Challenge #4: Fencing, Part 1 (The Basics)

So the keen followers amongst you will have spotted an anomaly here. I appear to have published a blog post entitled “Challenge #4” before one entitled “Challenge #3”. This is not because I have lost my mathematical mind, the simple reason is that I actually started hockey in November but I am waiting to actually make my debut for the team to publish a blog on it.

In between times I got myself along to the Dolphin Centre in Darlington on Monday at 19:30 to start my education to become the greatest swordfighter since D’Artagnan, who I guess wasn’t even a real person.  Maybe that’s a fraction unrealistic, but I at least wanted to be better than I was at taekwondo.

I have been challenged by my brother to a fencing duel. He didn’t quite go as far as to slap me around the fact and throw a gauntlet down at my feet but the challenge was issued nonetheless.  Therefore, some may consider this cheating that I have gone to this session without him. However, he has done fencing before at university so I consider it self-defence!

Anyway, take a look below at how I managed to get on in an hour and a bit session!


Fencing is obviously a very traditional sport, steeped in romantic history and conjures imagery of noblemen trying to draw first blood from their opponent to defend a maiden’s honour. So when the modern Olympic Games were brought back by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, fencing was included in the programme of the 1896 Athens Games and has been contested at every subsequent games.  The first event included 15 fencers from four countries and Great Britain have won 9 (1 gold, 8 silver) medals across the history of the Olympics, though none since Tokyo 1964 (hopefully that is a good omen for Tokyo 2020).

The power base of fencing has traditionally lay in Western/Central Europe with the vast majority of Olympic medals going to France, Italy and Hungary. There are three types of weapon that are used in the sport, foil, epee and sabre, each with their own subtle (and not so subtle) differences in technique, scoring and image, so this adds some extra challenge and variety to the sport, even for experienced fencers.

There are a couple of elephants in the room though that I feel I need to address when it comes to fencing though. At Rio 2016 we took a foil team of 3; James Davis, Lawrence Halstead and, eventual 4th place finishing, Richard Kruse, with Marcus Mepstead as a reserve. Take a minute or two to find out anything about the team and the first thing that strikes you is that all four were born in London and three of the four fence for the same club in London. Now, I am not going to criticise people for where they are born or brought up, nor am I going to suggest that having three fencers from one club is a negative thing, after all Britain generally seems quite keen on pooling it’s talent in high performance centres (Manchester for cycling, Loughborough, EIS in Sheffield) but from a layman’s perspective and on face value it is no surprise that our fencers come from London and train in London. I may be doing a disservice to fencing in general, but I think it would be correct to say that it is viewed across the country as a rather elitist sport, and is often portrayed as so in the media (think of James Bond movie Die Another Day for instance). The fact that our elite fencers are all from London doesn’t do anything to contradict that view, and I think it’s understandable that the sport has such a low profile outside of certain circles.  I think a working class hero could be required to come and generate some interest in the sport, and I am definitely up for the challenge! (Jokes)

Also, you may have noticed that our 2016 team consisted solely of men, but it is clear that fencing is a sport that treats both genders equally. It would be nice to see some young British talent coming through on the female side to supplement the recent success of Davis and Kruse in particular. It certainly shouldn’t be a sport where ladies feel intimidated coming down to, it is highly skilful and technical, where nimbleness and footwork are more important than strength and power.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session. There were five fencers who were there for the very first time, two with previous experience as younger men, one young man and two complete novices, myself and the girl in the video who was competing with me. As you can see even as complete novices at our first session we went from familiarising ourselves with the clothing and equipment, through handling technique, basic footwork, attack, defence through footwork, parrying, parry & riposte, attack & defence all the way up to actually being on the electronic scoring system. All this in around 80 minutes, and for only £3.50. Let me tell you as well, it was a great workout. All that equipment certainly helps you get a sweat on, and the delicacies of the technique lend a graceful quality to the sport that makes it an excellent spectator sport as well, especially at close quarters.

So, if you live in the local area, and this has appealed to you in some way then please come on down at 19:30 on Mondays to Dolphin Centre, Darlington to give it a try. The equipment is lent to you for no extra charge, the coaching team is exceptionally friendly and you can work your way up from the bottom with no fear of making a fool of yourself. Mrs W said that it was interesting how much fun it looked, you don’t often go to a competitive sport session where people were chatting and laughing so much, which is a really positive thing for newcomers. You can get in touch with Beth Davidson (NE Fencing Development Officer) through her email address or gain more information through this page.

If you are reading this from elsewhere in the country then it is important to know that this type of session is being run across the length and breadth of the land. Use this page (England Fencing) or British Fencing to navigate to your local area and have a look to see what is available for you to have a go at. You never know, you could be our next great hope, and follow in the footsteps of Henry Hoskyns from Tokyo 1964!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Cynthia Hartley says:

    Great Andy looking very professional I am a bit biased as I am your grandma very proud of you for taking something on like that xx


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