Monday, November 4, 2013

Fencing

As I started making plans for the remaining items on my 30 Before 30 list, and this happened:


a couple friends let me know that there was a Living Social deal (referral link) currently available for PDX Fencing. Perfect! There are three types of fencing - foil, epee, and saber, which differ in the type of weapon and the portion of the body that is the target. PDX Fencing teaches saber fencing, for which you can use both the tip of the blade and the side of the blade for valid touches, and the target area is the torso, arms, and head.

The deal is for half off the normal price of a month of Saturday beginner classes. Personally, I would have preferred the option to just buy a single class for $15 or something, but this was the nearest fencing studio to me, and with the Living Social deal it wasn't outrageously expensive even if I don't end up going again during the month.

Abe and I went to our first class on Saturday. There was one other guy, Ruben, who was also a first timer, so the three of us worked with one of the coaches, Ned, while some other not-as-beginners did some actual fencing/sparring. (There seemed to be a disproportionate number of lefties in attendance - Ruben and two people in the other group. It made it a bit weird to go back and forth practicing with Abe or Ned versus with Ruben.)

We started by borrowing some basic equipment (the club lets you borrow for the first month) - jacket, gloves, helmet, and saber. The jacket is interesting - it has an adjustable strap that goes under the crotch so you step through that first, then pull on the arms, and it zips in the front side. I noticed that the people that were sparring had wires coming from their jackets (or under their jackets?) that connect to a scoring machine and track touches from their opponent's saber.

The first thing we practiced was how to move; you keep your right foot forward, and your left food back and turned out. You keep your weight in the back foot (even while lunging forward to attack, which was an awkward movement to me). You roll your right foot heel-to-toe as you move forward, and sort of slide it to move backward. 

Next was how to hit and be hit on the helmet. Obviously the helmet prevents you from actually being hurt, but I nonetheless flinched pretty much every time.

Then we learned the three primary parry positions. Third parry is with your hand in by your waist and the blade up, to protect against a hit to your right shoulder. Fourth is with your hand across your waist and the blade up, to protect against a hit to your left shoulder. Fifth is with your hand up to your forehead to protect against a hit to your helmet.

We also talked a little about right of way and priority, which determines which person was the the "attacker" and gets the point if both people get a touch. All I really retained from that discussions is that it's complex.

We did some drills with each of the parries isolated - e.g.: step, step, opponent goes for right shoulder, move hand into third parry to stop, hit opponent on helmet; reset, repeat. It was actually more challenging than I expected - it's kind of like dance choreography, coordinating stepping, lunging forward, stepping back, etc. 

Then we did some fencing (sparring? free form? I don't know what the technical term for it is, but we were just doing whatever, trying to both attack and prevent attack from our opponent). It was pretty difficult once we just supposed to fence. I didn't really know how to attack, much less think quickly enough to see where my opponent was aiming and block it. 

Obviously, from this class I only learned the most basic of the basics of fencing! It was fun, but difficult - it takes a lot of coordination and quick thinking. It kind of feels like chess in a way - I can see that there must be complex, intellectual strategies for winning, but I have no ideas what those strategies are (learning how to play chess is on the draft of my 40 Before 40 list...). But at the same time it's physical - you get pretty sweaty under the jacket and helmet, plus both Abe and I had really tight left calf muscles from it the next day. I don't foresee this being a new hobby to develop myself, but I'd probably encourage future children to give it a try.

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