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Modern sport, Victorian combat - The Galveston County Daily News : Galveston

July 26, 2014

Modern sport, Victorian combat

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Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Fri Jun 13, 2014.

Fencing is a modern sport and an ancient art. Gone are sharp edges and points. Competition weapons are designed for electronics, which determine the touch and its validity. In the 21st century, fencing is a very athletic and highly intellectual game of agility, power, cunning and bluff.

For teen fencers seeking to penetrate into the elite levels, little compares to the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, held each February. Some secure a spot at the “JOs” by acquiring national points, gained at North American Cup competitions. For others, a second option is available.

USA Fencing, the national governing body for the sport, divides the country into 68 “divisions.” The Gulf Coast Texas Division, as the name suggests, takes in an arc from Beaumont to Brownsville and extends inland to cities like Huntsville and College Station.

Every fall, divisions hold qualifying competitions for the JOs. The Gulf Coast Qualifiers will be held by the Galveston Fencing Club in the gym at the O’Connell School on Saturday, December 7th.

As fencing has a modern face, it also has a history. In the past, those who prepared for the day when they would defend life and honor with steel, used wooden practice weapons. In the Middle Ages wooden “wasters” were used while honing the techniques of the broadsword. In the age of the sabre and cutlass, a unique training weapon was developed called the “Singlestick,” a yard-long ash wood pole with a wicker basket to protect the hand.

By the Victorian Age, the singlestick was both a practice weapon for British and American soldiers and sailors and a competitive sport. In the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” Holmes is said to be, “an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.” In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a friend, “Late in the afternoon I played at singlestick with General Wood and Mr. Ferguson. I am going to get your father to come on and try it soon. We have to try to hit as light as possible, but sometimes we hit hard, and today I have a bump over one eye and a swollen wrist.”

Due to the robust play of the sticks, rigid leather sometimes replaced wicker as the hand guard. Often the first fighter bleeding from the head was considered the loser.

On Sunday, December 8th, during Dickens on The Strand, the Galveston Fencing Club, in conjunction with Purpleheart Armoury in Conroe, will host the 2013 Texas Assault singlestick fencing tournament at the Texas Seaport Museum and the Elissa. The 2012 Texas Assault, also in Galveston, was the first such tournament in Texas since World War I. The modern tournaments use bamboo and rigid leather for the weapons and protective gear is employed.

For more information on either event, email the Galveston Fencing Club via gfencing@gmail.com.