Some of Hollywood’s most bad-ass film scenes are embellished with clashing swords and competitive words exchanged, but who knew that it really is a sport? And someone in Arcadia does it? Indeed, her name is Nuria Mathog and she is a junior at Arcadia High School. She delicately balances mind, body soul, studying for AP tests one night and attending a sleepover with friends the next. Yet Nuria finds time for her unexpected and little-known hobby too, that is, fencing.
AW: So, Nuria, how long have you been fencing?
About two years, more or less. I started taking private lessons in September—that was just one-on-one with an instructor—and then after a couple lessons, I switched into group to have a chance to fence with people in my own age group and get some practice.
AW: What inspired you to fence?
I really haven’t had much luck as far as athletics are concerned. I used to play soccer when I was a kid but I always got stuck on defense or goalie and I didn’t really appreciate that. (Laughs) No matter what I wanted to play, I always had to be goalie. But I saw fencing on TV one day and I said, “Hey, looks kind of fun. I think I should try it out.” Plus, you know, it’s exciting! You get to hit people with swords! That’s really what inspired me. It’s nothing profound.
AW: What are your practices like?
We start out by running and skipping inside of the fencing area and stretch different muscles. After that, we change into our fencing gear and it kind of depends on what format the instructor wants but sometimes we do teams. Other times, we get put into pools and keep score of how many bouts you win and how many bouts you lose. Whoever gets the highest number of touches scored wins the bout.
AW: Do you have competitions with other groups?
Yeah, we do. The people I fence with go to tournaments all of the time. It’s organized depending on your rank and level of fencing, basically.
AW: Have you ever been to one?
I went to one back in May of last year. (Laughs) But, uh, I didn’t do very well!
AW: Can you talk to me about the rules of the sport and how bouts work?
There are three types of fencing: foil, épée and sabre. The objective of foil is to hit your opponent on the torso area, excluding arms. In épée, the entire body is fair game, including head, arms and feet. That’s what I’m involved in. Sabre is more focused on the upper body; it’s more of a slashing thing, whereas foil and épée are not designed for just stabbing.
I’ll talk to you a little bit about épée.
Each bout is out of five points in regular competition format and the objective, of course, is to stab the other person before they can stab you. If and when you hit the other person, a light flashes, and that signifies you getting a point. There’s also—when you touch each other at the same time, which happens a lot—you get a double touch, so each person gets a point. Essentially, the first person to get five touches wins the bout.
AW: And how long do these usually last?
Depends on the fencers. Some people are more defensive, so they are really aware and don’t attack; they just stay back and on-guard for a while. Others just run and stab the person as quickly as they can. It can range from fifteen seconds to several minutes.
AW: Do you see fencing as more of a hobby or something you want to pursue maybe beyond high school?
For me personally, it’s more of a hobby. I just do it to have fun and a good time. I’m not super involved competitively. But I do know several fencers who are planning on continuing with the sport beyond high school.
AW: What would you say to someone who was considering fencing?
Be sure it’s what you really want to do, because it does cost a lot to join and to keep up. The equipment that we have to order can cost hundreds of dollars too. So unless you’re really determined to dedicate yourself fully to the sport I wouldn’t advise anyone to just try it out and not continue with it.
Interview by Emily Litvack