From the Archive: Sworded Activities, Metro, May 2006.

by Carolyn Boyd

Article about fencingA faceless figure dressed in white is coming at you with a sharp sword. Your heart is pounding a sit tries to stab you in the chest, the shoulder, the arm. It keeps going. Then,just as the blade is about to pierce your stomach, a voice shouts“halt”.

It’s the stuff bad dreams are made of – unless that is, you too are kitted up in a mask, chest plate and jacket and are wielding a weapon at a fencing class. Here, when someone is coming at you with a foil, you give as good as you get.


Eminent epees


You don’ t need to be able to recite the names of all three musketeers to know that sword-fighting has been around for centuries.Winston Churchill, Karl Marx and Grace Kelly are all known to have fenced. More recently, Madonna played a fencing instructor in the Bond film Die Another Day,in which she had a go at piercing Pierce.

And given that the sport is far more interesting than sweating itout at the gym, it’s no surprise she was willing to take lessons to prepare for the role.

Known by some as physical chess, fencing presents the challenge of learning technique and strategy (something that requires much concentration) as well as fantastic exercise for your arms, legs and stomach. It’s this combination of a mental and physical workout that makes it so popular.New York is teeming with foil-fighting fanatics, while the number of clubs in the UK isgrowing fast.

‘There was such a demand at the other club I fenced at, that Istarted up my own club,’ says our teacher and founder of the Salle Gadaski school, Tim Gadaski. In the days of the old Soviet Union, Tim represented Russia incompetition against the other states of the union, so he knows his cut from his thrust. An artist by day, he’s been teaching fencing part-time for ten years.


Buckle my swash


Two nights a week, in the hours before the disco divas hit the dance floor, the place is filled with the clash of crossed swords. They haveconverted their cloakrooms into ladies and gents changing rooms, you can usethe swimming pool and, if you’re thirsty afterwards, you can head tothe bar.‘Fencing is a really good way to meet people,’ says Tim, ‘ so we were keen to emphasise the social element of the club.’ Andsociable itis, though it does seem ironic that 400 years ago your aim was to leave your opponent dead, rather than meet them for a beer afterwards. In the dayswhenD’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis were swashbuckling their way around France, Tim explained, they would have used their cloaks to shield themselves.In theirright hand they would have held a foil, and a dagger in their left.These days,however, your left hand is held aloft behind you and, instead of acloak andplumed hat, you’re protected by a black mesh mask and white canvasjacket.


Foiled again


For the ladies, there’s a not-so-attractive moulded plastic chestprotector-something I was glad to be wearing when my opponent’s foilwentslightly askew in the early weeks of the course. Thankfully,over the eight weeks of lessons, everyone’s aim improved and, by puttingtogetherthe various attack and defence moves we learned, we finished the course with a mini-tournament-the first player to reach five points wins the game. Ifinishedsomewhere in the middle but at least, it seems, I’m now getting the point.


Fictional Fencers


AlexandreDuma’s novel The Three Musketeers was firstpublished in 1844. Set in 1625, the story tells of young D’Artagnan,who arrives in and offends the three musketeers. The four becomefriends whentogether they defeat five of the Cardinal’s guard. Some 20 film versions of thelegend have been made, most notably the 1973 version with Oliver Reedas Athosand Michael York as D’Artagnan.

Theswashbuckling masked swordsman Zorro made hisfirstappearance in the story The Curse Of Capistrano (1919) by JohnsonMcCulley,which was published in the pulp magazine All Story Weekly. Since then,therehave been numerous books and stories about him, while he has appearedin some40 films including The Mask Of Zorro in 1998 and The Erotic Adventures Of Zorro in 1972. Isabel Allende has just finished her version of the ‘classic’Zorronovel tracing the background of Diego de la Vega while a sequel to The Mask OfZorro begins filming this year.

Recentadditions to the fictional fencers include Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in Pirates Of The Caribbean, while Dumas’s The Count OfMonte Cristo got its 18th outing with James Caviezel and Guy Pearce in 2002.

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