This family fight was a cut above

Tiring of his children's quarrels, Adrian Mourby handed them over to a fencing teacher. His point was soon made

We were watching The Prisoner of Zenda with its seven-minute sword-fight when the idea struck. Fencing would give my wife and me much-needed exercise and thechildren an outlet for their sporadic aggression. Stewart Granger and James Mason didn't stick their tongues out at each other; they lunged, parried and riposted.

We were watching The Prisoner of Zenda with its seven-minute sword-fight when the idea struck. Fencing would give my wife and me much-needed exercise and thechildren an outlet for their sporadic aggression. Stewart Granger and James Mason didn't stick their tongues out at each other; they lunged, parried and riposted.

"Yay!" was Livvie's response and John seemed keen too. My wife had always been taken with the idea that I'd fenced at university. Here was her chance to see me swashing my buckle. I explained that fencing was not sword-fighting: it was closer to ballet than martial arts, and it wouldn't be easy. But our first lesson was a doddle compared with finding our way to a sports hall in Thame, Oxfordshire, where we met Andy Green, kitted out in white fencing gear like Toby Stephens in Die Another Day.

Andy works with beginners at Thame Duellists. It was a relief to find that our first four lessons would be compressed into one. In my day, we hadn't even touched a foil in the first lesson. We just shuffled to and fro with our right hand extended like the preposterous knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Andy kept the terminology to a minimum and soon had us in masks, and handling battered old foils. Kate insisted that I pair up with John. She wouldn't trust him with a wooden spoon let alone a piece of metal designed for stabbing. Rather than just divert my foil from his target, he tried to knock it out of my hand. Meanwhile, left-handed Livvie was bouncing into the air with each move, like Yoda fighting Darth Tyranus. Kate, a lifelong non-competitor with the killer instincts of a daisy, enjoyed perfecting the moves more than fighting. A lot of what I'd learnt came back to me - the gracefulness, the speed and fluidity. What was different was the ache in my quadriceps when I went en garde.

We made good progress. A lot can be said for repeating a sequence of movements over and over again. Less can be said for the masks, which cut down how much you can see and hear.

Towards the end of our session, Andy said he'd fence each of us in turn. I scored the first hit and felt quite pleased. When John and Livvie took their turns, I was chastened to see that Andy let them win too. John asked if he and Livvie could have an intrafamily bout. I should have said no, but both children were keen, and Andy agreed to referee so our 10- and 14-year-old faced each other. John had the advantage of a longer reach and he'd learnt how to advance and retreat. Livvie reminded me of Muhammad Ali. I would have needed spring-soled shoes to spend so much time in the air. The first point went to John who had remembered how to parry and riposte. With the second, Livvie struck back in a dazzling series of manoeuvres.

"Best of three!" cried John. Now the whole scene began more to resemble The Prisoner of Zenda as they marauded round the gym, knocking more experienced fencers out of the way. I'm sure if there had been tables and chandeliers to hand they would have thrown them. Eventually Livvie lunged. John side-stepped, but the tip of her foil caught his flapping fleece, bending enough for Andy to award the point.

Livvie took a victory lap and John muttered darkly of taking up karate. And yet, it had been good. It was exercise and it had rules to prevent the kind of free-for-all we are used to at home. Both children wanted to try again. Kate and I just have to wait until our nerves recover.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Where to go

Adrian Mourby and his family went fencing at Thame Duellists (07834 372302) Lessons cost £7.50 each or £75 per term.

Further information

British Fencing (020-8742 3032; www.britishfencing.com).

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