At the sharp end of getting active with Newham Swords Fencing Club
PUBLISHED: 13:00 03 August 2015
Before I arrive at Newham Swords Fencing Club I think of everything I know about the Olympic sport.
All that comes to mind is that scene in Die Another Day, all wood panels, high ceilings and haughty prep school banter between James Bond and the film’s villain.
As it turns out, most people’s perception of fencing is pretty similar. There’s an air of elitism that hangs around the sport like a bad smell.
Coach Andrew Nisbet, showing me the ropes for my first session, confirms fencing “still has this stigma that it’s something that the wealthy or the snobs do and we that find very difficult to overcome.
“But in France they do it in schools,” he adds, showing its health and competition benefits are readily appreciated in its country of origin.
“Fencing is a sport for all and you can start it at any time really,” explains Andrew. “It’s a mixture of backgrounds here at our club. It’s about matching the sport to your personality.”
Newham Swords is ten years old this year and is considered one of the best clubs in the country. It boasts British Olympic fencer Linda Strachan as its founder and manager.
A PE teacher by day, Linda has a natural air of authority but also a knack for engaging the younger club members (some just eight).
As Andrew runs me through some of the basic footwork, Linda is arranging games with the younger fencers that help improve their hand-eye coordination.
A few foot drills later and my legs are already starting to tire. It’s a hot day and the UEL Sportsdock hall is toasty as it is, but now I’m going to be putting on more layers as we bring out the swords for the first time.
I’m cajoled into a tight fitting white top and a mesh helmet to protect my upper body and face. Immediately I feel the part.
So far my coach has been very complimentary. But as soon as he asks me to attack him with the foil sword (literally a sword that has had its tip “foiled” – much like a villain’s plans – so it is no longer lethal) suddenly I don’t feel like such a natural.
It’s a strange sensation to lunge at an opponent with weapon in hand – having the direct intention of hitting them in their chest – and something that takes me a little while to overcome.
Speed, agility and decision-making begin to come into play yet more so when I’m taught how to “parry” (deflect an incoming attack).
Reading your opponents quick movements takes great skill and concentration and I cumbersomely fend off my coach’s mercifully slower strikes. Getting hit feels like being prodded very hard with a pointed finger.
A chance to spar with a fencing student gives me a flavour of the pace and quick-thinking of a full nine-minute head-to-head.
As I put down my sword I’m sadt he session is over as I realise I’ve been having a blast, all while getting fit and learning a new skill.
Andrew captures the appeal of the sport when he tells me: “With fencing you can express yourself and find self-confidence. You are reliant on yourself. Here it’s all you for nine minutes of fencing and only you are responsible for your actions.”
• Newham Swords Fencing Club runs during term time. Visit newhamswords.org.uk for more.
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