News - April 12, 2007

A game of wits that gets you sweating too

The markings on the floor of the small hall in De Bongerd sports centre mean little to most people, and most will not notice the wires hanging from the ceiling. One group of sports people uses them each week, however – the fencers.

The student fencing club De Schermutselaers will celebrate their fortieth anniversary this autumn. On 29 April, the club will host the Dutch championships together with the local fencing club in De Bongerd in Wageningen. The finals will be held on a specially constructed platform in the Junushoff theatre. Everyone is welcome to come and watch, but what can you expect to see?

It’s not just people prancing around in white suits, explains Arne Jansma. ‘The suit is thick and hot, and you are constantly trying to anticipate what your opponent is going to do, so you work up a real sweat.’ Jansma, doing a masters in Animal Sciences, tried the sport out once and has been doing it ever since. ‘It’s fairly easy to pick up the basics. I like it because it’s pretty energetic but you need to use your brains as well.’

That is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the sport. The movements become automatic after a bit of practice, but fencers have to try and get under their opponent’s skin and then catch them off balance. The training for this involves lots of talking. After warming up, the foils and masks are fetched from the cupboard, but the students continue to stand quietly as they try to think up a compound attack. ‘You think that I’m attacking, but I’m not really, and then I think that you ... and then I attack, the first time wrongly on purpose, and only then do I really attack.’ That’s the idea at least.

The club practises in English because international students participate. Pornsin Keanthao, a VHL student from Thailand, is one. After an hour of practice his pace is no longer so fast. ‘I’m tired,’ he sighs. Pornsin took up fencing to get some exercise – ‘I was a bit overweight’ – and wanted to learn something new. ‘It would be difficult for me to do this in Thailand, as the equipment is far too expensive to buy yourself.’

Fencers use three weapons: foil and epee – both weapons for thrusting – and the sabre – a cutting weapon. The foil is flexible and using it involves agility more than strength. The epee is heavier and less flexible, and you make completely different movements with a sabre. ‘It’s a kind of hacking movement,’ says Marieke Schor, ‘With more thrusting in a forward direction.’ All is revealed in her bout with Ernest van Ophuizen. It’s real fighting: swinging out at each other and parrying. The hits are recorded through a wire attached to the sabre that runs through the sleeve of the thick sabre jacket to the player’s back and then to the ceiling. After the bout, which only lasts a couple of minutes, two red, sweating faces emerge from under the masks.

After three hours of good-humoured hard labour it’s time for the real relaxation. The canteen always keeps the deep fryer hot for De Schermutselaers: for the bitterballen. / Yvonne de Hilster

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