En Garde for Fencing

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Photo by Shelli Ribaudo
Photo by Shelli Ribaudo

Fencing is not just fancy sword fighting; it’s a unique sport that requires hard training and mental energy. And although fencing might seem overly obscure, Oklahoma has a dedicated base of athletes and three fencing clubs across the state: Redlands Fencing Center, Oklahoma Sport Fencing and the Tulsa Fencing Club.

Shelli Ribaudo and her husband, David, own Redlands Fencing Center in Oklahoma City. She says the number of interested fencers is increasing.

“Oklahoma has a small but growing fencing community,” Ribaudo says. “Redlands Fencing Center has a 30-year tradition of fencing in Oklahoma City, and David and I are proud to carry on the legacy.”

Some enjoy the sport as a hobby, but others take their training very seriously since it is an Olympic sport, Ribaudo says. Competitive fencing also takes place on the local, regional and national levels.

But how do people get interested in the sport in the first place? For some, their interest is kindled after taking a class or after looking for a new way to stay fit. Fencer James Compton says he was first drawn to the sport for other reasons.

“I was always interested in history and fantasy, pirates and knights and swords and sorcery, so I think at my first fencing lesson all of that struck a chord inside me,” he says. “Combined with how incredibly fun and unique the experience is, I was hooked.”

Many enthusiasts also love fencing because of its chess-like maneuvering and strategy.

“Fencing is in a lot of ways a competition against yourself as much as it is an external competition,” Compton says. “The layers of tactics and strategy go deep; there’s the moment of action you have to react to, the considerations of what happened in the last three points, and trying to set up the next two points all in a single second. The sport is also a unique combination of meticulous planning and execution juxtaposed with unexpected improvisation. I’ve never done anything else that has the same feeling.”

When asked about it, sometimes fencers run into some misconceptions.

“Sometimes you have to just take a deep breath when someone refers to fencing as sword fighting,” says Carolyn Gresham-Fiegel, fencing coach and co-owner of Oklahoma Sport Fencing in Edmond, with a laugh. “What you see in movies or on TV is a lot different than what we actually do.”

Interested in trying this sport out for yourself? Gresham-Fiegel encourages anyone who is intrigued to try it.

“Just try it; you might like it!” she says. “Fencing helps develop life skills too, because it’s all about problem solving and you have to remain calm in stressful situations. Being able to stay calm when someone is coming at you with a pointy object is a great skill to practice!”

Compton adds that approaching the sport without assumptions is important.

“Throw your expectations out the window and approach it with an open mind – fencing is not what people expect,” Compton says. “The other suggestion is to be prepared to be sore the next day. You’ll use muscles you didn’t know exist learning physical skills you’ve probably not thought about before. Being able to get a 3-inch square target 8 feet away from you, in half a second, is not a movement we run into every day.”

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