When you walk into Mark Smith’s martial arts and fencing studio, you notice the gleaming hard wood floors, wall mirrors, oriental carpets and a couch full of masks and foils, sabers and epees. It is an atmosphere of precision and of discipline. It is a well-lighted room with 20-foot high ceilings. It is a room that makes one feel like it is time to get to work.
Mark Smith is passionate about sharing the sport he loves and has decided to offer an affordable way for locals to learn the skills and protocol of what is considered an elite sport — the sport of princes. He plans to take the eliteness out of it and make it a fun sport that anyone can learn.
Smith is a retired electrician from the University of Colorado and his active, curious brain has led him to try many projects from his home in Old Town Nederland. He took up fencing when he attended CU-Denver in 1975. He said it sounded like a fun elective.
His first teacher was maestro Mel North who taught fencing at the University of California-Los Angeles and was a coach to movie stars and Olympic competitors. Smith took all the courses he could for the next two years. He learned the form for foil, epee and saber and the different kinds of swords, but most of all he learned the underlying ethics and discipline that the sport demands.
“Fencing is a very polite sport. It is a learned skill as well as an excellent exercise,” Smith said. “When I learned it, I learned how to do it both right and left. It is an aerobic and safe experience. In fact, it is the safest of the martial arts.”
The mechanics of modern fencing originated in the 18th Century Italian school of the Renaissance, and then was improved by the French school of fencing. After World War II, dueling dwindled. Aristocrats who were trained to duel, once considered fashionable for males, disappeared, but fencing continued as a sport.
Fencing has been a college sport for about 500 years. The United States has two national university tournaments, but because of prohibitive costs, the sport is limited to a small number of schools. In recent years, attempts have been made to introduce fencing to a wider and younger audience, but Smith offers the opportunity to learn the sport at a much lower cost.
Fencing clubs typically offer eight classes for $180 for children, and Smith intends to charge $30 for eight classes and supplies all the necessary equipment, mask, gloves and swords.
To start the class, he will need eight to 14 students, with a wide variety of body types. He also said that those who complete the session, who have learned the basic levels, will be welcome to come and fence with him with the intention of starting a Nederland Fencing Club.
The basics include stance, parries, attacks, fencing manners, the proper use of equipment and footwork. Besides Smith’s demonstrations and instructions, a video is always playing to check technique so a student does not get lost.
Smith said that some fencing clubs like to present the sport as elite, part of the royalty cavalry. More recently it has become an Olympic sport.
“I want to take the mystery, the expense and exclusiveness out of fencing. The expense is not necessary. This would be a fun alternative sport, the gateway that could go all the way to the Olympics. There is no age limit as to who can enjoy it, and it can be a lifetime sport.”
Smith said he wants to talk to people who are interested and figure out times when the students can get together. He said students should be at least 12 years old unless a younger person would be tall enough and have the initial strength to hold a sword for five minutes. He warns that the light-looking sword can get heavy.
Smith’s studio is also set up for martial arts instruction and said he will also teach Wing Chun, which is a form of hand fencing.
When Smith is not collecting things, inventing things or fixing things, he teaches astronomy at Wild Bear. He believes people should share their skills and encourage others to try new activities.
For more information, call Mark Smith at 303-258-7905.