Challenge #4: Fencing: Part 2. Fencing in Leeds, my brother’s response to my challenge

Apologies for the lack of action in the blog recently. For those who weren’t aware, Mrs W and I celebrated the birth of our first son on 4th April, so understandably, I have been busy getting used to being a Dad and trying my best to look after both of my heroes after his arrival.

To this end I asked my brother, Chris, to write a guest piece about his training to meet my challenge of a fencing duel. He will tell you about his (lack of) experience in sport, the reasons behind those and how he has found joining a new fencing club and the availability of the sport elsewhere in the country.

I hope you enjoy reading his take on it.

Good hello, sports-blog readers! I am Christopher Watson, the younger brother of this website’s host. My brother, the indefinable Andrew Watson, is currently unavailable for posting as he looks after his new baby together with his lovely wife, and so he has (some would say foolishly) asked me to write a blog post about how he will be defeated come our fencing duel sometime further down the line.

Or something like that. And though going over what I’ve done solely in fencing training would be a good topic, I don’t think that is all I want to blog about. A better topic would be why someone like me would even be doing this.

My sin is that I have never really been into sports. I can throw a Frisbee pretty well, I cycle, I’m not poor at badminton (Really?? – Andy), but I’ve never had the enthusiasm for it that my brother has, rarely seeking it out as an activity to do in my spare time. So I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the ‘why’ a little here – after all, if the point of this blog is to get people into sport, it’d be good to know why someone wouldn’t be into it.

And from my own experience, it comes from nurture rather than nature. How I experienced sport growing up. And the main experience that most have of sport when growing up in this country is through football, which I didn’t have a great start with. I remember my dad taking me to a football training camp/course once when I was very young and not responding very well to the trainer’s stern-sounding encouragement at my failures regarding a keep-uppy exercise. I know now that it wasn’t his intention to upset my young self, but I was stressed from failure and that just soured me on it, so I came off crying and my dad didn’t know what to do after that. (Sorry Dad!)

Now, of course, there are going to be tennis clubs and the like around, but growing up football seemed the only sport people seemed to care about. Our PE lessons back in the day were football for the lads and netball for the girls, and though we flirted with hockey and cricket, those were about the only two games in town, and of them, only one got played during break-times and lunchtimes. Which isn’t a problem unless your own team was threatening you for letting goals in and the other team threatening you because your tackles were too successful. (That’s a 1990s Blackburn comprehensive school education for you – Andy)

So, between yelling on the sides of the pitch and the kind of antagonistic attitude kids have to each other when playing football on the streets I can’t really say that there was much beauty to be found in the beautiful game for me. And not enjoying football is a real barrier to enjoying sports in general in Britain because of how ubiquitously popular it is.

Which makes sense. Parents want their kids to make lots of friends. Sport is a great way of doing that because many sports consist of teams, and so football is very good because it needs large teams, is cheap, and because everyone plays it already so it propagates itself. But this makes it a little more difficult for those who don’t like football or the culture of football to find a sport in their own age group for them to enjoy.

As an example; when I heard my brother was going to do this challenge I leapt on the opportunity to do this with him and challenged him to a fencing duel, not only because I’d briefly dabbled in it a few years ago but because I always liked the idea of fencing. Finding a club that met at a time when I could attend was the first hurdle, but a small one. When I turned up and saw who was there however, I couldn’t help but notice the youngest kid there was 12, and he was the only <12 there. The others were between late-teens and mid-forties. And this was in Leeds, a very sport-orientated city.

By way of comparison, here are the fencing clubs in Blackburn:

fencing in blackburn

Basically- not in Blackburn.

When I was a kid what I wanted to do sport-wise never seemed practical to me, and it turns out I wasn’t wrong. There was no coverage and little social character of other sports for a minor- not to mention higher starting costs and efforts on behalf of the parents to find and attend such a thing as fencing. And this is just for fencing, I don’t know how far afield I’d have to look for a handball team.

So yeah, not so much opportunity, not so much motivation for it, and it’s this which I would like for my brother’s blog to help with and shine a light on- and so far he’s not disappointed! And hey, he’s got me doing something. I do wonder though…perhaps it is too much to say I’m not into sports. After all I enjoy healthy competition as much as the next person, and the main thing that pushed me to go to my practice sessions was the disgruntling idea of not doing my best at this task. But when this is over, will I have the impetus to continue with these expenses and exercises? How does someone not so impassioned with sport and exercise continue at it if the only task behind it is to do it so you don’t get chubby? When does the extrinsic become intrinsic?

Perhaps that’s a topic for another time…

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