Flexing the brain: Fencing exercises mind and body

Friday September 21, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN -- With its old-world flavor and exotic equipment -- from the blade to the mask -- fencing may seem an odd way to stay in shape, but those who participate in the sport say it's a great workout.

"It's basically doing squats the entire time you're fencing," said Lilliana Morris, a 19-year-old junior at Williams College in Williamstown.

She's part of the college's student-run fencing club, which competes with other college teams including Bennington College in Vermont.

Morris, who is studying math and chemistry, says the sport is like a "physical game of chess" because it combines fitness and "mental components."

The rules of modern fencing were conceived in Spain in the 1400s and over centuries the sport was refined by the Italians and French, according to fencing master Nick Evangelista's book "The Art and Science of Fencing" from 1999.

There are three types of swords used in the sport: foil, epee and sabre and each have slightly different rules of scoring. All are fenced on a rectangular strip and use electronic scoring to help detect the sword's touches during competition.

Morris competes in sabre because it was what she first learned when she took up the sport, she said. People shouldn't get hung up on the equipment, said Morris, since most clubs and academy's lend equipment to members. Morris said she picked up her equipment over time.

What Morris really enjoys about the sport is it's social aspects, she said, since "you can't stereotype fencers" because fencing draws a diverse group of people.

Unfortunately for those looking to take up the sport in our area who don't happen to be students at Williams, the options are limited since the closure of the fencing academy in Dalton, which had been the only one in Berkshire County. But there are opportunities.

For the last four summers, the Fencers Club, located in New York City, has put on a fencing training camp at the Berkshire School in Sheffield and has plans to do it again next summer.

If you can't wait until summer there is Beaches Sabre Club just across the border in Troy, N.Y., as well as a fencing academy in Easthampton called The Pioneer Valley Fencing Academy. Their website sums up the sport's benefits: "Great Exercise -- Challenging -- Rewarding -- Fun -- Make Friends and Stab Them!"


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