Swindon Fencing Club says 'En Garde'

By Jessica Durston - 8 September 2021

Clubs & ActivitiesFitnessSport

The club are encouraging new members and primary schools to give the sport a try after starting sessions back up this September.

Swindon Link visited the local fencing club for its first training session back after its annual August break. 

Fencing in Swindon has been going on since 1970 and the Swindon Fencing Club is now in its 51st year. Even after being established for this amount of time, the club still remains one of Swindon's best-kept secrets. 

Club members meet every Tuesday evening at The Deanery CE Academy off Peglars Way, near Wichelstowe. Fencing sessions run all year round, excluding August and the end of December. 

Junior foil sessions run from 6 - 7pm, with junior epee and sabre at 7.10 - 8.10pm and adult sessions from 8.20 - 9.30pm. 

Club President and teacher Neil also runs four-week fencing courses for primary schools, free of charge. He said that this has helped him to recruit for the club's junior sessions. A lot of pupils have been signing up to the club after enjoying the experience so much at school. 

Neil said: “We’re conscious that lockdown has prevented a lot of children from getting out and doing sport and we know obesity levels are creeping up, so that is why we want to promote our junior sessions and our four-week primary school courses.

“What could be better than pretending you're Princess Leia or Captain Jack Sparrow when duelling with swords? It’s not costing the school anything or the children attending.”

Children are recommended to start the junior classes at the club when they are at least eight years old. This is to ensure they have the strength and understanding for the combat element of the sport.

Neil Bromley explains the difference between the weapons and fencing styles: "Epee is the duelling sword, so you can hit on the hand, on the leg – it doesn’t matter. Whoever scores a hit with the point of the weapon, gets a point.

"Sabre is the cavalry weapon where you hit with the side of the sword – it’s more of a slashing action. It’s the fastest of the three weapons.

“Foil is the training weapon where the core of the body is the target. When people started to fence or needed to learn how to duel in the 17th century, they would fence with foil first. You learn to protect the core of your body and therefore your vital organs. This would lead to success in real-life duels."

The club takes membership payment either on the door each week or in advance on a standing order basis. On the door, children pay £8 and adults £10. Paying on a monthly basis would cost £20 for children and £25 for adults.

Those wishing to join will be provided with fencing gear. Swindon Fencing Club provide electric sword set-ups, chestguards, gloves and anything else a beginner might need.

The club sessions help people to build their skills and learn fencing with each of the three weapons. There is also an option to help out at the club by coaching and refereeing, as members Elloise McConnel and Alexander Brookes have found. 

The fifteen-year-olds started young and have been honing their skills for a number of years at the club, and in competitions. 

Elloise said: "When I was in year 4, Neil came into my school and did an assembly to introduce us to fencing. I came home and said to my parents how cool I thought the sport was and how much I would like to do it. I started with the club shortly after. My favourite style of fencing is epee. 

“When I was ten, I went to the British Youth Championships. When I was eleven, I was picked to go on the England team that was made up of twelve-year-olds and went to Poland. This was part of the international Challenge Wratislavia tournament for under 15s. I got around £700 in sponsorship fees.”

This year Elloise has started helping Neil out with coaching the younger members of the club. She added: "It’s nice because you can encourage the younger students when they are having trouble, and say that if they keep at it, they can be in similar positions to myself and Alexander."

Like Elloise, Alexander started from a young age and competed in Challenge Wratislavia. He said: "The first time I got into fencing was when I was on holiday. I’d seen it on the Olympics around that time and thought it looked like good fun. I signed up for a course at the resort and really enjoyed it.”

“I then started with Neil at Swindon Fencing club when I was 11. He was the closest and seemed the best option. My first competition was one that Neil ran with different schools and I placed third. After that I was hooked and used to go fencing three times a week at every club that he ran in the area. For a sport environment where you are effectively stabbing each other a lot – it’s actually quite a friendly atmosphere.

“When I was around 13, I went to Poland for the first time. It was an amazing experience. I went for all the weapons for the full week. To see fencers from all different countries was amazing. I got better and learned to branch out into all three weapons, foil, epee and sabre. My favourite is foil.”

As well as encouraging more school pupils to take up the sport, the club would like to see more women joining. Club member Rita said: “I’ve been fencing with the club for three months now and really enjoy it. It’s great for my fitness and getting me out of the house - but more girls in the club would be nice!”

Alexander added: "There’s not as many girls taking up the sport. I have been in competitions where there has been one girl that has attended which meant they automatically qualified. I think this just happens as fencers get older as the children’s group is split quite 50/50."

Alexander also has plans of completing coaching qualifications. He said: "At the moment I am qualified to referee at competitions. When I hit 16 in a couple of months, I will likely go for my level 1 coaching qualifications as I feel this will open a lot of doors for me.

“Coaching is great. Working with younger kids - it’s really nice seeing them coming in at the level you started at and helping them on their way. Elloise and I being 15 means we bridge that gap between young child and adult. We get on well with the junior fencers."

One-to-one fencing sessions from Neil are also available for those looking for a more independent training experience. 

Younger members of the Swindon Fencing Club who wish to participate competitively in the sport are encouraged to enter local competitions in Wiltshire and can aim to build their skills to qualify for the British Youth Championship or other national competitions. 

Neil Bromley can be reached at neilg.bromley@ntlworld.com

More information about Swindon Fencing Club can be found at http://swindonfencing.org.uk/

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