An age-old sport makes for fun fitness for all ages

The sword is a simple weapon, a long piece of metal with a handle and a pointed end. By itself it seems almost harmless, a collectable, a forgotten artifact in a museum, a novelty from a store perhaps.

 But when most add the image of a sword to the right character, the mind reels with swashbuckling tales. Thrusting, lunging, and parrying action by sword-fighters through the ages, from the Musketeers to Zorro to Luke Skywalker.

During the early hours of Calgary nights on the opposite ends of the city, two young local ladies grab their weapons of choice, lower their masks, and fence to stay fit.

Miranda Tingle, 13, of the Fencing Academy of Calgary has been training for a year and a half. In an interview by email, she says not only does she find it fun and exciting, but is a challenging workout with movements that her body had to become accustomed to.Maria Golubev practices her moves with a fellow student.

Photo by: Guillermo Barraza

“I feel it mostly in my upper arms and my right wrist,” Tingle says. “When I first started fencing I felt a lot of stress in my legs, but that has mostly gone away.”

Tingle looks forward to Wednesday nights when she can pick up her sword and let off some steam.

“It releases all the tension I have built up,” Tingle says. “Fencing is the highlight of my week, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

Another young fencer, 14-year-old Maria Golubev, has been training for three years at the Epic Fencing Club in Calgary’s northeast. She says it was popular culture that attracted her to fencing in the first place.

“I read a book series called ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ and there is a girl in there who fences and I decided to check it out,” Golubev says.

Since then she has moved on to become part of elite young fencers in Canada, recently taking first place in a national competition. But putting aside the championships and the gold medal, she fences for the love of the sport.

“I love it. I think I’m somewhat addicted to fencing,” Golubev says with a laugh. “It’s just amazing. People think it’s just sword fighting and it could be dangerous, but there is a lot more to it when you get into it.”

Maria Golubev parries a lunge from her opponent.

Photo by: Guillermo BarrazaFencing competitions are fought with one of three types of swords. The foil is the lightest of the weapons and the area where you can strike a point is limited to the torso of the opponent. The épée is a heavier sword with a bigger protection for the hand and the target area is the entire body. Finally, the saber is the heaviest of the three and derived from a cavalry sword. The target area for point is the torso and the head.

Depending on the type of weapon used for the fight, the rules are different and the fighter must be able to out-manoeuvre their opponent to score points.

Coach Peter Drevenka has been training in fencing for more than 20 years. He brought his talents from Hungary to the Epic Fencing Club and helps both young and more mature fencers reach their potential.

Drevenka says fencing not only trains your body to stay physically fit, but sharpens your mind to help with making quick decisions.

“Fencing is called, by other words, physical chess,” Drevenka says. “It’s a mind game using your legs and your arms, so you have to think a lot. You have to anticipate a lot.”

Drevenka says that co-ordination of your body and your mind is important to be a good fencer. Visually a fighter can be seen lunging and stretching to strike a hit, this focuses greatly on leg strength and flexibility but is not limited to pure brute power.

“You exercise your legs in general,” Drevenka says. “You have to work on the feet, is what we say. You set up the distance by your feet, and by your legs.”Peter Drevenka watches as his student practice their lunge’s at the Epic Fencing Club.

Photo by: Guillermo Barraza

“The entire body moves, you have to have good balance so you need strong abs, but,” Drevenka points to his head, “you need this first.”

Drevenka says the club encourages people to perform other exercises to help with their fencing; yoga and running help a lot as you need the stamina to keep on your toes the entire bout, and the class also incorporates plenty of moving around to help with agility and flexibility.

“We do lots of agility exercises, jumping over hurdles, onto benches,” Dreveka says. “You can do any kind of sport alongside fencing.”

Both Tingle and Golubev say fencing is now a permanent part of their life. Because of it they have sharpened skills, gained more flexibility in their legs, bettered their balance and become heroes of their own stories.

“I absolutely love learning new things, new moves, new ways to fence,” Tingle says. “For me, at least, it’s my sport of preference.”

gbarraza@cjournal.ca