Fencing master, musician, composer and builder: Rudy Volkmann answers to any of the above.
Volkmann’s most visible role has been as the founder and head coach of the Augusta Fencers Club. The internationally ranked fencer has also written about the sport.
Introduced to fencing through a college class, Volkmann first taught it in a physical education class at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan in 1964. Before coming to Augusta, he also lived in Albany, Ga., and Atlanta and was involved in music teaching, painting and construction work.
He came to Augusta in 1986 to work for Paine College’s music department and started a weekly fencing class at the Augusta Ballet School. His following grew, and after open-heart surgery in 1999 he realized he wanted to teach fencing full time and drop his music professorship.
“It often happens that people have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment after surgery like that, and I realized I did not want to keep teaching college music but also did not want to leave Augusta,” he said. “So, just on a lark, I opened the Augusta Fencers Club.”
The club has been in the same location since 2000 but will move to the old Gurley’s grocery store on Greene Street this summer. Volkmann is reroofing and renovating the space himself and plans to offer a wider variety of private and group lessons. The club’s numbers have dropped slightly during the economic downturn, but Volkmann still has more than 30 students who take lessons from him every week.
Volkmann believes the charm of fencing lies in its marriage of mental and physical agilities, as well as an innate desire in everyone to play with swords.
“There’s just nothing like just going whack!” he said.
Students are often drawn to fencing through old movies or plays, but Volkmann said fencers stay with the sport because of its many unique aspects.
“You yourself are the target; they’re not after your goal or your ball or stick,” he said. “They’re after you.”
Studying fencing helps with balance, hand-eye coordination, spatial judgment and rapid reaction. It uses the entire body, he said, and fencers must have extreme control over their muscles. Fencing is a low-injury sport, he said, without concussions or broken bones to worry about.
“The only thing hurt is your pride; it’s a personal feeling to lose a bout,” he said. “It’s like, do you belong in this community? Well, let’s find out.”
Deborah Collins was at the Augusta Fencers Club with her grandson Taylor Corbett. At 10, Taylor is much younger than Volkmann usually likes his pupils to be. He asked persistently, though, and has already showed a lot of promise, Volkmann said.
Collins said fencing is a great fit for Taylor, who does not enjoy team sports.
“He’s very much a one-on-one kid,” she said. “I think Rudy has been absolutely great.”
Taylor stopped lunging at carpet targets on the wall to chime in.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s fun, and I have a good time with it.”
Volkmann said he counts himself lucky to be able to spend his life doing things loves. He is as passionate about music and composition as he is about fencing, and he was the chairman of the music department at Paine for years.
He plays several instruments, from the tuba to strings to drums, and is an accomplished a conductor. He has founded numerous music groups and organizations in the area over the years and performs with the Augusta Jazz Project, the Savannah River Brassworks quintet and the Channelheimers Oompah Band.
His family immigrated from Germany when he was very young, and he believes his upbringing gave him a work ethic that helped him to follow his passions.
“Anything I’ve ever had, I’ve had to build or work for,” he said. “I’m very lucky to have these things a part of my life, but I’ve always made them a part of my life.”