Sunday, August 11, 2013

Swords to Wollongong!

Many years ago, when I was a student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, I attended a weekly fencing class with Olympic sworsdman Owen Weingott. Actors are expected to learn a variety of skills, including fencing and horse-riding. Sometimes these skills - or the lack of them - can be the deciding factor in whether or not an actor gets a coveted movie role.

We did 'quarte, sixte, advance, retreat, lunge, parry' so many times that I can still do it in my sleep. I was expecting my first child at the time, which gave poor Mr Weingott the heeby-jeebies. I think he had visions of some over-enthusiastic student impaling me and my unborn infant. That would actually be a bit hard to do with foils, which are the flexible blades that are every fencer's first weapon, and in fact my firstborn and I came through the experience unscathed. However, I've done no fencing since, and I've always regretted that. It was heaps of fun, and good exercise to boot.

Fencing is not just an asset for actors, but also for writers, especially historical and fantasy writers. Not only is it valuable for fitness, determination, focus, teamwork, and social skills, but it is also one of the activities that often turns up in stories. It's pretty hard to write about fighting with sabres if we've never had a go at it ourselves. I know of at least a couple of professional writers who took up not just fencing but historical re-enactments to help them learn what it actually feels like to be on one end or other of a blade.

Fencing photo by Martial Wraith, courtesy of Photobucket
Dramatic and writerly aspirations aside, I think many of us would like to have a go at being swashbuckling swordspersons. (Hey, who doesn't love the duelling scene from The Princess Bride?) The enthusiastic fencers at Bulli Swords, the only fencing club on the south coast of New South Wales, think it's time the people of Wollongong had the chance to give it a try. Problem is, the sport requires a lot of equipment, and that equipment costs money.

Bulli Swords is an extremely small club. They charge no annual membership, and their weekly sessions are as inexpensive as possible, so that even people on a limited budget can have a go. This means that buying beginners' equipment is beyond the club's means. They have only a very limited number of foils, masks, jackets, chest protectors and gloves – nowhere near enough to run a dedicated beginners' class, or to welcome as many new fencers to their weekly sessions as they would like.

Here's how we can all help. A thousand dollars will get the club enough equipment to run regular beginners' classes for eight people, and to be able to lend gear on normal training nights to people who can't afford their own. Please help Bulli Swords to bring fencing to the people of Wollongong by contributing to their crowd-funding project at . They only need a couple of hunded dollars more to reach their $1,000 target by the 25 August deadline. Even a dollar or two, along with your good wishes, will help them get there.

And who knows - not only might a few aspiring actors and writers sign on, but unemployed youth (fencing is an excellent sport for young people, and there's lots of unemployment in Wollongong) and maybe the odd pregnant woman might benefit from the program, too!