This really is about fencing!

Last night was my second fencing lesson, organised by Cardiff Fencing Club. As was entirely predictable, the sports-centre, changing-room ambiance was easily bearable as I focused more on the business of swordsmanship. It’s this ‘get-used-to-it’ factor that has enabled sports centres and their changing rooms to stay the same for so long.

Right, so there are three types of sword used in fencing, the foil, the epee and the sabre. Apologies, especially to the likes of Vanessa Mitchell and Patricia Ann McKinnes for the absence of accents.

So there are ten of us beginners, nine men, one woman. Geoff Keay, our instructor, explains the evolution of swords from heavy, slashing weapons to lightweight sidearms used for stabbing. We are using the epee, longer than a foil, shorter than a sabre.

We are standing there in stab-proof clothing which zips up at the back. Mostly, it doesn’t fit very well because it’s the club’s kit and you have to rummage around in piles of stuff to find a jacket, glove and visor that you can put on. There are instructions about safety precautions, then footwork, balance, how to hold the sword and then the good bit. We are arranged in pairs and told to stab each other in the chest. It’s good fun. You can see your sword striking your opponent and it doesn’t hurt when he scores a hit on your chest.

Then Geoff says “Now go for the face.”

Really? Even though we have wire-mesh visors, we all hesitate before tentatively jabbing our opponents’ faces. Somehow, far more than going for the torso, this action reminds us that this martial art is not just self defence; this is about killing the other guy.

You can stab your opponent from a standing position or by lunging at him. The former is quicker but the latter can be done from a safer distance. Then there are the parries – ways of deflecting the incoming blade – and then the ripostes. If your opponent is close enough to strike you, he’s close enough to be struck. So, if you’ve succeeded in knocking his blade out of the way, he’s defenceless. Go for it.

Two hours passes quickly, no-one gets hurt and then most of us go to the pub. A pleasant evening followed by a very good night’s sleep. (That’s probably more than enough links but I’ve been on a course and I’m practising.)

In the morning, my legs feel heavy and my thigh muscles ache from prancing about in a knees-bent way for a couple of hours. All-in-all, it feels good. Looking forward to next time.