Sports

South Enders take a stab at learning the art of fencing

Langley fencing instructor Eric Hood demonstrates an offensive lunge to Nancy Bowen and other members of his fencing class recently. Bowen, 61, believes you are never too old to try new things. “That’s the secret of staying young,” she said. - Jeff VanDerford
Langley fencing instructor Eric Hood demonstrates an offensive lunge to Nancy Bowen and other members of his fencing class recently. Bowen, 61, believes you are never too old to try new things. “That’s the secret of staying young,” she said.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

In Europe during the Middle Ages, villagers would keep a sword handy to ward off marauding bandits. Being unhorsed during a battle meant a medieval knight would be forced to fight on foot. Weapon of choice? A broadsword, tall as a man and capable of great damage.

During the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan, guns were outlawed and sword-wielding samurai kept the peace.

Using a sword to defend your life or keep unruly peasants in line may be a thing of the past. But the art of fencing is very much alive for Langley instructor Eric Hood and his merry band of novices.

As Hood patiently gave commands — “Advance, retreat, advance, now lunge!” — his class proceeded through their routines and friendly combat.

Hood studied fencing at Whitman College in Walla Walla and has taught the sport on the island for five years.

“It teaches real discipline,” Hood noted. “And it takes time to master the movements, some of which are both specific and necessary. Without the fundamentals, you’re an easy target.”

There are three boys under 20 learning the sport. And then there is 61-year-old Nancy Bowen, for whom learning how to fence is a 30-year dream.

“Of course, I’m in a different age group,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me, though.”

Years ago, Bowen became intrigued by old movies that featured Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power outwitting the always-evil Basil Rathbone (who was a master swordsman, unlike the stars). “It’s beautiful to watch, very regimented,” she said.

Bowen is a bit of a Renaissance woman herself who has taken the plunge for scuba diving among other pursuits. She believes fencing helps her stay young, physically and mentally.

Her advice to seniors? “Just do it; keep moving and don’t look back.”

With that, Bowen donned her mask, grabbed her foil and began to parry Sean McDougald’s attacks.

Marshall Edelen, 12, thinks learning how to foil his opponents is just “very cool.”

His mother Rina agreed.

“Marshall would cut bamboo stalks in the backyard to make a sword,” she recalled. “Then he discovered video games. This is so much more constructive, a way for him to understand how his body works in space. And he loves it.”

For more information, call Hood at 321-4011.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or e-mail at sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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