Fencing with a Tween is All About Getting to the Point

A new fitness routine with Three Rivers Fencing Center brings stress relief but takes some skill.


photo by john altdorfer
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I can’t wait to stab someone.”

I look over at the little moppet sitting on the floor. His eyes are wide, eager. No one in the gymnasium — our two instructors, his parents or the tween sitting next to him — seems to be concerned about his joyful outburst.

Frankly, neither am I. After sitting in gridlock traffic on Penn Avenue for 40 minutes, I can’t wait to stab someone either.

“That’s our plan,” says Three Rivers Fencing Center instructor David Galinsky. “To get some of our aggression out.”

I’m told that while many students range in age from 9 to 14, adults also can partake in the fun. “We have two 60-something nurses who come,” fellow instructor Jennifer Hess says. As luck would have it, I’m the older and wiser one of this three-person class … by about 25 years.

Because the yearlings already have three weeks of instruction on bodily mechanics under their belt, it’s decided that David will give me a crash course on foot and blade work.

Handing me a flexible blade foil — calling it a sword is frowned upon in this modern Olympic sport — we run through the basics in a vertical area taped off on the floor. “Right leg forward. Left leg out and facing the wall to achieve an “L” shape. Squat. No really, squat. Bend those knees.

“Now,” he says, “heel to toe forward. Smaller steps equal more control. Then retreat with the back of your foot. All moves start and end en garde.”

We run through this multiple times — forward back, forward back — then he teaches me to lunge. “The basic form of attack,” he says. “Your front foot kicks out while your back leg stays planted.”

“Got it,” I reply. “When do I get to stab someone?”

I’m strapped into a plastic chest protector and then a jacket with a yellowed collar and sleeves. Then comes the mask, the interior of which could use a continuous spray of disinfectant.

I salute my tween opponent, then the ref. Everyone is jovial. Good clean fun, ha ha ha. Until my opponent accidentally stabs me in the thigh. Hard. Feeling a welt forming, I see no good reason why not to unload 38 years’ worth of frustrations on this kid. Might as well take advantage of a captive audience.

I lose the bout 5-3 … yet leave remarkably free of stress.

Verdict: Expect to leave breathing hard. Movement looks minimal, but don’t be deceived; this is a serious workout.  

Three Rivers Fencing Center, 7501 Penn Ave., Point Breeze; 412/731-4454, threeriversfencing.org.
Drop-ins are $30/class; open bouting is $20/day with your own equipment; memberships are $100-$200, or $1,200/year.
 

Eat This Month

Nutritional Yeast
“Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make itself and must obtain from food,” says registered dietitian Jennifer Nguyen. Depending on which brand you purchase, nutritional yeast also may contain B12, a vitamin primarily found in animal-based foods. “Two tablespoons contain 60 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 9 grams of plant-based protein. It is low in sodium and gluten/dairy/soy/cholesterol free,” she adds. With its nutty, cheesy flavor, it’ll be put to good use while making mac and cheese or mashed potatoes or sprinkled on popcorn or soups.
 

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