What child hasn't picked up a stick and pretended to be a sword wielding hero?”
The ancient martial art of fencing has been contested at every Summer Olympic Games since the birth of the modern Olympic movement at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens.
Women's fencing made its Olympic debut in Paris, during the 1924 Games.
“Fencing is the primary Martial Art, and is referred to as the art and science of fencing,” said Fencing Master, Thomas Brennan, founder of Cork City Fencing Club.
“It comes from the fencing rooms of old where swordsmen and women, including the duellist trained.
“Indeed, it can also be said it has a very bloody and violent past,” he added.
“As duelling became illegal there remained a desire to settle matters of honour with the sword.
“Duelling to first blood became the order of the day but it was inevitable that this too would end as society changed,” added Thomas.
Gradually this deadly art translated into a sport.
There are three forms of Olympic fencing:
Foil sees duellers use a light thrusting weapon and the valid target is restricted to the torso; while Épée utilises a heavy thrusting weapon with the entire body a target.
Sabre uses a light cutting and thrusting weapon where the valid target area includes almost everything above the waist excluding the back of the head and the hands.
Having travelled to the UK and Italy to study the ancient art of fencing, Thomas Brennan founded the Cork City Fencing Club in the early 2000s.
“When my interest in the sport reignited in later years, I was shocked to discover that there were very few clubs in Ireland,” said Thomas.
“I had to go to the U.K and Italy to study, concentrating on the Art of Classical Fencing which is the art of the duel, the true art of fencing.
“Later I blended both the classical and sporting elements together and trained as a sports fencing coach,” he added.
The club, which has 14 members, host weekly training sessions on Wednesday nights from 7pm to 9pm in Cobh Community Centre.
“It is said of fencing, that it is three-dimensional chess on the move which requires a developed skill in cognitive ability, timing, distance and grace of movement to mention just a few,” said Thomas.
Despite Ireland’s long association with the sport, Thomas said it has been disappointing to watch the decline of fencing in the country.
“It is also worth noting that all of the protocols for duelling were drawn up in Dublin and used throughout the duelling world,” he revealed.
“Sad to say nothing truly remain of this great tradition,” he added.
“Fencing has become the minority of minority sports in Ireland.
“Great men and women like the late George Carpenter of Passage in Cork who fenced for Ireland in the Olympics, and Miss Sheila Dooley of Freshford, Kilkenny, now in her late eighties who fenced for Ireland in The World Championships in Rome in the 1940's are very much forgotten having represented their country in this ancient and noble art,” he said.
Thomas encouraged anyone interested to take up fencing, a noble tradition to stimulate both body and mind.
“It’s for everyone,” he said.
“It is a sport you can enjoy at any stage of your life, one can start at any age.
“As for the benefits, it keeps both mind and body active,” he added.
Fencing, viewed as an Art and a Science, was once taught as an academic subject in all private schools because it was said to improve intellectual ability and capacity.
“As the great fencing masters of the past would say: “If you can stand and hold a sword you can fence,” said Thomas.