BEMIDJI BONDS: Local fencing enthusiasts promote sport of the ages
Fencing: a sport of grace, speed and technique. Though uncommon in Bemidji, local fencers hope to change that. "It's very artistic, too, in that way because there's so many different techniques you can put together in an infinite number of ways,"...
Fencing: a sport of grace, speed and technique. Though uncommon in Bemidji, local fencers hope to change that.
“It’s very artistic, too, in that way because there’s so many different techniques you can put together in an infinite number of ways,” said Kirk Karstens, a local fencing instructor. “That’s why fencing often times is referred to as not just a sport, but an art.”
Karstens teaches fencing through Bemidji Community Education and hosts outdoor events in the summer at Diamond Point Park. Their small group usually has about six fencers, meeting Wednesdays or Thursdays during the summer. They practice the Renaissance style of fencing, called “Epeè,” where competitors can score by hitting any part of the body.
Fencing is a simulated fight to the death, but Karstens can’t recall a time someone was really injured. “There’s always a chance you’re going to get hurt with other contact sports, fencing there’s so many safeguards in place, it is literally a simulated fight to the death, but nobody ever gets hurt,” he said. “If you get hurt it’s just a slight bruise and that’s it. So it’s a great safe avenue for venting aggression.”
Rodney Rock is another local fencing enthusiast. He added “(breaking your sword) is actually the most dangerous thing that can happen because then your blade is actually a real blade. That’s the only way people have died in fencing, when the blade breaks.”
Kartens has enough gear to equip 16 people. Electric (there are electronic tips on the blade that sound when a hit is made) starter kits are usually $200 and include a jacket, a mask, a weapon, gloves and sometimes a bag.
Though not as popular here, the sport is as old as any. Fencing was one of the original seven sports in the modern Olympiad and is one of only two sports to be featured in every Olympics. In some cultures in Germany and France, it’s as common as playing baseball in the U.S., Karstens said. Plastic gear and shorter swords are used to teach toddlers the basics. “How we teach T-ball to preschoolers here, in parts of Europe they teach fencing to like 3-4 year olds,” Karstens said.
He compared fencing to soccer a few years ago and hopes fencing will soon follow in its footsteps.
Quickness, timing, and nearly perfect technique are what make fencing so versatile and challenging.
“They took a speed gun to every sport in the whole Olympics and the fastest thing was the tip of a fencing blade. The only thing faster than a fencing blade was a bullet. So you’re moving the tip of your blade at extreme speed and you have to hit a target while you’re moving, so it takes incredible coordination and training to get good at it,” said Rock, who has been involved locally for about two years with his son, Micha, 12.
Kartens has a variety of students from dirt bike racers learning new levels of aggression to ballet dancers learning body awareness. That versatility and uniqueness are some of Karstens’ favorite aspects of the sport.
“I get to meet a lot of people. It motivates me when other people discover it for the first time, I find that very inspirational.”
Grimm is a summer reporting intern at the Pioneer through the Minnesota Newspaper Association. She plans to attend BSU in the fall.