Review: Salle d’Etroit Fencing Academy

Many of you aren’t from the Metro Detroit area, making Salle d’Etroit a bit of a haul for fencing lessons. Read on anyway. Fencing’s an amazing sport and perhaps worth a look for your family wherever you live.

My younger son, nearly 11, has been waving swords and sticks since he was five. Entranced with Greek and Roman history and mythology, he wielded the duct tape weaponry created by his brother and soon mastered the art of faux sword-making himself. A fascination in Medieval times followed, and his interest in the weapons of the era increased. At some point, we met fencers. They were homeschooling teens who wielded the foil, epee, and saber for fun and sport. They were having fun and staying fit, and my younger was interested. However, we were deeply invested (in time and money) in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art, so fencing would have to wait.

This fall, we ended our four and a half-year odyssey with karate. After a rather bittersweet adieu, we found ourself without athletic outlook. My older looked toward tennis, I tried yoga and running, and my younger picked up a foil. Six months later, my younger son is fencing twice a week, taking lessons at Salle d’Etroit Fencing Academy‘s Ben Schleis, fencing with other youth at Becky Keeling’s monthly Friday Fun Nights, and even participating in a novice tournament. He’s not the quickest to pick up the physical skills but he is persistent, and Ben and Becky are patient and just as persistent. The right balance of focus on what’s going well and insistence fixing what’s not makes for a learning environment that works for my younger and, it seems, plenty of other students as well.

While two classes a week are devoted to kids ages six to ten, my son attends the classes listed as for ages nine to ninety-nine plus. Mixed age groups with plenty of older learners works well for him, and given he started fencing at ten and a half, it made sense to start where he’d end up soon anyway. Classes are small — almost always under ten students and often with an experienced student on hand to assist.  The first half of the class is done without mask and jacket, and focuses on footwork, stance, precision of moves, and other basic skills. After suiting up (mask, glove for the fencing hand, jacket, and weapon), the lesson continues, this time with an opponent. Open fencing (a chance to fence against any available opponents) follows, allowing a chance to put those skills to the test and learn more of the rules of the sport.

Fencing is a smart sport, one that requires reading an opponent, analyzing that reading, and acting accordingly, all in a matter of seconds. At Salle d’Etroit, the smart end of these fencers is evident in their work on the floor and in their dialogue. In addition to learning fencing, my younger son has found others interested in discussing the vagaries of World War II and debating the outcome of the American Revolutionary War. He has found fencing companions and discussion partners.  Slowly, he’s even making friends. The folks there resonate with him, and that’s part of what keeps him going.

Along with wanting to learn to fence better, my younger son wants to learn to direct. Directing fencing is akin to refereeing. To direct, one has to have an intimate understanding of the rules, and there is nothing my younger son loves more than rules and their enforcement. The powers that be at Salle d’Etroit are happy to encourage and tutor him to this end as well. There’s a process involved, including a class and a test, and I know they’ll support him to reach that goal.

I’m impressed with Salle d’Etroit’s instructors and students. I have a fairly quirky, outspoken kid who isn’t a natural when moving his body through space. Team sports aren’t his forte, and he doesn’t like the bodily contact that karate offered and sports with moving projectiles are just not his speed. Fencing works for him. He’s not the easiest child to instruct, but he’s full of enthusiasm. Ben and Becky manage well, and he likes and respects both of them. They are straightforward with him, both on his strengths and weaknesses. They’re also responsive to me, generally appreciating a communication or learning problem before I get all the words out. While his Asperger’s is “out” to the instructors, it’s taken as a matter of course, with a focus on communicating effectively with him a priority. My son and I appreciate the acceptance he’s found there.

Fencing offers plenty for the young or older fencer. It builds core strength, encourages hand-eye coordination, demands attention and focus, and improves stamina. It’s also fun and challenging while being fairly safe. (Aaron’s coach claims it’s safer than ping-pong. That may be an overstatement, but it’s far safer than the soccer, baseball, and karate our family has tried.) It is a sport that spans the ages, with participants ranging from under ten to well over sixty. Fencing encourages respect, fostering sportsmanship every time two fencers come together in either practice or competition. And, heck, it’s indoors, a plus to parents and participants like me who don’t like to brave the elements in the name of sports.

Salle d’Etroit supports fencers, young and not as young, in all those elements of fencing. They provide a safe place to learn with encouraging instructors and a fine group of fencers. They allow the new fencer to borrow equipment (although the desire for a mask with only your own sweat encourages one to start to accumulate the clothing and gear required) and options for group and private lessons. Floor time for open fencing is affordable and abundant.  If you’re in the Metro Detroit area, give them a look. If not, search here to find a fencing club near you.  On guard. Ready. Fence!


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