More Than Medieval Marvel
The game of physical chess
There are few sports with as rich a history as fencing. There is evidence that a form of the sport took place 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt and Japan. Modern swordsmanship, as defined by the Europeans, began in the early 1400s when gunpowder rendered suits of armor obsolete. Skillful sword combat became more important than brute strength and fencing schools became popular in Renaissance Italy. Itinerant fencing masters soon spread their technique to England, France, and Spain. By the late 1800s, fencing was an essential part of the education of a gentleman, and when necessary he would win his honor through a game that might just end in death.
Today, fencing is one of the world’s most popular Olympic sports, with the FIE (Fédération Internationale d’Escrime) overseeing its world championships and The United States Fencing Association (USFA) administering it in America. Some of fencing’s biggest Connecticut talent are here in Fairfield, and most are training at the Fairfield Fencing Academy at the Sportsplex. Under the direction of Jim Roberts, a three-time state champion and graduate of Sacred Heart University, students as young as four and as old as 76 are learning this elegant yet intense sport. “People think this is just some medieval marvel,” explains Roberts. “But it’s a way of life and a sport that incorporates athleticism with strength and lots of brainpower.” Roberts has students who train upwards of 15 hours a week to compete in state and national championships, and those who travel on weekends around the country, and even go on to compete in the Olympics. Justin Dion, one of Fairfield Fencing Academy’s star coaches, was invited this year to the United States Olympic Fencing Training Camp in Colorado Springs.
Roberts also coaches the co-ed Fairfield High School Fencing team, which blends students from Fairfield Ludlowe High School and Fairfield Warde High School. This year, several of the team’s fencers made the state championships and took medals away from those competitions. Ludlowe Senior Alexandra Morrison is passionate about the sport she began in 6th grade. She was last year’s captain of the Fairfield High School Fencing team and was recently accepted at Haverford College, where she will be competing on their Division 3 Fencing team. Morrison often trains six to ten hours per week, and she intends to keep it up, while also studying and enjoying her college experience. “Fencing is like physical chess,” says Alexandra. “They say in fencing you are playing three people: yourself, the opponent, and the referee.”
In addition to the brains there is also the brawn needed for competitive fencing. Roberts requires strength and cardio training in all his classes, but the more competitive fencers work to build their “fast twitch” muscles, used in fencing for lunging and touching, with stations of exercises that work the muscles controlling quick reflexes and bursts of energy.
While you will find a lot of fencers also tried soccer or baseball, most devote themselves to fencing. “It’s a great individual sport, but you are still part of a team,” says Brian Robison, whose nine-year-old son Noah has been taking fencing twice a week for the past year. “It’s really challenging and I love it,” says Noah.
Madison Lee, an eighth grader at Roger Ludlowe Middle School tried fencing at camp and was hooked. “It is really a mind game,” explains Madison. “You set traps for your opponent and have to constantly adapt your strategy to your opponent’s playing.” Many of these dedicated young fencers have the Olympics in the back of their mind. Madison admits, “I do think about it!”
Parents comment on the focus, determination, coordination, and strength that fencing offers their kids. Beth Love, whose son Matthew finished 4th in the State for Men’s Epee at the Individual State Tournament this year, says an indirect benefit of her son’s fencing has been the development of better time management and organizational skills. “What parent wouldn’t love that?” says Love.
Fencing is an equal opportunity sport, in terms of gender and age. There are divisions for ages eight through seventy and men and women are allowed to compete against one another. “Fencing was created by men but perfected by women,” says Coach Roberts. He is speaking of the graceful technique women often employ, whereas male fencers usually rely on their natural aggression to win the point.
“Fencing is a true sport,” says Roberts. “It isn’t influenced by the media or based on profits and losses. You do it purely for the love of it.”