Most intelligent people now understand that physical fitness is not an ‘optional extra’, something to be fitted in now and then, trips to the gym taken when there is nothing important to do. An unhealthy body leads to a dulling of the mind, which in turn damages the ability to learn, to concentrate and to focus.
For many people, the gym is not an inviting prospect. It can be both boring and strenuous, and when something is unenjoyable it tends to be ignored, no matter how important it may be. Team sports, too, are not for everybody; being one of a pack of eleven is fine for those who like working in a team. Not everybody does.
Fencing is a sport that demands all three of the attributes of fitness; strength, stamina and suppleness, and it develops them in a surprisingly short space of time. It also relies very heavily on individual commitment if the fourth ‘S’ of the quartet is to progress – skill.
Competition, in business and commerce, is an accepted factor, sometimes a threat, more often a spur. Dealing with competitors by means of mental agility, aided by a computer and a data base, is part of day to day life, and it can lead to a narrowing of focus, a sort of ‘hardening of the arteries’ of both mind and body.
But in addition to physical fitness, fencing hones the wits. The competitor looks for the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the contest, judging themselves and their opponents, learning the movements and responding ever more quickly as both mind and body adapt to the new challenge.
Most people have seen conventional fencing, opponents dressed in white, fighting along a line, electronic equipment marking hits. It is highly skilled, and can be quite entertaining to watch, but in order to gain enjoyment from this form of fencing as a spectator sport the onlooker also needs skill and experience, otherwise there is little understanding of the tactics and of the reasons for success or failure.
Now, we also have HEMA, Historic European Martial Arts, which is fencing taken back to its roots, the duel. Using the printed or even hand written accounts of long dead fencing masters, HEMA has recreated the original arts of defence. There is no electronic equipment, and the fight takes place, not in a straight line, but in an open square. It demands every bit as much skill as conventional fencing, but it carries drama, as well as technique. The blades flash, steel sings against steel, the two competitors could almost be engaged in a dance, but one that seems to carry an undertone of deadly purpose. There is a glamour about this form of sword fighting that appeals, not only to those who have expertise, but also to the spectator. The applause at the end of a contest can be loud and exuberant, rather than the polite hand-clapping that expresses approval in the quieter form of fencing. When the two contestants remove their masks and clap each other on the shoulder, there is usually real friendship in the embrace.
Either form of fencing will hone the body and the wits, having hundreds of years of conditioning and reaction training methodology to draw on. For some, the more formal atmosphere of the conventional skill carries the greater appeal. For others, the singing steel and the speed and drama of the older form of sword fighting will win the day.
Shut down the computer at the end of your working day. Stretch, sigh, and think briefly of what you have achieved, because you are an achiever, and you need to look back on what has been done today. But it has been done, it is over, and now it is your time, the time to enjoy yourself, to stretch yourself physically as well as mentally in an entirely different environment, to go back to the roots of competition and survival that made you what you are.
It is time to go fencing.