I’ll admit, I wanted to try fencing because it looked cool and at some point I’d have to say the words ‘en garde’. I imagined a scene somewhat reminiscent of the Sword in the Stone wizard’s duel between Merlin and Mad Madam Mim; where they conjure themselves into rabbits and big purple dragons. In reality, I was being coached fencing footwork from a national champion of Bulgaria; it was time to wake up!
Unperturbed by this reality check, it was time to adopt the en garde position. This is not an impressive look; feet are turned to a 90 degree angle to each other in a bent-knee squat position with one leg in front. The corresponding front arm should be positioned with the elbow reasonably close to the body, also at a right angle with palm facing skyward as if serving canapés. Your other hand should be reaching up to your shoulder to adopt a limply flailing position. This is en garde. It was so much less fancy than I’d hoped, but to stay in that position for any prolonged time I expect is agony.
Alongside my fellow beginners I learned a range of footwork such as stepping back and forward, cross-step forward and cross step-back as well as balestra: a slightly more exotic jump forward or jump back while retaining the same en garde position.
Being left-handed in fencing gives me an advantage over my future opponents, supposedly. The proof of that is yet to be seen, but I was ecstatic to hear it because hopefully what I lack in skill may be made up for in something that usually impedes me… I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t open a tin can before university and not through lack of trying.
Before the close of the session, we were taught to ‘lunge’. It sounds like nothing more than a standard gym movement but is used in fencing to reach out to strike your opponent. It means transitioning from en garde to something a little more elegant. In one step forward, your front arm should extend while your flailing arm drops closer to its normal vertical position.
Although duels weren’t allowed on this first session (spoil sport), the instructor taught about the different uses of each sword: the sabre, the foil and the epee, all of which we were able to hold and feel the differences between. Although it’s a little early to decide if fencing should be a part of my life, I’ll be putting away the cartoon influences and drawing from more realistic sources for my next lesson, such as real videos from the real Olympics.