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PURSUIT: Newmarket club wants you to take a stab at fencing

'We call it physical chess because your mind is as active as your body is,' says the club coach of the affordable sport offered at the Magna Centre

Move over pickleball; fencing might be Newmarket’s hottest new obsession.

Since the Newmarket Fencing Club recently moved its headquarters to the Magna Centre, its membership has skyrocketed to the highest numbers in 10 years. The increased visibility the community centre provides has left many visitors eager to take a stab at the sport.

Matt Lawrence is a coach with the club and is familiar with the benefits of fencing.

He loves the intense workout and calorie burn he gets from playing, and notes fencing is easier on the body than many other sports because there is less stop and start. It can also be modified in a number of ways to accommodate injuries.

But fencing also offers participants a number of mental benefits in addition to its many physical rewards.

“It is an anti-aging sport. It helps stem off dementia; it helps stem off other grey-matter diseases like Alzheimer’s. We call it physical chess because your mind is as active as your body is,” he said.

Lawrence also says fencing is excellent for kids on the spectrum, as well as other disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Furthermore, the Insurance Board of Canada ranks fencing as the second safest sport in the country. That places the sport ahead of pickleball and behind only table tennis. The combination of a commitment to safety and top-notch equipment keeps the risk of injury low.

Lawrence also appreciates the friendliness of his fellow fencers — something that may surprise people due to the nature of the sport.

“The interesting thing about this sport is you meet the nicest people brandishing weapons toward each other. One of the many mottos of fencing is ‘make new friends and then stab them,’” Lawrence quipped.

Ben Roe is a competitor for the University of Guelph fencing team and has been a member of the club for more than a decade. He wanted to try something new, and fencing quickly became his favourite sport. It has also provided him a great ice breaker for his social life.

“Fencing is great for conversation at a party because people usually have lots of questions,” he said. “They might ask questions for 20 minutes.”

Roe and his fellow fencers have also benefited from the club’s partnership with the Town of Newmarket. The town subsidizes a lot of the costs to help the club remain one of the least expensive organizations in Ontario.

“When people start with the club, whether you’re a youth or an adult, we provide the equipment to start off with, so you don’t have to outlay 300 bucks to buy gear. We recommend taking a class, or taking two classes,” added Lawrence.

The fencing season is from September until June, with a break in the summer. Anyone age 10 and older can join through the town for the fall, winter and spring sessions. There are also a number of tournaments to participate in during the season.

An added bonus is new members can learn the sport from Michael McDonnell, one of the best fencers Canada has ever produced.

McDonnell is a national champion and certified coach who still competes at a high level, most recently winning gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the veterans category (ages 60 to 69). He brought his passion to Newmarket 25 years ago, when he started the club, which continues to thrive today.

Fencing has three weapon disciplines known as foil, epee and sabre. There is a different strategy and target area for each sword. The Newmarket club is mainly an epee club but usually starts off new fencers in the foil category.

The Newmarket Fencing Club continues to prove it is a cut above the competition when it comes to fencing in Ontario. Its doors are always open to Newmarket residents looking for a fun and new sport that will exercise both the body and the mind.