Fencing sorts out my forte from my foibles

Northampton Danecamp Leisure Centre fencing feature: ET Photographer Jamie Lorriman.'30/12/11
Northampton Danecamp Leisure Centre fencing feature: ET Photographer Jamie Lorriman.'30/12/11
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The countdown to the London 2012 Olympics is well under way.

It will be the first time the Olympics has been held in Britain since 1948 and will be watched by millions of people around the world.

To mark the countdown to the start of the games, The Evening Telegraph is running a series of special reports every fortnight on the A to Z of Olympic sports. Jamie Lorriman tries his hand at fencing.

“FENCING is the second fastest sport in the Olympics,” my coach for the hour tells me, “but as we think shooting is cheating, we consider it the fastest.”

Paul Willmott is the chairman of Northampton Fencing Club, which meets at the John Ashby Sports Hall at Moulton College on Thursday evenings, and he has agreed to give me a one-hour masterclass in the art of Olympic fencing.

As a total novice whose only experience of the sport involves watching James Bond and The Three Musketeers, I feel I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

The session is a mixture of observing Paul fight Kate, another club member, before taking Paul’s place and facing the foil.

After being shown the ‘en garde’ position I must learn the basic principle of moving forwards and backwards. The latter I am told is the simplest way to defend against the even the most skilled fencer.

Then we go through the three main methods of attack in order to score a hit, which in this version of the sport means the tip of the sword hits the torso, groin or neck. One is a straight-forward extension of the arm, which is simple enough, but then we try a step and extension of the arm, which I must admit confused me slightly.

We soon worked out that the lunge was my favourite, as it looked a lot more dramatic.

Defensive techniques were the hardest for me to get the hang of but the parry was the main technique demonstrated, which is where you use the strongest part of your blade against the opponent’s weakest part.

It was interesting to learn that some parts of the English language originated from fencing. For example, when blocking an opponent the strongest part of your blade is called your forte and the weaker end of the blade is your foibles.

By this point I was aching in places I didn’t know I had, but it was a lot of fun.

Paul thinks I have grasped the basics so after a quick recap I am thrown into the deep end and have a bout with Kate. She is a worthy opponent but I triumphantly beat her 4-1, although I suspect she may have let me win, only taking back a point in the latter stages.

After a gruelling hour I feel hot, sweaty and exhausted but I totally loved every minute.

I am certainly going to take up the sport soon, even if only as gentle exercise.

The club meets at the John Ashby Sports Hall at Moulton College on Thursday evenings, juniors and beginners from 7pm to 8.30pm, and open for all from 8pm to 10pm.

NORTHAMPTONFENCING