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Campus club strives to establish fencing as a varsity sport

By David Song, April 5 2018 — 

Fencing is a classic sport that has been recognized at the Olympic level since 1896. Despite this, it’s not widely played in North America. The University of Calgary Fencing Club aims to change this by giving students the opportunity to sample the lesser-known sport.

Established in 1963 by Don Laszlo, the Fencing Club is geared towards university students but is also open to the wider community. The volunteer-run organization hosts beginner’s classes every wednesday evening and open sessions on Sunday afternoons where fencers of all skill levels can challenge each other to bouts.

Club president Kali Sayers really enjoys teaching the basics of fencing to newcomers.

“Fencing actually utilizes three different weapons: epee, foil and sabre,” she said. “Epee is the original dueling sword and the entire body is the target. [In] foil, just the torso is the target and it was actually created as a training weapon for epee. Sabre is a funny one — it was based off horseback combat, so only above the waist is the target and you can also hit by slashing.”

After developing asthma, Sayers had to step away from competitive swimming. Soon after, she discovered fencing. The fourth-year chemical engineering student competed in the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics and has been part of the Fencing Club since her first year of university. In addition to being club president, Sayers is one of the club’s three coaches and finds teaching beginners just as rewarding as competing.

“Coaching makes me a better fencer. Seeing the development of students has been really wonderful and rewarding. Someone [new] can immediately come in and become integrated in this really wonderful community,” she said. “If your weapon breaks or if you forgot your granola bar, everyone helps each other out. It’s been wonderful to see the growth of the athletes but also the individuals.”

The Fencing Club’s biggest event is the annual Don Laszlo Memorial Cup, which took place from Feb. 24–25 this year.

“It’s our main source of revenue because we have really low fees to try and encourage people to participate,” Sayers said. “All of our revenue for new equipment comes from the Don Laszlo tournament. We had attendees from Edmonton and Saskatchewan and one from B.C. We’re working to make [the competition] a bigger thing.”

One of the club’s main goals is to establish fencing as a varsity sport. Sayers says that doing so is challenging but adds progress has been made.

“One of the issues is that people don’t know fencing as a sport, so neither the administration, nor the student body are looking to support it. If we can get a Canada West championships going, then we can become recognized as a club sport, which gives us a little bit of leverage,” she said. “We’ve also talked with [the president of the Canada Fencing Federation]. There is already a circuit in Ontario, and I believe one in Quebec, though I’m not totally sure, so we can get a U Sports circuit going as well.”

Sayers also says fencing is just as engaging mentally as it is physically.

“The best thing about fencing is that everyone’s learning from scratch,” she said. “But people who aren’t athletically inclined can play because there’s a lot of weird positions and mental tactics involved. You’re just going to have lots of fun learning something that’s totally different from anything you’ve ever done.”

Leading into next year, the Fencing Club aims to establish a Canada West Fencing Championships. With fencing enthusiasts from the Universities of British Columbia, Victoria, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Regina already slated to compete, Sayers and her fellow club executives are looking to assemble a larger cohort to represent the University of Calgary.

A semester’s worth of beginner classes at the U of C Fencing Club costs $110, compared to $150 for a six-week beginner course at the Calgary Fencing Club. To join the University of Calgary Fencing Club, sign up through Active Living, visit their Facebook group or email ucalgaryfencing@gmail.com.

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