Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Let the battle begin

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries out a different exercise to bring you the lowdown.

In Auckland Grammar's gym, Rachel Grunwell learns a valuable lesson from fencing coach Rob Ogg: the mind must outpace the foil or sword. Photo / Getty Images
In Auckland Grammar's gym, Rachel Grunwell learns a valuable lesson from fencing coach Rob Ogg: the mind must outpace the foil or sword. Photo / Getty Images

Auckland Swords Fencing Club

What is it? Two people, in safety gear, duelling with blunt training weapons - foils, sabres or epees. Each person is attached to a wire to enable electronic scoring of hits - and it takes five hits to win. Hits with the tip of a weapon are the only way to score points. If you use foils, aims must only be to the torso to score points. It's been an Olympic sport since 1935 and dates from ancient times in Spain.

What's needed? The club supplies loan gear.

The experience: I'm sweating, and that's just from wearing all the safety gear, including a wire-mesh mask. I haven't even lifted my weapon yet. No wonder fencing's season here is March to November. It'd be too darn hot in summer.

Actually, the real reason for not opening this club then, I later learn, is because a lot of members are high-school students and on holiday.

I'm at Auckland Grammar in Epsom to try this gentlemen's sport. The club is minutes from my house but I've only recently discovered it.

I tell coach Anya Kamynina (also a maths teacher at Rangitoto College) that I'm bound to suck at this sport. I played with a Cabbage Patch doll as a kid, not plastic swords. The most I'd know about it is watching Luke Skywalker at the movies or Lord of the Rings. I tell her that I'm grateful for all the safety gear; saves on the blood and guts, that is, my blood and guts.

But Anya puts me at ease, assuring me I'll barely feel a thing through all that armour so we test a few jabs and even this girly girl didn't squeal. It doesn't hurt a bit.

Anya takes me through the rules and says participants must have good manners. Therefore, we salute each other before we do battle, and shake hands post-match. As the first battle begins, I try to channel my inner Jack Sparrow. Anya and I shuffle quickly back and forth, advancing and retreating, within a couple of metres of space, each looking for openings to sneak in a lunge and hit or a surprise attack. It's a lot about judging distance, timings and Anya reckons "you also have to be in the right place at the right time". I find the hardest part is thinking about my next manoeuvre then carrying it out quickly enough. I'm more tortoise - Anya's the hare.

I can see you need co-ordination, fast thinking (to plan your next move) and strategy, plus fitness to win. Anya likens fencing to "a physical game of chess" and a form of "art" that's full of "beautiful movements". She loves, too, that she gets to express herself, and it's an "adrenalin rush" fighting.

I'm next shown some moves by Rob Ogg, 58, as Anya has top players to train. It's impressive watching their swords clash and clink. Rob and Rex Hefferon, 75, are among the mature players present and it's neat to see a mix of ages enjoying the sport together.

Rex says, "You can do this sport until you drop!" The young guns here include NZ's number 1 under 20 years, Daniel Garelja, aged 18, and Jessica Beer, who attended the Olympics in Athens.

Daniel says sports like rugby just never drew him in but, when he saw this on the telly during an Olympics, he tried it and was hooked. He says the sport requires speed and dexterity and his mates reckon it's pretty cool, too.

How much? 10-week course: $165.

Worth it? A variety of ages can enjoy this ancient sport together. That's special.

Try it: Tuesday and Thursday nights (7-9.30pm) at Auckland Grammar, Mountain Rd, Epsom. Contact Gaylene Ongley to find out when the next intake happens.

Phone: (09) 276 8240 or email: alex-gaylene@xtra.co.nz

To find a club nationwide, see fencing.org.nz

Rating: 8.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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