Bryan Beilke

“En Garde . Fencers ready? Fence!”

Most may immediately picture “The Three Musketeers” when the topic of fencing comes up, but it is a sport that is so much more than three ridiculously dressed men fighting against injustice. It’s one that requires skill, strategy, spontaneity and practice.

Though Cal Poly has never had a well-established fencing club, over the past 15 years it has steadily gained momentum and grown in popularity.

What has helped the sport garner more attention in general is the previous Olympics, said Kyle Yamasaki, a club member.

“We had a couple of gold medalists and a couple of bronze (medalists) so it has really been growing from that, and then in this year’s Olympics there could be a couple medal potentials that are helping (the sport) a lot.”

As of right now there are between 30 and 40 members, although the count varies each quarter.

“Back in 1993, when our current head coach, Eric McDonald, came to Cal Poly, there were a handful of guys sharing most of their gear on a single strip,” club member Mark Ferraresi said. “Since then, the club has become a top player in the Northern California Intercollegiate Fencing League (NCIFL).”

Skill level also varies, and there is no experience required to join the club; equipment is supplied, as well, Yamasaki said.

“We have seven coaches right now; every quarter we have a beginning class that’s devoted to people that don’t know anything about the sport and have never done it before,” he explained. “We also have intro classes for various weapons and then we have intermediate and advanced classes, as well as private lessons.”

The sport includes three weapons: the foil, epee and sabre. Each weapon type has special rules, which then determine how the fencer may score on an opponent.

Distinguishing fencing from other sports is its unique intimidation factor, Ferraresi added.

“Most people have never seen modern Olympic fencing, as the sport isn’t very widespread,” he said. “Because of that, it may take some people out of their comfort zone.”

Due to no two fencing bouts being the same, players can never rely on one strategy, move or trick alone, and in the higher levels, it can become all about strategy, according to Ferraresi. “You constantly have to be aware of the opponent’s intentions or second intentions,” he said.

Club president Tim Baldwin compared the sport to a duel between a batter and a pitcher. “The pitcher is always trying to out-think the batter and the batter is always trying to guess the pitch that’s coming,” he said. “It’s addictive.”

Recently, the club participated in the final NCIFL tournament of the year, and did fairly well, Ferraresi said.

“Even though it is disappointing that we didn’t win the cup, I feel that the club is slowly rebuilding and improving,” he said. “Many of our novice foilists have been placing in the top eight and I’m very hopeful that we may win the cup again within two years.”

Yamasaki placed first in epee and eighth in foil, and Ferraresi eighth in epee.

With regards to the future of the club, Yamasaki would like to see the program develop more.

“I’d like to get our members competing in more national events and branching out and getting better,” he said.

All ambitions aside, though, the club continues to thrive because of the simple joy it provides.

“Fencing is a fun, gratifying sport – and you don’t need any experience whatsoever to succeed,” Ferraresi said.

On April 26, the club will host the All California Collegiate Club Championships on campus in the Recreation Center.

The club meets every Tuesday and Thursday in Mott Gym from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will take students until April 15.

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