F is for fencing

22nd August 1997 at 01:00
WHO PLAYS IT

About 10,000 to 15,000 boys and girls in secondary schools. Numbers are rising rapidly, possibly because more pupils get a taste for it on activity holidays. Not just for toffs: Olympic foilist James Williams is a black ex-serviceman. Under-13 is the lowest home competition category; under-17 internationally.

TIME NEEDED IN SCHOOL TO DEVELOP SKILLS

Minimal session-time advised is two hours per week, but two hours twice a week is better. Shorter sessions can frustrate. Nothing about fencing comes naturally, so sustained attention is much more satisfying. Fencing can be safely taught by teachers after a weekend's introductory course.

EXTRA-CURRICULAR TIME

See above, but could take over your life as matches last a whole day.

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Develops stamina, agility and co-ordination. Exiled Polish pilots in the Second World War asked for a fencing master because there is no better way to develop the hand-eye-brain link. Fencers do not react, they respond. You need quick wits as much as quick wrists. En garde!

PHYSICAL RISKS

Said to be "less risky than fishing". In reality, of course, it is a sword fight, but protective clothing, buttons on tips and well-nigh unbreakable blades mean that pulling an imperfectly warmed-up muscle or turning an ankle are more likely than deadly wounds.

SOCIAL BENEFITS

The intense ceremonial around each match instils self-discipline and self- control. Can offer impulsive children a chance to channel their aggression. Competitions are great fun and sociable. It is known as "physical chess".

SOCIAL DISADVANTAGES

We are talking about whacking someone with a lump of metal here. Self-confidence can become cockiness; competing can become obsessive.

KIT

You need a mask Pounds 45; jacket Pounds 40; plastron (under-jacket) Pounds 10; breeches Pounds 20; glove Pounds 10; foils start at around Pounds 45. Save money by buying second-hand gear, or improvising with thick trousers with the pockets sewn up. The BFA can sometimes send a coach to schools, with a loan of a starter kit, worth about Pounds 1,000, for up to 10 people.

EQUIPMENT

Choose from: foil, epee or sabre. In all competitive games, fencers are wired up to electric lights. Score boxes cost from Pounds 400-600.

SUPPLIERS

Try The Sword, fencing magazine. Dashing blades use Leon Paul, London NW1; Duellist, London NW4; Blades, Staines, Middx.

PREMISES

Not too large a hall needed for a piste (fencing area). You can fit 12 fencers in the same space needed for four badminton players. For serious fencers, a sprung floor is nice.

INSURANCE

All clubs and individuals who join the British Fencing Association get insurance.

THEY LOVE IT BECAUSE

No two bouts are alike. It's a great way to beat the bejesus out of someone and still leave them completely unharmed. Violent but stylish. Think Steed in The Avengers.

THEY HATE IT BECAUSE

It can take ages before you get any good.

INVESTMENT FOR SCHOOLS

Excellent way to make use of limited space, while providing a good fix of glamour.

Contact the British Fencing Association, 1 Barons Gate 33-35 Rothschild Road London W4 5HT. Tel: 0181 742 3032 Victoria Neumark

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