The sport of fencing has been romanticized by Hollywood to epic proportions. Everyone has seen a movie where the swashbuckling hero swoops in and saves the damsel in distress. From Ben-Hur to Braveheart moviegoers fall in love with the battle-weary heroes wielding their blood-soaked weapons of murder. Warning – this is not NCAA fencing.
The modern version of this gentlemanly sport is a far cry from the battle scenes made famous by Errol Flynn in the 1930’s. Instead of duels or battles taking place on a field or in a castle with our hero swinging from the chandeliers, fencers are relegated to a 6-foot-by-40-feet strip. In place of combatants fighting to the death, touches or hits are monitored electronically.
Some refer to the sport as “chess with muscles” because of the agility, quickness and subtlety of movement all keen fencers must possess. The complicated strategy employed by sword players accentuates the mental acuity needed to excel at this sport.
Modern fencers score on a point system, not on disemboweling their opponents like competitions of yesteryear. Each sword (epee, foil and sabre) has a different target area in which to score on the opposing fencers body. For instance in the epee competition, one can only score a point using the tip of the blade, but the entire body is a valid target area. In the foil competition, points can only be scored with a touch to the opponent’s torso.
However, fencing has not lost the mystique and flair of medieval times. Fencers still salute before a match and wear traditional white uniforms and masks. However, the electronic scoring system has been a new invention.
Fencing has been an Olympic event since 1896 in Athens. The sword was still considered a military weapon, but remained a long-established European tradition. To this day, fencing is only one of 6 sports to have been featured in every modern Olympics.
The fencing team had long been attempting to make its mark amongst St. John’s 20 varsity sports. Along with the perennial powerhouse men’s soccer team, fencing is arguably the most successful sport at St. John’s. How many people out there know this? My bet would be not many, but it’s not the public’s fault. Last seasons team finished in second place and this year one of the team’s top female fencers was injured and could not compete.
There are few fencing leagues to join, no visible professional league and no hot fencing superstar. It’s basically an Olympic sport that has hardly gotten attention in recent Olympiads.
On Sunday the fencing team captured the university’s second national championship. Men’s soccer won the crown in 1996. For a team that barely gets play on its own campus, maybe this is something the “smaller” sports need. Students on this campus have long been brain dead to the world outside men’s basketball. Hopefully, after this triumphant win, more students will take notice of the tennis team or the track and field team, or even the golf team.
The student-athletes on the fencing team resemble a vast array of cultures that have come together in Queens. United States 2000 Olympians Arlene Stevens and Keeth Smart are homegrown products from New York. Juan Capdet and Liz Thottam are from California. Even Hungary and Russia are represented. For aspiring collegiate fencers, St. John’s University is the place to be. I hope the school does something right and holds an event for these special students who compete in a sport with no fanfare. Make this campus aware of and proud of our classmates. Show them the love St. John’s should have for champions – our champions. They deserve to hear your applause.