Fenced in: Baylor club lets students learn the art of swordplay

Team members spar with each other on the basketball court in Russell Gymnasium. Baylor fencing is a club, which costs $50 to join, and which offers members the chance to get hands on experience with foils, sparring and competition. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

Most people would be surprised to hear that Baylor has its very own club fencing team.

The team is a member of the Southwest Intercollegiate Fencing Association (SWIFA), who fence against teams from Texas A&M, Texas, North Texas, UT-San Antonio, Texas State, Rice, Houston and Texas Tech. The fencing season is pretty much year-round, with an exception during the Christmas holidays. Team members’ skill levels range from experienced to those who have never fenced in their lives.

Houston senior David Khan said he loves how fencing is not only a physical but very much a mental sport.

“Part of what makes fencing fun is the fact that it’s psychological,” Khan said. “It pits you against a single opponent, and you’re both trying to get into each other’s heads while preventing the other from getting into yours. As a bout progresses, the signals that you use to deceive each other evolve. Because of all that strategizing, some people characterize fencing as ‘physical chess.’”

However, Khan said, the comparison to chess is not a good one given how fast the players have to make decisions.

“But this [comparison to chess] is a mischaracterization,” Khan said. “It overrates the power of strategy in fencing. In fencing, the strategy can only take you so far. Unlike chess, where each player can see the whole board, fencing never allows you to acquire complete information about an opponent’s position. Play moves too fast for you to see everything or formulate a fully coherent plan. All of your strategies are predicated on incomplete and unreliable information. As a result, speed, accuracy, decisiveness and sheer fitness are indispensable. No sport combines strategy and raw skill like fencing does.”

On Oct. 20, Baylor held its own Adelman Memorial Fencing tournament in the Russell Gym. This was Baylor’s first time hosting the tournament in four years. The tournament was open to all fencers in the U.S. and had people from all over Texas, Louisiana and even some from New York City in attendance. The tournament is named after Alvin Adelman, who was a famous Baylor fencer and coach from 1938 to 1942.

The club’s president, Argyle senior Emily Volk, thought hosting the tournament was a great way to reintroduce the fencing club into the Baylor community.

“The club has been struggling to continue to exist for a while because most people at Baylor don’t know we have a fencing team at all,” Volk said. “The club only has about six members currently. We wanted to show them that we do have [a club], that it’s a lot of fun, and that we’d love for them to join. Plus, we wanted to challenge ourselves to do it, since planning and hosting a tournament with only six people is really rare in collegiate fencing — And we pulled it off. We got a lot of great responses and hope to be able to bring both the club and the Adelman tournament back permanently.”

Houston senior Ford Hash finds the sportsmanship involved in fencing to be unique.

“It’s one of the only sports where you pay respect directly to your opponent and ref before and after the match,” Hash said. “Even though fencers are often still be hot-headed, they are almost always respectful of this tradition.”

The team practices Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Russell Gymnasium from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and does not require tryouts for new members. For those interested in joining, they can learn more on the campus recreation website.