The recent return of The Musketeers ('Les trois mousquetaires') on a Friday night seems to have triggered my fencing ‘antennae’. I should quickly point out that I am not usually in on a Friday night to watch this homage to the age of chivalry and musketry, being a highly sought-after dinner companion, (although there are a couple of Fridays I could do). I do try to find a window of opportunity to watch the Dumas-inspired frivolity once I have finished my marking and preparation, cooked and washed up supper and completed my laundry duties. I am therefore looking forward to catching up with the series over half term.
Ken and Andy Holding are very happy coaches of the Shrewsury School Fencing Club. Last year (28th Feb) I might have mentioned in my Team of the Week piece that Ken had been coaching fencing at Shrewsbury since 1552, which was of course a little disrespectful and I must apologise. Ken started coaching fencing to help the locals fight off the Romans. He has had greater success since then. Indeed Ken told me (holding back the years - I mean tears), that this was a very emotional time for him as he had just witnessed the first Salopian victory of the Shropshire Men’s Open competition.
GB: When did you take up the sword?
ML: When I was about 10.
GB: As an RS teacher, I was put off by Jesus’s quote that ‘he who lives by the sword will die by it’. Were you?
GB: I guess Jesus was probably referring to professional fencers.
ML: Probably and any way I am an amateur.
GB: What is your favourite film?
ML 22 Jump Street.
GB: Is that about fencing?
GB: Who is your favourite fencer? D’Artagnan?
ML: No, it is Lei Sheng who was the World Champion and Gold Medallist in 2012.
GB: With Valentine’s Day coming up, is there anyone special to duel with?
ML: Yes, but I’m not mentioning any names!
GB: Who is your favourite filmstar?
ML: Johnny Depp.
GB: Is that because of his marvellous swordsmanship in the Pirates of the Caribbean films?
ML: No not really!
I discovered that Marco is really looking forward to the Public Schools Championships. He came third in the ‘foil’ last year but hopes to go better this year. I wondered if he might do better dressed in something other than foil – it must get a bit hot.
One man does not make a club however (unless that man is a club maker). The Shrewsbury School Fencing Club has a membership of 42 and is one of the biggest and most successful school clubs in the country. Ken told me he has trouble finding other schools who will give our top fencers a proper work out. A good number of the squad have qualified for the National Finals later in the term. They include Scott Reynolds (under 18 Foil), Arthur Cheng (under-18 Epee), Ross Viljoen (under-18 Sabre), Marco Lo (under-16 Foil), Krem Todorova (under-18 Girls' Sabre) and James Hinwood (under-14 Epee).
It is clearly a very sociable club and already a lot of last years’ leavers, including former captain Lucy Petch, have been back to say hi and lend their support to the current team. I caught up with a few of the fencers during a recent training session. I also stumbled on the final of the senior boys foil trophy between Scott Reynolds and Marco Lee. Although losing 15-9, Scott Reynolds was happy to talk to me about his love of fencing. I started by asking him if he like me was enthused by the Musketeers, expecting a positive response, as surely everyone loves the Musketeers? He told me that the programme really annoys him because of the poor quality of fencing. He would like to take on the role of D’Artagnan himself to increase the programme’s popularity among fencers.
Shocked by this response I then showed Scott a video of Iron Maiden and asked him if he had been inspired by Bruce Dickinson. I got the feeling that Scott had not heard of this ancient ‘Rock God’ when I had to explain about his music and his fencing career. He was certainly not a fan of his music. Slightly unsettled by Scott’s cultural appetite, I asked him what had attracted him to fencing. “I find fencing fabulously frenetic, fiercely ferocious and a fine pastime.”
After that alliterative outburst I dried my face and spoke to Krem Todorova, who was keen to tell me how much she enjoyed fencing. She had started Fives last year but had quickly moved to fencing as it is warmer in the gym and she didn’t have to listen to Mr Barnard’s cricketing stories. Krem is looking forward to the Public Schools’ competition and paid tribute to Mr Schützer-Weismann’s dedicated organising of the trip.
Ilya Olkov told me that he found that fencing made him feel like a sporting superhero. “Fencing makes me feel like a sporting superhero,” he said.
Tom Creamer admitted he was missing RS but felt that fencing had helped to fill the void, if only partially. Guy Cabral has been fencing for years and felt that the ability to hold a sword in the right manner had helped his stage portrayal of a military figure in the Senior School Play Cyrano de Bergerac last term.
Rhys Trevor is enjoying his sabre and Archie Free told me he liked the happy atmosphere always to be found at fencing training. Otto Rothwell-Hurley admitted that he had been inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean and likes fencing with a spoon.
Then I spotted a fierce looking Angel Chan who promised to take her sword to Central in Hong Kong to keep her family from getting themselves into trouble. Lisa Stolyarova is also a keen fencer. "I am a keen fencer," she told me.
Sherry He likes fencing because "you don’t have to run too much – just run people through!"
Another rising star is James ‘Zorro’ Hinwood. James has already had much success this season, including a Gold medal in the West Midlands Championship that has given him a chance to shine on the national stage. He is tipped to go a long way in the sport. Perhaps he will star in a remake of The Flashing Blade – a programme that I remember fondly from my childhood and one I would dearly love to see again!
I left the gym sensing that we may have good news to report from the Public Schools championships. En garde the Shrewsbury Fencers!