“On guard. Ready? Fence!”
By Anthony Diller
With those four words, I was introduced to the sport of fencing. I had no idea that over the coming months I would develop a real passion for what looked like at the time a bunch of kids poking each other with metal rods. I never knew that I would be waiting all week just to go to a local Boy Scout meeting hall for a few hours and practice the art.
That first night is what took me in. I remember walking in wearing a hoodie and jeans, feeling as nervous and awkward as any thirteen year old kid ever has. The first thing I saw almost knocked me down: A guy with a wire screen mask tipped back on his head, a long sleeved white jacket, and a vest that looked straight out of an alien horror flick walking toward me with a sword in his hand!
I froze for a minute, not quite sure whether to run or stand and shake. The man introduced himself to me as Coach Matt Hite, and explained he was the fencing coach. He told me that I was more than welcome to mix around with the fencers and see if I was interested in fencing.
There wasn’t much time to drift. Before I even knew it I was standing in line doing warm-ups with the rest of the group, trying to follow their footwork and hold my hand behind my back. About twenty minutes before the end of class, I managed to get a mask and sword and step onto the strip. Matt explained that the first of us to reach five points was the winner. Needless to say, I didn’t last long. At the end of the night, Thomas, another fencer, asked if I was planning on coming back the next week. “Try to stop me!”
From that point on, I was obsessed with the sport, the competition, and the atmosphere of honor and respect within the fencing community. I learned many things about both fencing and myself. The hours of practice on footwork and sword technique increased my physical health; the hours spent sparring with friends helped me keep busy and out of trouble; and class gave me something to look forward to during the week.
But what stood out above all of that was something that I was taught on that very first night. In the sport of “physical chess,” two fencers step onto the strip; a tiny little battlefield where they’ll test themselves against each other physically as well as mentally. But there’s no resentment, no anger, no trash-talking. The fencers step on, test their weapons, and then proceed to their ends. Before you are allowed to put on your mask or take your stance, you have to salute your opponent with your sword. When the battle’s over, the very first thing you do is salute again, remove your mask and shake your opponent’s hand, usually congratulating each other on a good bout. It’s something you won’t find in any other sport.
Young people today are faced with challenges unique to their generation. They need to be supported in every way possible to make good choices and be able to stand behind those choices; and they need to know they’re not the only one making those good choices. The AAYC is a safe haven for these young folks. It is run by individuals who all have the same dedication and genuine care for seeing the people who walk through the door succeed in life. They’re doing a lot of good in a lot of lives through their clubs and community service. That’s something that we should ALL get behind!
I drifted away from fencing in high school, but the values it taught me have stuck with me all through the years, and I will be forever grateful to the Hite brothers for teaching me the sport and it’s core values, as well as to my parents, who made sure I never forgot those values and supported me to follow my goals and to never stop until they were reached.
I would encourage anyone and everyone to bring your kids out to the AAYC, and to support them in any way you can, because they are doing a HUGE good.