Fencer Kirk Rowley shares his decades of expertise three times a week in classes for all ages at North Pinellas community centers.
By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published May 21, 2004
CLEARWATER - If you want to help your child grow up to be a respectful person, a good citizen even, you may want to consider giving him or her a deadly weapon on the next birthday.
A nice, sharp saber, perhaps.
No, we're not talking about a toy here. We're talking about a heavy, sharp, curved weapon designed to slash flesh to the bone.
But wait! Sure, it sounds dangerous. Still, you may want to give this idea a chance.
As ironic as it may seem, enrolling your child in one of Kirk Rowley's fencing classes, in which he teaches the use of saber, foil and epee, may train him or her to be a more gracious, yet competitive, individual, a person who will learn to use the weapon for sport only.
"These are not weapons like a pistol," Rowley said.
Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in North Pinellas community centers, Rowley teaches proper fencing techniques to youth as well as adults, offering expertise he gained competing in the 5,000-year-old sport during three decades.
Although one of his students, Ricky Avis, 12, of St. Petersburg proudly said he came home with "37 bruises, one that looked like Mickey Mouse" after a contest, Rowley said the sport is not dangerous, and injuries are rare.
"It's way safer than football," Rowley said. "We have so many rules to make it safe. There have been some people who have gotten killed, but it's usually a freak accident."
Worldwide, few have been fatally injured, Rowley said. One story recalls an Olympic fencer who died when his weapon accidentally broke during the games, something that almost never happens, he said.
Those who practice fencing say the art is like playing "chess on your feet."
It requires agility, poise and the ability to anticipate two or three moves ahead of your opponent.
A group of young people trains hard every Tuesday night at Countryside Recreation Center in Clearwater, trying to improve their dexterity and master the gentleman's sport.
Eyes narrowed, their fingers gripping the handles, they lift their foils, holding them steady, nearly perpendicular to the ground, ready to strike.
The youths, so childlike outside the confines of this room, stand frozen en garde, polite and ready to strike.
Wearing protective wire-mesh masks with thick canvas bibs to protect the head and neck, as well as thick nylon jackets, knickers and padded gloves, they lurch forward, jabbing their silvery weapons toward the heart of their challengers.
It signals the start of a macabre and graceful dance called a bout.
On Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m. at Countryside Recreation Center, 2640 Sable Springs Drive, many of the students will demonstrate their skills during the West Coast Duel 2004. Admission is free.
"It's challenging on a physical and mental level," said Amanda Miller, 16, who plans to compete. "It's not something everybody does."
At the duel, visitors will have an opportunity to see athletes who "are instantaneously confronted with unforeseen situations," Rowley said.
"They will react and have to react with grace, balance, poise and accuracy," he said. "Seemingly without thought."
WHEN/WHERE: 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at Southwest Recreation Complex, Largo; 7:15 to 9:15 p.m. Tuesday at Countryside Recreation Center, Clearwater; and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Safety Harbor Community Center.
COST: $30 a month for residents, $45 for nonresidents.