Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kathryn Says, "En Garde!"

As a Fantasy writer, if there's one thing I've always wanted to do, it's try my hand at sword fighting.  To my delight, Groupon offered a discount on fencing lessons just a few months ago.  I purchased a set of lessons for my hubby and I, and we finally got to use them this month.  The lessons took place at the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  (I didn't even know this awesome place existed until the Groupon came along!)  The introductory classes consisted of four one-hour sessions with a group of fellow newbies ranging in ages from 8-40ish.  (Yes, hubby towered over the 8 year-olds.  And yes, the middle schoolers towered over me.)  Despite the obvious differences in attention spans between the adults and kids, our class had a lot of fun together as we learned the basics of fencing.

So, what did I learn from my foray into fencing?  Well, for starters, I found out that sword fighting is rife with rules and precise techniques--not willy-nilly sword-swinging and slashing at your opponent (um, even though some of the kids may have thought otherwise).  I also discovered that it is a brain-over-brawn sort of sport, which (for once) worked out well with my petite stature.  (Let's just say flag football and weight lifting have never been my forte.)  Before I started the class, I had no idea that there are actually three types of swords used in fencing: foils, sabres, and epees.  Each sword has its own unique qualities and calls for different techniques and "target areas" on your opponent.  For example, with the foil, you aim for the chest of your opponent; with the epee, you can strike them anywhere you please.  We tried out all three swords in the class and my favorite was the epee.  (Not too heavy, not too light, and far fewer rules to trip me up during a fencing bout!) 

I even found a chart online!  Blue means, "Hit opponent there!"

We also spent a good deal of time practicing the footwork and learning the terms.  We learned "advance" (move forward), "retreat" (move backwards), "lunge" (front foot forward to cover more ground) and, of course, "En garde!" (aka, "Find your ready stance!")  You never look backwards or side-to-side in fencing, so these few steps are all you need.  (And why don't you look backwards or side-to-side, you ask?  Because it leaves your defenses open and results in a sword at your side!  Ouch!)

Isn't my lilac fencing jacket just divine?

With all those pointy objects swinging around, safety is a big concern in fencing.  We wore jackets, chest guards, a glove (only on our fencing hand), and helmets.  (You know, those wacky ones with the hard, mesh front.)  Royal Arts provided all the equipment we needed and helped fit everyone with the correct sizes.  (Yes, I wore mostly kid's gear.)  The helmets were the funniest part out of all the equipment; I felt like I was wearing one of those old-timey diving helmets.  They were also the most annoying part, though, because fencing etiquette calls for the removal of the helmet before and after every bout.  (Long hair gets tangled and pony tails fall out very quickly.) 

Helmet is also good for bee-keeping and alien impersonation.

Once we finally got all this equipment on (which understandably took up a decent chunk of the class), we spent the rest of the time going over the proper fencing moves and participating in 1-on-1 practice bouts.  Whoever scored 5 points first won the bout.  Hubby bested me with the foil, but I kicked his tushy with the epee.  We then saluted each other at the end of class and had fun trying to figure out where the heck our gear went back in the storage room. 

Although we didn't get into the meat and bones of parrying, feinting, thrusting, and all those juicy terms we writers love to throw into our fight scenes, I enjoyed getting an introduction to the basics of swordplay.  Just holding a sabre in my hand and getting a feel for the footwork will certainly be beneficial to my writing and help me craft authentic scenes.  If you write sword-clashing Fantasy and have the opportunity to try out a fencing class, I highly recommend it.  (And if you live in Columbus, the highly-respected Royal Arts Fencing Academy is right in your own backyard!)  It's not everyday you get to try your hand at the medieval arts, and any personal experience you can get will definitely add that extra oomph to your Fantasy writing!

Much to my sadness, our four week class ended last night.  In addition to the kid's classes, Royal Arts offers an adults-only fencing program which includes both fencing instruction and open-bout evenings.  Hubby and I are definitely interested in pursuing the sport, but alas, now is not the best time.  With yucky winter weather on the way and my office's busy season just around the corner, we know icy roads and an exhausted Kathryn will hinder our enjoyment.  (If only we lived on the other side of Columbus!)  However, we are certainly going to reevaluate the matter (and our wallets) come Spring!

If you want to learn more about Royal Arts Fencing Academy, you can check out their website at:  The instructors are wonderful and so enthusiastic about the sport!  And if you live in the area, you should give fencing a try.  You'll be glad you did!  (And if you live somewhere else, I bet they'd even know about fencing academies in your region!)

Note: Logo is (c) Royal Arts Fencing Academy.  I borrowed it from their website. Sword chart is from Google images.

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