If you read my last Team of the Week article, you will be pleased to know that the rugby team returned from Ireland with a 100% win record! (See their Rugby Tour to Ireland report.) This week my eye has been turned by another extremely successful sporting club: the Shrewsbury Fencing team.
I have always been a fan of good fencing, especially since we now have our own garden. My blind ‘working’ cocker spaniel Ted keeps disappearing through a hole in the hedge and into the woods beyond. There he gets stuck and barks loudly until someone (me) comes to retrieve him. These disappearances were happening late at night and at other massively inconvenient times (e.g. during Brighton playing Hull in the FA Cup). So it was decided to get some of Shrewsbury’s finest fencers round to block Ted’s woodland exit holes. I am happy to say that – admittedly after two separate visits (he is a wily hound) – Ted is now firmly encased by good fencing.
Shrewsbury School is also blessed with good fencing, particularly around the grounds sheds! (Apologies for bad fencing jokes. Please don’t take offence or a fence as that would be stealing!) Back in 1552 when fencing was literally a matter of life and death, Ken Holding started coaching at Shrewsbury School – one of his first pupils being Sir Philip Sidney. There may be some slight inaccuracies in my last sentence but Ken has been coaching here for 43 years which is quite a record. Reminiscing about his own career as a fencer, he thought that beating the Danish National Squad in an International event with two old Salopians Phil Robinson and John Nugent stood out as a highlight.
Apart from coaching here, Ken has also helped choreograph plays and had lessons with the late Bob Anderson, who worked on fight scenes in Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean among other films. He was quick to mention the work of two of Shrewsbury’s finest film star fencers: Ed Bullen (PH 1983-88) who appeared in Ken Brannagh’s Hamlet and Dan Morris (M 1983-88) who played an important part in Rob Roy. (It should be noted that it was an important small part.) Dan Morris also fenced for Scotland with Richard Kelly (PH 1985-90). Dan is now the opthalmologist for the Welsh Rugby team and lives in Cardiff. I know him quite well as I am married to his sister Emily. I asked Dan what motivated him to start fencing. He told me, “It was when Emily was fencing for the GB under-16s and started to be quite aggressive at home. I felt it was important as her older brother not to feel continually threatened and have to wear body armour at all times. So I took up the sport in order to protect myself and my friends.” Emily, Esther Schützer-Weissman and Eleanor Bullen were the first girls to be given Shrewsbury School sports colours of any form, as they represented the School whilst winning the West Midlands Girls Team Championships in 1992. (By happy coincidence, Esther will be returning to Shrewsbury next Tuesday to give a Careers Talk on ‘A Career as a Barrister’ – a chance, perhaps, for a reunion of ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires Feminins’?)
It seems the Shrewsbury Fencing club were ahead of their time and perhaps it is no surprise that the current Captain of the Senior Squad is a young lady by the name of Lucy Petch (MSH UVI). Lucy has won the respect of the entire squad by virtue of being a very organised person and also an inspiration to others. Marco Lee (I V), Arthur Cheng (SH LVI) and Scott Reynolds (Rb V) were quick to praise Lucy. “She connects well with the squad and is brilliant at sabre,” they said all at the same time.
Ken is hoping that Lucy and Izzy Codron (EDH UVI) will perform well at the Public Schools’ Competition (March 18-20th). He also told me that he is very proud of his current fencing squad. He went on to state that he thinks it is the best squad the School has had since he started coaching here.
Sabre coach Andrew Holding is also very upbeat about his current crop of fencers. He thinks their strength is that they are very coachable. Certainly their recent dominance of the Shropshire Open was impressive, as were their results at the West Midlands Championships. Jeff Pun (O LVI) came 3rd in the Epee, Marco Lee was 3rd in the Foil, Ross Viljoen (PH LVI) was 2nd in the Senior sabre and Scott Reynolds, Jonty Small (M UVI) and Arthur Cheng have performed with great skill and are all going to be involved in the National Championships. There is certainly sharpness about this squad and a cut and thrust seldom seen in other sports.
English Master Michael Schützer-Weissman (father of the afore-mentioned Esther) is currently the Master in Charge of Fencing. I asked him what had led him to take responsibility for this clearly vibrant sport. He told me, “A keen riposte has always been a noted feature of the Salopian character, but not all our readers are aware of how sharp it can be. The steely conversation of parry and thrust has echoed across the salle d’armes under the expert gaze of Ken and Andrew Holding for many generations.
"A fencer’s forte is found in action rather than in words, but we felt that the world at large should know a little bit more about the many successes of the Shrewsbury School Fencing Club. In order to see our results in the correct perspective, it is important to understand that Salopians fence most of their contests against experienced, adult opponents. Results at the Public Schools’ Championships show how successful the School’s fencers are with regard to their equals and contemporaries.
"Salopian fencers do more than fight among themselves and against others. They also learn to referee matches and, as in the days of chivalry, to become their own armourers.”
You do not need any credentials to know that the reputation of the club is a beacon for Shrewsbury. It is quite clear that Fencing at Shrewsbury is more than secure. Good luck to our fencers in their important forthcoming tournaments. Make sure there are no holes in your defence!