Fencing still alive at Minnesota

The 104-year-old club continues to be an outlet for those looking for something different.

A major university such as Minnesota has many amenities that attract students to academia for various reasons.

For some, it’s the University’s acclaimed research capabilities, but for others, Minnesota offers a different opportunity – the chance to take part in an activity that dates back to the Renaissance: fencing.

The club also offers students the most economical fencing opportunity, according to senior Karl Kaess.

“It’s the cheapest place you can get fencing experience in the metro area,” Kaess said. “Everywhere else is fairly elite or you have to pay a fair amount to participate.”

The University of Minnesota Fencing Club doesn’t date back to the Renaissance – it was founded in 1904 when then-freshman Roy Penwell, a professional fencer from Chicago, was hired to coach the newly established club.

Ron Frazzini now coaches the club and last weekend the team participated in the Frazzini Open – a United States Fencing Association-sanctioned event that honors the current coach.

The two-day competition featured fencers of various ages from all around the area in addition to many of the club’s members, and was Minnesota’s final event of the spring.

“We seed people into pools based on their national rating and then how they do in their pools determines (how we rank them) in direct eliminations,” club president and junior Leif Matilla said. “Pools you fence to five (hits) and direct eliminations you fence to 15.”

Minnesota’s official season ended in February at the Club Championships – a culmination to what Matilla called “an off year.”

Right to the point

The fencing club mixes newcomers with more experienced competitors, which suits both groups, Kaess said.

“It’s nice that we get a good mix because it teaches the beginners to fence with the more experienced people, which they are going to have to do eventually.”

When Kaess joined the club as a freshman, he had never fenced before in his life. Now he’s bordering on graduation with a degree in mechanical engineering.

“My first year, I looked it up online. I might have seen some of the signs they posted on the bridge,” Kaess said. “I just showed up to a practice. I had always wanted to (fence) but never had.”

But some members of the Minnesota club have been fencing for years.

Jocelyn Hutton took up the sport eight years ago when she read a book about a female fencer.

She decided on attending Minnesota only after learning that the University had a fencing club.

“Fencing is both an individual sport and a team sport. I had only been on the individual aspect of it,” Hutton said. “I really wanted to be on a team because I thought it might be fun.”

The only negative Hutton has had in her club experience is that so few students take part in the activity.

“We still compete but we can’t compete competitively because we have to forfeit (frequently),” Hutton, who will graduate this spring with a degree in animal science/pre-vet, said.

“I know we could beat these guys, but we have to forfeit every third bout.”

Personally, though, Hutton said the club has actually improved her fencing abilities since she is able to compete against men.

“Women and men fence totally differently. Women are very defensive as opposed to men, who are very offensive,” Hutton said. “I actually prefer fencing against men because then my defensive strategy works.”