For Olympic Fencing Champion Tim Moorehouse, fencing became a way to gain confidence in himself as a child and to be the boss in a sport in which he truly excelled. For The Sartorialist Scott Schuman, it was a study in how the crisp uniform defined the sport. Together, they touched on several interesting points about the history of fencing and why it’s important today.
Scott's quest to photograph styles and fashions that define who we are today led him to Tim’s practice, where in their initial interview, he asked the Olympic champion what the sport meant to him. Tim said:
Fencing changed my life. I was a kid that used to mumble; I was a kid that didn’t have a lot of confidence. Once I started putting the mask on, I sort of took on this whole different persona, and that also started to reflect in my life. As I put [the uniform] on, I start to stand up a little bit straighter, I start to get ready. Maybe I’m a little more commanding once I start putting on the stuff because in a second I’m going to go out on the strip and be one hundred percent confident and show no fear. I’m going to have this opponent in front of me. So there very much is this transformation as you start to get dressed.
Scott explains that Tim’s change in attitude mirrors the kings and noblemen who used the sport in medieval times to settle disputes. It is a quick sport that requires accuracy and light footwork, as the endgame is to draw blood. No one died, but as soon as the first drop of blood showed on the uniform, the game was over. This is why the fencing uniform is white.
“There’s something very compelling to me about an act that contains the brutality of confrontation,” Scott reflects, “and yet the underlying code of ethics is to remain a gentleman.”
We can’t think of a single school in the U.S. that offers fencing, but it sounds like the lessons learned by Tim and uncovered by Scott could really be useful to some of our young folk. It’s important for a child to find something they’re truly good at, but unlike sometimes brutal sports like football or lacrosse, fencing’s roots are in speed and skill as well as in honor and dignity.