Fencing club stands en garde for thee

B

etween Olympic cycles, the sport of fencing can be far from the public eye.

The Kamloops Fencing Club is hoping to change that, at least locally.

The club, with 25 members, continues to practise at the Boys & Girls Club of Kamloops, and has named new co-head coaches for the season. Alexandra Golt and Sean Bigham, both long-time members, have taken over coaching the club, which has been around for at least 12 years.

"There's basically a club in every community, but they're almost transparent," said KFC general manager Damon Hebner. "We're there, but not exactly as well known as the soccer clubs or anything.

"We're mostly a community club, so we're not too focused on getting people to the tournaments to win. We're trying to get as many people involved as possible - that's our main focus."

Hebner has been in charge of the club for eight years, and said the club fluctuates between 25 and 45 members.

Of the current membership, around two-thirds are under 20, and a few of the fencers compete in regional and provincial competitions.

"I'm hoping for us to compete more, provincially and possibly nationally," said Golt, who has been with the club for seven years and has competed in provincial events.

"It would be a good experience just to go -it doesn't matter if we do well, but it would be nice to go and maybe place."

Hebner's goal simply is to have more people come out to the club, even if they aren't interested in competitions. He notes that registration can be done through the City's parks and recreation department, and equipment is provided by the club.

"We're kind of hoping to have more of an involvement in the tournaments, but . . . not everybody is interested in tournaments," he said. "Everybody who shows up is interested in learning . . . if they're interested in learning, I'm willing to teach them."

And, like any sport, there can be an incredible learning curve for new fencers.

Fencing, which has been in every modern summer Olympics, is a sport featuring bladed weapons. Two combatants square off on a 2x14-metre piste, on which they duel and gain points based on their weapons touching their opponents.

Generally, a new fencer will start with a foil, a lighter-weight training weapon, before moving up to an épée, which Olympics fencers use.

"It takes about a year or so to get comfortable with it," Bigham said. "It's lots of awkward hand positions and you have to learn what to do with your hand and your arm."

And yes, these are sword-like weapons, but the sport is safe. Fencers wear body protection, and the foils and épées are constructed to be safe to those being touched.

But, still, there is some leeriness on the part of people new to the sport.

"I would say sometimes they can be a bit nervous, but as they go on, their confidence does grow," Golt said. "I know I was very nervous when I started - it was a whole new experience."

In fencing, like everything else in this world, practice makes a huge difference.

For the KFC, practices start with warmup and stretching and quickly move into footwork and weapon skill drills. The coaches often follow up by teaching a combination or a specific skill, before free fencing - essentially, exhibition duels.

As much as the sport is based on hands and arms, a lot of the club's work surrounds the feet.

"Your footwork is your base," Bigham said. "If you don't have your basics down, you're kind of lost. It's a lot about balance."

MHUNTER@KAMLOOPSNEWS.CA

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