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FAMILY: Ventura County | FOR THE KIDS

Duel Lessons

Classes in fencing teach youths discipline and physical techniques that may prove useful later in life.


Drew Glenn is only 11, but he's already figured out some basic rules in the game of life that have taken many of us too long to grasp. "If you make one wrong move, it can cost you the match," he declared. "It's a surprise how much physical energy and concentration it takes to learn how to control your actions."

No, he's not a Socrates-in-the-making. He's a fencer. He's learned these lessons while holding a fencing foil, parrying and lunging back and forth against opponents inside a 6-by-46-foot area marked on the floor of the Conejo Community Center.

This weekend, Drew, who attends Mesa Verde Middle School in Moorpark, will start his second eight-week session at the center. Enrollment is also open for a beginner's class this Saturday. The official enrollment age is 13, but younger boys and girls can request an interview and ask that an exception be made--as Drew did.

Of his initial struggles to maintain the unusual body positions involved in fencing, he said, "After you learn it, it's fun." His mother, Dee Glenn, says she encouraged her son to get involved because, "It's a sport you can continue (regardless of age) and there are those little niceties of the sport, like having to salute your opponent."

She wasn't worried about the swords involved. Modern fencing involves masks, padded outfits as stout as bullet-proof body armor, and swords blunted so as not to pierce or cut.

Drew won't be the youngest in the fencing class this Saturday. Brian Narvy, a Thousand Oaks 10-year-old, will be starting the beginner's course. For the past several weeks he's been watching his 13-year-old brother, Steven, take lessons at the center. "It looked really fun, so I've decided to try it," says Brian.

This particular activity is a bit of a family tradition. Their mother, Cheryl Narvy, said, "I took fencing in junior high."

The fencing instructor at the Conejo Center is Phil Hareff, who also coaches fencing at UC Santa Barbara. He makes it clear to youngsters that the sport is coed: "When there is open competition, it's for men and women both."

One of his students at the center is Heather Staple, a 14-year-old Moorpark High freshman. "I've fenced with (male) adults," she said. "Sometimes they go easy on me. Usually they don't." She says age and gender should not be factors "once you put on the mask."

The center is the regular meeting place for the Conejo Fencers, a club with members ranging from teens to retirement age. Kids enrolled in the Saturday training sessions often stay after class to watch club members fence--sometimes being invited to participate.

The instruction for beginners, Hareff said, emphasizes safety procedures and "how to stand en garde--it's the oddest position you can think of and it's tough for the youngsters at first."

Only in the middle of the course do kids practice parries and lunges, "not really hitting, but learning how to keep a good fencing distance," he said. By sessions six or seven, kids don masks and body padding and practice "touches"--first on the instructor, then on one another.

The watchword is discipline. Students admit that the toughest part is maintaining proper stance and position.

Beginning fencer Steven Narvy confessed that it's a constant struggle to avoid getting into a situation where "you are fencing and you just try whacking and forget the basics."

It can cost you the match--in fencing or in life.


Fencing Instruction for Kids, starting Saturday and continuing weekly through March 21, 10:45-11:45 a.m., Conejo Community Center 1300 Hendrix Ave. Thousand Oaks. Equipment is provided; fee for eight sessions is $34 for Conejo Valley residents, $41 for others. (805) 495-2163.

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