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Good Fencers

Make good and very fit neighbors



Douglas Foulke

At the end of a particularly grueling work week, a friend professed she had the perfect elixir.

Happy hour? Dinner out? 

“Fencing,” she chirped. “It’s faaaaaaabulous!”

“You want to go dress up in white beekeeper suits and stab each other?” I asked. That might be good marriage therapy, but not quite what I’d envisioned for Friday night downtime. 

She said it was at the Mayflower Inn & Spa, the five-star resort that’s only a few miles from my house, in Washington Depot. “It’s an intense workout, and it’s super fun,” my friend espoused. 

We were greeted there by a graceful man who gave us shower cap-things to slip over our sneakers so we wouldn’t soil the floors. Then suddenly I stood in a room, face-to-face with Marc Ganych, a Russian gold-medal-winning fencing master, who got right to the point, so to speak, and lined me up along the back wall with the three seemingly stupefied students. Ganych was dressed in all black, and seemed serious; more like Darth Vader with a light saber than the risible swashbucklers, Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, or Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean

He explained there are three types of fencing: foil, epee, and sabre, and that we would be doing foil. The target stabbing area for foil is the torso. After learning a few basics stances, movements, and terminology in our sweatpants, the master provided us with white jackets that had hard-shelled breast protectors for women. Curiously, men’s jackets don’t have any such protection for their parts, even though the garment goes down around your groin and is secured with a strap between your legs, not unlike a loose-fitting thong.  

We pulled black wire-mesh helmets over our heads, and then the master gave us gloves for our dueling arm that looked like something you’d use for handling giant birds of prey. And that’s what we looked like, too, when we started out: hawk-eyed, fearful, but intent on the kill.

Using our foils, which are 35-inch bendable blades capped with plastic knobs and weigh about a pound, we lunged (attacked), we parried (defended the attack by “pushing” the opponent’s blade aside), and we touched (euphemism for “stabbed”). Midway through the hour-long class we were soaked with sweat and getting giddy. “I feel like a gazelle,” said Kathy McCarver Root, owner of KMR Arts photography gallery in Washington, who was trying out the class.

Master Ganych said fencers are encouraged to make lots of noise during some moves, including the balestra lunge, which involves a small jump forward, followed by a powerful lunge that leads to “an explosive touch” when dueling.

“Raaarrrrr!” roared Ron Northsworthy, a decorator from New Preston and the only male student. “Must destroy the Warrior Moms.”

We had one-on-one bouts, and finished with the four of us battling it out to the end. “Whoever wins buys,” I said, envisioning cold pints in the taproom.

Well, that was a mistake because guess who won. Yup. Not because of the master’s assertion that “Fencing is very strategic; you have to be able to outthink your opponent,” but because I simply whacked furiously at the air and everyone ran away. Actually, points are scored when the tip of your blade touches the opponent in the torso, front or back, so I must have tagged them along the way. One by one, they were eliminated, until I was the last one standing, baffled, in victory.

Most fencing places use metallic vests that electronically register when points are scored, but I liked the old-style way we did it—besides, it’s not only about winning, it’s about the workout.

Master Ganych wasn’t kidding when he said, “Fencing is not only about finesse and beauty and speed and dexterity, but fencers have the strongest legs of any athlete. For the quads and the glutes, it’s the best.”

My fellow fencers and I wobbled out of there like the Four Musketeers with linguini for legs, and made our way to the taproom, where I had the great honor of buying everyone not a beer—but some sort of pomegranate concoction, and we toasted to our new-found fitness regime for the body and mind: fencing. We agreed we had never such a good workout, had so much fun, and relieved so much stress, all at the same time.

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