A three-hour session provides a sufficient introduction to a sport which once had an elitist tag. Classes are held in the basement of London's YWCA, now known as The Central Club, in WC1. It's a venue swarming with disorientated backpackers so be prepared to give directions to all major tourists sites.
Fencing is not for the faint- hearted. To test the state of the organ, an hour of rigorous exercise set by Hungary's ex-fencing champion Zolt Vadaszffy has to be endured. Some of the muscles discovered in these workouts have been sitting around happily gathering cellulite for years. One particularly bizarre, but strenuous drill involved impersonating a kangaroo and jumping a few lengths of the hall.
Having survived the first hour, you then enter the domain of Cyrano de Bergerac, Dangerous Liasons and Hamlet, to mention some of the films for which Holt has choreographed fighting scenes. Movements involve co- ordination, balance, speed-fire reflexes and dainty footwork. A beginner can learn two basic positions in one session - On Guard, the position from which you can attack and defend, and the rather dramatic Lunge. Both are taught with a sword, which isn't called a sword at all and is known as a foil.
Fencing takes a while to adjust to since it bears no resemblance to ordinary sports at all and the mind has a tendency to regard it as a deadly pursuit. Students say that four lessons are enough for beginners to find out if it's their kind of sport and within three months you can start sparring with others. For those more serious about the sport, electrical equipment is provided for scoring. Although not necessary it might be a good idea to take up the sport with a friend - fencing cannot be casually practised at home or in the park.
Zolt explains that there is an equality about the game that he particularly likes. Women are just as good as men since fencing has little to do with strength. Forty per cent of students are female and it is refreshing to see a small-framed woman just over 5ft duelling competitively with a man well over 6ft. Looking around the class it becomes apparent why Holt regards fencing as 'the thinking person's sport'. 'It's very much like chess,' he says. 'It's graceful, sophisticated, tremendously psychological and very addictive.'
Swash and Buckle Fencing Club meets every Monday and Wednesday 6.30-9.30pm at the YWCA Central Club, 16-22 Gt Russell St, Londond WC1 (081-508-8439), pounds 5. Details of fencing around the country available from Amateur Fencing Association, 33 Rothchild Rd, London W4 5HT (081-742 3032)
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