Rankin Ledger
www.rankinledger.com "Rankin County's community newspaper" Rankin County, Miss.

July 23, 2005

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    En Garde: Fencing in Rankin

    By Chris Whitaker
    cwhitaker@rankinledger.com



    Photos by Melanie Thortis | Rankin Ledger

    John Webster, left, and Kerry Jordan are silhouetted against the evening sun during a fencing bout at Lakeshore Park last week on the Ross Barnett Reservoir.




    Fencing quick facts

  • Fencing was originally the martial art of swordsmanship used by knights and military men in battle and civilians for self-defense and dueling.

  • There are four types of fencing historical swordsmanship (1500-1800), classical fencing (1800-1896), modern "sport" fencing (1896-present) and theatrical fencing (1550s-present); modern fencing, classical fencing and historical swordsmanship are available in the Jackson area.

  • Bouts are fought on a six foot wide by 20 foot long fencing strip. Scoring comes from anywhere from one to 15 touches to the torso, throat, or anywhere on the body depending on which type of fencing, and a time limit can range from three to 15 minutes.

  • Rez Johnson is the headmaster of the Mississippi Academy of Arms and president of the United States Traditional Fencing Association, which are both based in Pelahatchie.

  • In fencing, the sound of metal on metal and the feeling of suspense that comes with each swipe at an opponent can captivate an audience.

    In medieval times, fencing was a way to prepare for war or duels. But today, fencing is a hobby, a way to exercise, a game of strategy and a way to bring swashbuckling movies to life.

    Those, and other reasons, draw a small group to Lakeshore Park on the Ross Barnett Reservoir about twice a week to learn more about the sport and art of fencing.

    "The atmosphere is dedicated and serious, but also somewhat relaxed when compared with most martial arts schools," said Rez Johnson, the teacher and headmaster of the Mississippi Academy of Arms that's based in Pelahatchie. "In spite of the seriousness of training, it is a lot of fun, and new members soon become friends."

    Johnson, 45, has taught fencing for more than 25 years. He started teaching in the Jackson area in 1980 at the old family life center at First Baptist Church in Jackson. After three years in Dallas, he returned to Mississippi and has taught the sport at a variety of venues.



    Melanie Thortis | Rankin Ledger

    Instructor Rez Johnson demonstrates the view from inside a fencer's protective mask during a bout.

    Soon after he began teaching the art, and with the help of two other enthusiasts, he opened a fencing facility in Jackson in the early 1980s. He also created fencing clubs in Ridgeland and Clinton in 1999.

    At age 19, Johnson said he got involved with fencing to "relive childhood swashbuckling fantasies."

    "Behind every fencer there is a child in his backyard sword fighting with a stick," he said. "In the 1960s, every Saturday I'd watch one of those swashbuckling movies, and then I'd go outside, grab a stick and pretend I was Robin Hood fighting the bad guys."



    Johnson

    While that got him started, the strategy of the sport has kept him interested.

    "I've been drawn to fencing's mental, chess-like side, which rewards strategy and tactics over physical strength," Johnson said.

    Fencing has been an Olympic sport since the inception of the modern games. Competitors use a covered uniform and mask, a variety of moves, and 13 different weapons with rubber tips on their ends to attack an opponent.

    There are four main types of fencing, including classical, historical swordsmanship, modern "sport" fencing and theatrical.

    Bouts can be won with one touch of the weapon or as many as 15 depending on the form of fencing. There is also a time limit, ranging from three to 15 minutes.

    Kerry Jordan, 30, of Brandon, also likes the medieval roots of the sport.

    "I've always been interested in the sword-type movies and the fantasy movies in England," he said. "I like the eclectic taste; I do unusual things, and not a lot of people do fencing."

    Jordan said fencing allows his competitive side to come out, and it can be a confidence booster as well.

    "Speed plays a hand in it, and it takes a lot of skill," he said. "I tend to do better when I stand back and let someone attack I have more control, and my reflexes are better."

    For Ridgeland's Elise Smith, fencing has become a new hobby. She participated in dance for more than 30 years when she developed tendonitis in her hip.

    "It was always fun to watch how they move, and it was similar to dance in the way it was romanticized and choreographed," Smith said. "It looked like something that was fun and beneficial, and it required quick thinking and coordination that appealed to me from dance."

    Johnson foresees the interest of fencing growing more in the metro area.

    "I think (fencing) will grow as more people become aware of the fact that our Western martial arts are just as rich, fully developed and ancient as the Eastern martial arts (like karate, tae kwon do and kung fu)."




    For more information on fencing opportunities or to join a fencing club, call Johnson at (601) 372-4543.


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