As we’ve said, if you’re thinking of taking up fencing as a means of self-defense, you may want to consider a good kickboxing or karate class instead. It’s unlikely that a sword will ward off an armed carjacker or that you could drag one along in your sweatpants when you decide to go jogging at night.
But of course that’s not the reason many people are finding themselves drawn to the sport of fencing, even in our modern times today. Let’s take a look at some of those other reasons here.
Let’s face it, there’s an epidemic of obesity sweeping through, not just America and the western countries, but in virtually every country of the world as well.
Note the actual statistics regarding the elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) in just the last three decades, taken from the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S.:
|Increase in Prevalence (%) of Overweight (BMI > 25), Obesity (BMI > 30) and Severe Obesity (BMI > 40) Among U.S. Adults.|
(BMI > 25)
(BMI > 30)
(BMI > 40)
|1999 to 2000||64.5||30.5||4.7|
|1988 to 1994||56.0||23.0||2.9|
|1976 to 1980||46.0||14.4||No Data|
This increase is not limited to adults. Among young people, the prevalence of obesity and excess weight increased during this same time period:
- from 5.0% to 13.9% for those aged 2–5 years
- from 6.5% to 18.8% for those aged 6–11 years
- from 5.0% to 17.4% for those aged 12–19 years
Concerns of obesity.
You may already be familiar with some of the consequences of obesity and excessive weight, however, consider the extent of the problem and the exhaustive list of all the conditions and health concerns it can cause or irritate, as provided by the American Obesity Association:
- Birth Defects
- Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
- Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
- Daytime Sleepiness
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
- Diabetes (Type 2)
- End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD)
- Gallbladder Disease
- Heat Disorders
- Impaired Immune Response
- Impaired Respiratory Function
- Infections Following Wounds
- Liver Disease
- Low Back Pain
- Obstetric and Gynecologic Complications
- Orthopedic Complications
- Psychosocial Effects & Stigma
- Sleep Apnea
- Surgical Complications
- Urinary Stress Incontinence
A person’s body weight is really a ratio of calories taken in versus calories burned through activity. Someone who eats even a moderate amount of calories but is very sedentary may be overweight, as these unused calories are stored as body fat.
Unfortunately, the diet of our modern society is loaded with extra calories, as sugar and fat is added to almost anything and everything. Many meals are also very calorie-dense, meaning that they have an excessive amount of calories for the amount of food in them. Couple these facts with the fact that so many foods are so easy to obtain and that we’re being tempted constantly with food – ice cream parlors and fast food restaurants are on practically every corner – and it’s no wonder that the majority of persons in the world are at least somewhat overweight.
Yes, cutting calories and eating better is a good choice for many, but you can only stop eating so much before you need to perform some type of activity to burn those calories, and fencing burns approximately 400 calories per hour for most combatants.
Benefits of exercise.
Warding off excess weight is only one of the benefits of exercise. Even for someone who does not have a weight problem, regular vigorous exercise can help improve blood circulation, which contributes to the health of all the body’s muscles, organs, and systems. A higher heart rate means that blood is moving through your system more often, which means that it’s being filtered through the lungs more often. Your organs and systems are getting this “fresh blood” on a regular basis, and more dead cells and other irritants are being filtered away, while new cells are being fed and nourished regularly. This is a great aid in warding off sicknesses and diseases, and in making a person just plain feel better.
Exercise also strengthens the heart, as it beats faster during exercise and then more often during the day. Like any other muscle, the more the heart is used, the stronger it becomes. Someone who exercises regularly is less likely to have heart attacks or heart disease, two common occurrences in those who live sedentary lives.
Other benefits of exercise include controlled blood pressure, reduction of stress, more mental clarity, and better sleep. Additionally, it seems as if people who exercise regularly have more self-esteem and self-confidence.
All of this information points to the obvious – exercise is of great benefit, for many reasons. And fencing provides a fun, enjoyable, and amazingly interesting way of staying active. Many people prefer it over something as simple and potentially repetitive as walking or jogging; not to criticize these activities, but it is true that fencing is never boring! Running on a treadmill in front of a television screen at your local gym can get old very fast, whereas fencing never presents the same scenario twice.
