Home / Articles / Features / Fall Guide / Sword play
Print this Article
Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 12:09 am

Sword play

Timing, athleticism and thinking are all part of the sport Springfield Fencing Club promotes


Many are attracted to the sport of fencing by the love of sword play. Once you pick up a foil, your life will never be the same.

Joanne Liu, who has been fencing for more than 20 years, took up the sport in high school and discovered she had a natural talent for it. “It’s nothing like the movies,” she said. “It takes a little bit of skill and talent.”

Shortly after moving to Springfield in 2004, she met Kevin Hughes, who was teaching a fencing class at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. She is one of the original members of what is now the Springfield Fencing Club.

Several club members have participated in tournaments throughout Illinois and Missouri this summer, winning a total of six medals. Club president Terrell Ford took gold at the Practice Perfect Epee Tournament in Milstadt and tied for third at the It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me Tournament in Wentzville, Missouri. Club member Bob Fees won bronze at the Millstadt tournament and Ian Thompson won first place at the Wentzville tournament and took silver at a tournament in Columbia, Missouri. One of the club’s women members, Kelsey Thornton, took gold at the Milstadt tournament. Club members will participate Aug. 26-28 in a division one tournament in Affton, Missouri.  

The club has never had a fixed site. “It was hard to find an appropriate location,” said Liu, who decided to buy a place. She purchased the 5,000-square-foot building at 1827 S. Ninth St. that has served as the club’s headquarters since 2012.

The club has around 10 members; the youngest is 14 and the oldest is 72. Three or four have tournament-level experience.

David Chilton moved here from England in 2003. He first became interested in fencing watching films and started taking lessons when he was 16. He has been involved with the sport for more than 50 years.

He teaches beginner and intermediate classes. Beginner classes start the first Monday of every month and intermediate classes start the first Thursday of every month. Cost for the eight-week classes is $40 and the club furnishes the equipment. All you need is a pair of sports shoes.

He recommends purchasing your own equipment. You can buy a starter kit for around $150, which includes the foil, mask and jacket.

“The weapon is individual to you,” said Chilton. “It becomes an extension of your arm.”

He recommends children start out around age 10 or 11, though he has seen children as young as eight fencing. “Fencing is quite physical,” said Chilton. “You need good eye/hand coordination.” At that age, they’re better able to hold the weapon and move about.

On any given Thursday night you can find Josh, Julian and Jacob McCombe from Pana at the club. All three credit their father, Harley, with getting them involved in the sport and they enjoy the competitive side of it.

Harley, who used to fence, likes the way members work with the kids. “It’s a good atmosphere,” he said.

He’s proud of his sons. “The boys are pretty good fencers.” He’s always taught his sons that in order to win, you have to lose because that’s how you learn.

“It’s a competition against yourself,” he said. “It builds character.”

“I figured I’d give it a try,” said Josh, 19, who discovered he really enjoyed it. He admits that at first he wasn’t very interested. “I needed a push.” The sport has helped with his concentration and is a good stress reliever.

Julian, 14, would watch his older brother, Jordan, fence and took up the sport about three years ago. “It’s fun,” he said, adding he never really got into regular sports as much. “It makes you focus on what you’re doing.”

Like his brothers, he enjoys epee. “It makes you think,” he said. He’s learned a lot fencing with club members. “Everyone fences differently. I’ve learned to handle different situations better.”

Jacob, 16, was the last to take up the sport a year ago and started fencing in Peoria before coming to Springfield. He credits Liu, Chilton and Terrell Ford with improving his fencing skills.

“It helps you focus,” he said. “If you’re not focused, you don’t win.”

Fencing is a mental game and is analogous to martial arts. Chilton compares it to physical chess. “You have to be able to outthink your opponent,” he said. The sport requires discipline and the ability to use your entire body as a weapon.

Fencing is not about physical strength; it’s about timing and athleticism. Once you’re on the strip, which is called a pistes, all you think about is the bout and what to do on the strip. A bout lasts three minutes, and the first to score five points wins.

It teaches good sportsmanship. “There are courtesy rules you have to follow,” said Chilton. Before a bout, each fencer salutes the opponent and afterwards you shake their hand.

Plus you get a good workout. The sport takes a lot of endurance and uses a different set of muscles. It takes a while to get good at it. Liu said people tend to get discouraged when they don’t see immediate results.

The first Monday of every month is open night. Club members encourage everyone to come out and give it a try. “People who enjoy it do it for the rest of their lives,” said Chilton.

“You can take this sport as far as you want to go.”

For more information, visit the club website at www.springfieldfencingclub.com.

Park District offers beginner classes
James Porter always wanted to fence. An instructor with the Capital Fencing Academy since 2009, he teaches beginning and intermediate classes at the Nelson Center and the downtown YMCA through the Springfield Park District.

The beginners class is an introduction to the sport, and the intermediate class is tailored to meet the individual needs of the students. He provides all the equipment. “All you need to bring is your enthusiasm,” said Porter.

“It’s more than whacking away at each other,” he said. It’s more about outthinking your opponent. He recommends children start fencing around age nine or 10.

Each four-week session meets for one hour every Sunday at the Nelson Center. The cost is $60 for Springfield Park District residents; there is a discount if multiple family members sign up.

He teaches at the downtown YMCA on Tuesday evenings, and classes run five to eight weeks, depending on the time of year. During the summer, he teaches a fencing camp for five- to seven-year-olds and eight- to 13-year-olds. “The kids love it,” he said.

Porter first started fencing with his dad. “It was a great bonding experience.” Parents often take classes with their child.

The sport transcends all ages. “It’s beneficial for children both academically and physically,” said Porter.

“Each person has their own set of skills,” he added.

For more information, you can reach him at 481-1120 or call the Park District at 753-0700.

A short fencing lesson
In fencing, there are three types of swords: the foil, the epee and the sabre. The Springfield Fencing Club fences with the foil and the epee. The foil has a rectangular blade and is very flexible, and points are scored with the tip of the blade over the torso from the shoulders to the groin in the front and to the waist in the back. The epee has a triangular blade with a groove and is fairly stiff, and, like the foil, points are scored with the tip of the blade. Unlike foil, however, the entire body is a target. The sabre has a rectangular blade and is very flexible and can score points both with the tip and the side of the blade over the target area, which is anywhere above the waist, except the hands. –Roberta Codemo


  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed