In English, that translates to “On guard” — a popular term heard in sword fights and duels in the movies. In the sport of fencing, however, it is the position that the fencers are to be in when they are ready to begin fencing.
Angela Herbert-Hodges, instructor from the Salisbury Fencing Club, was in Bethany Beach on Monday, Aug. 1, at the South Coastal Library to give a fencing demonstration. It was a part of the teen program at the library.
Herbert-Hodges explained a little bit of the history of the sport of fencing to begin the evening.
“There are records of fencing in ancient Egypt,” she said.
There are different styles of fencing, and each country or culture seems to have its own style of fencing.
There are three main weapons used in fencing — the foil, epee and the sabre. The foil is about 13 inches long and weighs about one pound. The trunk is the main target in foil; the arms, legs and head are off target. The epee is a little bigger than the foil and has a bigger guard and, in contrast to foil, the whole body is the target in epee. In sabre the target is from the waist up.
Herbert-Hodges likened fencing to boxing in the sense that footwork is very important. Unlike boxing, fencers only move forward and backward, never side-to-side. Like boxing, fencing is an individual sport. Unlike boxing, fencers are covered in extensive gear, including bee keeper-esqe helmets. The jacket Herbert-Hodges had on was lined with Kevlar, the stuff they use in the military for flak jackets.
The two most used skills that Herbert-Hodges and Bonnie Christian (a student of Herbert-Hodges) used was parry and riposte. A parry is a block of an opponents attack and riposte is an offensive move used right after the parry.
Before a fencing match the two fencers must salute each other. This follows an old tradition, and if one fencer fails to salute the other, a warning is given. Another tradition that is followed is fencers must shake hands following the match.
In the high-tech advanced world of today, scoring is done electronically. Participants wear a vest that has metal on it, and it receives 12 volts of power and is connected to a box. A white light comes on if an illegal touch has been made and either a green or red light comes on if a legal touch has been made. A preliminary match consists of the winner getting five touches, and championship matches have the winner getting 15 touches.
And, of course, there is strategy involved with fencing.
“You have to outwit your opponent to get close to them,” Herbert-Hodges said.
Herbert-Hodges said that any person at any age can learn to fence and it is growing in popularity in the United States. It is also growing in skill, as evidenced by the United States gold-medal effort in the sabre at the Athens games in 2004.
Herbert-Hodges, a native of Great Britain, was on the Under-20 team in Britain. She also participated in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics for Great Britain. She competed for the United States in the Women’s Veteran Foil in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games. She is now teaching more than she competes.
The Salisbury Fencing Club meets twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are beginner and intermediate classes available. The club in Salisbury is the closest to the area, with the only two schools in Delaware being in Claymont and Wilmington.