September 08: Do fence me in

September 08: Do fence me in

Looking for a new form of exercise that doesn’t conjure images of a hamster wheel? How about a little duel? Local musician and violin teacher Kari Caplin went that route when she took up the sport of fencing a year ago. She’d wanted to find an alternative athletic activity for her daughter, and while watching the younger Caplin take classes through the Charlottesville Fencing Alliance, mom became fascinated. “I didn’t do college sports,” says Caplin. “I did my own thing—Pilates, running—but I was intrigued by the historical aspects of fencing. You could see it was hard work, but it never looked like it was miserable.”

Caplin joined the mixed age and gender beginner fencing class and found it was kind of the perfect workout. She says it works both the upper and lower body and involves rapid-fire muscle responses. Still, “You have to think so hard about what you’re doing,” she says, “you don’t realize how much you’re exercising. It’s incredible.”

Get en garde and get in shape.

Fencing is often called “physical chess,” and because it strains the brain as much as the biceps, folks who aren’t hyper-brawny or super spry can still excel. Dorothy Carney, a longtime coach for the Charlottesville Fencing Alliance says, “I usually tell people you don’t have to be very athletic to be good at first—small motor skills are essential.” Carney says women may be deterred by myths that fencing hurts and the swords are heavy, but she says, “When you have a sword in your hand, you are equal to any man. He could be taller and more muscular, but speed and flexibility win out over brawn.”

Indeed! So grab your foils, girls, and tell all the dudes to bring it. Check out the Charlottesville Fencing Alliance website at for information on classes and membership.