Rock out with your sword out

“Scream for Long Beach.” I shouted into my hairbrush with a terrible British accent. The recorded crowd on the CD screamed.I leapt on my bed and shouted, “‘the flight of Icarus!’” I furiously headbanged as

“Scream for Long Beach.” I shouted into my hairbrush with a terrible British accent. The recorded crowd on the CD screamed.I leapt on my bed and shouted, “‘the flight of Icarus!'” I furiously headbanged as the guitars, bass and drums kicked in.

The windows shook and the floor groaned as Iron Maiden’s 1985 release, “Live After Death” blared. Nothing makes me happier than grabbing a hairbrush and pretending to be Maiden’s dramatic frontman Bruce Dickinson.

I love Bruce Dickinson. Maybe it’s the red hair or the British accent.

Or maybe it’s the operatic wail that has been a part of the British heavy metal band since 1982, 10 studio albums and counting. Whatever it is, I’m hooked on everything they represent.Dickinson fences, so of course, I’m learning to fence. During the 1988-89 season, he was ranked seventh in the U.K. and demonstrated his skills in Iron Maiden’s 2002 “Rock in Rio” DVD.

After a four-block walk from the Market-Frankford 34th Street station, I reached the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia. I yanked the doors.


I peered in the window and saw a woman dressed in a padded vest and tight-fitting pants running towards the door.She invited me in. Twenty minutes later, I had signed up for 10 one-hour lessons and equipment for $180. The FAP has been a member of the United States Fencing Association since 1989, offering youth and adult lessons for beginners to the more advanced. I was now a student at the largest fencing facility in the region.

Two weeks later, I walked back into the FAP. This time it was packed with people in netted masks, white vests and swords. I tried not to get bumped by a retreating fencer or tangled in the cords attached to an electronic scoring device on the wall.

The FAP was loud. There was beeping, feet pounding, grunting and blades clashing.When I arrived, a line of cones separated three strips, and two people in sport pants and T-shirts stretched their muscles.

In the first lesson, I was introduced to footwork. “When I clap once, turn around and run the other direction,” said Kate Thomas, my instructor.

“When I clap twice, turn around and run backwards.”This was hard. I confused my rights and lefts and crashed into my fellow classmates.

I felt more confident after Thomas taught me how to move: advancing, retreating and lunging. This was quite hard on the legs, as I soon found out the next day when it hurt to walk, sit and basically move.Note to self: stretch after fencing lessons.
Lavinia Lindsay, assistant coach and National Division III Champion in women’s foil (the type of weapon used), taught the second lesson. I learned how to distance myself by teaming up with a partner and reacting when they moved. By the third lesson, I was introduced to my first piece of equipment – the mask.

“The mask is what makes fencing a sport and not a blood bath,” Thomas said with a grin. “We are proud that all of our fencers have both eyes.”In my previous lessons, we played games on making quick decisions and on how to time them properly, but this was the first time a weapon was involved. I needed to jump or duck, depending on whether Thomas swung the sword over my head or under my feet.

I was elated when I ducked and heard the swoosh of the sword above me. Unfortunately, I was often too busy basking in that small glory and I wouldn’t react in time for another attack to avoid being hit. In my fourth lesson, I grasped a plastic weapon. I learned how to hold, aim and move with a weapon. I felt like Bruce Lee (I seem to have a thing for guys named Bruce) as I caught plastic rings with my blade.

With a few more lessons to go, I am far from becoming anywhere near the greatest swordsgirl in the universe, but I don’t care. Being able to bear a three-pound mask on my head while wielding a plastic weapon is enough for me. I intend to stay with the FAP and take more lessons, and eventually move on to compete with the club.

And who knows? In the off-chance that I do ever meet Bruce Dickinson, my idol and my god, I’ll be ready to duel him.

Kris Fossett can be reached at

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