Fencing kids get the point

October 29, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Katie Glenn pulled her hair back and donned her mask. Next she put on her jacket and pulled a glove onto one hand.

Then she went and stood in front of another student to wait for instructions.

Her father, John Glenn, scanned the children making sure everyone had on the necessary protective gear. Then he began the fencing lesson.

"On guard," said Glenn, the assistant coach for the class. "Fencers ready. Fence."

Katie and her partner engaged in a short bout until the entire group was instructed to stop.

The group is just eight of more than 60 children receiving fencing instruction through the Chesapeake Fencing Club that was founded in 1992, by Raymond Gordon.

Over the course of two decades, Gordon has added clubs through the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks to make the sport more accessible to children.

"It used to be that people thought that only wealthy people fenced," said the 44-year-old Carney resident. "I wanted to make fencing accessible to any child with an interest in learning to fence."

As more people learned about the program, it grew, Gordon said. In 1992, Gordon and other club members decided it was time to move the fencing group out of the Towson YMCA, and into a place that the newly established club could call home.

He settled on the current location on Homeland Avenue in Baltimore. And once the dust settled at the new location, Gordon turned his efforts to building enrollment.

When he first started fencing classes in 1985, it was almost exclusively adults, he said. Then after starting three programs offered under the auspices of the county's recreation and parks, there was an influx of children, said Gordon, who left his job at a nursing home in 2001 to become a full-time fencing instructor.

"And now children are the focus of what we do," said Gordon, who earned a degree in French from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Gordon offers beginning- to adult-level classes. The classes range in price from $50 to $78 per month. The beginning-level class is about one hour and covers footwork and blade work. The intermediate classes are an hour and 20 minutes long and broken down into three parts: footwork, blade work and fencing.

Also all the necessary equipment is supplied: protective masks, jackets, gloves, underarm protectors and foils, a weapon with a blunt tip used during practices.

"After we know that a child likes fencing and that they are planning to stick around, we make recommendations of things they should purchase as they progress in the program," Glenn said. "We usually start with a mask, because they really don't want to wear a mask someone else was sweating in before them."

Once they ensure that all students are properly attired, Gordon and Glenn work on teaching the fencers the primary skills. And the basic premise of fencing is simple, Gordon said.

"Fencing is a sport where two opponents try to hit one another without being hit," he said.

It's like playing a game of chess, said Glenn, who began working with Gordon in 2002, as a safety monitor.

"Fencing is a very mental sport," he said. "You pit yourself against your partner. Every move is like a chess move, and it has a countermove. The difference is, in fencing you make the moves at a quick pace."

And it's also a personal development sport, Gordon said.

"Typically children who participate in fencing are not real competitive," he said. "They are more the chess club type. They tend to be creative and do theater arts and things of that nature."

But despite the reservations of some students to try it, Glenn cited the physical challenge and competitiveness of the sport as top benefits. Though many people learn to fence because it's unique.

"A lot of people are looking for something different for their children to do," Glenn said.

Such was the case with Glenn's daughter, Clare, who started fencing when she was in the sixth grade. "All of my cousins played soccer and basketball and did well at it," Clare said.

And from the moment she walked in the door, she knew she had found her niche.

"There were other kids taking the fencing class that didn't do well at it," she said. "For me, it just clicked."

And in addition to learning the skills, Clare is a strong advocate of fencing, although she said not many people know about the sport.

"I used to baby-sit for my coach, and someone called his house to ask about the fencing classes," said Clare, who is a junior at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. "I started telling the man about the classes, and he stopped me. He thought it was a class to learn how to put up fences."

But after years of working at it, Clare competed in and won the under-17 women's championship for the Maryland Division. The honor won her a trip to the Junior Olympics. And although she didn't do as well as she'd hoped at the Junior Olympics, it was a learning experience, she said.

"After the Junior Olympics, I had a sense of motivation to do better," Clare said. "It was a humbling experience. I had five touches in less than three minutes with an opponent that I had never met. It's very difficult to exploit your opponent's weaknesses in that short of a time."

However, Clare highly recommends fencing to anyone who is up for the challenge.

"People need to be aware that fencing is a martial arts activity," she said. "They need to know that it requires concentration. They will know the minute they walk in the door whether or not it's their sport. And if it is, I say go with it."

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