Fencing described as a thinking man’s sport

Last weekend, the Collicutt centre field house was overtaken by swordsmen.

It may sound like the plot for a great movie, but it was actually the Hokkaido Cup. Fencing open for all ages to attend. Norman Wiebe, president of the Red Deer Fencing Club, has been running it for six to eight years.

“It was actually started by fencers from Japan, from Hokkaido province, who came here, (and) ran this first event. We just kind of tried to carry on the tradition”

The divisions at the Hokkaido Cup are the same as in all fencing. The ages range from under 13 to seniors. There are three different disciplines — foil, sabre and épée.

“Foil and épée are impaling weapons so you must touch with the point. Sabre is a cutting weapon so you can touch with any part of the blade with a cutting or slashing motion,” explains Wiebe.

“The foil and the épée have a switch on the end of the weapon. The blade has a wire that runs through it. And essentially we attach the fencer to an electronic scoring system so when the button on the weapon is depressed, the equipment knows it.”

And there you have fencing in a nutshell. And that explains Die Another Day starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry. In the movie, there’s an epic fencing fight between James Bond and billionaire Gustav Graves. Bond wins the battle but what now stands out in that scene is that they were using sabres, not foil or épée swords. Only the sabre could slash open attire. A real sabre, minus the sport friendly wire.

For those who have never fenced before, it’s actually simple.

“Fencing is a great sport, anybody can do it. You can pick it up and try it out; it doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at it,” Wiebe states.

“We get a lot of adult fencers that join the club, they have no aspirations about becoming Olympians or joining the national team. They want to do something that’s different, kind of exciting, gives them a bit of a workout and it really makes you think. It’s a thinking man’s sport”

So that explains why James Bond is so good at it. He’s a thinker. You see what you think you’re watching is a person attacking and then another person guessing where the sword will go, and then blocking it. When in fact, Wiebe says it’s all calculated.

“You have to have a good understanding of all these technical moves. And know when you’re being attacked to quickly identify what’s happening and be able to counter that with the correct action. Fencing is typically compared to chess, but at high speed.”

Aggression on the fencing floor will only get you so far. Brains play a major part. If you want to give fencing a try, go to red-deer-fencing-club.com. As a sport it’s not exactly trending right now. Not to say that it’s declining.

“Overall in the province I think our numbers are down.” Wiebe says “At our height we were around 1,300 – 1,400 members, now we’re about 1,100.”

Why is that?

“Every club you need a coach. Fencing coaches are few and far between. And a Canadian coach is even more rare,” he laughs.

Which explains the latest coach to join the Red Deer Fencing Club, Petar Toshkov. He’s been there for a year and a half. “Formerly from the Bulgarian national team in Sophia, plus he’s coached at all kinds of clubs across the U.S. as well.” So Red Deer can brag about having one of the best fencing coaches in the entire province.

Which is a big bonus to the 50 or so members in Red Deer, that need to get their duel on.