By MEAGHAN MCINTYRE
Two fencers, dressed in white, stand four meters apart within a thin rectangular strip holding their swords. Following the referee’s orders, the opponents salute with their swords, put on their masks and begin the match.
What may sound like a scene out of a renaissance story is actually a common sight on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at UMW fencing club practices. Following their warm-ups and stretches, the team spends the remainder of their practice time on drills, bouting and learning new concepts.
With a presence at UMW dating back to the 1940s, the fencing team has been “bringing the fine art of stabbing your friends to the campus since about the dawn of time,” said club president, senior Mary Hoffman.
Given the nature of the sport and that competitions are usually scheduled only a few weeks in advance, when preparing for each semester the club team focuses its plans more around the development of its members and fostering a positive environment.
“Since fencing is a niche sport and also fairly expensive, our goal is to help new students learn to fence while encouraging the growth of older and more experienced fencers,” said Hoffman. Even though competitions are not the primary focus, the team still works hard to be competitive and prepare members individually whenever the occasion to compete arises.
“Thankfully our goals for both the club and competitions are similar, which is to practice the basics of fencing such as footwork, clean attacks and efficient parrying. Bouting allows us to synthesize these skills in order to be prepared for competitions and scrimmages,” Hoffman said.
Even with its long standing history on campus, the club continues to experience growth. During Hoffman’s freshman year, “practices were often canceled simply due to low membership and few appearances at practices,” but the team has since expanded to having over 25 active members this year.
Made up of members ranging from students with years of experience to those who first picked up a sword at Club Carnival, the fencing team offers an affordable and friendly environment for students who are interested in the sport.
“This is the sport that anyone can enjoy,” said senior Lucy Kreutzer, who is the vice president of the fencing team. “The Star Wars fans, history nerds, Renaissance fanatics, theater geeks, Dungeons and Dragons adventurers and everything in between. We don’t want anyone to feel left out and we do our level best to make everyone feel welcome, supported and appreciated.”
For freshman Sara Miller, who has been fencing since middle school, the club team offers her the opportunity to continue the sport she’s passionate about.
“This might sound strange, but a Groupon got me into fencing,” she said. “My mom found a Groupon for two free fencing classes at the Richmond Fencing Club and thought I would like it. She was right and I fell in love with the sport.”
Other club members like freshman Von Daszkilewicz were introduced to fencing only after finding the booth at Club Carnival.
“It just seemed like a cool sport to get into. The club officers were really welcoming too, and you didn’t need any past experience to join,” Daszkilewicz said
During the fall semester, the UMW fencing team mainly focuses on the basics of fencing with footwork and learning the most popular and widely-used sword, the foil. The spring semester is when they concentrate on refining their skills and practicing the sabre and epee. Due to the nature of teaching that occurs, the team limits its recruitment to the fall semester.
Beyond offering students the opportunity to learn and develop skills in a unique sport, the club team emphasizes creating “an environment and culture that people with a mutual interest in fencing can bond over,” said sophomore and treasurer Brian Merski. They do this with traditions like a Halloween costume night, and movie and game nights. Along with their well-known traditions, the executive board also has other special activities planned for the semester.
“We typically also have a handful of fun activities we do later in the semester, but I can’t really go into detail because we like to keep them as a surprise,” said Merski.
When you combine their fencing skills with their desire to create a positive atmosphere, the driving force of the UMW fencing club team can be described in a quote that they often say according to Kreutzer.
“The most important thing about our club is what you’ll hear a lot of us tell you ‘Make friends, then stab them.’ That is our goal and that is what we do. If we ever failed in those two goals, then we’ve failed as a fencing club,” she said.
Emily Malone contributed to the reporting of this article.