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by Sarah Skillen

I would recommed the fencing classes to anyone who can put aside timidity
and embrace novelty. We are not meant to sit idly by in this life.


For some, traveling is a harrowing experience, especially if one is not willing to adapt and open one’s perspective to the unfamiliar and unexpected. Watching these voyagers travel is something like watching a colt scramble up an icy slope. However, travel does not have to result in agony and anxious struggle against the unknown.

I find that travel is most rewarding when it is embraced, when I open my arms to the world around me. It is far easier to play the adventurer here even than at home. I can act the part of explorer, duchess, coquette, and even pirate when I choose. In Madrid, one can become them all.

Of course, I do not mean to imply that I enjoy marauding and plunder. I will leave that to others in the tourist “trade.” What I do mean to describe is fencing. Recently, my roommates, a few friends, and I attended the Real Federación Española de Esgrima [Fencing]: Centro Nacional de Esgrima in the barrio Madrileño of Chamartín. For many of us, this was our first attempt at the sport, not counting the brash duels with plastic swords when we were many years younger.

After trekking fairly off the beaten path, at least the path regularly beaten by tourists, we found ourselves facing a bona fide fencing school.

Fencing is an ancient art and finds its roots in Spain, where the first fencing manual, Treatise on Arms by Diego de Valera, was written in the 15th century. The sport quickly grew beyond the bounds of wars and dueling, and many styles, schools, and theories began to form around the sport. Centuries later, fencing entered the world of international competition when it became a part of the Olympic games in the summer of 1896 in Athens.

The C.N.E. is no tourist trap, waste of a few euros. No. Champions are trained here, as are those of humbler talents, amongst whom we were featured. After practicing the steps, the jargon, and some immensely challenging reflex tests, we were handed swords, masks, jackets and gloves, to protect us from each other and, in some cases, ourselves.

The instructors point out that fencing is more than just a complete, full-body work out. It is also an intellectual exercise, enhancing one’s inner equilibrium, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. These were all qualities I felt I possessed, but fencing challenged my complacency.

Like many things in life, fencing is what you make it. If you advance, marcha, listlessly forward and idly swing your blade from side to side, allowing chance and your partner’s likely incompetency to defend you, then it might not be the most thrilling experience. The alternative is to take the course we chose.

My roommate and I faced off, each behind our starting lines, peering at each other from behind steel, mesh facemasks. We raised our sabers and advanced, slowly, hesitating, timid, each afraid to break that crust of civility that stands between new friends. The instructor approached and whispered to me: “Attack her for real this time.” I did. My saber crashed down upon hers. She rushed forward and swung her blade at my shoulder. A hit.

I could not tell if she was smiling behind her mask, but I know that I was. Our swords clanged through the room as we advanced, retreated, lunged and swung. The instructor occasionally paused the action to teach new defenses, positions, and attacks. We practiced the movements, then he sent us back to our fight.

It was exhilarating, and I am certain that the masks increase the fun of it. Though it is a gentleman’s sport and we all attended the class as friends, the moment we donned our masks the dynamic changed. Suddenly, anonymity is established between opponents and a friend can become a competitor, a rival, or even an enemy, though I don’t believe any of us took it that far.

The hour-and-a half class seemed to fly. We could have stayed for hours, fencing on the stairs, through the street, over tables, all with an epic movie soundtrack playing in the background. However, the class was over and the instructors needed their equipment back. After taking pictures and posing like Victorian noblemen, we surrendered our arms.

It may not surprise the reader, or our instructors for that matter, that we are planning a repeat visit in a few days. I would recommend the experience to anyone who can put aside timidity and embrace novelty. We were not meant to sit idly by in this life. Instead, we must rush forward, advance, marchar, and seek out those moments where we can truly gozar de la vida. I believe that a healthy joie de vivre is an important quality to cultivate.

Real Federación Española de Esgrima: Centro Nacional de Esgrima in Chamartín, Madrid
CalleOrdoñez, 3
Metro: Plaza de Castilla (líneas 1, 8 y 9) y Ventilla (línea 9).
Autobus: Líneas 5, 27, 42, 44, 66 y 67.