by Jim Shellhamer

Notice seen in a local newspaper:

Fencing workshop to be held at La Danse School of Classical Ballet. Learn the basics of the art of fencing.

So I think to myself," Cool. Banging away at each other with swords." I picture myself swinging a bright and shiny blade in menacing arcs against a faceless, yet evil, opponent. The clash of blade against blade rings in my ears. Ho, Haha, He, Thrust, Parry, Spin. Dressed all in black, replete with hat and cape (notice the Zorro-like imagery) I deftly pick my opponent apart with uncanny skill and speed. I emerge from this imaginary confrontation slightly winded, yet divinely exalted by my stupendous victory.

OK, OK. I know what your thinking. But please allow me my moment of ecstasy.

So I take that first step and register for the fencing workshop. When the appointed day finally arrives I speed to the ballet school with all possible haste. Enraging a local police officer by the lack of good manners, and good sense, I displayed at the stop sign 2 streets back. So, with ticket in hand I arrive at the school.

The workshop begins with a series of warm-up exercizes and a lot of stretching which lasts for about 15 minutes. Why am I breathing so hard? OUCH! I didn't realize I was this out of shape. (Reality Check #1). We continue to basic footwork excerszes gradually increasing the tempo of the footwork. There must be a leaky water pipe in here somewhere because my face is getting wet!?! (Reality Check #2) Now on to Keeping Distance. Back and forth my partner and I move, using the footwork we just learned, with a 3 ft. wooden dowel between us, suspended from our supinated palms. OK this is cool, but when do we start hacking away at each other?

Finally, after almost an hour and 15 minutes the instructors pull out their swords and announce, "We are going to fence each other to 10 touches to demonstrate what foil fencing really is."

As we all find a place on the floor to watch, gratefully I might add because I am in sore need of a rest, the instructors make preparations to do battle upon each other. What follows, I observe, is everything and nothing like what I pictured or fantasized about. It is swift and powerful, but graceful. Speed and timing combined with tightly controlled power and precision. The skill of the 2 people clad all in white with heads encased in steel mesh is phenomenal. I am enamored! Enthralled! To put it simply, I'm Hooked!

I came to this workshop with a preconceived notion of swords flashing in the sun. The romance and danger of a struggle for honor, and life or death, between two opponents!

I didn't find it.

Please, leap forward with me in time. It is now 4 months later and I have been attending regular fencing classes for the last month and a half. Twice a week I drive 58 miles north from my home to attend.

My friends think I'm crazy. That's OK. Maybe I am.

But I do know that what I discovered at that first workshop was more than I expected. Romance and danger, yes. Grace and power and skill, definitely. Hard work, practice and dedication, more than I bargained for!! I guess when everything is all said and done, I know what I discovered at that workshop 6 months ago.

I discovered Fencing!

Jim Shellhamer may be new to fencing but he's taken to it wholeheartedly. Be sure to check out his webpageBalestra--Jim's Fencing Page

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