Originally created 04/02/97

En garde!



AIKEN - After wearing out countless plastic swords and viewing the light saber duel between Darth Vader and Obi-wan many times, the Poore family took the plunge.

Into fencing, that is.

Karen and Richard Poore, members of the Aiken Fencing Club, say their 7-year-old son, Adam, got the family into fencing.

"Adam has wanted to fence since he was old enough to talk," Mrs. Poore said. "He loves swashbuckler movies and Darth Vader with his light saber."

And what warm-blooded young boy wouldn't be attracted to the jabbing, parrying and constant motion of fencing?

The clashing of swords. The stomping of attacking and retreating feet.

En garde!

Yes, fencers really do say that.

For Don Sinkola, founder and coach of the Aiken Fencing Club, fencing is more than just a sport. It's an outlook on life.

Pointing to a young boy putting up his equipment after a recent club gathering, Mr. Sinkola compared the skills of parrying, lunging, striking and retreating to traits necessary for success in life.

"It (fencing) teaches you to go for it, to not be afraid," Mr. Sinkola said. "When he grows up and gets a job he'll be able to go in to the boss and say, `Hey, I want that raise."'

"He'll also know not to go too far," Mr. Sinkola added.

Mr. Sinkola started the Aiken Fencing Club in 1991. The club meets twice weekly at the Fermata Club on Whiskey Road and has about 20 members, ages 10 and up.

Fencing requires speed, stamina and agility. Knowing how to attack is as important as knowing how to defend.

"You really don't need power at all," Mr. Sinkola said. "It's finesse and speed and tricks. If you've got power to add to that, that's fine."

Some people shy away from the sport because of its complexity, said Rudy Volkmann, coach of the Augusta Fencers' Club.

"One of the reasons fencing hasn't caught on is because it's hard," Dr. Volkmann said. "Where basketball has maybe a dozen fundamentals, which you work to improve, fencing has close to 50 fundamentals. And any one of them can be further broken down."

According to the United States Fencing Association, based at the Olympic Village in Colorado Springs, Colo., about 150,000 Americans are active fencers at any given time. The association has a membership of about 10,000, who compete in or coach fencing.

Fencing involves mastering three weapons: epee, foil and saber. The epee and foil are slender weapons, and opponents score points by striking only with the tips of the weapons. Any area of the body is a legal target in epee fencing, while foil targets are limited to the chest and trunk.

The saber isrepresentative of those seen in sword-fighting movies featuring actors like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. It's also} the slashing weapon. Points are gained by striking with either the tip or the edge.

"My favorite sword's the saber," said Jeremy Steiner, a 9-year-old member of the Aiken Fencing Club. "It makes a lot of noise, and you've got a better chance of getting points because you can slap."

Many think of fencing as a sport for the elite. But Mr. Sinkola and Dr. Volkmann compare the initial investment to buying a quality tennis racket. For about $125 a person can buy a fencing jacket, weapon and mask - the wiremesh covering that protects the entire head.

An outfit of competition gear, which might consist of a Kevlar vest and weapons equipped with electronic switches wired to a scoring device, can run $1,000 or more.

Dr. Volkmann said the sport appeals to people for different reasons. But nearly everyone is at least somewhat drawn to the adventuresome nature of fencing.

"There's an element of the swashbuckler in all of us - the flair for the history and the tool-wielding," Dr. Volkmann said. "There's a certain something that enhances the human spirit having to do with pitting yourself against another human being with certain rules that limit what you're able to do."

For the Poore family it was the chance to do something together.

"The thing that is really nice is it is young children, young adults and elderly people, all enjoying the same night, the same event, and all getting exercise," said Mrs. Poore.

Mr. Sinkola, who has competed nationally, said fencing is unparalleled for exercise when it comes to one-on-one competition. A tournament match can mean 15 minutes of constant moving, lunging and striking.

Not surprisingly, most fencers are fans of swashbuckler movies.

"Almost everyone in this room can tell you the key scenes to The Princess Bride from memory," said Aiken Fencing Club member Kevin Matthews.

Going at an opponent with a pointed object might seem dangerous, but Dr. Volkmann said it is very unlikely that a person would be seriously injured. The weapons are also constructed to create a flat, blunt tip when broken.

"The accidents we have are typical of those you'd have in track or any other sport ... a kid sprains an ankle or falls and scrapes his knee," Dr. Volkmann said.

Dr. Volkmann has fenced since 1960. He was twice Southeastern United States champion and officiated at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He's working on a book detailing the history of fencing, Magnum Libre d'Escrime, or The Big Book of Fencing.

A few of the fencers in Mr. Sinkola's class compete, but the majority simply come to have a good time.

For those interested in competing, he gives one simple bit of advice.

"If you want to be a good fencer, start thinking show business," he said. "You've got to entertain. If you're boring, you may do well, but you're better off not being boring."

Fencing clubs

  • The Aiken Fencing Club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Fermata Club, 841 Whiskey Road.
  • Dues are $20 per month. The first two visits are free. Equipment is available for a nominal price.

    For more information, call Don Sinkola at (803) 648-3047.

  • The Augusta Fencers' Club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Augusta Ballet School on Walton Way.
  • Membership is $30 per month. Equipment is provided by Dr. Volkmann. Beginner classes are also offered.

    For more information, call (706) 736-2279.