Fencing students learn life lessons
Swords. Chivalry. Swashbucklers. Errol Flynn films. They all conjure up fencing, the courtly art that dates to at least 1200 B.C. An ancient carving in Egypt depicts a sport-fencing bout with masks, protective weapon tips and even judges.
Harry Shamir embraces the modern form of fencing, which still features masks, protective weapon tips and referees.
Shamir owns and operates the South Shore SaEF Fencing Clubs and is one of the sport’s more ardent instructors and practitioners. His studios in Hingham, Plymouth, Quincy and Middleboro draw three dozen students willing to thrust and dodge flashing – albeit blunt-tipped – blades.
Daniel Conroy of Canton has taken lessons Wednesday nights in the Parish House of the Old Ship Church at 107 Main St., Hingham, and Thursday nights at the Hingham Community Center at 70 South St.
“I’ve never enjoyed a sport so much,” said Conroy, a 17-year-old junior at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood. “I played hockey a long, long time ago. I liked it at first, but I grew tired of it. But this I really do love. I’m the lone fencer in the whole school. It gets a lot of ‘Oh, fencing – really, with swords?’ It’s great. I look forward to those nights.”
As does Noelle Micarelli, an eighth-grader at Hingham Middle School. She was drawn to fencing while reading fantasy and adventure novels such as the “Harry Potter” series and “The Princess Bride.”
“It’s fun, it’s good exercise and you can learn a lot from it,” said Noelle, 13. “You can apply it to other areas of your life. If you’re on a debate team, for example, you can think about fencing and it can help you organize your ideas. It’s sort of like an attack and parry – fencing terms. The teacher is always emphasizing that you can verbally fence.”
In fact, fencing stems from the word “defense.”
Hingham Middle School student Joseph Cifrino, 13, likes the speed of the sport.
“It’s really fast, with split-second thinking,” he said. “It challenges me a lot.”
While Shamir says fencing makes you more intelligent, swordsmanship kept Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment feeling younger. Calment, who lived from Feb. 21, 1875, to Aug. 4, 1997, and is documented as the most long-lived human (122 years, 164 days), picked up fencing when she was 85.
Age is no issue for Hingham Middle School sixth-grader William Beachum, who said fencing “keeps me thin.”
Rebecca Gross, 27, of Middleboro and her husband, Ryan, 26, attend classes together.
“Ryan is a rising star,” Shamir said. “With his dynamism and style, he has the potential to become one of the exemplars of what fencing can be. And his wife is not far behind.”
The minimum age for joining the fencing club is 8. The youngest students start by using a plastic KSabre.
“(Eight-year-olds’) arms are shorter, their motions are not yet mechanically adept,” Shamir said. “They are physically unable to do the subtle motions required of any other weapon, so we start them off with this.”
‘Hey, you’re a natural’
Shamir, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Bologna, Italy, also lived in France, Italy, Switzerland and Israel before settling in the United States in 1969. He began teaching fencing in the summer of 1997, on a sidewalk near Plymouth’s now-closed Cranberry Museum.
“I had one student,” Shamir said, “and she dropped out.”
Now his main base of operation in Plymouth is the CBJ Community Center, from 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays or Mondays. He also offers fencing activities every Thursday in Quincy for three age groups. The locale is the Ward 4 Neighborhood Center, at the Della Chiesa School, 100 Brooks Ave.
For details on all of SaEF’s venues, call 508-747-5803.
Shamir is a mechanical engineer whose fencing background goes back to 1984, when he attended a lecture on the sport.
“I found out I knew more than the lecturer,” he said, “but I didn’t have the pedigree in order to start doing it on my own. Then I saw an ad for a free demo. A charming young lady at the end of the demo handed me a foil and said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’
“I put on a mask and we went against each other. She said, ‘Hey, you’re a natural.’ From that moment, I was sunk.”
The Patriot Ledger