ANGELA KELLY COLUMN: Olympic fencers to inspire youngsters
SCHOOLCHILDREN in Bolton and Bury are learning all the parrying and thrusts of fencing, thanks to two top Hungarian athletes.
Robert Kiss is a former Olympic fencer and master who was invited to move to the UK to improve the quality of fencing here. His wife Natalia Gyuricska is a former nationally-ranked athlete who specialised in the 400 metres and heptathlon.
The couple settled in Greater Manchester 15 years ago and live in Bury where they run the Salle Kiss Fencing Club. But they have also devised a successful programme which takes their skills into schools – not just as a way of creating more young fencers but as an excellent grounding for youngsters in many sports.
“Fencing is like ballet,” explained Natalia, “it teaches you skills that can be helpful in so many sports like fitness, balance and strength. It also boosts children’s confidence and we have seen some amazing results.”
The 10-week programme they are currently running in local schools like Clevelands Preparatory School, Bolton School and St Bede’s Primary Academy sees children enjoying hour-long after-school sessions that cost between £3 and £5 a time.
They don’t need special equipment – “just ordinary PE kit is fine,” stated Natalia – and all the items like face masks and tipped swords are provided by Robert and Natalia.
“It is a disciplined sport so children learn by repetition,” she added. But what the couple do find is that the knowledge, skills and understanding, the tactics, physical fitness and concentration all help the youngsters in their general life.
They work with children aged six to 11 in Years three to six at the enjoyable sessions. They stress not only the basic techniques involved in this ancient sport – the modern version dates back to 15th century Spain – but the etiquette of fencing and the necessary safety. “When they first come, they think they are going to be like Zorro but it’s much more than that,” said Natalia.
As athletes, the couple well understand the importance of learning a sport properly and repeating movements but they also know all about the dedication involved to reach the highest level. Apart from their own stories of achievement, they have two children both of whom fence. Dominic is eight and Daniel is aged 15 and one of the country’s top young fencers.
Because they long ago realised that there was no real competition available for fencers aged under 17, they started an international cadet competition which has grown every year.
They held this year’s in September at Bolton Arena where young fencers from Australia, Canada, Italy, France and all over Europe came to the town to take part. “It was a wonderful event and so good to see the young fencing talent around,” added Natalia. Now they plan to stage the popular event back in Bolton next year.
They are also working with Bolton-based fitness coach Mark Gallyer in helping with various fitness elements of fencing in schools, especially around footwork and strength. They recognise that they are not necessarily creating dozens of new young fencers - although there are free lessons available for those who want to progress at their own club.
They know that fencing skills can enhance mainstream sports from football and cricket to netball and swimming. “Fencing just teaches you so much,” said Natalia.
- To find out more about the schools’ fencing programme call 0161 797 5179 or email email@example.com