Students seize chance to learn rare sport of fencing
By KATHLEEN BOLUS, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
Nov. 08, 2017
FACTORYVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Swords clashed at Keystone College as students lunged toward one another.
Well, not quite swords. Foils, to be exact.
Inside the Hibbard Campus Center on Monday, about 10 students faced off during the school's fencing club practice. Keystone formed a fencing club about four years ago under the direction of psychology professor Steven Howell, Ph.D.
Howell fenced on the varsity team while a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Later, he was an assistant fencing coach at the University of Wisconsin Madison and formed a fencing club at Kutztown University. He brought his passion to Keystone when he joined the faculty.
Fencing uses three weapons. Two are piercing weapons: the foil, which students practiced with Monday night, is a somewhat wobbly, thin, dull blade; and the second is the epee. The third weapon — the saber — is most like a sword.
Amanda Paduch and Glori Torres suited up in white linen body suits and mesh masks before practice began. Before electric fencing, where competitors wear an electronic vest that lights up when they're struck, tips of swords were dyed and white was worn to show where the fencers were hit, Howell said.
In the college's Evans Hall, the students chose a foil fit for their dominant hand and stood in a horizontal line waiting for the coaches to adjust their stance and give them directions on their footwork.
"All right guys, en garde," said Paduch.
The students turned to the side, raised their foils, slightly bent their front knee and lifted their back arm. They moved forward in small steps and large lunges followed by "retreating" backward on Paduch and Torres's command.
Both Paduch, a senior biology major from Honesdale , and Torres, a sophomore forensic biology major from Rochester, New York , are club members and assistant coaches.
Paduch's friends encouraged her to join the fencing club.
"I was like, well when am I going to get the opportunity to fence," she said.
The hardest part of fencing for Paduch is sizing up her opponents.
"Every person that you fence will be different and each person will have certain advantages and disadvantages," she said. Knowing what moves will work against an opponent and "having enough of a repertoire" of moves also make the sport tough.
For Torres, it's remembering the small details.
"You want to get that point in and you want to get the tricks down," she said, but "sometimes you have to take a step back and make sure everything is crisp and clean."
The club is more than just fencing for both Paduch and Torres. It's about friendship and camaraderie.
"The sport itself is difficult and you have to overcome certain challenges and that teaches you discipline and remaining faithful and diligent and overcoming maybe not being good at something," said Paduch.
"It feels like a family," Torres said.
Club members practice three to four times a week and travel throughout the state to compete.
Fencing, which is considered a martial art, has a certain class to it and attracts nontraditional athletes, said Howell. The sport evolved from sword fighting training 15th century nobles received, he said. Fencers need to be agile, understand the concept of distance and their opponent's fighting strategy.
Training for the sport includes cardio work like stair running. Strong legs are important — fencers must be able to lunge deeply and quickly and retreat to their starting position just as fast.
Fencing is also a lifelong sport, said Howell, though competitors often peak in their late 30s.
Howell also teaches courses in foil fencing and electronic fencing, which is the form fenced in the Olympics. The University of Scranton also has a fencing club.
Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/