Sports Take: En Garde: I joined Baylor fencing for a day

By Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor Houston senior Alex Goetting lunges towards his opponent, scoring a point. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Branson Hardcastle | Reporter

On Monday, I tried out a new sport: fencing. I did not know what to expect when I first walked into Russell Gymnasium, but my unease was put to rest by Shreveport, La. sophomore, Ayla DeFatta, vice president of the Baylor Fencing Club and Houston senior Alex Goetting, the club’s treasurer, as they welcomed my arrival.

My training started with gearing up. First, I put on the plastron, a piece that covers my chest and my dominant arm. Second came the jacket, which is the first line of defense against the opposition. The third piece of equipment was the glove. There is only one glove that covers my dominant weapon hand to protect against a possible hit. The last piece of equipment was my mask. Our weapon of choice was the epee, which is one of the three swords that can be used in fencing bouts.

After I was fully dressed, I learned the proper footwork.

“Footwork is the building block of fencing. Everything we do, all of our attacks, defense and distance is built off of footwork,” DeFatta said. “It is arguably the most important thing in fencing to know and constantly build on.”

DeFatta and Goetting taught me the proper stance to begin a bout (fencing match), which is called en garde. In the en garde position, my front foot was pointed at my opponent, and my back foot was aimed 90 degrees to the left side. With my feet spread about shoulder-width apart, I slightly bent my knees and held my weapon out in front of me.

From there, I was taught how to advance and retreat. To advance I stepped with my lead foot landing heel to toe. To retreat, I stepped back with my back foot and simply moved backwards.

Next on the agenda was the simplest attack: the lunge. The lunge was a little difficult to learn. I thrusted the epee straight out, stepped forward with my lead foot and locked my back knee. When I finished my attack, I landed with my front knee bent, back leg straight and my weapon straight out in front of me.

Goetting then taught me how to parry, or block, my opponent’s attack. As he attacked me, I used my epee to lightly swat his attack aside and immediately followed it with a strike of my own.

The object of fencing is simple: hit your opponent with the tip of your weapon to score a point. For my purpose, we played two, three-minute bouts to five points, but neither lasted the full three minutes.

My opponent for one of the bouts was Goetting, who has around eight years of experience. It lasted about 90 seconds. The referee said “fence” and the bout was underway.

I advanced, retreated, lunged and parried but Goetting’s skills were far greater than mine. He was prepared for every move I made. I attacked, he parried and made an attack of his own, usually ending in a point for him. The score at the end of the bout was 5-1 Goetting.

By Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor
Shreveport, La. sophomore Ayla DeFatta lunges and scores a point. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

Mentally, I felt like I was in a chess match. Every move had to be calculated with precision. Trying to remember everything I had learned while also defending myself proved to be very difficult. I was constantly trying to guess what he was going to do and figure out how to attack all at the same time.

Goetting and I bowed to each other as well as the referee before removing our helmets and shaking hands, which is the traditional way to end a bout.

Goetting said that the club doesn’t have many members, but they are a close-knit group who excel in teamwork.

“Everything we do here is in the spirit of helping us grow together and each as better fencers. We have a really good spirit of teamwork here,” Goetting said. “We are always helping each other to do better because the better each one of us does, the better we will do as a team.”

The Baylor Fencing Club is open for anyone to join. They hold practices from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Russell Gymnasium. No experience is required.

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