By Brad Fauber - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Many children imitate what they see on television, spending hours upon hours reenacting the epic fight sequence from their favorite movie.
However, few children advance past the point of plastic guns and cardboard swords, much less turn a Hollywood battle scene into a positive inspiration.
But that is exactly what happened four years ago in the home of Dr. Frederick Wenzel, whose three sons turned their love of action movies into a passion for a sport that very few people are familiar with -- fencing.
The Wenzel boys joined a fencing club, along with their father, that drew members from Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, and in no time discovered the intense physical and technical ability required to truly compete in the world of fencing. That only fueled their desire to perfect the sport.
"I think there was something of a "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars" influence that got us into it -- you know, swords," laughed 17-year-old Benjamin Wenzel, the oldest, along with his twin brother Nicholas, of the three sons. "But once you get into it, it becomes a lot more than just play-acting. The nickname for it is 'physical chess' because it's half physical and half mental."
From then on, Wenzel and his sons gradually built up their fencing skills to the point where Benjamin and his brothers were competing on the national stage, most notably in the Junior Olympics.
After spending several years with the tri-state fencing club, Frederick Wenzel decided that he wanted to begin a local club to cater to the Winchester and Front Royal area and help spread his knowledge and understanding of a sport that has been lost in a world of multi-million dollar athletes.
"We wanted to get something more local started so we could have a more regular situation," he said. "We live between Winchester and Front Royal, so we have a lot of people we know around here. We had a good opportunity here to set this up."
In early January of this year, Royal Swords Fencing was born, and six local members of the tri-state club joined the Wenzels to give Royal Swords an initial membership of 10 people.
Royal Swords, which typically meets a couple nights a week at the old 15th Street School in Front Royal, has since grown to about 25 participants, and the ages of its members range anywhere between 9 and 72 years old.
Despite the vast difference in age and skill level, all of the members are focused on improving their skills and reaching a point where they can compete at a higher level.
Allie Bailey, who began fencing two years ago, has her sights set on several goals as she continues to progress in the sport.
"One of my goals is to get a rating," said Bailey, referencing the 'A' through 'E' rating that is given to a fencer based on skill level, with 'A' being the highest. "I'm a 'U' right now -- I'm unranked -- so that's my goal this summer.
"There's nationals in California and Texas, too, and I would like to go to those if I can get better."
For Frederick Wenzel, the physical activity that comes with the sport of fencing is a refreshing experience, but his true motivation is helping his club members reach their goals. He hopes that all of his pupils will eventually reach the point where they can consistently compete with some of the stronger clubs in the state.
Royal Swords competes in a variety of tournaments throughout the year in both Virginia and in surrounding states. The tournaments are conducted under the rules and regulations of the United States Fencing Association.
While some clubs are used primarily as a source of revenue, Frederick Wenzel cares less about the business aspect and more about teaching the rules of fencing.
"I'm doing this because I want to provide an opportunity for people, and have a place for people to fence here locally," he said. "I'm in it to kind of have it for people to have fun, and because we really like the sport -- we want to kind of promote it."
Recruiting new members to the club is difficult due to fencing's lack of popularity, but Royal Swords has worked with several home-school organizations and churches to help spread the word.
The biggest and most successful recruiting method has come via the members themselves, who often encourage their family members to join. Such was the case for 9-year-old Felice Lagarde, the youngest member of the Royal Swords.
"I watched my brother as he went for the first time," Lagarde said. "I just watched and listened, and Dr. Wenzel invited me come with him and I just started coming."
Frederick Wenzel won't be too disappointed if Royal Swords doesn't grow by leaps and bounds right away. He prefers to have a smaller group if it means that all members are devoted to truly competing. And he is not alone in his quest to bring a sense of fencing prowess to the area -- his three sons have advanced well past the point of movie-style swordplay to where Frederick Wenzel considers them unofficial assistant coaches, and they are welcoming the opportunity with open arms.
"It represents a lot because I get to mold new people into my version of what a fencer should be," Benjamin Wenzel said. "It's kind of special for me to be a coach because I can take all of my experience and channel it into them.
"And it helps me discover things about myself that I need to work on, as well."