KAYSVILLE – Learning how to control a blade can help kids and teens develop that same control in the rest of their lives.
That’s the philosophy behind Wasatch Fencing, a non-profit, all-volunteer organization based in Kaysville that teaches fencing to youth. Though some students compete in local competitions and have gone on to fence for colleges such as Duke and Stanford, the real purpose of the training is to help the students learn important life lessons.
“We think all kids should be in sports, since it teaches kids what happens in life,” said Ron Hendricks, one of the instructors at Wasatch. “It teaches them dedication and shows them what working hard brings to you.”
It also teaches them that what matters most about winning or losing is how you handle it.
“Once the competition is done, respect is so important,” he said. “Whether you win or lose, you should have a great deal of respect for the other person.”
The school, which these days generally has between 40 and 50 students at a time, started in 1983 on a handball court at Hill Air Force Base. When Hendricks first became involved two years later, it was mostly an opportunity for retired fencers to meet up and practice their sport.
Hendricks, who had first fallen in love with fencing when he searching for an elective class in college, believes he was instrumental in the group shifting its focus to youth fencing.
“When I started, it was all about the competition, but things change when you get older,” he said. “It’s turned out to be more about the kids in the last 15 years than it’s been about the fencing.”
Still, the fencing itself provides a vital structure. There are three styles of fencing Р foil, epee and sabre Р each with different blades, rules and styles of fighting. Despite the differences, all three forms share some similarities.
“The foundational skills and athleticism are pretty much the same,” said Hendricks, who teaches alongside fellow instructors James Neiswanger and Martin Gravis.
Though the school teaches all three forms, it focuses mostly on foil. The target area in foil fencing is the opponent’s torso area, and points can only be scored with the tip of the foil.
“It’s like chess at 80 miles an hour,” said Hendricks.
In epee fencing, hands are a target area, which means that fencers have to spend more time out of range plotting their moves. Sabre fencing is the only form where you can score with the side of the blade.
“Epee is more cerebral,” said Hendricks. “It’s like chess at 50 miles per hour. Sabre fencing has less technique, but a lot of athleticism. It’s like checkers at 200 miles per hour.”
No matter what the form, though, the sport is more understandable for audiences than many realize.
“It’s who hits who first,” he said. “It’s really easy for people to see what’s going on.”
Students from the school recently competed at the Great Salt Lake Fencing Open, a tournament that draws fencers from six western states. Hendricks’ own son, who was taught at the school, was named All-American when he fenced in college.
“At the top level, all fencers are really great athletes,” he said.
In the end, though, success matters less than the sport itself.
“Some of our kids are very competitive,” said Hendricks. “But most of them come in to have fun, learn a skill and walk out a little bit better than they came in.”
For more information, visit wasatchfencing.org.