Fairfield fencers say the sport is akin to physical chess

FAIRFIELD — Fencers at the Fairfield Fencer Academy say coaching is a form of physical chess — requiring both athletic prowess and a strategic mind in order to win.

Owner and head coach Jim Roberts said fencing has given him direction, motivation and answers in life.

“Fencing has evolved to be the biggest passion in my life,” Roberts said. “Fencing is my life. It is a blast.”

Fencing is a combat sport in which points are made by a player using his weapon to make contact with an opponent. There are three disciplines, and therefore types of weapons, in modern fencing: the foil, the épée and the sabre.

“It’s sword fighting,” Roberts said. “What’s not to love?”

The Fairfield Fencing Academy sits in a former Holy Family Church building on Stratfield Road. It has more than 110 students attending classes every week, according to Roberts; more than 150 students if you include the Parks and Recreation programs the Academy helps the town run.

Roberts, 31, said he has been a full-time coach for eight years but a fencer for nearly 20. Included on the academy's roster are the fencers of the combined Fairfield Warde and Fairfield Ludlowe high school team.

“As a coach, I want to be able to teach (students) everything I wish I knew at their age,” Roberts said.

Ami Li, a captain on the combined high school fencing team, said while all sports require a combination of physical and mental effort, fencing takes it to a new level. She said the niche sport has a competitive and fun community.

“Once I got on the team, I found an unparalleled amount of camaraderie and a community that motivated me to work hard,” Li said.

Roberts said there are misconceptions about the sport and the people who participate in it.

“The way fencing is portrayed in the movies is not the way it is in real life,” Roberts said, adding that movies like “The Parent Trap,” which show fencing as a gentlemanly, loner sport, are not accurate.

Peter Redwood, another team captain, said that while fencers are, generally, more accepting of the quarks people may have, the sport is by no means a walk in the park.

The training regimen, according to Roberts, consists of conditioning, footwork and blade skills. Conditioning is rigorous and teaches young fencers about performance.

Roberts said the sport is growing nationally, especially in the states where it already has a foothold. Connecticut is second only to New Jersey in the number of fencing teams it has, he said.

The academy only had about 45 students when Roberts started working there, he said. The program has a 95 percent retention rate.

“I’m very happy with the culture we have developed here,” Roberts said.

The state championships, which will have 20 teams competing, takes place on Feb. 29 and March 1 at Guildford High School.