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kids fencing Two young female fencers practice their moves. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Fencing Fitness

En Guarde for a fun way to stay fit

By Gopa Praturi | null null , null

Staying fit requires regular physical exercise. You can work out or play a sport, like football, basketball, baseball, or hockey. But that's not all! Many kids today are taking up the sport of fencing for fun and fitness.

Fencing is an intense activity that provides an unparalleled balance of agility, strategy, and physical activity. This martial art not only requires swift action and strength, it's also a game of strategy and quick thinking.

"What I really like about fencing is that it is really intense," says David Yang, a Foil fencer from the second boy's Foil team. "It requires a lot of hard work and determination. I really like it."

Fencers play in teams, but unlike team sports like baseball or soccer, a significant portion of success depends on the individual. Fencing is like sword fighting. During fencing matches, two opposing players face each other on a platform. The object of the game is to defend yourself from the other player's weapon. When you get hit, you lose points.

Watching the sport in action, everyone wonders about the safety implications of this martial art.

"You can start fencing at a very young age," says Yang. "I started when I was young and I made sure it was very safe for me to start."

The protective gear and uniforms (when used properly as per the guidelines) make the sport safe. Also, fencing uniforms are made of Kevlar, the same material used to make bulletproof vests. The weapons are made of flexible blades with blunted covered tips so no one gets cut.

"Practicing is easy for fencing because no one really gets hurt," says Jackie Dubrovich, a state-champion Foil fencer. "And remember, practice makes perfect."

The three classifications used in fencing are characterized by the weapons used in each class: the Foil, the Epee, and the Sabre.

In addition to the weight and style configurations of these weapons, game categorizations are typically based on defining the valid target-areas on the opponent. For example, the valid target area in Foil is restricted to the torso of an opponent (from shoulders to groin, front and back). It cannot include neck, head, or legs of the opponent.

The uniform of a foil fencer includes a metallic vest that is wired so that when the other player touches a target area points are registered on a scoring machine.

In Epee (pronounced as "Epp-pay"), the entire body of the opponent is a valid target area. The third category is Sabre (pronounced as "Saber"), wherein the target area is from the bend of the hips to the top of the head (both front and back).

The Foil is a light weapon that fencers use for thrusting at the opponent. Double touches, or touching the player twice, are not allowed while using this weapon.

Epee, in contrast to the Foil, is rather heavy, but is also used for thrusting. Double touches are allowed with the Epee and you can attack the player's whole body.

The Sabre is light, but it works as a cutting and thrusting weapon, as opposed to the others that perform only one function. The only attackable areas when using the Sabre are from the player's hips and above. However, you cannot attack the opponent's arms when using the Sabre. Fencing coaches sometimes use Sabre for training purposes, because its lightweight and fencers can handle it with relative ease.

Fencing is fun, but it is also a very difficult sport. When you become a fencer, you not only have to quickly plot out multiple strategies in your head, you have to do this while tuning out the piercing electronic buzzers' whines and constantly standing en guarde, a term that means state of total alertness. You have to be ready at all times in case your opponent tries to get you.

"To be a good fencer, you always have to focus on what you're doing," says Anjali Baliga, a first-team Epee champion. "At first, I'm a little nervous too, but once I put on my mask, I'm just a whole different person."

For example, if a fencer is watching a movie that takes place during the Middle Ages and there is a swordfight, he or she will begin to silently evaluate the player's moves. Also, people who get deeply involved in fencing notice that they sometimes get into a reflexive en guarde position even during a calm night's sleep!

Sports are a great way for kids to get fit. Instead of sports like baseball, soccer and football, try fencing the next time you want to try out for a team. You can find fencing teams all over the U.S.

"You don't just have to go to a school to learn fencing," says Molly James, a fencing coach. "There are lots of fencing clubs everywhere that you can join."


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Gopa Praturi is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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