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En Garde!

Two novice fencers stand ready at a UC Davis Fencing Club event.

My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.

It is a sport primarily known for two things: 1) While not popular in the mainstream, it is most often known as an Olympic sport; and 2) It is more widely known in the mainstream as action fodder for movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Three Musketeers” and “The Princess Bride.”

However, one club organization has been at the forefront in promoting the sport to the UC Davis community. In the process, it has provided an athletic outlet for those who would not otherwise be involved in sporting endeavors. It has also housed and produced an impressive program of fencers that are competitive in regional circuits. This is the UC Davis Fencing Club.

Considered the oldest established sports club on campus, the UC Davis Fencing Club was founded in 1954, and has an ever-growing reputation in the local and national governing bodies of fencing. They meet officially twice a week, and all levels of experience are welcome. On top of that, however, the club officially has 40 active members that compete in the collegiate circuit four times a year.

The club is headed by head coach Thom Cate, an active member of the United States Fencing Association (USFA) going on 16 years, and a fencing teacher for over 11 years. He currently holds the rank of Moniteur de Fleuret – a professional trainer in foil fencing – in the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA). He had established fencing programs and clubs at UC Santa Barbara (1995) and the University of Vermont in Burlington (1998) before taking the head coaching position at UC Davis in 2004.

“He’s a lot of fun,” said Justin Smith, current president of the fencing club. “He’s a good coach, so he knows his material, and can work with a lot of fencers. But, he’s also a fun guy, so he can hang out with the college kids. It’s a good, energetic dynamic.”

Smith, a third-year Physics major at UC Davis, had been fencing since his freshman year in high school. He has long been involved with the fencing club, working with many of its members as a de facto instructor. As club president, teaching is one of his main duties; he is also involved with organizing and leading club meetings and practices, as well as external affairs, such as communicating with other schools. Above all, however, he is a dedicated member of the sport.

“Since coming to college, I’ve been active [in fencing], competitively,” Smith said about his current relationship with the sport. “Fencing is kind of my main extracurricular [activity].”

Vice President and club secretary Corinne Geisler has also had a history of fencing before joining the fencing club. “My mom wanted me to do something extracurricular [in my sophomore year of high school], so I wasn’t [focusing on] school,” she explained. “She signed my brother up for fencing, and she thought, ‘No, Corie won’t want that.’ And, I thought, ‘No, I really want to do this – this looks pretty cool.’”

As VP and secretary of the fencing club, Geisler’s responsibilities include scheduling practice times, organizing travel, and recruiting new members. To her surprise, she has found recruitment (at least, this year) at a relative ease; 20 new members have joined the fencing club in 2010.

One of those new members was freshman Angelea Weber. “I had a previous interest in fencing; I had always been involved in some sort of sport or martial art,” she explained. “Fencing just seemed like an appropriate way to get to know a fantastic group of people … they did a really good job of tabling at the ARC, and it was easy for me to [join the club].”

Weber has expressed that she has felt at home with the fencing club, in terms of the camaraderie, as well as the experience. “I can say that [joining the club] was probably one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said. “I get sort of a relief from the daily grind … it’s sort of this giant family that allows you to leave your problems at the door.”

“And, if you’re a little upset,” she added, “you get to poke people with 34 inches of steel. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

The fencing club has, admittedly from its officers, an interesting dynamic to its membership. Perhaps, because of its nature, welcoming novice and experience fencers alike, many who gravitate to the club happen to be less inclined to be interested in athletics, in the first place.

“There is this odd trend in fencing where a lot of fencers … are terrible at other sports,” Smith admitted. “[Personally,] I was atrocious at baseball, almost moderate at soccer, yet I am often considered our best fencer.”

“Really, we get a lot of people who want to do something with sports, but aren’t very good at other sports, or feel like they don’t fit in with the other sport clubs,” added Geisler. “Lots of nerdy people, actually. We have a lot of science majors in our club, which is interesting … Lots of people, lots of different interests … but it’s fun.”

All in all, it is an eclectic group of people with a passion for a unique sport. As they wield their swords in unity, they will continue to welcome all comers who wish to know more about the art of fencing.

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