By Christina Davis
Fluorescent lighting in the convention center nearly blinded me as I stepped onto the metal strip. Trying to shut out the sound of buzzing electric score panels and athletes screaming with excitement, I covered my head with my mask and the world suddenly dimmed. The shining silver blade glinted in my hand as I bent my knees and raised my head up. Across from me was my opponent, in the same ready stance. I gripped the handle of my blade, physically at ease, mind coiled. Then the judge said, “En garde. Fence!” and I sprang.
Fencing was one of the most exciting arts I competed in while in high school. Notice, I say “art,” not sport. Fencing may certainly be in the Olympics, but it is incredibly different from more conventional sports like baseball or soccer.
Why is it an art and not a sport? Sports are usually composed of two teams playing against each other for a crowd’s entertainment. Fencing is an individual mental game of one on one, where scored points determine winners, but mental strategy is the key to walking off the strip as a victor. Oftentimes called “physical chess,” fencing forces you to analyze your opponent’s weaknesses in just three minutes and strategize how to score five points on him before he scores those five points on you. Yes, though physically strenuous – with a training schedule of five hours of conditioning every weeknight, including running, ab workouts, target practice, free fencing, private lessons, leg conditioning and stretching – fencing is a mental activity that requires study. Books and private lessons in mental and physical tactics are critical to successfully mastering the art of strategy.
Fencing itself was designed for military purposes and for individual preservation of honor. Unlike most sports that developed for entertainment purposes, fencing became a hobby for personal excellence. Self-defense and preservation of aforesaid honor serve as the foundation of fencing. Intrinsically, the nature and tradition of fencing is to defend yourself, marking it as a different kind of athletic activity.
The different types of fencing blade are saber, épée and foil. Though the footwork remains the same, each blade has certain rules associated with its scoring. Saber blades score points along their entire edge, allowing for fast, cutting attacks. Foil and épée blades only score with the tip of the blade, requiring more precision with execution and timing. Modern-day fencing uses electric wiring in the blades to score points on the electric score board. But regardless of the type of weapon of the individual fencer, the intricacies of the art of dueling remain universal, admirable, and consequentially essential to the formation of character in mind and body.
The silence in the mind of the fencer in the timed five-minute bout is not a void but a breath of creativity under the pressure of the presence of another agile mind. In those moments of utter self-dependency, the individual comes into his own. Out of all the different sports I could have participated in during high school, I am glad I chose to fence. Only in the art of fencing could I play chess with two pieces – a real blade and my mind – instead of 16.