Corps-à-Corps

first_imgWHITEFISH — Bob Lund and Cathryn Lai saluted, slipped on their masks, then drew their swords, which knocked into the white Christmas lights dangling from the ceiling. They skittered across a strip of floor cleared of tables at the Moose Lodge —a makeshift piste, the name of the playing area in fencing. Lund, who is about a foot taller than Lei, lunged forward, extending his arm straight toward her and tapping her with the point of his épée, one of three weapons fencers use.“Oh, that hurt!” Lai said, with a smile.There’s a friendly rivalry brewing between the two members of the Whitefish Fencing Club.“If I’m going to attack, I’m torpedoing in, I’m committed,” she said, referring to the drawbacks of playing with someone so much taller. “If I’m using brute strength, he’s going to win. I have my advantages, I have quick reflexes. He taunts me,” she continued, by holding his long arm out so that Lai can’t reach his body with her sword without running into the weapon. “But, if I can get [under] his sword…”She rushed back at Lund, slipping her sword past his and twisting its tip away. Her sword brushed his arm and he jumped back, dashing to the end of the piste.“Did I stab you again?” she joked. “Got you running!”“That was a nice touch there,” William Brooks, the instructor of the small club, said.He observed the bout, remarking on the players’ technique and execution.“Bob has the advantage of distance” — the length of his limbs keep him safe — ”but she’s much faster, she can pull his weapon back and get her touch.”Brooks, who started a now-defunct fencing club in Bigfork back in the early 2000s, founded the Whitefish Fencing Club with Lund about a month ago.“I wanted to get the neurons going again,” Brooks said. “Being old and not doing anything is not an option, and I’ve always loved fencing, I’ve always had fun. The basic concept is a healthy mind and healthy body.”When Brooks and Lund met socially, they quickly learned of each other’s interest in the sport.“To me, fencing is quite valuable for skills and reflexes … It’s physical chess,” said Lund. “So I kept asking around and around” for people to play with.Lai, who took a class in fencing while at college, says that she was just about to sell her gear, which was gathering dust in her closet, when she saw a post on Facebook about the club.“I thought, ‘I’ll come, I could use the exercise,’” she said. “If you go to a gym and go on the treadmill, that’s so boring. But if you’re going to get stabbed, that’s good incentive to keep moving.”The club meets weekly at the lodge, though they have plans to meet more frequently if their numbers grow. They’re currently welcoming anyone interested in fencing, of any age or ability, though members need to have their own gear. At each meeting, Brooks, who fenced in Germany at a traditional club called Turnverein and at the New York City Athletic Club, provides individual lessons in a practice bout, and then the members take turns dueling.“We all have a primal reaction to being attacked,” Brooks said. “I’m teaching general body and emotional awareness…The important thing with fencing is your balance, speed, and awareness of where you are. Your eyes observe the weapon. All the movement comes from the wrist. Everything else is theater.”At practice last Wednesday, Brooks instructed the players in extending their arm before lunging toward an opponent. If a player tries to jump forward while simultaneously reaching out her sword, the extra movement can compromise her aim. He corrected their posture and acted out certain weaknesses in the lesson bouts to give Lund and Lai the opportunity to practice recognizing and taking advantage of their opponent’s shortcomings.“What is so valuable about the lessons is if Cathy and I were to fence [competitively], I’m not going to give her the target,” said Lund. “And I’ll share if Cathy has something that makes her a target, I’ll tell her,” rather than quietly using it to defeat her.Lai says that they’ve improved since they began meeting, offensively as well as defensively. By practicing frequently with the same opponent, the players are challenged to attack in unexpected ways, and the good-natured rivalry between Lund and Lai is pushing them both to play creatively.“When you play tennis, if you get a shot that works against your opponent, you don’t use it until you need it,” Lund said.The same is true for fencing. It’s important to be fast and fit, but strategy comes down to outsmarting your opponent.Lund continued, “It’s the kind of sport where if you’re 75 or 85 years old, it doesn’t matter — they don’t move as fast but they have the skills. It’s a sport where sex doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter. A big person can fence with a littler person, and the little person can clean the big person’s clock.”Lai, who had gone back to the piste to bout with Brooks, didn’t hear him say that. But next time, when they meet again, she’ll do her best to prove him right. Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.last_img read more