Mystique surrounds fencing

Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Students at the Augusta Fencers Club square off in pairs during a recent class. The club offers instruction at all levels in saber, foil and epee. The various weapons require separate tactics.

Fencing allows people to act out their fantasies of sword fighting in a civilized manner. Yet it's that childlike exuberance that draws newcomers to the sport and to the Augusta Fencers Club.


The Augusta Fencers Club, located on 9th Street, is a school of fencing, or Salle d'Armes. The school, which holds evening courses Monday through Friday, has about 40 members, ranging in age from 10 to 55.

"It's not uncommon for one of my 50-year-old students to come up to me and say 'You know, all my life I've wanted to try this,' " said Dr. Rudy Volkmann, the chief coach and owner of the Augusta Fencers Club since 1986. "There is kind of a mystique to it."

Fencing has a long history in the Augusta area. The city's connection to the sport dates back to the 1780s, when Charles Chevalier started a fencing and dancing school. During World War II, a fencing club was active at Camp Gordon, now Fort Gordon.

Volkmann moved to the Augusta area in the mid-1980s and took over the teaching duties at the Augusta Fencers Club, which was established in the 1970s.

The club held lessons at the Augusta Ballet School until moving to its current location in 2000.

The club's fencers compete on national and international levels. Several have won division and region championships, and enjoyed collegiate success.

"Augusta is one of the best areas if you want to compete," said Rob Poppell, who has been a member of the Augusta Fencers Club for almost six years and coaches the University of Georgia Fencing Club team. "All of our tournaments are within a two-hour drive."

The club offers instruction at all levels in saber, foil and epee. Each weapon requires different tactics.

"One of the things that a fencing master does is, he tries to match the personality to the weapon," Volkmann said. "There is an old saying that fencing is like physical chess. That's probably true with epee. There is a lot of thinking involved. Foil is like physical poker in that there is a lot of bluffing. Saber is like physical rock-paper-scissors. It's amazingly fast."

Each of these skills will be on display in August during the Olympics in Beijing. Fencing is one of only four sports that have been played in every Summer Games since the dawn of the modern Olympics in 1896. Fencing also was part of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece.

Despite its Olympic longevity, fencing is far from mainstream in the United States.

"Fencing lacks the instant gratification that Americans have come to enjoy in sports," Volkmann said. "Most parents say, 'I signed my daughter up for ballet last week. Now when's her first show?' or 'I made the football team. Now when's the first game.' And you can do that in those sports. But you can't do that in fencing."

Reach Joey Jones at (706) 724-0851 or


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