Daddy, can I play with knives?

Sword play in the Hudson Valley

Fencing teaches valuable skills for all ages   

Elene Schoeps along with her husband, Umberto, run the Woodstock Fencing Club that rents space from an elementary school in the area.  “We invite all ages, as long as their arm is strong enough to hold a sword, and they can follow instructions,” she says.  The skills that kids can learn and improve on include focusing, and paying careful attention to instructions.  “It’s a relaxed atmosphere,” says Schoeps, but the kids are carefully directed to understand that the sword can harm as well as be a fun tool. 

Eric Soyka is a fencing coach and co-owner of the Phoenix Center in Poughkeepsie.  Soyka notes that many of the benefits of fencing are similar to those of other sports that children engage in.  “Kids learn discipline,” says Soyka. “That’s a facet of sportsmanship. You have to have self-control and not let your emotions take over in order to be a good sport.”   Soyka states that fencing training develops other positive qualities:

 -      Learn to think independently

·      Train for leadership position.

·       Learn to make decisions very quickly. 

·       Learn problem solving skills.

What fencing taught one Cornwall student

“When I first started, I would get frustrated,” remembers Denis Dukhvalov, a senior at Cornwall High School, and now a national and international saber fencing medalist.  “I would be nervous before the bout.  If I started losing points, I would get angry or upset.  I don’t get nervous anymore.  It took a long time to control it but now usually the only thing that goes through my head, once I’m on the strip, is what I have to do.  It’s pretty much like a game of chess.”

Denis’ father, Igor Dukhvalov, is the head fencing coach, and former owner of Fencing Dragons Club of Cornwall, agrees.  “Denis mentioned that it’s like a chess game.  The only difference is that in chess, you have all the time you need.  In fencing, if you delay for even a second, that’s it, you’re done.”

The martial art of fencing is deeply rooted in history, going as far back as ancient Egypt.  Originally practiced to prepare men for duels and warfare, fencing today looks very different from the choreographed duels in a “Three Musketeers” movie.  Fencing is a physically demanding sport that takes place on a narrow 6-foot by 40-foot strip.  The bouts are rapid and end when contact is made.  Touches are recorded electronically, usually by means of wires attached to the swords.  However, international competitions use a wireless system to track touches.

What a mom of a fencing student says 

Michelle Wolin, mother of eleven-year-old fencer Zack, agrees.  “Zack enjoyed it from the beginning.”  Zack started fencing when he was six years old.  Now that he enters competitions, Wolin says, “Once he lost pretty terribly and he still said, ‘Sign me up for the next bout, the next tournament.’  He loves it.”  And as for the benefits of fencing, Wolin notes, “Zack’s learning to overcome frustration and learning to deal with it in a far better way.  He’s so passionate about fencing that we decided to do a family trip to California for the summer nationals. It’s the one thing he’s dedicated to.”

Where fencing can take you       

Denis Dukhvalov has been fencing since he was twelve years old.  As an accomplished fencer, he travels to national and international competitions, meeting other participants from all over the world.  “I’ve traveled so much, seen so many different places, met so many different people.  I’m friends with the Ukrainian team members, some of the Russian team, and fencers in Japan.  I feel as though it’s an opportunity you don’t get with any other sport.”

Kim Ellis is a writer and teacher. Transplanted from California, she and her husband live in an orange house in the woods.