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“If you hear someone call out, never turn your head around”

“If you hear someone call out, never turn your head around”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Illustratie Janneke Swinkels


UM Sports opened the doors of the new university sports centre one year ago. Each week, Observant shows up in sports gear to participate in one of the sessions, and will do so until the summer. Today: Fencing.

The beginner: Okay then, it looks strange, but when the instructor advises it, we all put it on: a plastic chest protector that is supposed to prevent bruising. Under one's arm, just like the fencing vest – “that no knife can slice through” -, a glove, a special mask and the weapon. There are five of us, carrying a pile of fencing clothing from the storage cabinet to the hall. Instructor Inge Compter tells us a little about the background of the sport and the types of weapons: “We have sabres, épées and foils, but during the beginners’ lessons we will fence with a foil, they are light and very fine.” To feel the difference, we are allowed to hold all three. The épées are heaviest and not at all flexible, there is a large and relatively heavy bowl shaped hand guard.

Compter starts off with the basic stance, the en garde position. One foot in front and the other out to the side, knees gently bent, weapon firmly in hand. One thing that becomes clear after a couple of minutes, is that this martial art all comes down to the right leg and arm work, dexterity and timing. You have to think about things and concentrate, but Compter ensures us that it will all come to us “naturally” at a certain moment. She divides us up into couples. We take turns in attacking. Our steps go forward and backwards – it looks like a graceful dance – and then someone reaches forward with a stretched arm. “Lunge, attaque. Practice it, ten times in a row.” It feels a little strange to attack my opponent with a foil ten times without a reaction. But she doesn't feel a thing. She says. When it is my turn to be attacked, I agree with her; at the most, a stab feels like a hard little ball hitting your shoulder or stomach. Another important tip from Compter: “If you hear someone call out during a duel, never turn your head around. The back of your neck is not protected.” But, Inge, can I take the helmet off for a minute? It's like a sauna inside.

The expert: Before the lesson starts, a somewhat provoking question for the fencing instructors Inge Compter and Bas Tielemans. Is fencing a sport? Is it really as intensive as fencers say? “Yes!” she replies whole-heartedly. “You will feel it in your thighs tomorrow! You have to keep your balance while standing with your knees slightly bent, you push yourself forward, are always on the move.” Both have been keen fencers since they were eight years old. Tielemans: “Fencing requires insight, you have to be clever. Technique is important too.” According to Tielemans, length can have its advantages, “you have a much greater reach, but then again, a smaller person has a smaller target area. It helps if you are fast and flexible.” And injuries? “No, hardly ever, you are always standing in a natural position.”

Target group: Everyone who wants to be in Zorro's shoes and is looking for an affordable fencing course. Students pay 18 euro, staff and alumni 27 euro for nine lessons (you do have to have a sports card). Moreover, participants may use the fencing gear from UM sports, which saves you a considerable investment. Those who have a little experience may join the walk-in, following the beginners’ course on Thursdays from 20:45hrs.

The facts: Nine-week fencing course, training on Thursday evenings from 19:30hrs, new starting date is not known as yet, contact UM Sports.



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