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En garde! Fort McMurray Youth Prepare for a New Fencing Season

August 28th, 2014

Photo Credit: Dawn Booth

By Dawn Booth

Youth have been taking a stab at a sport like no other – fencing - for the past three years in the Wood Buffalo region. And with a highly trained and well-experienced coach in lead, members of the Fort McMurray Fencing Club (FMFC) are looking forward to the 2014-2015 season.

FMFC’s Master Jon Tupper has served as head coach since 2013. Earlier this year, he took the Zone 7 team to the 2014 Alberta Winter Games in Banff and Canmore, where FMFC’s Ana Radmanovic placed fourth in the women’s sabre event.

“The atmosphere is fun, but focused,” Tupper said on the experience from an average weekly fencing class. “The students work really well together to develop their skills. And we always make sure that at least half the class is ‘open fencing’, where students square-off against each other and rotate partners.”

Putting competition aside, Tupper explains how the bottom line is knowing that each young student is going home from every lesson fulfilled with an enjoyable experience.

“I want them to remember the fun that they had learning the sport, so they come back for another year and develop even further,” he said. “I love seeing the fencers develop skills that are both athletic and sport specific.”

Personally developing the skills since he was a child, Tupper started fencing at the Edmonton Fencing Club (EFC) and was instructed by EFC coach, Master Zahar Ioffe, when he was in high school. He understands the importance of teaching life skills to our youth through a sport that performs the art of sword fighting.

“We teach all three fencing weapons: a foil, an epee, and a saber,” Tupper said. “We start with basic attacks and defences. And then, move to compound attacks and defences along with strategy and theory.”

All of three weapons have blunt tips and no sharp edges. According to the article Fencing: Safer than Badminton by Craig Harkins; “Fencing remains one of the safest sports for kids and adults with injury rates far below those of the more popular sports.” Also, the protective clothing and mask make fencing far safer than traditional sports.

Tupper describes the fencing sport to a game of chess, but at light-speed.

“Fencing has been described as a chess game played at light-speed,” Tupper said. “It is a western martial art. There is a strong strategic element to the sport, along with an athletic component and a skills component, all integrated at ultra-high-speed.”

The club is welcoming new members and Tupper encourages residents to give it a try to see much fun they can have playing with a sword.

“They can come on out for a couple of lessons and see how they like the sport,” he said. “We’ll have them use a foil (one type of fencing sword) the first day to get a feel for things.  It is great fun, and how often do you get people encouraging you to pick up a sword and play?”

Considering letting your child give it a stab? Don’t let them have all the fun, adults are welcome too! The 2014-2015 season runs from September to April with lessons once a week. To learn more information on the Fort McMurray Fencing Club, contact the club via email at or call the FMFC President Bob van Thiel at 780-790-9163.

Dawn Booth is a freelance journalist, editor, photographer  and small business owner in the Wood Buffalo region. To learn more, visit

Key Words of Fencing

When you’re a fencing newbie, you may find yourself surrounded by sword fighters speaking a completely different language… that’s because you are. The sport of fencing uses specific words and phrases developed throughout history. Many of which date back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance era.

Fort McMurray Fencing Club’s Master Jon Tupper shares the more popular terms used in his classes:

1. En garde. Prêt. Allez! – This French phrase means “Ready. Set. Go!” The term “En garde” is a warning from the judge to get ready to fence. “Prêt” is used by the judge to let the fencers know the match is about to begin. And “Allez” is followed to tell the players to start the match with one another.

2. Piste – The word piste (or strip) is used in modern fencing to describe the fencing playing area.

3.  Parry – Most people are familiar with the term “parry”, which means to block an attack by using a fencing blade work maneuver.

4. Riposte – This term (French for “retort”) is the word used to describe the counter-attack from a parry.

5. Flèche – The word flèche means “arrow”, which is used to describe an aggressive offensive fencing technique. It’s a type of running attack where the attacker extends their blade, leaps off with their front foot and attempts to make a hit on their opponent.

Tags: boys, girls, Teens, Tweens

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