was 15, and just over five
feet tall. The only problem was that Tristan wasn’t a fan of sabre, so for a
while I returned to foil. Despite the fact that I had the height advantage, me
and Tristan were about evenly matched. We’d play about three matches every
week. On some days I would win two of three, on other days he would win two of
three. I don’t think either of us ever succeeded in winning all three. Even
when I was stricken with tendonitis a few weeks ago and forced to fence left
handed, I still managed to win one of the two matches we played that day.

Last week, Tristan was on March Break, so I found a few temporary partners to
fence sabre with.

And I was incredible. I played two matches against one guy, and won both by
scores of 5-2 and 5-3. Then I switched partners and faced someone who I thought
was easier than the first guy. I admit that I underestimated this opponent, and
ended up falling behind 4-1. I turned it on though and came back to win 5-4.
Then I switched partners again and won three more in a row, by scores of 5-0,
5-0, and 5-2. And for my last match of the day, I went back to my first partner
and beat him a third time, 5-3.

Total record for the day: 7-0
Aggregate score: 35-14

Oh. Baby. Forgive my arrogance, but I was unstoppable. No matter how they
attacked me, I was able to parry everything and counterattack perfectly. That
was a great day. Winning is so much fun.

So now I’m going to give you a few reasons why you join fencing at your local
school/community centre/wherever

1. You get to hit people with freaking SWORDS. There’s no other legal way to do
that, unless you use Nerf swords. Fencing swords are actually classified as
weapons, however, so unlike Nerf swords, you can’t carry them in public. That’s
badass.

2. It’s exercise. You don’t believe me? Try it for two hours and see how you
feel. Then wake up the next day and see if you can walk. Good luck.

3. You get to wear those suits. You’ve always wanted to look that cool. 

4. It’s a great way to let out stress. Mostly because of #1. Go figure, hitting
people with swords relieves stress. I think you actually fence better if you’re
angry. You have to bear in mind that you opponent is trying to hit you. The
suits aren’t padded, so if you get hit often, you’re probably going to leave
with a few bruises. Your opponent may be a friend, but once they put that mask
on, they’re trying to hurt you, and the only way to avoid getting hurt is by
hurting them first.

5. It’s easy to learn. 50% of the sport is instinctual. If someone tries to hit
you, you either get out of the way or block it in any way you can. While
learning the rules of priority takes a little bit of time, the basics of
striking and parrying are taken care of by our survival instinct.

6. It’s fun. That’s the bottom line. If you join fencing, you’re going to enjoy
yourself. I promise.

My adventures with fencing at Queen’s are nearly at an end. This Tuesday will
be my final session. But fencing is something I intend to continue in the
future. If everything goes according to plan and I’m at U of T next year, I
will definitely look into joining the fencing club there. Wouldn’t it be
something if at some point I was able to go to competitive fencing events and
ended up fencing against my old Queen’s comrades, except I would be
representing another school? It’s certainly possible. I’ve still got a long way
to go before I’m at that level. Fortunately, I’m having fun with it, and as
long as that holds true, fencing is something that I’ll be motivated to
continue.


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