So I went to the

So I went to the New York Fencers’ Club last night to sign up for five introductory lessons, and it kicked ass. Let me explain:

The New York Fencers’ Club was started in 1883, as an “elite association of prominent New York Socialites” (according to their website). According to the framed pen and ink sketches of former members on their walls, their website isn’t lying. My favorite sketch is in the “small room”, a wooden-floored training hall where I had my lesson. The sketch is from, maybe, 1955, and shows a man and woman in fencing gear, resting their foils on their feet. They are both tall, upright, and impossibly patrician-looking — the woman is beautifully coiffed, and I’m sure she’s wearing a strand of pearls under her jacket. It’s very clear that there was once enough old money around the club to build a stack of large museums. Which, I’m sure, it did.

The lingering F. Scott Fitzgerald aura is a lot of fun, but the classes were what made it really cool. Two other students and I worked with Buckie Leach, a small, friendly guy who was an Olympic coach in 1996 and 2000. He was a fantastic teacher; no pausing for long lectures to explain technique, just lots of fun drills with clear applications. For five minutes, my partner held two foils in the air by the tip: if he dropped the left one, I was to lunge and grab it. If he dropped the right, I was to ignore it. Then we put on fencing jackets and masks and lunged at the wall for a while. Then, we fenced!

I hadn’t realized that I really, really missed sparring in Tae Kwon Do — and I loved this for the same reasons that I liked sparring. Like tennis, sparring is mostly mental: you can either fight a lot faster than your opponent, or just a little smarter. Of course, it helps if you do both. Anyhow, I had a great time: trying to draw my opponent into overcomitting, then lunging — or feinting, slipping around the block, and then lunging. I was fencing with a really enthusiastic guy who had taken some fencing in college: mostly, he got me, but I managed to fake him out a couple of times. It was awesome. And the kung fu I’ve been studying turns out to be really applicable.

So I had a great time and I’ll be back on Monday and Thursday nights. Though I do have to say that there are few garments that are less flattering over a spare tire than a fencing jacket. I’m gonna have to work on refining my patrician figure.

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