Friday, March 4, 2005
En Garde: Prise de Fer Fencing Club opens with a brand new look
Swashbucklers of all ages hailing from all over the Concord-Carlisle
and Greater Boston area have a new port of call at the refurbished headquarters
of the Prise de Fer Fencing Club at 71 Faulkner Street in North Billerica.
Prise de Fer, called simply "Club" or "PdF" by its
regulars, is owned and operated by Carlisle residents, husband-and-wife
team, David Blake and Ariana Klinkov. In the club's new space, fencers
of all varieties (that is, épéeists, foilists and sabreists)
compete, take classes and enjoy private lessons on fencing strips using
state-of the-art equipment.
Although fencing is becoming a more popular sport, a primer on what it means to be state-of-the-art will be helpful here to appreciate the offerings of the new club space. The sport is electrified, with bouts occurring on a metal strip and with each fencer's blade, mask and clothing hooked by a body cord to a retractable reel into a scoreboard. When a fencer is hit, the machine registers the hit, and a light will go off on the scoreboard, indicating whose touch it is. The new club has ten fully operational strips and scoreboards. According to Blake, foilists and épéeists appreciate the strips more than sabreists because of the nature of their weapon. The first two are point-weapons, which means they can only score touches by hitting their opponent on a target area with the tip of the blade. Epée target is the entire body; foil target is the front of the torso. When an epée or foil hits the strip or any other area outside the target, the "off-target" light will show instead of a "touch scored" light. In sabre, where target is the top half of the body, including back and head, the entire blade is electrified and slashing will score touches.
The high-tech equipment is slightly at odds with the building. The new location is in an old brick mill-turned-museum along a canal in North Billerica. The club is on the third floor and visitors pass signs such as "Main Spinning Room" attesting to the mill's historic past.
Arriving at a permanent home was a long voyage for the club. In 1997,
Prise de Fer started classes, lessons, and practices as a Lincoln town
recreation program. Soon afterward Klinkov and Blake began teaching
classes as a Carlisle Recreation after-school program in the Carlisle
School exercise rooms. The club also rented space in a Bedford town
center municipal building through the summer of 2004. When the club's
side of the building was closed for renovation, Blake and Klinkov started
looking for a new venue in earnest. "We had outgrown the space
in Bedford and were looking for a new location for some time,"
Blake said, "but the renovation forced us out."
Meanwhile, PdF was residing in a tiny dance studio in the Bedford town center, only big enough for three fencing strips and with no central air conditioning. Only six people could fence in the studio at one time, and lessons were held in the hallway outside, around the fencing bags and racks of equipment and other fencers waiting their turn for either a lesson or a strip inside. When PdF's realtor discovered a prime spot on the third floor of an old mill-turned-museum, the club moved to its final temporary location: Concord Academy's gym. The gym, which is also used for the Academy's and Concord Recreation's sports at night, was open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. However, the club was occasionally pre-empted: "Because we didn't own the space, we could get shut out for the Academy events," reminisced David.
From September to November, the Billerica location was renovated with new floors, safety measures, a paint job, strips built into the floor, and electric reels and scoreboards on the walls and ceilings. Fencers from Club and CCHS's two teams came in periodically to help build and paint parts of the room, and still remember what they helped build. "People see pictures of Club and say, 'I built that!' It really makes everyone feel more a part of [the new club]," Blake said. Besides the fencers, the contractor, fellow Carlisle resident and on-call firefighter J.J. Supple, added his expertise. "We couldn't have done it without his help," said Blake. A lot of sweat equity is still being invested, and recent visitors to the club can witness tile being laid in the hallway and doors still to be painted. The remaining cosmetic work does not seem to deter the fencers.
Now that PdF is open every night, between fifteen and thirty fencers will show up on any given evening. Depending on when their weapons coach will be there, different types of weapons will pack the club on different nights. Blake, the foil instructor, is there every night, as are usually at least a few foilists. Klinkov, who has been teaching sabre since 1996 at the Boston Fencing Club and in Brookline, comes Tuesday and Thursday (and occasionally Friday), so sabreists flood Club on those nights. Gamal Mahmoud, who has been teaching epée in Egypt and America since 1980, is there on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. On a busy night, there can be up to forty fencers attending Club. "The numbers are getting higher and higher," said Blake proudly.
One benefit of the new space is that classes and lessons can begin whenever a teacher chooses, because there is no longer any electric set-up required, because all the strips and reels are already in place. Classes are held on Saturdays and in the evenings, and Klinkov and Blake both give private lessons. Another high-tech advance in the new space is the built-in audio speaker system with the teacher wired for amplification. "Studies show that students learn better when the teacher speaks with a microphone," commented a parent watching a recent class.
The teaching methods seem to be working. PdF sends many of its fencers to national tournaments over the course of the year. Most recently, at the Junior Olympics, held this year in Arlington, Texas, on February 18-21, Carlisle's own Eva Jellison placed 5th in the U-20 Women's Sabre, and Thomas Abend placed 8th
For more about the club and before and after pictures, visit the club's website at www.prisedefer.com.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito