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Horsham Fencing Club

Horsham Fencing Club

Published on 1st March 2019

Horsham Fencing Club attracts members of all ages thanks to its relaxed atmosphere and a patient approach to coaching. AAH found out more from coach Will Miller, chair Jerry Lowen, master-at-arms Andy Watson, regular fencers Harry Williams and Jo Goddard, as well as Sarah Rovetto-Stamp, whose son Adam is the club’s youngest member… 

Jerry: Horsham Fencing Club was founded in 1990, run in parallel with an adult education course at Forest School. The course was discontinued, but the club moved to Millais, with coach Mark Kennard guiding us for 24 years before stepping down in 2017.

Will: There are three fencing disciplines: foil, épée and sabre. All three are Olympic sports and require very different skills. To have someone dominating in all three is extremely rare. 

Andy: We do have some light foil training, but the focus is épée. Points can only be scored with the tip of the sword. You can hit your opponent anywhere on the face and body, from head to toe. In foil, you can only score by hitting the torso with the tip. With the sabre, anything above the waist scores and you can use both the tip and edges of the sword to score points.

Jerry: The rules of foil include a ‘right of way’ system. So, if you are defending, you must first ‘parry’ your opponent’s attack before striking. It means that a duel requires judges as it can be complicated. Personally, I believe épée to be the purest form of the sport. 

Will: This is a sociable club. There isn't any pressure for members to reach a high level. I've been fencing for 30 years and still compete at an international standard in veteran competitions. We have other fencers who could do very well at competitions too. However, most come here simply to learn a great sport and enjoy themselves.

Jerry: We host an internal round-robin competition, just for fun. Fencers are given a handicap by the coach depending on ability, so anyone can win. Some members will take part in the Sussex épée competition and there are other tournaments at county, regional and national level. Members have opportunities to compete, but it is not a key aim of the club.

Harry: I took part in my first tournament just before Christmas and will enter another in March. The first one went okay, as I didn't come last! I enjoy the competitive side as it motivates me to improve. But on club nights, everyone is friendly, relaxed and respectful of one another’s ability. 

Jo: There’s a pleasant atmosphere and we’re welcoming to novice fencers. Competition has never been at the heart of this club, even if we’re all serious when it comes to a duel. I was a member here for 21 years, qualifying for the South of England Championships during that time, before taking a year out. I returned as I really missed it! 

Harry: I joined a year ago, as I stopped playing rugby and wanted to find another sport. I took to fencing immediately, although it's harder than I thought it would be. I knew it was tactical, but it’s physically demanding too. I'm young and quite fit, but this really takes it out of me. 

Jo: Fencing is hard work! You need great stamina. Every duel is intense with a lot of leg and arm work. But it is one of the few sports where people of all ages and gender can compete together.

Andy: Because of the mix of competitors, you must adapt to your opponent. I’m very tall, so I’m a big target in a discipline where you can hit anywhere on the body! My advantage is that my arm reach is an inch or two longer than most and opponents need to overcome that. The clever ones anticipate my attacks and strike me on the arm before my sword strikes their chest or shoulder. There’s a lot of tactical awareness involved, although luck can play a part too. 

Jo: I’m known to be quick, as I'm short, agile and try to force a close duel. My style would probably better suit the sabre, as you can use the cutting edge of the blade as well as the tip to score, whereas épée is perhaps advantageous to those with a long reach. 

Harry: I use a French style pommel grip, rather than the pistol grip on most swords. This gives me an extra few inches of reach and I have adapted my style to use it. I tend to keep as much distance from my opponent as possible and go for openings when they present themselves. Usually though, I get carried away and end up attacking more than defending! 

Andy: In an épée duel, it is only the first strike that counts. The sword is triangular shape and the tip has a pressure spring. This tip is compressed upon a good contact, with wires running from the tip and down the sword to an electrical system that registers every point. You might take satisfaction by striking the mask, but it doesn’t win you any more points. Your opponent could hit the end of your toe and the result is just the same! 

Jerry: The electronics register who struck first, but if a counterstrike lands within 1/25 of a second of the first strike, it will also count. This is surprisingly common, such is the speed of modern fencing. 

Andy: An earth wire ensures that a point isn’t scored if the tip strikes the sword or grip. But there have been cases when people have tried to cheat. In one famous case at the 1976 Olympics, a Soviet fencer created a switch within the grip that triggered points even when he hadn’t hit anything! 

Will: Even though épée involves the full body, it is a safe sport. Centuries ago, duels were fought to the death, but nowadays fencing is safer than cricket. The strength of materials used in the mask, jacket, gloves, right down to the breeches, has improved over time. Traditionally, a fencer’s uniform is white and an instructor’s is black. 
Sarah: My son, Adam, is only nine-years-old. His grandfather, Francesco, was a well-known fencer in Italy and was close to being selected for the Italian Olympic squad. So, when we found out that the Horsham club would make an exception and accept Adam at such a young age, he was thrilled. He is a small but feisty competitor. When he duels with Will, it looks a bit like Darth Vadar taking on a young Jedi because of the black and white uniforms! 

Jerry: Will is a major asset to the club. He still fences for Team GB veterans at World Championship level and was recently ranked in the top 50 épée seniors nationally. He has Level 3 coaching qualifications and is very flexible in his approach. He leads a course for beginners once a term and this is a good introduction to fencing.

Will: During the first couple of lessons, we concentrate on footwork. But we work with swords from the outset. In the past, people had the idea of developing technique before picking up a sword, but I find people lose interest that way. So, we use the épée early on, passing on techniques that have been handed down since the ‘to the death’ days of duelling. 

Jerry: We do see people of all ages. Adam is nine, although 11 is usually the youngest we take. Fencing improves fitness, agility and reactions for everyone. I think it’s like playing lightning chess. 

Will: It’s one of the few sports that can take a child away from a computer. Many sports are struggling to attract youngsters, but fencing is like a computer game in that it’s fast and exciting. We could still do with more people here. A sword film can do wonders for fencing, as we saw when the Bond film Die Another Day was released. The Olympics had a positive effect too, but that has tailed off, so we need another Three Musketeers movie!

Horsham Fencing Club meets at Millais School, Horsham on Wednesdays (7:30 - 9:30pm). The beginner’s course costs £50 for six weeks with equipment provided. Contact the club at horshamfencingclub@gmail.com