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"To Enjoy Winning and to Profit from Defeat": Fencing as a Sport and a Way of Life

By S. Mathur

Fencing is both an ancient and modern sport. L. Stacy Eddy, Head Coach/Founder at Bay State Fencers in Somerville, Massachusetts, believes that it teaches students valuable skills and abilities: "We believe that fencing teaches good sportsmanship and self-discipline, fosters a healthy attitude towards individual as well as team competition, and stimulates the mind by providing rewards for using sound judgement. Through fencing we teach everyone to enjoy winning and to profit from defeat, with the benefit of physical exercise. Fencing is also a great activity for developing general athletic skills including: hand to eye coordination, speed, and agility."

Given the history of fencing as it developed from the practice of swordsmanship into a sport, it's not surprising that it encompasses a philosophy of life as well as providing a whole mind-body workout. Eddy believes that fencing engages the whole person, "...by encouraging physical fitness and engaging the mind in tactical situations. It is also an anaerobic and aerobic activity, providing a whole body physical experience. And "swords are fun"?"

For parents wishing to introduce their children to the sport, students should be at least nine years of age. Students at Bay State Fencers range from ages 9 to 90. Beginners over the age of 18 years can sign up for a 90-minute Foray into Fencing session. Youth fencing classes include ages 9 to 13 years and students over 16 years are enrolled in Adult fencing classes.

Fencers use different sized blades according to their ages, explains Eddy: "There are currently two blade sizes in use, #2 and #5. The blade sizes are for age groups; the #2 blade is for any fencer under the age of 10 and the #5 blade is for all those over the age of 10. So in a way there is a "novice" sized blade if you begin fencing at an early age, however an adult beginner uses a #5 blade." Fencers must wear proper protective fencing gear, including masks, gloves, jackets, underarm protectors and chest protectors. The risk of injuries is very limited, and injuries are never more serious than the occasional bruised arm. Students can train for competitive events and special coaching is available.

Since 2015, Bay State Fencers has been home to the Athena School of Arms, which introduces students to the Medieval Longsword and Scottish Broadsword. The longsword is familiar as the weapon favored by medieval knights, and the broadsword is the classic weapon used in 18th century Scotland. The rules governing this new sport are derived from surviving rules and manuals.

Fencing rules depend on the type of blades used. For the epee, points are won for touches to the opponent's body with the tip of the blade, and the whole body is a target. Fencers who cross the boundaries of the strip while retreating are penalized. Part of the etiquette of the sport, Eddy says, is that "Fencers are required to Salute and shake the hand of their opponent at the conclusion of the bout."

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