I have to admit, I’ve not been the best at keeping fit while living in the GCC, but I do like a the idea of a sport with a bit of drama. So when I was invited along to a fencing class, I was immediately intrigued.
Fencing? All that comes to mind is a scene from Peter Pan, or The Mask of Zorro. I want to be able to walk out of the room with my innards all still intact – but I’m assured from the get-go that it’s safe. Firstly, we take a look at the “weapons”. There are three to choose from: foil, épée and sabre. I learn that all three have different rules in each game and fencers tend to specialise in one. Today, I will be using an épée, which has a large bell-shaped guard. I learn that unlike the other swords that are restricted to certain areas of the body, the épée enables me to aim for any area of my opponent’s body, just not the back – it’s literally the most disrespectful action to stab someone in the back.
I begin with some simple stretching to warm up my joints. The instructor notes that warming up in fencing is like building a house. You start with the foundations first (your feet) and work your way up, with a heavy focus on neck and arm stretching. I couldn’t help but compare fencing to a choreographed dance, or even yoga. If you can hold a warrior or tree position in yoga then fencing is right up your street. Its foundations are clearly about core strength and balance.
Stretches done, it’s time to learn the “en-garde” position, which is in three steps. A step forward is performed by moving my leading foot forward and then bringing my rear foot up to finish. The second step is doing the first step backwards. As simple as it sounds, this challenges my balance and inner core strength. I’m told my upper body should not move too much and it’s hard to not look down at my feet. At times, I feel more like a ballerina than Zorro.
Now to the lunge. The aim is to take a large step forward and land my foot flat on the floor. When the point of the épée hits the opponent, a slight lift of my hand ensures that the blade bends upwards when hitting him.
Next, and possibly the part I’ve been looking forward to most, I’m fitted out in my protective clothing, and thankfully it’s well padded. Fencers need to wear a tough protective chest shield. It’s not the most comfortable attire, yet it is entirely necessary.
With my épée selected, I’m fitted with a helmet. Wearing it, no-one can see my face, which is probably a good thing because now it’s getting real. Nerves are building.
I put into practise the three steps I learned and take (ahem) a stab at it.
At first, I find it quite hard to hit the target perfectly. I also realise the amount of mental concentration that is required in this sport.
My instructor slips on his jacket and helmet, which I can only assume means I’m about to try and dual a man who is a five-time National Champion of Bulgaria in the Modern Pentathlon. I am doomed. I feel like curling up into a ball and surrendering, but I need to show him what I’m made of.
Luckily he is just refereeing. Now that I’ve been shown some basics, it’s time for me to meet my opponent: a 14-year-old student. But first, before we start our challenge, I learn some standard etiquette.
Firstly, we must salute each other. I hold my helmet in my left hand, look my opponent straight in the eye and raise my blade to my right eye. In a swift movement, we then direct our épées to the floor before turning to our coach and ref, and salute him in respect.
We can’t see each other’s faces and I’m secretly glad, because right now I’m noticeably scared of a teenager.
The chance of me striking her is low, but there is nothing like a mask to hide fear. Being the true respectful fencer she is, however, she kindly doesn’t go too hard on me. She even lets me attack her, even though I’m sure hitting her in the head (when I was aiming for her chest) isn’t exactly respectful on my part, but it still scored me a point. After our bout, we end by shaking hands.
I am won over by the tradition and respect for this 19th century Olympic sport – a self-defence sport that’s both polite and theatrical. Fencing is not a violent sport, it’s about discipline and tact. It’s not just a physical exercise, it’s also a mental one, and anybody can try it, no matter your fitness level or age. Contact the Bahrain Fencing Association to find out how you can train. Visit www.boc.bh.
Four to try Olympic Sports that also debuted in 1896
Sailing Learn how to sail and navigate a powerboat or dinghy at Biss Marine in Amwaj Marina. They host training sessions, courses and excursions, and even rent out beautiful boats and yachts. You could even learn to wakeboard, wakesurf, waterski or dive. Amwaj Marina, Amwaj Islands, www.bissmarine.com (16 034 486).
It's never too late to learn to swim, whether you are 20 or 60 years old. It is a lifestyle skill that everyone should learn. The Royal Golf Club has private swimming coaching for both adults and kids, with 30-minute sessions that fit in with your schedule. The Royal Golf Club, Riffa Views, www.theroyalgolfclub.com (17 750 777).
Olympic weightlifting is one of the best ways to tone up, gain strength, improve overall athletic ability and increase flexibility. Many gyms have the equipment to help you lift. Ghassan's Gym in particular has over 150 weight training tools. Ramli Mall, A'ali, www.ghassansgym.com (17 695 911).
While it's best known for its theatrics, wrestling can also be a beneficial, competitive sport. The Bahrain MMA Gym teaches this and other combat sports from Tubli for men, women and children, too. Road 13, block 711, Tubli, www.bahrainmma.com (13 630 620).