Monday, April 11, 2011

Weapon of Choice: My On-Again, Off-Again Affair with the Foil

by Laura Bickle

I'm a firm believer that just about anything can become a weapon, from a garden hose to an eyelash curler. Just depends on one's situation, squeamishness, and degree of resourcefulness.

But there's something really neat about the idea of a weapon that's survived over centuries: the sword. More specifically, I love the French foil. It's descended from the practice swords nobility used for dueling - at about three feet long and less than a pound, valid hits are scored in foil fencing on the torso. I've not had much experience with other tools of fencing, like  epee and sabre. But the foil and I have had a couple of brief flings over the years.

The first time was in college. I was reluctant to spend money to take any classes outside of my major, but my alma mater required physical education credits to graduate. I signed up for fencing, and spent some time whipping around a foil in a fencing jacket. I wasn't particularly good. But it was fun. The instructor was a former Olympics coach who greatly resembled Captain Picard.

The class was men and women, and we faced off indiscriminately. I appreciated that there was no whining in class. Nobody squeaked and sniveled about taking a hit in the chest.  We were all equals in this sport, and were all treated the same. There were no delicate fleurs there. Well, maybe there were one or two...but they bailed after the first day of sparring.

Like in so many other areas of life, there's no crying in fencing.

And that was probably the only "fun" thing I took in college. After fencing, I returned to the books and convinced myself that stocking up on overload credits would get me to the finish line of graduation faster. It did, but I missed out on a lot of fun stuff. Pursuing fencing was one of them.

Years later, I had the opportunity to take a community education class for basic foil fencing. My city is fortunate in that we do have a fencing studio. I bought a glove, puttered around, lunged and parried and picked up some nice bruises. The foil and I had another brief fling before I let it go. At that moment, I felt as if I didn't have the free time and energy to devote to something that really demanded a large portion of my attention. Fencing is not a sport that I could just drop in and do once a week after work and feel as if I accomplished something. There's practice involved. Commitment. Leisure time monogamy.

And there is my issue with fencing. Commitment. Done right, it's a demanding partner. And I just wasn't ready to devote that kind of love to a sport. Could I have made it work? Maybe. But it felt too much like forcing it back then.  I hate doing things half-assed. I'm either all in or all out. And laziness, frankly, got the better of me.

I suspect I'll meet up with the sword again, one of these days. We'll see if things have changed.


  1. I had a lot of fun learning stage fencing in my stage combat class back in college. Not the same as real fencing, but I still felt kind of powerful wielding the foil, even with its blunted tip.

  2. I'm right there with you. I loved it. I would love to do it again, but it's one of those "If Only" sports. If Only the studio were closer. If Only I had the time.

    If Only I could lunge without falling over... ~eep~

  3. "Leisure time monogamy."

    I wish we could be Renaissance women of leisure.

  4. Good luck if you do decide to give fencing another try!

  5. Linda G, very cool! I'd love to hear more about stage fencing.

    KAK, I agree. There are so many things out there I'd love to pursue...but there are just so many hours in the day.

    J, I love the idea of "Renaissance women of leisure"! Sign me up!

    Thanks, Sullivan. Maybe someday! :-)

  6. I only ever learned Tai Chi sword - would love to learn to fence!

  7. @Jeffe, very cool. I've only seen Tai Chi sword in action once - neat stuff!

  8. I'm such a klutz, I'd probably stab myself. But still - looks like fun.

  9. It's almost impossible to hurt yourself with the foil. I'm pretty klutzy. But you're wearing a wire mask, glove and padded jacket...and the tip of the foil is a blunt ball. Worst thing that can happen is a bruise. :-)