Students at Glenstal Abbey practice their fencing moves as part of the teaching programme set up by Nenagh fencing instructor Patrick Dight
To many people, fencing is all about dare devil duels, swashbuckling pirates, and a lot of misconceptions gained through watching too many Hollywood movies.
But fencing is a highly-skilled sport and one that Nenagh resident Patrick Dight wants to see developed, especially in schools.
Patrick, a founder member of local fencing club Munster Blades, who meet every Friday night in Nenagh CBS Hall, is now setting about turning his passion into a profession by teaching the art of fencing to children.
Born in Wales, he grew up in Cambridge and fenced all through his college days.
He later moved to Ireland with his wife, Kate, and has been living in Nenagh for the past 14 years.
“I founded Munster Blades with some other people because I wanted to teach my children to fence,” he says.
He had completed some coaching courses and Glenstal Abbey approached him and he began teaching in his spare time.
“I finished with my job in IT which I was doing for 10 years and was looking around to see what am I going to do next and I thought why not do what you are really passionate about, so since the start of this year I have been looking for schools to teach to be a fulltime fencing instructor,” says Patrick.
Since last January he has been talking to schools and trying to create the market in fencing, and then meet the demand.
He was also approached by the principal of Dunamaise school in Portlaoise who was anxious to do a sport but they only had a small sports hall.
“It is a good case study,” he says.
Patrick also has schools in Dublin and in the North offering fencing to students.
Nenagh fencing instructor Patrick Dight
While he does teach young children and Munster Blades has children as young as nine fencing, when he is talking to schools he is concentrating on secondary schools, especially at Junior Cycle and transition year because at TY there is a big, wide curriculum and an interest in doing something different.
He has already initiated an inter-schools competition and if the numbers grow, he can see a need for local competitions.
“I will come along to a school and teach the students to get to where they are fencing each other. The teachers can appraise whether the kids enjoyed it. Kids want to be taught skills,” says Patrick.
And, he pointed out, it is a sport that appeals to male and female students.
“They can fence each other and the girls tend to learn quicker because girls want the technical side of fencing while boys just want to stick each other,” he says.
Patrick also points out that fencing has many physical and mental benefits.
“It is a great stress reliever. When you square off against an opponent and you both have a weapon, there really isn't anything else you can think about. It also teaches you self-confidence and mental resilience. There are a lot of wellness benefits associated with fencing,” he says.
It is a point he makes when talking to teachers as the new Junior Cycle curriculum includes wellness, so there is potential to include a sport like fencing as part of the school programme.
“The key thing is it is not a team sport. Team games can be cruel because there is the pressure of letting down your team. Fencing it is just you and your opponent. The only pressure is the pressure you bring yourself,” he says.
It is also very strong for developing an analytic mind.
“It is like a game of chess played at lightening speed,” he says.
It also teaches discipline, etiquette and fairness because you are not allowed to swear and not allowed to argue back. Every fight starts and ends with salute.
Patrick believes that we have to focus on increasing sporting diversity because we need to keep kids active longer.
“That is what is going to tackle our obesity problems down the road,” he says.
Curiously, although everyone has got weapons, Patrick says fencing is not a contact sport as such and is extremely safe.
“Everyone is wearing high specification protective clothing. It is way safer than more traditional sports such as hurling, football, soccer and even badminton or basketball. The most you will get in fencing is a muscle strain,” he says.
However, in sabre fencing you can strike a blow to the head. “There is nothing wrong with hitting someone over the head when you are fencing sabre,” he says.
In foil fencing you can only hit the body while in epee you can strike the body, arms and legs.
While he agrees that there is a perception that fencing can be seen as elitist, he points out that Munster Blades takes everybody.
“We are not elitist, but we do not accept bad behaviour,” says Patrick.
And it is not an expensive sport to get started in. “You need a uniform, a jacket, mat, glove and a weapon and you can do all that for around €300,” he says. He brings this equipment to schools and also covers the cost of insurance.
When it comes to developing the sport, there are only about 1,000 people involved in fencing in Ireland, but we do have a couple knocking on the door of Olympic qualification.
“You have to in the top 100 in the world and I know one man who was 101st. I don't see the Olympics as an end point," he says.
It is a point he makes when talking to schools.
“For me it is about getting into schools and teaching kids how to fence,”
Anybody interested in learning how to fence can drop in to Nenagh CBS hall any Friday night for a free taster or contact Patrick on the Munster Blades website www.munsterblades.ie