A Certain Lack of Focus

Thursday, November 08, 2007


No, I'm not talking about the world's most obvious password. I'm talking about the fencers over at Hooked on Fencing (HOF), or more accurately, I'd like to speak about the space they fence in.
fencingHOF has the largest (and nicest) fencing facility in Northeast Ohio, which is pretty impressive considering it's non-profit and most of the members are teenagers. fencingI've been fencing with HOF sporadically for three years or so. When I first met them, they were fencing out of a church gymnasium (which is more common that you might think for a fencing club) which wasn't really ideal for anyone. They had to carry all the electric equipment around which means they were only ever able to set up maybe three strips (this is kind of like the court where two fencers spar) at one time. Often times they were fencing around cafeteria tables which at least made it easy to find a place to set your bag.

Near the end of 2005, HOF signed the lease for a space of its own. It was a good sized space, a warehouse, and a huge improvement on the church. The downside of the space was the concrete floors, which are brutal to fence on: painful for older fencers (and by older I mean anyone over the age of 18) and harmful in the long term to younger fencers who are still growing. Mostly it's bad on the knees, but it's not really good for the feet, ankles and back either. This changed this summer, when the club teamed up to build a new floor out of plywood. I'm not sure who lead the effort, but it's well built (meaning I don't feel like I'm going to fall through) and a huge improvement. In addition parents of fencers have been volunteering for more minor renovations since the new place opened. Early on someone realized that while the utilitarian men's room would be just fine for the guys, girls are a little pickier. So they painted it a bright color, hung up a couple posters and put some fancy soap on the sink. fencingIt's amazing what a difference it made, the room actually looks cute, inviting and modern. I realize I'm making a big deal out of a bathroom, but in any sport, which is typically dominated by men, it's nice that they made the extra effort to welcome women. More paint jobs prettied up the waiting area and changing room with some nice artwork on the walls. One of the bigger changes they made was in opening up the waiting room so parents had a nicer place to sit, where they can still watch their kids fence.

And Walt (the guy who runs the club) says sometime next year they're aiming to get aluminum strips installed. If you are not a fencer you need to understand that metal, grounded strips are sort of the ultimate goal for a fencing club, ESPECIALLY an epee club (which HOF is). Having grounded strips means that when a fencer accidentally hits the floor, the light (which indicates a point scored) will not go off so there is no (or less) confusion over whether a touch was scored. That's KEY, and to me it's the number 1 difference between a fencing space and a space where people happen to fence.
fencingThey've already made several points in that direction. They have overhead reels (this is what a fencer plugs their weapon into for electric scoring) as opposed to floor reels. I don't find floor reels that much of an annoyance but a hanging cord system is sort of a mark of a professional salle (that's what the French call a fencing gym). More importantly they have a good number of strips, I wanna say ten but I'm not sure. The fencing gym at Notre Dame had fourteen, and that's one of the top college fencing programs. The floor is painted grey, which looks surprisingly cool on the particle board, with strips outlined in blue.

The only downside is that in spite of lovingly hung artwork, the place still looks like a warehouse. I'm not complaining, It's by far the best place to fence in Northeast Ohio, but I'd like to take this opportunity to describe my dream fencing salle.

The main room is 75 feet by 200 feet. One entire wall is a mirror. Think a dance studio, only four times bigger. The ceilings are insanely high, which is perfect for the loft that houses a sitting area for guests and spectators. Over sized lights and score boards are hung at the center of each strip with a number attached so that watchers can easily keep track of the score of their favorite fencer. fencingTwo more pairs of normal sized lights hang at each end of the strip. The walls are painted a calm medium toned color with framed fencing art placed periodically with The Wall (an evil footwork pattern) painted artistically directly on the wall in several places.

Under the loft there is a snack bar with healthy snacks, and maybe a smoothie store (I'm dreaming here, remember?). In fact, the smoothie store serves meals as well, so fencers that didn't have time to eat can make up the difference. No food or non-water, non-Gatorade drink in the salle please. There are no benches or seats (or at least only uncomfortable ones), because fencers don't sit, they fence! There is however plenty of storage space tucked into the walls for fencing bags and water bottles. There are five rooms that split off from the main fencing gym. One is a large room with two elevated strips and bleachers around the edges. Two rooms are mens' and womens' bathroom/changing/shower rooms. The last room is an exersize room with aerobic equipment, light weights, and an open area for various exersizes; a book of suggestions for those and general fencing games will be included in the room. The last room has four strips, not set up for electric fencing. This is used for lessons.

Maybe one more room, while I'm thinking about it. This is a comfortable room, closed off from the rest with desks, tables and couches, where fencers that arrive early can drink their smoothie and do some homework or socialize with other early comers. Because of course, my ideal salle is open from 10am-10pm everyday. Hey, I can dream.

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