Up, up and epee

Fencing is a sport of combat largely popular in European countries and played all over the world. In the game, two opponents face each other with blade weapons, commonly foils, epees or sabers, and attempt to strike various targets on the body to score points.

Since 2003, the sport of fencing has grown rapidly in Manitoba. The Manitoba Fencing Association has offered a number of outreach programs to schools and communities with increasing success in the promotion of their sport. Finally, in the competitive world of fencing, a steadily increasing amount of winning athletes can be traced back to Friendly Manitoba.

In hopes of shedding light on this new phenomenon I sat down with Saber wielder Adrien Sparling, one of the top ranked Fencers in the country, and conversed with him on the Canadian Fencing scene. His ranking is based on the International Fencing Federation’s system and can be found online.

According to the champion, Manitoba has 120 active fencers, ten of which are high performance athletes. Of the ten, two are counted as senior members, Sparling himself being counted in that elite ranking. Manitoba has five thriving fencing clubs and the principal ones catering to adults are Phoenix Fencing Club and Lightning Fencing Club. With this vibrant scene, Manitoba has a high ratio of nationally competitive fencers to registered members of the Fencing Association. These statistics are ground breaking because the sport has always been most popular in Québec.

“Fencing lives in Québec,” said Sparling. As a European sport, fencing has a higher demand in the famed European destination hotspot of Québec. This strange twist creates a small conundrum: if the market for Fencing is way out in La Belle Province, then why are so many of the sport’s best coming from the Keystone Province? The answer, he says, is with Provincial Coach Ayach Bounachada.

Ayach Bounachada is Manitoba’s provincial fencing coach and technical director. According to Sparling, his involvement in Manitoba’s fencing scene is one of the main factors why the province currently has so many up and coming world class contenders. Ayach arrived in Manitoba in 2003, after the Canada Winter Games. The success following the large tournament meant that many athletes and coaches in the province decided to leave, having accomplished their original goal of going to the Games. This void for a coach was filled by Ayach. Having refereed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bounachada has reportedly never been known to back down from a challenge.

“He could have been more successful and was in higher demand in Québec,” Manitoba’s answer to Zorro said, “but he wanted a challenge, so he came to Manitoba.” The athlete added that though Fencing is more popular in Montreal than it is in Winnipeg, Montreal is also notoriously a party town, riddled with distractions and incentives not to train. By contrast, Winnipeg’s quieter habitat, coupled with its centralized geography provides fencers with the place and focus they need to be the best in the world, despite it’s low key image. Therein lies the answer; an Olympic level coach came to a mostly rural province to harvest and grow young prairie kids to be the best fencers in the land.

When asked what the future holds, Adrien “the Swashbuckling” Sparling cites the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse as an example, “after the games, more fencers stayed instead of giving up.” Their devotion cements the ascent of fencing’s popularity to more mainstream heights. This is proof that the noble sport is catching on. Regarding Sparling’s own ambition, he says he’d love to go to London for the 2012 Olympics. The way things are headed, he might not go alone.