Written by Tim Rosenberger
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 00:00
There are many types of schools in the Peoria area: high schools like Richwoods and Notre Dame, a college of medicine, dancing schools and even cosmetology schools. One learning facility that has been around since 2005 is not getting much notice. It is the Peoria Fencing Academy, which is looking to expand its publicity and bring the unique sport of fencing to more people in Peoria.
“Fencing’s unique among sports mainly because it requires you to go directly head to head with another person,” Matthew Maughan, a fencing coach at the academy, said. “There’s no team to rely on. You’re out there alone. It’s just you and the other person, and it really becomes a very, very interesting dynamic interaction between two peoples’ minds.”
The academy is part of the United States Fencing Organization and was started by Egyptian born Elsayed Emara who has been fencing for 15 years and was a member of the Egyptian National Fencing team for seven years.
His impressive resume has informed the school, which Maughan said is world class. It has also produced many remarkable fencers, like one 13 year-old, who just won first place in the Y14 National Competition, and the highest ranked fencer the school has ever had, who placed in the top 16 at the World Championships in Fencing – the most prestigious international fencing competition.
Through the use of three different classes, the academy is able to teach people of all age groups. There’s the Musketeer program for 5 to 7 year-olds, the Youth program for ages 8 to 14, and the Adult program for those 14 and up.
Next month will also see the start of a class for 3 to 5 year-olds called the Squires program, which will focus on letting kids have fun while they get used to having a sword in their hand through the use of foam weapons.
While the school believes anybody of any age can start at any time, Maughan thinks the best time to get kids involved is when they are 8 or 9. At that age, they have the proper motor skills developed, their bodies are able to handle the stress of the activity and their minds are still malleable enough to learn.
Fencing is a full body work out, Maughan said. Among other things, it trains your cardio, your legs, your hand eye coordination and your reaction time, but there is also a mental demand to fencing that many at the academy say is missing from most other sports.
“As much as other sports make you think, fencing offers an opportunity for critical thinking because it’s a one on one,” Michele Guzman, coach and office manager, said. “You cannot rely on anybody else but yourself. So, you must know what you’re doing. You must be able to look at your opponent and think three steps ahead of what they’re planning on doing.”
This ability to think ahead of the opposing fencer, to remember what he or she has done in the past and to predict what he or she might do next is critical in fencing and has resulted in many calling the sport physical chess.
“A lot of people are used to playing sports and turning off their brain, and this is one where you can’t do that,” Maughan said. “You have to have your brain on. You have to be using your brain and your body together as one unit to really accomplish what you need to do.”
Through these sparring matches, students can learn a lot about themselves and their opponents whether they realize it or not, Maughan said.
Students get the chance for these types of lessons not only during classes but also through competitions and tournaments, which students only participate in if they want to. Tournaments can be held in a variety of locations from cities across the United States to even some countries overseas, such as France and Germany.
The school does not focus on beating the other fencer, however, and instead stresses good sportsmanship, good competition and beating yourself.
“You come, you fence, and at the end of the fencing bout, it should be a good competition no matter who wins or loses,” Guzman said. “At the end of it, there should be healthy communication between all the different clubs because we all have a lot to learn from each other.”
"These lessons can even spill into everyday life. Fencing not only teaches people to think before they act or speak but also gives students respect for their opponents and themselves," Guzman said.
After taking up fencing, Guzman’s son gained the confidence to take karate and taekwondo, "because if he can fence, he can do those sports," Guzman said. This has led to him having more confidence at school, because if he can fence, do karate and taekwondo, he can do well in school.
Coach Marc Roman, though, thinks the lessons are never ending and that all fencers, even the masters, are always learning something new.
Looking toward the future, the school is looking to purchase new and upgraded equipment through a fundraiser they are holding on Oct. 26 in the Peoria Fencing Academy building on Pioneer Lane.
It will be a “Star Wars” Halloween party that will feature the “Star Wars” 501st reenactment group, games and a bake sale. The academy will also be giving half of the money raised to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois.
Other than getting new equipment, Maughan, Guzman and Roman would like to see more people get involved in the school, particularly kids, and for the program to reach more than the 150 students it currently has.
This year in particular, the academy has been focusing on having more of a fencing family, a group made up of people who enjoy the sport, like hanging out and love doing things with each other.
The joy of being around other fencers is certainly what Tyler Piscaglia, a 21 year-old who joined the academy as a new fencer back in April, likes most about fencing.
“I can’t say I would do this anywhere,” Piscaglia said. “If I went somewhere and there people weren’t nice, I wouldn’t think of it as fun [and] it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 13:26