As fencing in Wales is struggling to attract new talent, a national coach from Cardiff Fencing club reflects on this classic sport.
The Welsh Youth Epee fencing competition to be held this Sunday in Cardiff was postponed due to a lack of entries.
It’s a reflection of a sport that, despite its deep roots across England and Wales, faces a challenge when it comes to getting more young people involved.
But Peter Stewart, a national coach at Cardiff Fencing Club and a former professional fencer, takes a more pragmatic view of the state of fencing in the UK – and his quiet optimism might just have something to it.
Originally from Lancashire, his fencing career has spanned decades.
“I’ve been fencing since I was a schoolboy – don’t ask me how long ago that was.
“It was an after-school fencing class at a traditional boys grammar school in Blackburn.
“The only other sports on offer then were football and rugby. There wasn’t the proliferation of sports you have now.
“So I went and had a go and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
If Peter has been in the game for a while, his long career is just a drop in a vast ocean when it comes to the history of fencing.
The sport originated in Spain during the fifteenth century, though it was changed and adapted by practitioners in Italy and France in later years.
Its complexity ensures it maintains a direct connection with this history. Unlike many sports, fencing must be carefully taught by a trained instructor before it can be practised.
As Peter explains: “You will not go to a fencing club anywhere without someone showing you how to do it to a given way.
“So this tradition of teaching goes right the way through. “
But while its history might be distinguished, the future could present more of a problem.
Fencing has always been a minority sport in Britain and the number of practitioners remains relatively small, with only around 800 registered fencers in Wales today.
But Peter argues numbers are less important than making sure those who start the sport keep it up.
“What you have to remember is sport is an ultra-competitive market now. British fencing, the governing body for the sport, wants numbers to go up.
“My philosophy happens to be different. I think you build the bottom of the pyramid and then you get a higher pyramid.
“I’m not in favour of big numbers. I think retention is more important than getting a lot of people coming through.”
And if the beginners at Cardiff Fencing Club are anything to go by, this strategy seems to be working.
Jack Tucker, 23, started fencing three weeks ago and is currently on the six-week beginners course.
“It’s got its difficulties and it’s challenging. I’m going to finish the course and see from there, but I think I will carry on,” he said.
Elsewhere, Christoph Gibbon began fencing after trying a beginner’s course a year and a half ago and now regularly takes part in competitions. Fencing, the sixteen-year-old says, offers something other sports don’t.
“I like the precision and power. There’s nobody else to blame. I used to do team sports but now I can’t blame anyone else.”