Monday, May 01, 2006

Fencing - The World's First Sport

People are always surprised when I tell them that there are at least 12 active fencing clubs in the Greater Atlanta Metro area. They are surprised because the general perception towards fencing is that it is a rich white man's game. Never mind that there are many African American fencing champions throughout the game's history, or that as the sport expands - prices on everything from equipment to club dues are becoming more competitive. Much of the blame for that perception lies with the clubs and governing organizations that had color bars and other exclusionary devices. Thankfully, these devices are a thing of the past, and there are more women and minorities fencing competitively than ever before.

Another issue that has hindered the sport is its style of teaching. In the past, one was not allowed to even touch a weapon until after six months to a year of training in footwork. While footwork is the most important part of fencing (just like the ability to move the ball down the field is the most important part of football), this restriction is not how you build widespread interest in the game. If you sell the sword fighting aspect and get a weapon in the kids hand the first day - it may take him longer to build discipline, but at least he will stick around to learn it. Great bladework plus strong footwork equals fencing that is fun to watch, and that will build interest in the sport. And the US Fencing Association would love nothing more than to get a brief 10 second highlight on Sportscenter.

There is plenty of reason to start paying attention to this sport. Most popular sports have their basis in war - whether they are teaching strategic and tactical thinking, or they are building up the necessary conditioning to do battle under extraordinary circumstances. Looking at it this way, fencing is the ultimate sport - and the most intuitive. Give a kid a football, and he will not be able to throw a spiral on the first try. Give two kids a couple yard sticks, and you will see one kid do a great parry three to protect himself from the kid trying to whack him in the head. Only some refinement, discipline, and footwork are needed to turn that natural killer instinct into a proper fencing skill.

For a great fencing overview - check out Wikipedia's article.

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