Competition can be an evil side of sport, there’s no doubt about that. Being too fiercely competitive can bring out the absolute worst in any athlete, and it’s a sad fact that this type of competitiveness even affects the onlookers – think of the term “hockey dad,” and it no doubt brings up a picture of an angry, violent man that’s far too wrapped up in his child’s performance or games. Unfortunately, stories of cheating, point shaving, steroid use, and other such things in sports are far too common.
This doesn’t mean that competition in of itself is wrong. Think about your favorite sport, be it college basketball, professional football, or gymnastics. How interested would you be if no one ever kept score? If there were no divisions or bowl games or a playoff season? If no one every won or lost? Chances are, the competition aspect of the sport and the games themselves are a big part of what keeps you hooked. When the score of a game is close, when it comes down to the last inning or the last few minutes of the final quarter or period of play, when one competitor’s score is just a tenth of a point off from another’s, that’s when the sport is the most exciting!
For an athlete, competing against someone else can also be a great motivator. Wanting your team to win a game is one thing, but when your sport is a one-on-one competition, then the demands – and the spotlight – are on you and you alone. Yes, this means there’s great pressure, but it also means there’s a lot of exhilaration and a tremendous sense of accomplishment every time someone wins in that type of competition. Being able to rely on yourself and yourself alone can be a great incentive to keep you training and working hard.
Really, how many sports offer more of a one-on-one competition than fencing? There are no teammates to pass a ball to, no one to block your opponent’s line for you.
And while fencing offers this type of competition, it is still much easier on the body than many other sports that are also one-on-one. For example, some people may have a hard time with contact sports such as wrestling, boxing, karate, or other martial arts. While fencing keeps you completely active and working at your peak, it’s typically much easier on the joints and muscles overall, and sustains the competitor far less injuries, than these other sports.
Most sports require more planning and thought than many non-athletes. Adjusting your play according to how the opposing team or your individual opponent acts is an important aspect of virtually any game.
For many sports, however, this aspect of the competition is rather limited and over quickly. In American football, when executing a play, a running back may adjust his path by a few feet when he see the defensive line shift. However, once he does that, the football gets thrown and the play is pretty much over. The team regroups to plan their next one.
In baseball, outfielders adjust their position according to how the ball is hit, but again, the play is over. The catch or scoop up the ball and throw it to another lineman, and then wait for the next batter.
In fencing, however, interactions between the two opponents happen very quickly but are never that simple. Parries, or the exchange of blades, can go through several complicated movements, and initiating these movements or defending against them involves responding with your entire body.
The mental challenge that fencing presents is one that many participants say simply cannot be found in any other sport. Fencing is not about simply overpowering your opponent, or even necessarily being quicker or having better reflexes than him. Movements are often planned out, with one laying the groundwork for the next – in a matter of seconds.
Constantly trying to anticipate your opponent’s moves, studying him while being engaged, all of these challenges make fencing not just a physical sport but a mental one as well.
Sport as art.
Everyone has their favorite sport, and their own reasons as to why it’s their favorite. Some look at American football and admire the sheer power and athleticism of the men on the field, and for those who understand how plays are planned and executed, they have an appreciation for the thinking behind them as well. Some admire the speed and seamless teamwork of basketball or hockey, with players on opposing teams zigzagging between one another at a pace that’s almost impossible to follow. The slower pace of baseball or cricket may appeal to those who simply want to relax and allow themselves to get involved with the game as it unfolds.
But for others, a sport that seems like an art form is what they’re drawn to, as an observer or participant. Gymnasts and skaters must have absolute athletic ability but obviously a certain amount of grace and elegance as well. These sports don’t rely on just physical strength to overpower an opponent, or the speed needed to outrun him.
Fencing is much like these sports in that it’s very beautiful to look at and requires a certain grace to perform. Like gymnastics, it teaches and requires balance and coordination, and a certain style, even poise, from its participants. A true athlete who also wishes to express himself or herself in such a refined way – without comprising athletic ability – would no doubt be drawn to the art of fencing.
So with all this information in mind, suppose you have an interest in this sport, but have no idea where to begin. What equipment is needed? What’s involved in the classes? What does a beginner need to know about all the other aspects of the sport, other than just trying to strike or dodge your opponent? Do they really say “en garde,” and what does that mean?
Let’s take a look at some of this information now.