Awesome – it is not the most eloquent word, but that is the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of my recent experience at the Putnam County Fencing Center in Brewster.
This winter’s snow accumulation and low temperatures have made outdoor outings with my young kids a bit more difficult. Deep snow makes it hard to hike, and the bitter cold and wind makes frostbite too big a risk. So I went back to my notebook of old advertisements and article clippings, printed website pages, and hand-scribbled notes on places I had read about or had seen while driving around Putnam County. I’d driven by the storefront for the Putnam County Fencing Center many times and have mentioned to my wife several times that I wanted to try it.
I scheduled a class for my son’s Cub Scout Den, thinking that I and maybe a few of the other parents would participate alongside the kids. It didn’t quite work out that way, so I sat on the sidelines as a spectator. Not sure how the band of eight-year-olds would respond to the class, I prepared for mayhem and hoped there would be no blood. What happened instead was a group of focused, intense kids who truly enjoyed the class, and the gear and rules make it actually pretty safe. Watching them fencing each other during the second half of the class was inspiring. My wife and I were sold, so we signed up for an introductory class about a week later.
When we arrived on a Thursday evening for our class, we started with some basic stretches to loosen up. I am now sure I am not as flexible as when I was 15. After warming up, we worked on the basic stance, footwork and body position. Feet at right angles, knees bent, back hand curled up behind you and away from your opponent. We learned and practiced the basic moves: advance; retreat; advance, extend, lunge, recover. We spent a good amount of time going over the basics; presumably to develop some muscle memory and good habits before blades were flying. It is a healthy workout; simply holding your back arm up in a slightly awkward position employs some less-than-frequently used muscles.
We suited up and were fitted with a weapon. I think you can tell the newbies by the way they fidget trying to put the protective gear on. Back out on the floor, we spent some time practicing our new moves on wall targets. This gave the instructor a chance to correct our technique, and us some practice with our aim.
The big moment had arrived. It was time to fence. The instructor went over the basic rules. We got into our starting positions. “En Guarde. Fence!” We probably looked pretty sloppy, but what a lot of fun! The blade of the foil is flimsy, so it took a little getting used to, and you realize pretty quickly that the duels of long ago probably didn’t last that long because before we knew it the instructor stopped us because someone had been hit. (In case you are wondering, no, it does not hurt at all.)
Though the instructor was very clear in explaining how it all works, once the action started my wife and I were a little lost on how exactly we were earning points. We heard words like Parry and Attack but at first we were a just blur of swinging arms and blades. Towards the end of our session it started to make more sense and I’d like to think we were getting a little better.
This sport is a great way to be “in the moment”. While we were fencing, we did not think about bills, homework, or other distractions. I haven’t had that much fun since pugil stick fighting in Marine Corps boot camp.
While overall fitness will help you, especially if you are fencing competitively, all fitness levels can enjoy the sport. It is a great choice if you are looking for a unique way to get some exercise. I joked with my wife that fencing would be a great way to work out the petty debates that come up in marriage and family.
All in all, it seems the basics techniques and rules of combat seemed straight forward. The learning curve from the time you walk in the door to the first time you fence is relatively short. The basics can be picked in about an hour – and then you could spend a lifetime practicing strategy, speed, and technique.
We had a ton of fun, and is definitely something we would like to do again. And next time my son wants to play fight with his plastic Star Wars light sabers, I’m in!
The Putnam County Fencing Center is privately owned. They offer a free introductory class. For more info, visit their website at www.pcfencingcenter.com or call them at 845/278-7232. They are located in the Brewster Ice Area at 63 Fields Lane in Brewster.