“Star Wars”, someone comments. “That’s why I started fencing.”
This came from a conversation about one of Britain’s most successful sabre fencers, Bob Anderson. Few know who he is, but everyone has seen him: He donned Darth Vader’s black mask for the famous fight at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Probably not what you think of when someone mentions fencing, right? In the public mind, the sword-fighting of Hollywood bears little relation to the modern Olympic sport. Isn’t fencing just two posh people hitting each other with car antennae and exclaiming “Touché!” a lot?
So, let me sell you sabre fencing.
Sabre is the third and lesser known fencing weapon. The foil is descended from a training weapon and the epee from the duelling sword, but the sabre finds its home on the battlefield. Unlike the other two weapons, hits can be scored with the edge of the blade as well as the point, rewarding aggression and speed. As a result, it’s fast, furious and incredible fun. There’s no standing around in a sabre match; if you stop, you’ve just lost. The adrenaline rush from someone charging at you with a sword is unmatched, and is a huge draw for many people.
Fencing is frequently described as physical chess, a strategic game played using distance and timing to gain an advantage. Sabre fits into this framework as well, relying on just as many tricks and traps to bait an opponent into making a mistake. This combination of speed and tactics tends to make sabre bouts spectacular, with the fencers displaying a full range of feints, parries and flying attacks. A roar of triumph after a particularly amazing point is not uncommon.
The University Fencing Club has recently acquired a set of strong sabres, and we’re aiming to grow even larger. We run a dedicated beginners course for all three weapons in the first semester, guided by our expert coaches. Despite everything written here, everyone will try all three weapons, and be given advice when choosing which to learn. The aim is that by second semester, beginners will be able to join open bouting with the rest of the club, which often means training with (and learning from) international level athletes.
After a time, beginners will be able to consider competing, perhaps for one of the university teams. We run A- and B- teams for men and women. Many people join the latter for their first taste of competition, with eventual promotion to the A teams possible for the truly committed. The wider competitive scene is also more than approachable, even for novice fencers. With the support of the club, you can easily aim for the top echelons of the sport in the UK.
So, whether your inspiration was a film you saw as a child, or perhaps even the Rio Olympics, we encourage you to join us. After all, the Star Wars-inspired fencer above was on the Scottish national team!