What’s it like to fence?

A Peak Associate gives the inside scoop of what it’s like to be on the team

A photo of a member of the SFU fencing team lunging at the other with a foil (sword) in hand.
Fencing explores the power of teamwork. Photo: Jacob Mattie / The Peak

By: Jacob Mattie, Peak Associate  

Marie-Rose Bruskiewicz, head coach of the SFU fencing team emphasized our en garde stance on Tuesday’s practice. She assigned 10 pushups to anyone out of line. Notorious for challenging workouts, the training regime is in line with the team’s aspirations to compete at the highest levels. 

The first training session of the semester ended with a ten-minute plank, wherein groups of seven were only allowed to have two people resting at a time. It’s a team-building exercise to help us learn to cover for each others’ weaknesses. It’s the camaraderie within the team that separates the experience of fencing from what many might perceive to be a solitary sport. 

When fencing, you need to be entirely self-sufficient, but rather than isolating teammates, this serves as a great way to bring the team together. In each bout, you get to know your opponent intimately — how they react when they’re startled, the types of situations they fence best in, and the strengths they try to play on. You need to fence everyone differently, and after a few bouts with a team member, you get a really in-depth perspective of who they are. 

“Although matches are played by individual players, their performance is a culmination of individual and team work,” said Jonathan Hui, member of the SFU fencing team. “We spar, advise, and encourage as a means of learning from one another.”

The diversity of members’ athletic backgrounds range from martial arts, dance, running, and soccer mean there are many different approaches to fencing. 

Matthew Cheng, a team member who practices karate as well, said, “Karate helps my fencing, and fencing helps my karate, especially if we start looking at [similarities in] footwork.” While fencing is somewhat linear as a sport — an athlete’s movement is limited on a piste (runway-like strip) about a meter wide — this places a heavier focus on details. “Fencing can be severely more precise,” he said.

Drawing on nationally-recognized fencers from India and Canada, the coaching body of the fencing team is no stranger to the world stage, nor does it lack the experience to support its fencers in their endeavours. The core of this, says coach Bruskiewicz, is in the training. “We [aim to] live in the pressure, so that when the pressure of competition finally comes, it doesn’t surprise us.” 

For this reason, many of the exercises carry a mental component as well. Whether that be reacting under pressure, or learning to push your body through mind-numbing quantities of repetitions, practices are designed to build fencers with the “confidence [that] comes from a belief in your ability to handle tough situations.”

Because more than training athletes, the team pushes its members to be the best people they can be — both on and off the piste.