On any given Sunday afternoon, Sherri Barth can be found at Montgomery Park dressed in medieval armor and ready for battle.
But during the week, Barth trades in the battlefield for a practice gym to sharpen her technique.
“Sometimes you need to go back to basics to get things clean. I came here to sharpen my game and it’s working,” Barth said.
Barth is a member of Duke City Fencing, Albuquerque’s only center dedicated to the art of fencing. Duke City Fencing offers lessons for children and adults, specified times for bouts and an armory where fighters can get their weapons fixed and handled. Owner Toby Tolley began Duke City Fencing in 2005 in hopes of connecting with local fencers.
Head coach Toby Tolley urges 12-year-old Tahir Mohamed to be more consistent. Tolley said that whether she’s teaching a class of 6-year-olds or people in their 60s, she’s happy to pass on the art of fencing.
A weapons box holds three different types of swords with various grips next to the armory area of the club. Duke City Fencing is Albuquerque’s only center dedicated to fencing.
Ann-Marie Yaroslask, left, and instructor Wayne Nellist engage each other in a Wednesday-evening practice. Tolley said the tactful and practiced nature of fencing is comparable to a game of chess.
“I love being able to share my love of fencing with other people, I love to pass that on,” Tolley said.
Tolley began fencing as an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University. While there, her interest sparked after seeing members of the university’s fencing club practicing. Tolley said she joined the club and practiced fencing every day for the next 10 years.
“It was love at first stab,” she said.
Tolley said her ability to fence grew quickly while in San Francisco, and she started fencing competitively with ease. San Francisco is a competitive environment for national and international fencers, and Tolley said her ability to find competitors fostered her love for the sport.
“I expect it would have been much harder living in Mississippi or Montana, but for me in San Francisco with so many fencers there, it was just a matter of competing,” she said.
Tolley began competing in and winning national championships and tournaments, and soon reached her peak as a fighter, ranking among the top 10 fencers in the country from 1996 to 2000. After starting Duke City Fencing and competing professionally, Tolley said she began working as a fencing coach and referee. Tolley returned Wednesday after refereeing the Vigor Challenge FIE Junior World Cup in Sweden.
Barth, who signed up for classes at Duke City Fencers, said instruction from Tolley and coach David Lane has helped smooth out her fencing skills. Barth began fencing in 1991 after joining the Albuquerque chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, in which she practices Renaissance-era rapier fighting.
“The first time I saw ‘Excalibur’ and saw ‘The Highlander,’ I thought ‘I want to do that. I want to go out there and grab a sword and fight,’” she said. “It’s the thrill of crashing swords and rapier combat, to be victorious over your opponent, to execute a kill in a way with finesse and style.”
Duke City Fencing member Eric Lange said the center promotes the sport’s positive energy.
“The interesting thing about fencing is you only get good with people who are also good. Everybody tries to raise the standards of everyone else in a very positive way,” Lange said. “Very rarely is it about tearing someone down.”
Lange said he began fencing when he was 10, following in the footsteps of his older brother. Lange went on to compete in and win a regional championship while living north of London, then put aside the competitive sport to attend college. Lange said the sport’s aggressive nature has attracted him since he was young.
“If you’re very smart and visual and creative, you get to apply your skills,” he said.
Lange’s son, Henry Lange, began fencing in October and is gearing up with the New Mexico team for the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships in Baltimore this month.
Lange said his son’s ability to think and assess the situation while fighting, as well Lane and Tolley’s coaching, has helped push the young man forward as a competitor.
“You have to pit your wits, your soul and your cunning against another fighter. There aren’t many other sports where you get to do that,” he said. “You can sit down and play chess or you can go boxing, but you can’t sit down and punch the player that you’re playing chess with. It’s violent chess.”