With weird wild weather warnings whirling (this week I am also supporting the English Department who have been concentrating on alliteration) round the internet and the news media, I decided to pay a visit to a team that ‘play’ indoors.
I discovered that there was to be a fabulous, fiery, ferocious, feisty, fencing fight fastidiously well-organised taking place in the gym. I turned up having completed some thorough research online and I was looking forward to using some of the terms I had picked up. Would the fencers be employing a Horizontal wane-edged sword or maybe a Feather-edged blade? It was only when I turned up at the gym that world-renowned Fencing expert Heather May gently informed me I had been looking at garden fencing terms.
Heather has been running the fencing at Shrewsbury with Sarah Latcham, who is currently ‘on holiday’ having a baby. Heather was captain of her school Fencing team and is not at all competitive, believing that team spirit is the most important skill to be nurtured. “I am not at all competitive,” she told me as she tried to out-psyche her opposite number from Rugby, Rob Parsons.
After the ‘psyching-out’ was over two hours later, it was time for the match to begin. Under the auspices of being a sports journalist, I asked Rob a few searching questions about his team. I also discovered that Rob was born in the same hospital as me – and that he is something of a Brighton fan. At this point it became clear that Rob is a terrifically talented coach and a top man.
I then went to talk to one half of the dynamic duo who coach the Shrewsbury team. Andy Holding and his dad Ken have been involved with Shrewsbury fencing for over 40 years, and there is not much they can’t tell you about past and present fencers. They know every blade.
Andy told me he had put out his top team for the event, as no one was sure how good the Rugby team would be. “I am quite competitive,” Andy told me.
The team are frequently referred to as the Four Musketeers. “It can be a little awkward when we are out in town, as we have to stop for a number of selfies – especially if the TV series is on,” James ‘Athos’ Hinwood told me. James is currently ranked number 11 in the GB (Great Britain not Giles Bell) under-20s age group.
Koby is so inspired by the Alexander Dumas novels that he likes to study them between matches.
“I find that the power of Porthos invigorates me when I fence, and I have become one with the character. Without the novel beside me I think I would feel unprepared and unable to mentally focus on the challenges ahead.” I asked Koby if he identified with the description given of Porthos by the BBC concerning the TV series which is as follows: “Porthos is a great fighter, an intensely loyal friend and a man who lives life to the full.” Koby nodded his head. “When I am fencing I am Porthos,” he declared.
Jude Huffer is also keen to become a musketeer, and having just come third in the Under-18 West Midlands competition, he can be proud of what he has achieved.
The Musketeers told me that they see Jude stepping up to take the mantle from them when they leave this year. “We see Jude as a new generation of Musketeer,” they all said as one!
Jake Ludlam is another promising young fencer and he is enjoying the success he has been enjoying. “I am enjoying the success I am enjoying,” he claimed, while Oscar Mitchell is on cloud nine after winning the balloon competition that the club put on. I think it involved popping other people’s balloons. Club captain Suky OuYang told me that she was quite surprised that Oscar won, but that perhaps it had something to do with the ceremonial blessing he gave his balloon.
The girls have also been fencing with style. Suky OuYyang has been fencing since she worked out that it was warmer in the gym than on the river at the start of the Fourth Form. Ken Holding told me he is confident that she will gain a medal at the British Public Schools Championships and he wishes she was British as he thinks she would be a potential medallist at a Commonwealth Games. She is a very stylish and fine handler of a sabre sword. She swiftly slashed School House fencer Andrew Chan to pieces in a training match. “I feel shredded,” said Andrew.
Fern Yan, like Suky, was originally attracted to fencing by the fact that is an indoors sport, and Almaz Razif is another young fencer who has been attracting the attention of her coaches, especially when she finished 6th in the West Midlands Championships. Almaz explained to me that her love of fencing comes from her enjoying a good fight. “I am very competitive, like Mrs May,” she told me. She was quick to inform me that in the recent Pupil Symposium she had requested that there be more swords around the site. “I think that we should be more like Sir Philip Sidney and wear swords around the site. Any disagreements could be sorted out via a quick duel.” Almaz is yet to hear back from the Headmaster about this idea.
Scarlett Gibson is another one to watch. She began fencing when her parents suggested she join a club and is yet to find anything that she prefers.
What was clear from my visit to the fencing fraternity is they are a happy bunch. Ken thinks they are a very talented group and is delighted that he has 32 members to coach. There is a specialist coach for each blade (Foil, Sabre and Epée – you see I know!) and this is a strong Shrewsbury School sport, which is perhaps why we beat Rugby 12-0.
Fencing fast, fiercely, ferociously, fairly and frequently is at Shrewsbury to stay.