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HCMCity residents take a stab at fencing

Update: January, 19/2015 - 13:56
On guard: Fencers in specialised white protective clothing and safety helmets are engrossed in their practice.

Adventurous Vietnamese who want to test out their stamina and agility are flocking to the challenging sport. Yen Trinh reports.

More people, including women, in HCM City are taking up fencing - the sport that involves fighting with slender swords - which has become popular among urban youth in recent years.

At 7pm, the 80sq.m hall on the third floor of the HCM City Youth Culture House in District 1 is filled with the clanking sounds of metal.

The fencers are totally engrossed in their practice. They wear specialised white protective clothing that includes a safety helmet, double-layered jacket and a pair of gloves.

The swords are so thin that viewers can hardly make them out in photos.

The noise makes most passers-by stop and become captivated by the fencers' brisk movements, even as they wonder if the swords are dangerous.

Fencing, which is an Olympic sport, is best practiced in countries with a temperate climate.

During their first practice sessions, fencers learn how to move their feet, which accounts for about half of the sport's movements.

The lighter the fencers' foot movements are, the higher their chances of winning.

They then learn how to manoeuvre their swords, move forward to thrust them, and figure out what their opponents are thinking to boost their chances of winning.

It takes a persistent practitioner around four sessions to grasp the sport's basics.

The last few minutes of the sessions are the most boisterous, as the fencers are divided into pairs to practice duelling.

A fencing match typically lasts five minutes. The "weapon" is called an "epee," which is a French word to denote the modern derivative of the duelling sword.

According to Wikipedia, as a thrusting weapon the "epee" is similar to a "foil", but it has a stiffer blade with a triangular cross-section and a V-shaped groove called a fuller.

It has a larger bell guard and is heavier too. A "foil" is usually preferred by female fencers, as it is easier to manoeuvre.

Both the "epee" and "foil" are not dangerous, as they have no blades.

Challenging: Fencing requires players to use both their physical and mental agility.

A tiny electronic contact attached to the sword's tip emits a sound whenever it hits the opponent, so that the points are calculated.

The valid target area is divided into four areas and restricted to the fencer's upper body, spanning half his/her neck.

According to Hoang Anh, chair of the VietnamFunClub based at the HCM City Youth Culture House and District 5 Cultural Centre, regular fencing practice improves players' stamina, patience, wits and courage.

"Fencing is really intriguing, as it requires players to use both their physical and brain power. Excellent players are supposed to keenly observe their opponents, not by looking at their eyes or limbs but by watching them as a whole. They sometimes need to feign to divert their opponents' attention, or make calculated guesswork of what their rivals are planning to do," Anh explained.

Hoang Nam, 22, who has practiced the sport as a group leader at the VietnamFunClub for one year now, showcased his attack strikes, including jumping forward on his stronger leg and making sharp sword strokes in the air.

"The manoeuvre is not very technically demanding, as skilled players also attack on their weaker leg to trick their opponent," Nam said.

Fencing appeals to both men and women alike.

Thien An is drawn to the sport for its novelty and lower technical requirements.

"Fencing builds up my flexibility, agility and stamina. I gradually draw from my own experience on attack and defence," the 24-year-old woman said.

Doan Thi Le, another female player, said that she ached all over after the first practice sessions, but now the workout has considerably boosted her stamina and inner strength.

One of the sport's main appeals lies in its advanced manoeuvres.

Nam and Anh - of the VietnamFunClub - keep updating themselves on new manoeuvres with increasing difficulty and then show them to the other players.

The more technically challenging manoeuvres include moving mostly with the weaker leg, training for lightning-speed reflexes, feigning fatigue to trick opponents, and guessing their next moves.

"We keep improving our skills each day, which also helps enhance our patience and overcome our shyness. I feel all my work-related stress and fatigue vanish into thin air after each practice session," Nam said.

Those interested can enroll in fencing courses available at the HCM City Youth Culture House, at 4 Pham Ngoc Thach Street, District 1, or the foreigner-packed Phu My Hung in District 7.

The tuition fee is about VND200,000 (US$9.5) for four sessions per month. — VNS

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