When you say the word “fencing,” most people know what you’re talking about, even if you’re not talking about enclosing your yard. They may have seen movies such as “The Mask of Zorro” or the Bond film “Die Another Day,” or may perhaps take an interest every four years when the Olympics come around.
However, few people are able to say much about the sport, so what exactly does it involve? Here is some trivia to enlighten you:First, did you know that competitors can practice with three separate weapons, the saber, foil and épée, which each involve slightly different skills and technique? Or that it is one of just four sports that have featured at every modern Olympic Games? Finally, did you know that you can take up fencing here in Costa Rica?
In fact, fencing has something of a history in the country. Costa Rica’s first ever Olympian, Manuel de la Guardia, was a fencer at the Berlin Games of 1936, and the 1992 Barcelona Games saw another Tico, Esteban Mullins, take to the piste for his country.
Furthermore, at the time of writing, four competitors, Dirley Yepes, Mario Redonet, Fabián Sales and Alberto Cruz, were in the Mexican city of Querétaro attempting to qualify for the games this summer in Beijing.
“It will be difficult for them to qualify, but I have always had faith that they could do it, as they have trained well and are motivated,” said Luis Cruz, 55, president of the Costa Rican Fencing Association and maestro at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) club.
“The important thing about competing in these types of events is that it will not just improve them technically, but also their expectations will grow. They can think big, of world championships, of Olympic Games, and that really helps,” he added.
Do not be alarmed, however. You certainly do not have to be an international athlete to try fencing. In fact, everyone is welcome, from adults to children as young as 6.
“We accept everyone,” Cruz said. “The UCR club is open to all the public, and we have a lot of school kids and students.”
“At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I saw fencing on TV and I thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’” said Lucia Sáenz, 21. “I didn’t even know it happened in Costa Rica, but then one day I came here and I loved it, absolutely loved it.”
“I got involved because, when I started at the university, I was looking to join some sort of club,” said Bradley Johnston, 18. “I tried fencing and it was just great.”
The UCR club, founded in 1988, is the oldest of the country’s four clubs. Though the sport may not be widely practiced here, it is nevertheless surprisingly competitive.
“We interact quite a lot,” Cruz said. “Each year we hold a national championship, and in the buildup to that we have a series of tournaments throughout the year with each weapon.We also have tournaments for children, and a lot of juniors are involved. It is quite competitive and gets more so each time.”
Certainly the impressive young fencers who train at UCR are keen to improve, but there is also a strong emphasis on fun, with a real spirit among the fencers.
“We help each other out,” Cruz said. “Those who have been with us longer help the newer ones. One of the things I really like about this bunch is that they are united; it’s a good, fun group and they are really pleased when new people come on board.”
What’s more, there is absolutely no sign of the elitism that some people might associate with the sport.
“At first, some people are cautious because they have that preconception,” Cruz said. “But fencing is not really like that.”
Contrary to what you may expect, fencing is not necessarily an expensive sport. The national association receives funding from the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER), as well as from the International Fencing Federation and the National Olympic Committee. UCR club members pay just ¢6,500 ($13) per month and are provided with all the necessary clothing and equipment.
“A lot of people automatically assume that it is very expensive, but that is just not true,” Sáenz said.
Finally, like all sports, fencing is a great way to work out, as it improves fitness and helps with balance and coordination.
“A lot of people come to us who do not do sport,” Cruz said, “and you can really see them improve, which is great.”
“It really works the legs. Everything from the waist down is really working hard,” he added.
“I really feel in good shape now,” said Carolina Chavarría, 19, who took up the sport just over a month ago. “I enjoy it all, learning how to fence, getting to know new people, exercising. It’s all great.”
For more information on fencing in the country or to find a club here, visit www.esgrimacrc.com.