Fencing Club jabs, stabs for 100 years

Anna Weggel

Using precise jabs and fancy footwork, more than 40 fencers dodged stabs and exchanged swipes in a fencing competition that marked the 100th anniversary of the University Fencing Club.

The 100 Year Open, held at the Bierman athletics complex, consisted of a fencing tournament Saturday and a balloon fencing fund-raiser Sunday.

Fencing Club Vice President Jeff Merkel said that because it was open to all people and skill levels, the tournament wasn’t as serious as most.

“We have a much more laid-back feel,” Merkel said. “People come to fence and enjoy themselves.”

The allure

Merkel said fencing is a much more popular sport in Europe than in the United States. But there still seems to be a large interest in the sport, at least at the University, he said.

“The allure of fencing is probably just swords, in all honestly,” he said. “It’s beating someone up and not getting in trouble.”

Merkel also added that fencing is a good alternative for those who are not good at mainstream sports.

The club practices three times a week and participates in multiple tournaments each semester.

“We keep the environment in practices very open,” Merkel said. “There’s time for fun and time for work.”

Although the club has approximately 40 members, Merkel said he is always looking for more. People can join the club at any time, but at the beginning of each semester, the club participates in “beginners’ week,” in which each practice aims to help new members.

“It’s truly geared towards getting new blood in the club,” Merkel said.

No blood shed

People do stab at each other with swords, but hardly anyone gets hurt, Merkel said.

“When you are fighting someone who’s got a metal rod, bruises are bound to happen,” he said. “But open wounds and mass bleeding are completely illogical.”

A few University students started the club in 1904, said former coach and national-level fencer Cliff Iverson. He said the sport appears to have started on campus as a gym class in 1889.

Iverson said the swords are meant to break if a person strikes too hard. Competitive fencing swords include a foil, a sabre and an epee.

The protective gear the members wear is made out of ballistic nylon, which prevents blades from cutting participants, Iverson said.

A safe alternative for beginning fencers is balloon fencing, which the club offers as a fund-raising event.

Each fencer attaches two balloons to the sides of his or her helmet, and the first person to pop one of the other’s balloons wins.

Iverson said the exercise complies with basic fencing techniques: speed, distance and timing.

Engineering and anthropology sophomore Jessica Kempen said that she joined a year ago because she did a lot of sports in high school and wanted to participate in a new activity.

“I saw it, tried it out and thought it was pretty neat,” she said.

Kempen said she doesn’t do the sport to let out aggression or release tension, however.

“I’m pretty calm most of the time – I’ve never been angry on the strip,” she said. “When I’m having fun, I do better.”

Fencing instructor and University graduate Mark Seemann said he feels the same way.

“The more angry you are on the strip, the worse you tend to fence,” he said. “I do it more for fun.”

Seemann said he has been fencing for 14 years.

“It develops both body and mind,” he said.

Seemann said he likes that participating in fencing demands physical dexterity and for people to outthink their opponents.

“It’s like having a conversation with your opponent,” he said. “In that sense, I like chatting. If you don’t listen to what your opponent is saying, you’re going to get hit.”