En garde! -- In (not quite) like Flynn at Fleur de Lys Fencing Club

Fencing: the allure is unmistakable for anyone who has ever entertained swashbuckling fantasies, as Bon Bernard did when he was a kid. "I think everybody has that," added Bernard, assistant instructor for the Magnolia-based Fleur de Lys Fencing Club.

But, he cautioned, the swordplay in movies such as "The Princess Bride" is much different from its counterpart in the real world.

"Theatrical fencing and sport fencing are two different animals," Bernard noted.

In theatrical fencing, the moves have to be big and flashy, Bernard explained. "And you're not supposed to hit the other guy at all; you don't want to kill your fellow actor," he smiled.

By contrast, moves in sport fencing are smaller and more controlled, Bernard said. "That's what gives us speed in competition." Plus, you score by actually hitting opponents with a sword, he noted.

But developing the speed, control and skill necessary for competitive fencing takes practice and instruction, which Fleur de Lys has provided since 1981.

Former Magnolian Leonid Bencel - the founder of the club and an instructor for 22 years - was injured last summer in an accident and is still recuperating, Bernard said.

But Bernard, a Ballard resident, and principal instructor Pat Reeves, from Greenwood, have continued to teach fencing to both adults and children in the Catharine Blaine School gym as part of the classes offered at the ad-joining Magnolia Community Center.

The men are currently teaching around a dozen students in a beginners class, which started in September and meets for an hour twice a week for 12 weeks. The three months' worth of lessons cost only $70, and the club provides swords with covered tips and protective clothing.

That's quite a bargain, according to Rodney Davis, who has been taking lessons this fall with his son, 11-year-old Parker Davis. His son actually started taking the fencing lessons first, but it sounded like so much fun, the elder Davis decided to join in after a couple of weeks.

"We always talked about sword fighting," he said, adding that he and his son were inspired by "The Princess Bride" and movie role models such as Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.

However, finding a place to take lessons required a little work.

"We live in Wallingford," Davis said. He found that lessons were available in Bellevue at the Rain City Fencing Center, but Davis said he was loath to make the cross-lake drive.

Then he found out about lessons in Magnolia, which made more sense. "Our soccer league plays up here from time to time, and our kids use the pool," Davis said. The lessons aren't easy, he conceded. "I'm not as quick as these youngsters. They're really fast, but I'm holding my own."

One of those youngsters is 11-year-old Nathan Hesterberg, who lives just three blocks away from the community center, said his mother, Bev Hesterberg.

Sitting in the Blaine gym with a book while her son took a lesson, Hesterberg said Nathan first took up fencing at a summer camp in Tacoma a couple of years ago.

He liked it a lot, she added, and has been taking lessons in Magnolia for about a year and a half. "He's doing really well."

And Nathan is working on more than just one technique in sword fighting with the Fleur de Lys club. Instruction includes the use of the foil, the epee and the saber, Bernard said.

The techniques and the target areas fencers aim for are different for each kind of sword. "Normally, people tend to specialize in one weapon," he said.

"It's not difficult to learn to fence, but if you want to become an expert ... you have to put in a lot of time," added Bernard. He himself started fencing when he was a student at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

A 12-week beginners' course will provide students with the basics of fencing, but it normally takes at least a couple of years of experience before students are ready for competition, he said.

The Fleur de Lys club is part of the Western Washington Division of the United States Fencing Association, which stages regular matches each year. Some of the Magnolia club's students have taken part in the regional competitions over the years, Bernard said.

Sword fighting has a long tradition, he said: "A lot of the moves they're learning are easily 600 years old." But there are subtleties involved in the fighting techniques that require advanced training.

Bernard said he hopes the club will be able provide some of that advanced training by adding an intermediate fencing class beginning in January. "It will focus on some of the more advanced offensive and defensive moves."

That was welcome news for Nathan's mother, who was worried the classes might actually end last year, when there were only two or three students, she said. "Nathan, he needs more advanced work."

For information about fencing classes, call the Magnolia Community Center at 386-4235.

Reach staff reporter Russ Zabel at 461-1309 or rzabel@ nwlink.com.

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