Nestled away on Carlton Street in Scott’s Addition, The Richmond Fencing Club sits as if hiding from prying eyes. Much like the sport that it hosts, it is fairly unknown and unseen unless you are specifically looking for it. However, even in its obscurity, the club provides a spacious, organized area along with limitless opportunities for those who are looking to pursue fencing for either recreation or competition.
Fencing originated and is based on traditional swordsmanship and first became apparent at the end of the 19th century. From this point on, it was further refined and modernized by the Italians and then the French. The sport is one of five activities that has been featured in every one of the modern Olympic Games, the others being athletics (track & field), cycling, swimming, and gymnastics. It involves two competitors that wield sword-like objects called foils. In order to overcome your opponent, you must score points by making contact with certain points on their body, ranging from their chest to their waist. Fencing itself is separated into three competitive fields based on the three different types of weapons that are offered. The foil is a light thrusting weapon, which you can only score points with by touching your opponent with the tip. Épée is a thrusting weapon much like the foil, but it is heavier, and you can not hit your opponent with the sides of your blade and touch any part of their body unless specified. Finally, the sabre is a light thrusting weapon which you can use to target any part of the body above the waist.
The Richmond Fencing Club offers many different types of classes to suit the needs of their various members. The beginners class provides an introduction to fencing and helps provide the necessary fundamentals to excel in the sport. From this starting point, the fencing center steers towards towards two separate paths: either competitive fencing or intermediate fencing instruction, offered in Foil as well as Épée. With such various options available, the Richmond Fencing Club truly caters to the needs of their members, providing support for beginners and further advancement for more advanced fencers who may take part in tournaments as well.
My 12-year-old sister Triumph began fencing in October 2014 after gaining interest in the sport from what little she had seen of it. The moment that our car pulled up to the curb for her first class, I was not exactly sure what to expect from the minuscule entrance to the Fencing Club. As I entered the space, however, it was as if I was within an entirely new building. The room I entered was spacious and overflowing with adornments, including foreign flags and mirrors on the walls that reflected the fencers as they completed each bout. In addition to the mirrors, pictures and posters were present, depicting Olympian fencers lunging forward with grace or standing poised to attack. As a spectator, you can observe and analyze what the Richmond Fencing Club can offer its members.
The beginning of each class commences with a short gathering with head Coach Cyndi Lucente. Prior to her coaching career in Richmond, she was captain of the Virginia Tech’s fencing team from 1995 to 1997, chair of the Virginia Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association in 1997, and women’s foil coach in 1998. In fact, she is still an active competitor today and regularly places in the top eight in Virginia tournaments. With her expertise and wisdom, she not only provides students with sound fundamentals but uses her experience to be an effective leader as well.
Following Lucente’s opening remarks, fencers conduct a brief five-to-ten minute warm-up, during which they run laps throughout the facility, do different types of footwork drills through ladders, and do additional fencing footwork, such as lunges and retreats. After this period, it is time for each fencer to don their vest and helmet and arm themselves with the weapon that they will use for the day. For the next 45 minutes, they takes turns in participating in bouts with one another, either through dry fencing or electric fencing. Electric fencing is a type of fencing in which the weapon is connected electronically to a sensor that reacts when you touch your opponent’s body in specified regions. Dry fencing does not use electronic sensors, and it is usually utilized when a coach wants to reinforce technique or fundamentals within the sport. Watching fencing is much like watching a game of chess, except it is definitely more exciting. At times, your eyes can get easily lost within the intricacies of the fast-paced, elegant movements that make up the strikes and counterstrikes of a fencing match.
My sister Triumph found out about fencing when she saw a man fencing on TV wielding a fencing foil, and her interest was piqued. “It was like a lightbulb popped in my head,” says Perry. Immediately following this advertisement, she asked our dad if she could begin taking lessons, and she eventually found herself taking classes at the Richmond Fencing Club.
When asked why she wanted to fence, Perry responded with, “I wanted to express my personality, and it looked like an extreme sport.” She also noticed that fencing was something that other kids weren’t commonly doing. “People usually play football and basketball… some people don’t even know what fencing is. That is why I decided to do it!” The aspects of the Richmond Fencing Club that my sister likes the most is the opportunity to “make new friends,” and having the ability to see her own progress. Since the start of her fencing career, she has moved from the beginner to the intermediate class, and has participated in two tournaments, placing first in one of them. “I was excited that I came in first throughout my competitors,” describes Perry, “I am very proud of myself!”
Other aspects that Perry enjoys are electric fencing, which she describes as “fun, because it helps makes your fencing more fun and competitive,” and the occasional King of Pop’s popsicles that make their appearance after classes. When asked about her future with fencing, Perry responded, “I know the time will come when I will retire from fencing because I also do scuba diving,” she says seriously, “but for now, I’ve been doing fencing for two years, and it’s tons of fun every week!”
Though fencing is not the most popular, or most populated sport, the Richmond Fencing Club does not dwell nor waver in its intentions to prepare and improve their individual members. If you are looking for a place to expand your fencing expertise, or perhaps introduce yourself to a new experience, the Richmond Fencing Club is the place that you want to be.