Arts & Culture / Mosaic / October 24, 2012

Fencing club explores the ‘gentleman’s sport’

Freshman Nick Britten and sophomore Erik Gustafson begin their match as post- baccalaureate fellow Paul Lurenz III ‘12 directs from the side during a Fencing Club practice Tuesday, Oct. 23 in T. Fleming Fieldhouse. (Casey Mendoza/TKS)

After starting the year with only three members, Fencing Club has gone on to win first through sixth places at a novice tournament at Augustana College — a trend which returning members hope to build on to strengthen the presence of fencing in the Knox community.

The mid-October date for the tournament meant that new fencers had only three or four weeks to prepare. Some had only been to two or three practices.

“I was really impressed that they had taken to it so quickly,” post-baccalaureate fellow and Fencing Club President Paul Lurenz III ’12 said. “It [fencing] is an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master type of thing.”

In order to attract more Knox students to the sport of fencing, Lurenz, sophomore Erik Gustafson and junior Ryan Hansen fenced on campus sidewalks during freshman orientation. Thanks to increased publicity, Fencing Club now has between 8 and 12 regular members.

While Lurenz is excited about this progress, he still sees a lot of room for growth. By expanding membership and getting more women involved in the team — the vast majority of club members are men — he hopes to see the club involved in the Midwest Fencing Championships, which require each team to have three people per weapon per gender. He also wants to host a few tournaments on campus to get the Knox community “fired up” about fencing.

Lurenz himself began fencing when he started college at the University of Iowa. He had long been interested in fantasy novels and video games but had never had the opportunity to try fencing firsthand. At Iowa, he found that more than an opportunity to poke people with swords, fencing offered camaraderie.

Before he transferred to Knox halfway through his  junior year, Lurenz competed in the Midwest Fencing Championships, where participants spend nine hours fencing everyone in their division.
“It’s just an amazing experience being able to fence and meet … so many different people,” he said.

Lurenz was also able to challenge fencers as old as 60, though he has heard of people even older who still actively participate in the sport.

“It’s something you can do throughout your life,” he said. “To think of someone playing football or basketball in their 60s seems pretty crazy.”

Because the fencing community is so tightly knit, relationships between clubs form naturally. Knox’s Fencing Club has a longstanding relationship with Steve Behrends, a fencing maestro from Des Moines who is certified to teach other fencing coaches in all three weapons: foil, sabre and épée.  Behrends comes to campus at least twice a year to work with student fencers.

Close relationships also lead to a shared sense of “kookiness.” At the Augustana tournament, the first place prize was a rubber Tyrannosaurus Rex figurine. Other tournaments have been known to give grapefruits to top fencers.

Thanks to electronics, fencers are able to participate in lengthy bouts without fear of serious injury. Each sword is equipped with a button on the tip (in the case of a foil or épée) or a wire running through its blade (in the case of a sabre). Fencers then wear vests, jackets or entire suits lined with metal. When the button or wire on a blade touches an opponent’s uniform, a circuit is completed, and the striker receives a point.

“It’s a gentleman’s sport, but everyone has a lot of fun,” Lurenz said. “You get to hit people with metal sticks in a safe environment. I don’t know where else you get to do that.”

Fencing Club practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. All practices take place in T. Fleming Fieldhouse.

Tags:  Augustana club fencing fencing club Midwest Fencing Championship

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