Written by Taylor Jackson
The ring of steel fills the air as eager duelists face-off, their blades clashing in rapid patterns of thrusts and parries. Here in the Santa Clarita Valley, the sport of fencing is drawing participants of all ages to test their mettle in fast and furious duels. Clad in their protective gear and wielding lightweight blades of steel, fencers evoke images of an age of chivalry long past.
Fencing is an Olympic sport that traces it’s roots as far back as the 16th century. Modern fencing is descended from the formalized duels of honor often practiced among nobility, where unarmored opponents would spar in an attempt to draw first blood and settle their disputes. Modern fencing is far safer than the duels of old, but has not lost the intensity found in such contests of arms.
“Fencing is a physical chess, you have to think before you do anything,” said Tigran Shaginian, head coach of Swords Fencing Studio and former Russian fencing champion who has been practicing the sport for 43 years. Shaginian offers classes in fencing for both children and adults in the Santa Clarita Valley. The coach explains that fencing develops balance, coordination and reactions on the physical side of things, while also teaching discipline and quick thinking.
“Everything you do in fencing has a meaning. You just try to create a situation and execute the attack,” he said.
Coach Ian Carson agrees with this assessment, noting that many people automatically assume that their physical prowess will be all that is required to win.
“They’re missing the core strategy of ‘When do I attack?’ ‘When do I block?’” said Carson.
“Within a millisecond you are making a decision that could have a different outcome for you. You could be losing a match just because you moved the wrong way and you thought of a different strategy.”
Just like any sport, fencing has protective gear that must be worn at all times. The basic outfit required to participate consists of a small plastic chest protector, a durable fencing jacket, a leather or padded glove for the weapon hand, and the distinctive steel mesh helmets that have become iconic of the sport, Carson explained. In addition, fencers seeking to participate in official tournaments are often required to wear additional gear, such as matching fencing knickers and an additional underarm protector.
Fencing is divided by the three types of swords involved: the foil, epee, and saber. In foil only the torso and groin are valid targets, and only the saber can make cutting attacks.
Epee has fewer rules and is much simpler notes Shaginian.
“Its basically you’re going to get them before they get you,” he said.
The sport of fencing can be a challenging, but Shaginian says he’s happy with how the Santa Clarita is performing.
“We have a lot of good fencers who came up from Santa Clarita,” he said. The city has produced both a national fencing team member, and a first place winner at the Junior Olympic games.
“We think we’re generating a lot of good fencers who are showing good results nationwide and worldwide.”