Bhavani Devi was 11 years old when she picked up fencing as a sport at her school in Tamil Nadu in 2004.
Bhavani Devi was 11 years old when she picked up fencing as a sport at her school in Tamil Nadu in 2004. While most of her classmates went for popular sports, Devi had her eyes set on the sword. “I chose fencing because it was different and not a lot of people thought that girls could participate in such sports. I wanted to prove them wrong,” says 23-year-old Devi.
Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, fencing involves one-on-one combat, for which a player uses a fencing foil (a type of sword) to hit particular targets on the opponent’s body. There are three rounds of 7 minutes each and the gear is fitted with sensors that help in identifying the touch points to facilitate scoring.
Like any other form of one-on-one combat, fencing, too, requires exceptionally quick reflexes. As per Devi, the trick to succeed is to keep your eyes still and read your opponent’s movements. “Since the rounds are of very short duration, there is no scope for any error. The area to compete in is also very small, so it’s important that you keep a track of your feet, and attack and defend at the same time,” she says.
Since picking up the sport at a tender age, Devi has gone on to achieve many a milestone. The most prominent among them is the gold medal she won at the sabre event of the Tournoi Satellite Fencing Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2017. Currently ranked 36 in the International Fencing Federation’s rankings for global women fencers, Devi believes the sport has a long way to go in India.
Basheer Khan, secretary general, Fencing Association of India, the apex body for the sport in India, agrees. “A lot is yet to be achieved. There was a time when there was no funding, no infrastructure and no equipment. However, things are changing. The government is recognising fencing as a potential sport for winning medals at international events. It has also been included in the Khelo India initiative. We have now asked for a training facility in Chhattisgarh,” he says.
The change Khan is talking about is also coming owing to the ability of the sport to make individuals, especially women, learn self-defence. “Women want to get into fencing more, as it helps them develop self-defence skills. We have, in fact, seen more participation from them in the recent past,” says Khan.
There are, however, issues plaguing the sport in India, such as lack of good coaching and infrastructure. Devi, who is currently training with her coach in Italy, says the facilities are far better in foreign countries. “We are improving, but the speed is slow. I want to win as many competitions as possible… So I moved to Italy (last month) with my coach and have been training here since,” she says.
To ensure the sport reaches the interiors of the country, local fencing groups and clubs, too, are working hard. NCR-based Pegasus Royal Fencing Club is one such example. Headed by Aswani Kumar, a former army officer, the club sees a lot of youngsters taking up the sport. “It’s not a very popular sport, but the interest is going up, especially among children. A lot of them have now started taking it up seriously. We need to groom the younger generation more if fencing has to reach international standards,” says Kumar.