Imagine two opponents dressed head to toe in all-white padded gear challenging each other with 35-inch martial arts swords in their hands. No, it's not Madonna and Pierce Brosnan harkening back to 007 days, it's fencing with Salle Boise club members and it occurs semiweekly at the Boise West Family YMCA.
When asked about the popularity and fan base of the sport of fencing, instructor Steve Grosz explains, "Fencing is not that popular for many reasons. One of them is that people don't understand how a competition is scored and they don't understand the rules of the game."
An individual game of fencing is called a bout. The main objective is to effectively score 15 points on your opponent in direct elimination play or five points in preliminary pool play before he or she scores that number on you. Each time fencers score a touch, they receive a point.
Although fencing sounds like a high contact sport, it's very structured and there is far less contact than people might think when they're so accustomed to seeing choreographed bouts on film or on the stage. However, the students who attend classes really enjoy the fun, energy and excitement that's a part of fencing, despite the fact that fencing isn't as popular as other sporting events.
"As proven by many of the members, there's not nearly as much pressure in fencing [as in other sports]," says fencing student Kyle Tanaka. "In more popular sports like baseball and football, everyone expects you to always win. In fencing, you can just have fun."
Fencing student Josh El Suave attends the YMCA's fencing classes regularly. For their protection and for the protection of others, all students are required to dress in full gear prior to practice. El Suave, whose physique is that of a body builder more than the average fencer, struggles to put on his back-zip jacket before practice.
"My gigantic biceps prevent me from being able to bend my arms in the way required to put one on," he jokes. "But I love the sport because it requires athletics combined with a great amount of mental concentration as well."
When fully dressed in gear, each fencer begins careful practicewithout over extension or getting too carried awayin order to keep from harming one other due to the limited amount of elbow room and space between them.
"Our class sizes are large and it would be nice to have space to allow students to practice comfortably," says Grosz. "Right now, we're limited to how often we can teach classes at the YMCA, and how much room they give us."
Originally started in 1980 at Boise State, Salle Boise has grown over the years, adding new students and increasing class size as well as adding new staff. Currently the instructor staff includes nearly a dozen fencers, many of whom who have returned to fencing with Boise Salle after years several years off. And while many of the instructors boast impressive competitive records, students like Tanaka emphasize the friendliness of club bouts.
"Everyone's very friendly. You'll never see any vicious rivalries," Tanaka explains. "All the competition is friendly and the teachers are very helpful. They'll give you a nudge here, a push there, to make sure you're going in the right direction."
Currently, Salle Boise students are preparing for an upcoming competition between club members and other fencers from Idaho. Watch the foil and epee competitions on Saturday, March 25, 9 a.m. at the Boise West Valley YMCA. The event is free and open to the public.
Wannabe fencers who are interested in training with Salle Boise must first take the YMCA's beginning class. Students who finish the starter class and are familiar with the fundamentals of fencing are welcome to join the club and continue training in the intermediate classes if they desire. Experienced fencers who would like more information about upcoming Salle Boise competitions should visit www.salleboise.com or contact a fencing instructor at 377-9622.
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