‘You Do What?!’ Fencing puts students En Garde

Ashley Evert, Assistant L&A&E Editor

“You Do What?” is one incredibly unathletic girl’s journey to explore alternative sports. Check back every week for my take on sports I once knew nothing about and now find fascinating.
Personally, when someone says fencing, I think about that intense scene in the James Bond movie, “Die Another Day”, where Bond and Gustav Graves fight until blood is drawn. It’s all swishing swords, the clang of metal, and eyes burning with bloodlust.
This fight, however, is an enigma in professional fencing. Fencing that isn’t played for cinematic drama to physically harm the opponent is played using foils, not actual blades.
Foils resemble long, thin swords but actually have a type of button on the end that presses in when a player is hit. The foil is hooked up to a machine that allows judges to award points easily.
There are three types of fencing, foil, sabre and épée. The Fencing Club at Wilkes primarily practices foil fencing with the beginner students.
“The goal of the sport is to basically hit your opponent before they hit you,” said Rita Willard, a sophomore undeclared student.
The game is very strategic and position-based. Footwork is of huge importance and there are exercises used to practice different footwork techniques.
“Those exercises can be anything from practicing footwork to practicing lunges on each other and critiquing each other,” Willard said. “Footwork is key, and your feet don’t want to be where they need to be so you have to practice positioning.”
Fencing Club practices run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the basement of Downtown Arts on 47 North Franklin St.
Practices are separated by skill level. Beginners are grouped together and learn the basics while more advanced fencers spar with each other.
“When we went to our first fencing club meeting, he [the instructor] put us in front of mirrors and started teaching us different ways to move. You learn how to get better footing and balance,” said Em Leonick, sophomore English major. “Fencing Club will literally teach you everything from the bottom up.”
The Fencing Club offers a full semester of free lessons to students. The club has equipment that students can borrow until they decide if they are going to stick with it or not. Equipment for fencing includes jackets called lames, pads, face masks and foils.
Most of the equipment only protects the torso, so the rule is to aim below the neck and above the waist to avoid serious injury. Fencing is co-ed and because fencers aim for the chest, female participants wear a hard plastic chest protector.
“The guys would apologize before we had a match because they knew that’s where they were going to hit us and we’d say, ‘No, man, we’re good. We’re padded,’” Leonick said.
“When we found out that there was a fencing club here we all kind of looked at each other and said how this is college and we need new experiences, so let’s fence,” Leonick said.
“It’s a low pressure atmosphere, everyone is super nice and not judgmental of the fact that you’re just learning,” Willard said.
Fencing is a non-contact but still very physical. Willard described the stance as constant squatting. “Back straight, knees bent, it’s all thigh work. You can feel it,” she said.
“It’s a great workout… you don’t notice until the day after when everything hurts,” Willard said. “I definitely felt myself getting used to the posture and getting quicker.”
“I stood up a lot straighter,” Leonick agreed. “My posture was amazing. You become really aware of your body.”
Students can contact Dan McCune, the adviser for the club, at [email protected] for more information.


Lunge: the attack. The fencer who is lunging has the point of the weapon as far toward the opponent as possible.

Parry: defense attack. The defender moving her weapon to “push” aside a blade that is attacking.

En garde: In training it describes the basic stance of a fencer. In a match it is a warning from the judge to both fencers to prepare to fence.

Pret: After the judge warns the fencers with “en garde”, the judge will then say “pret” to alert the fencers that the match is about to begin.

Allez: This is used by a judge at a fencing match to tell the two fencers to have at one another.

Arrêt: This is used by a judge at a fencing match to tell the two fencers to halt.