Happy new year Secret Life fans! I hope you've all had a nice break. So, 2016 heralds a new phase to the Secret Life which I will share with you in coming months. For now though, I have kicked off the year with a challenge which was very aptly from the 'Active' (yellow) category of the Secret Life box. It's been a while, I have noticed since that category was chosen, and being a naturally active person, I was curious to see what it would be. As you may have guessed by the title of this blog, it was....fencing! This is something I remember almost trying back in 2012 when I was inspired by the Olympics and was supposed to try a taster session with some friends but it never actually came off due to people dropping out. But, as we know, the Secret Life is not about relying on other people to do things with you, so I sought out a session for the first week of the year with the Central London Fencing Club in Pimlico. Despite my natural energy and enthusiasm, even I was suffering from the 'first week back blues' and come Wednesday afternoon was seriously considering cancelling this challenge. But no, that's defeatist I told myself, and surely not in the spirit of fencing and so off I went. The club hold a taster session on various dates, alongside a beginners course, and also their usual training, all in a large school hall. There is something about any activity that takes place in a school that strikes fear into me, and this was no different as I arrived to see some kids aged about 12, fencing very proficiently. Oh dear, this was going to be embarrassing. However, there were 22 of us adults all up for the taster challenge and so I thought surely I couldn't be the worst? Our coach for the night, Reese (or could it be Rhys?) got us warmed up and already I was feeling competitive as we ran round the games hall, alternately hopping, skipping and lunging in between runs. We then did some stretching and were introduced to some of the essential moves in fencing. Of course the first was 'en garde', the starting, and defensive position. He then explained the correct way to move backwards and forwards, maintaining this position, then onto the lunge/attacking move. At this point we were all wearing our own t-shirts, leggings and trainers as advised, but next it was off to the magic fencing dressing up box! Females have to wear a protective breastplate, then a single sleeve jacket, followed by a full back fastening jacket, right sleeve/glove and of course the face mask. This was full on. Although many people had arrived as couples or with friends, there were quite a few of us who hadn't and this is definitely the first point to make friends as you help each other out into the various bits of kit, especially the jacket which bears a remarkable resemblance to a straitjacket (I believe!). So without further ado, it must be time for a photo, and so here we are, me, pre action, without my face mask....
Reese then explained the foil to us, some basic safety, and some reassurance that the edges aren't sharp and won't slice you. Good to know! Face masks on, we then practiced our lunge/attack moves with the foils against the wall. The next step was to practice some back and forth moves, along with basic attacks with a partner. Next he explained the defensive move with the foil known as the 'parry', where you block someone's move using your foil. This is then followed by the 'riposte', or counter attack move (apologies now for any fencing aficionados out there - I was trying to pick up the terminology as best I could!) From here of course it was onto a proper fight. We lined up and undertook the routine usually adopted of saluting your opponent with your foil before adopting the en garde position and then we were off. The hall was suddenly full of energy and the sound of foils clashing, and also the odd shout and laugh - definitely not customary in fencing! This was full on anaerobic activity. Apparently each fight goes up to 5 points, or three minutes, whichever comes first. Three minutes at this level of effort is actually a long time. As we shook our opponents hand, Reese moved the lines in opposite direction so that we were facing a new partner. This is where a slightly sinister air comes over the activity as your new opponent is now faceless with their mask on. It is hard to see their intent, or know that they are actually quite friendly underneath. Time for another photograph I think to demonstrate how I too can hide my cheery face....
We then spent about 20 minutes swapping opponents, and adding up points, as things all got very competitive. There was the odd stab in the leg, or non fighting arm, followed up by a 'sorry'! By the time the two hour session was over we were all positively glowing (a mixture of sweat and elation I think). As we took our masks and kit off we shared our experiences, and it was really interesting to hear people's reasons for coming along. There was a couple who told the group that this was their second date - definitely an interesting way to get to know someone! One young woman had gone through a painful break up just before Christmas and decided she needed to do something for herself. I definitely identified with her, and told her a bit about my Secret Life adventures, and the spirit of embracing new solo challenges.
The owner of the club, Jean-Christophe came and spoke to us about the beginners courses they run and how you can very quickly have the opportunity to do the full electric fencing (not be confused with electric fences). Contrary to what I had thought, this is not an elitist sport, and the club members seem incredibly friendly and sociable. Reese even encouraged us to take photos of each other, and took this lovely group shot of us all.
Doh, much as I want to, I really can't add another hobby or sport into my life right now. Perhaps later in the year......
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.