Two blades gleam in the light. Two figures advance on each other, gloved, clad in white, right arms up and at the ready. One man lunges at his opponent. The foe moves simultaneously.

Their movements send each past the other, but the second, with the reflexes of a cat, manages a jab in the other’s back.

So comes one of the first strikes in this fencing match between junior Daniel Snow and Eric Dudley ’05, two of the most experienced members of the UR Fencing Club. All around them sound the blades of a dozen other fighters, echoing off the walls of Spurrier Gym.

Dudley and Snow draw close to each other yet again. Dudley aims high at Snow’s chest, but Snow, with the poise of a cobra, lunges underneath Dudley’s blade to take his own point. The back-and-forth continues as the words “Ready, fence!” resonate around them (Snow will eventually take the match).

Today’s practice is for the advanced class, which numbers around 20. The fencers have warmed up after an hour. The day started off with a rousing game of soccer in recognition of the beautiful Sunday weather, and it’s a change from the usual warm-up game known lovingly as Chaos Ball, a true-to-name combination of what I imagine to be basketball and rugby.

In the spirit of feeling all that the fencers feel, I joined in the warm-up game and the drills that followed. It was actually a period of great self-discovery; for instance, I discovered in myself muscles that I didn’t know I had – by pulling them. I also discovered I need to buy extra-strength Aleve. But I suppose I deserve it for my year-long absence from the gym during sophomore year.

Considering that fancy feet are the foundations of a fantastic fencer, the footwork drills are the cornerstones of the practices.

I couldn’t help but think of the girl at Gazelle Sports who told me, “Oh yeah, these shoes are just perfect for foot support, they’ll make your feet comfortable for a long time.” Liar.

Drills revolve around the primary form of attack, the advance lunge. The fencer takes a quick, small step forward before launching out the dominant foot, hand outstretched, while the other foot holds firmly in place. It’s meant to be swift and graceful. Mine seems reminiscent of a drunken ox, but the actual fencers do a fine job. It’s also encouraging that at one time (theoretically, since I’ve never been renowned for my grace) they were all like me. Many hadn’t touched a foil before arriving at UR.

“[I’d] always wanted to do it and finally had the opportunity,” sophomore Thomas Mehmel said, resting from his own bout with Snow. “I don’t think there was fencing back near home.”

The others echo Mehmel’s sentiments, and have thoroughly enjoyed the plunge into fencing. Dudley joined the community’s Rochester Fencing Club and, along with his coaching positions at UR Fencing, reached eight practices a week before needing to rest.

Despite the heart they put into their sport, however, the fencers are not gung-ho competitive.

“The really cool thing about the club is that there’s such a broad range,” Vice President and senior Kate Clingan said. “You get to decide whether you go harder into this or do it for fun a few times a week and then maybe a tournament.”

Indeed, the fencers are less about points and more about community. They are a very inclusive and seemingly carefree group, enjoying friendly jibes and debating who would win in a clash between “The Princess Bride’s” Inigo Montoya and the legendary Cyrano de Bergerac. The graduates acquired a home off campus known lovingly as the Fencing Haus. The only major disagreements come over which of the three swords – foil, saber and pe – is best.

“Each weapon sort of fits itself to a certain personality type,” physics graduate student Daniel Berdine notes. “Movement and distance and being unpredictable are more what I prefer,” he says, noting the foil’s affinity for those characteristics.

Senior Grace Butler, resting from a number of consecutive duels, is the only one to wield a saber at today’s practice.

“[The saber] is a little more fast-paced, a little more aggressive than the pe. I like the aggressiveness better.”

The dueling rages on. Sideline coaches critique the attacks.

“Parry – attempted riposte was off target. Ready, fence!”

The team winds down their practice. Beginner and advance practices are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7:30-9:30 p.m. in Spurrier.

Despite the sweat and fatigue, the fencers each exude a kind of contagious energy. Masks put away, foils sheathed, bags packed, they head together toward lunch. As it turns out, Bergerac seems to have beaten Montoya.


Brenneman is a member of the class of 2009.

To all the overachievers out there

If you’re wasting the most amazing years of your life stressing about the future and always working, you’re ruining yourself.


They moved in packs, resembling clouds of yellow pain. Their intent: to drive students into buildings, away from campus center, and just generally insane.

Life is pay to win. College? The giant paywall

For a game that preaches freedom of choice, there are an awful lot of decisions essentially made for us. Exhibit A: the decision to play at all.