Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Horace Mann fencing team foils myths

By Andy Gross
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Karen Shim, left, of Horace Mann, scores a point against her opponent from Hackley on Dec. 12 at Horace Mann.

The face of Horace Mann’s (HM) fencing team was hidden behind a mesh mask and throat protector ready to make a point.

Junior Karen Shim, focused yet relaxed, brandished her weapon and made quick work of her Hackley opponent at a meet held Dec. 12 at Horace Mann. 

The Lions (2-0) won the meet by taking three of five events.

HM’s Shim is currently the top ranked fencer in her weapon category, according to the online fencing site BoutShout. Today, she commonly trains up to four hours a day both at school and with a private coach working on her conditioning, technique and footwork.

Still, Shim said she almost quit the sport at one point. 

“I was losing a lot,” said Shim, who has fenced competitively for more than two years. “But my coaches made me stay with it. It is a sport that takes a lot of commitment.”

Spaniard Diego de Valera is widely credited with first writing about fencing in his book, Treatise on Arms, in the 15th century. However, the sport originated much earlier on the fields of war.

Today, the U.S. Fencing Association says they currently have more than 20,000 members.

The foil is one of three weapons used in fencing competitions. Shim scored with stabbing motions to her opponent’s torso — all competitors are required to wear protective gear.

The epee and saber are the other fencing weapons. The saber is the lightest of the three weapons and is the only event that allows fencers to strike with the sides of their weapons.

Senior Zach Landzberg, an accomplished epee fencer who did not compete Thursday due to illness, said the sport requires a unique mixture of intellect, aggression and conditioning. 

Footwork and hand-eye coordination are also key elements in the sport.

In high school fencing, athletes strive to accomplish five “touches” in a three-minute stop-time match. The foil is the primary and most often used weapon. A point is scored when the tip of the blade touches any part of an opponent’s torso from the shoulders to the groin, front or back. Modern fencing is scored by electronic equipment.

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