By Josh Wingrove
The sports staff at The Eyeopener knows nothing about fencing. It’s obvious.
The fencing team received an A grade this past semester entirely because they poke each other while wearing tight white suits and do it without giggling.
James Mirtle and I were offered an invitation to take a lesson and we jumped at the opportunity. The captain of the women’s team, Amy Blackburn, only started fencing when she came to Ryerson.
“My roommate got me into it,” she said. “She was a dancer, she was very balanced.” She declined to offer Mirtle this dancer’s phone number. The women’s team has only three members, two of whom would be coaching the two of us today.
We don’t consider ourselves athletes, but as young, relatively fit guys, we didn’t think we’d have trouble picking up the basics of fencing. They begin to describe the three types of weapons.
The first, the foil, is only for direct poking of your opponent. With the second, the epe, a fencer is allowed to hit the opponent with the point or the side of the sword.
The third is the sabre, a cavalry-style sword. “The target area is where the target would be, if you were on a horse.” I forgot my horse. We used the foils.
“I think a woman had it go through her mask and into her eye once,” said our second tutor Heather Dicke, a fourth-year photography student and former captain of the Ryerson women’s fencing team. “But don’t worry.”
Too late. The fencing uniforms are strikingly similar to a child’s life jacket, with the strap that scoops down between the legs. With Mirtle and I fully suited and speaking at a pitch an octave higher than we normally do, Dicke and Blackburn led the way to the gym.
Dicke told us to be sure to carry the weapon by the handle, so as to avoid steel splinters. “They’re like splinters from wood. Except they’re steel.”
The fun part of fencing apparently had the day off. Blackburn, a fourth-year Radio and Television Arts student, told us to practice our attack, which typically strikes the torso. We protest that such an attack could be damaging to the female anatomy-more importantly, hers. Firmly slapping the plastic chest plate female fencers wear for protection, Blackburn assured us they were well protected.
I’d never stabbed a girl before. It isn’t as cathartic as one might think. In fact, it’s rather morbid. Then, removing her mask and stepping towards us slowly, Dicke breaks the news. “You guys can’t actually fight each other.”
One of the main appeals of fencing is the opportunity to violently compete and attempt to stab your friends. Blackburn agreed, saying that most of the fencers were probably nerds in junior high trying to relieve their aggression. “You can [fence each other] if you sign up for the beginner’s class next year.”
Unable to wait until next year, we decide to take shots at one of the dummies, with help from Andrew Cividino, who finished third in the Ryerson Ontario Challenge Circuit this year. Eventually we give up, discouraged by our failed attempt at a sport that is apparently a lot more than just weapons and white suits with invasive straps.
They can keep the A. Only because we at The Eyeopener are now aware of how quickly and easily the fencing team can injure us, with or without a horse.