the first or second time around

by Annie Morris

As the page goddess for the Tampa's Fencing Academy websites, I get a lot of questions about fencing in my e-mail. There is a lot of interest in fencing but it seems to be difficult for people to find out what's available to them and how to get started. Here are some suggestions that I hope will be helpful to some of you who want to fence but haven't gotten started yet or those who've found themselves in a new place and don't know how to get started fencing there.

It's not always simple to find out what is near you geographically. You have to be persistent and, in some cases, be willing to travel a bit farther than you might really like to. Unfortunately, there are areas where there is no fencing nearby. I get many messages from people who live in Sarasota, Florida and I have to tell them that there is no fencing anywhere close by. They have to be willing to drive for 45 minutes to an hour minimum to find a salle.

A good starting place is your county's recreation department. Give them a call and ask about fencing in the local recreation centers. Frequently, coaches don't have their own private salles and just work out of these facilities.

When you are looking in the phone book, check under "Martial Arts" as well as looking for "Fencing." Also check under other general sports listings. Some phone books don't give separate categories in which there would only be one listing.

If there is a local entertainment weekly in your area, look in its classified ads. You may find fencing instruction listings there.

The best source for listings of clubs in the U.S. on the Internet is at the United States Fencing Association website. You go there and click on the heading "New to Fencing" on the left hand side of the page and when you jump to its page, you'll find a listing that says, "Where can I fence?" When you click on it, you'll be sent to map of the U.S. You click on your state and you'll get listings for all the clubs that are members of the USFA.

It's more difficult to find clubs that are not affiliated with the USFA but you can try the various search engines to ferret them out. Again, check with universities and community colleges. They sometimes have student groups that host this kind of club. Be aware though, that if you are interested in tournament fencing your best bet is a USFA affiliated club. Most tournaments require USFA membership. Some of the non-USFA clubs are primarily for the study of fencing in its historic or classical forms. Some are dedicated to theatrical fencing and to the kind of fencing that is done in groups such as the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). You will not be prepared for modern sport fencing properly if you study SCA or theatrical fencing. If what you want is to learn how to fence to use the skill for the stage or for historical reenacting (something that is becoming very popular) this kind of club is just right for you.

Once you have found a club, you need to contact its coach or maestro. Ask him or her if you can visit the club to see what it's like. Many don't mind if you just drop in but you'll be more likely to be able to talk with someone if you ask when the best time to visit is.

If you are new to fencing, you should come in at a time when you can speak with the coach but also see part of a class. You need to see how the sport is taught to know if you will feel comfortable in a class. Coaches vary in approach just as teachers of academic subjects do and one approach may put you off and another is exactly the one that will work for you. This is not so much the case with experienced fencers but new fencers need to take this into consideration.

If you can, wear some comfortable pants and shirt and athletic shoes when you visit the club. Some coaches will let you play around a bit when you visit to get the feel of the sport. This can help you in deciding if fencing truly is something you want to do.

Remember that this is a sport and that in itself makes the approach different than for an academic subject. The coach is teaching your body as well as your mind. You are going to be pushed to do things repetitively and that's the only way you can learn fencing. You must be willing to do drills over and over again. Your body has to assimilate the correct moves. Muscles generally don't learn as quickly as the mind does.

Be sure to find out if you must have your own equipment to start lessons. Many fencing salles have equipment you can use while learning but not all. If you have the choice of one that has equipment for the beginning lessons and one where you have to buy equipment before starting, well, you can figure out which one you should choose. I hope you'll want to stay with fencing but it may not be for you and I hate to see anyone lay out a bunch of cash for equipment only to find he or she won't be needing it.

Fencing is a sport for a large age range and sometimes, classes will have children and adults mixed together. This is not a big problem because the sport is very accommodating to varying ages competing against each other. However, if it is possible for you to take your beginning training in classes that are divided into adult and youth categories, do so. It's just a bit more comfortable mentally for new fencers.

As you would with any sports club, make sure you understand your financial obligations. The fees can vary quite a bit. Some require you to sign up for a specific period of time and others will let you pay by the visit. Some charge a membership fee and then a per lesson fee. Some let you pay by the month. Individual lessons from a coach outside of normal class hours are usually available but expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $50 per hour. You may get lucky and find someone who'll give half hour lessons at a lower rate but what I've seen listed mostly falls into the range I've given for hour-long lessons.

Fencing is a great sport. If you've been thinking of taking it up, I hope what I've said here will help you get started. If you've just been away for awhile and want to make a new start, I hope this will have encouraged you to get out there with your blade and join in the fun again.

For some links to fencing sites you might find of interest, visit To the Point

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