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Fighting Fit - The Exciting Sport of Fencing

Author: Sam Stevenson Published: 4th July 2009 12:13

There's something rather nostalgic and alluring about fencing: it evokes an age when chivalry reigned, duels were fought for honour and women hit the smelling salts at the sight of a pair of breeches (when they weren't off masquerading as highwaymen!). There can't be many a red-blooded man or woman who didn't enjoy the spectacle of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones fighting it out in ‘The Mask of Zorro'. However, as I have come to learn, the large, dramatic and noisy techniques used to make sword fighting look spectacular on film are very different to the subtle, precise movements that make fencing effective...

Historical records show that fencing was taught as early as the 12th Century. It went underground in medieval  2007-03-15_Vic_Roads_02.jpgFrance and England, emerging legally again by the 16th century. Fencing was one of the disciplines at the very first revived Olympics Games in the summer of 1896, and is one of only 5 sports included ever since.
It is also a popular celebrity sport, with Tom Cruise often challenging Will Smith in Hollywood. Madonna (Die Another Day) and Keira Knightly (Pirates of the Caribbean) have also trained.

In modern day fencing, men and women train and compete together at club level, competing separately in higher-level tournaments. More about mental alertness and stamina than physical strength, it's a mind-game played out by the body, and therefore physical size confers far less of an advantage.

Having dabbled years ago, I was delighted to find a new fencing club had recently opened in Epsom, so I dug out my old kit and signed up for one of the beginners courses at Epsom Fencing Club, run by international fencer Nick Payne.

Epsom_Fencing_Club_Adult_Fight_PracticeWhilst still reasonably fit, I had forgotten just how full a workout it is - fencing works the whole body, and the short, sharp bursts of high adrenalin make for an excellent stamina-building cardio vascular workout.

As with any sport or skill, a good teacher is key to the both your progress and enjoyment, and EFC instructors Nick and Chris certainly make an hour feel like 5 minutes.

I was therefore keen to learn more about how they came to be involved in this exciting Olympic sport:

I asked Nick how he was introduced to fencing, and what attracted him to the sport:

" My parents met at a fencing club, so I was born into it!" he said.

"I like the combat situation - pitting your skills against your adversary, keeps your thinking sharp and keeps you fit."

Spotting an opportunity to take the skills of fencing into the corporate market, Nick set up Sword

nick payneNick Payne

Fighting International
in sports-mad Australia, where he was living at the time. The obvious parallels of hitting targets, knowing your competitor and developing tactics mean that fencing lends itself well to team building and personal development programmes, but offers a unique new approach in an otherwise saturated market.


On his return to the UK, Nick set up a branch of the company in the UK which also provides swordfighting training and stunt fighters for the entertainment industry. (Two of the instructors were the doubles for the Bond film Die Another Day).

What made him set up the club?

"I saw a gap in the market, as there was no fencing club in Epsom, and I wanted to help both kids and adults try this fun sport" he explained.

I asked what makes fencing different to other sports:

"Unlike most other sports, there's a high degree of logic and mental concentration required to react appropriately, often contrary to natural instinct," he said.

"This makes it an ideal sport for anyone who finds activities such as the gym or jogging too dull, or who needs an activity that will really focus the mind for an hour, to the exclusion the usual clamour of daily life."

A normal session consists of a warm up, usually with footwork, then foil technique drills and training bouts. These bouts start off as ‘steam' or non electric fencing, and then ‘on-the-box' electric fencing as students acquire the necessary skills.

Fencers can start at the tender age of 6 with the Mini Musketeers, and then progress to the Juniors at 10. Adults classes are suitable for anyone over 16 years, and are an unusual and stimulating way to get - and keep - fit and/or lose weight.

How long does it take, on average, to master the basics?

It takes 2-3 years to be a good fencer as there are so many aspects to it, but you can be up and running and duelling against a friend within 20 minutes!"

If you would like to give fencing a try, the new beginners course starts at 8pm on Wednesday 24th June, at Blenheim High School.

The 5 week course costs £50, and includes the use of all protective clothing and equipment.

For details, please contact Nick Payne on 07799 346829 or info@epsomfencingclub.org

Did you know?

  •  Bo Derek has trained as a fencer (join the queue, boys!)
  •  Winston Churchill, won Public Schools Fencing championship in foil in his youth.
  •  Grace Kelly was trained to fence for her role in Charles Vidor's 1956 movie ‘The Swan'.
  •  Bruce Dickenson from Iron Maiden fences and owns the British fencing equipment maker, The Duellist.
  • Patrick Stewart, Television & Movie star fences with the Épée
  • Neil Diamond was good enough to have a scholarship for fencing at NYU.



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