“The secret to fencing consists in two things: to give and to not receive,” so runs a lesser known witticism of the celebrated French playwright Molière.
It goes without saying that the nub of the sport is to land hits on your opponent without being hit yourself. Yet for the Fencing team here at Shrewsbury this is doubly true; although fencing is an individual sport, it is all about giving. This was fully in evidence at the Public Schools’ Fencing Championships this year, where 20 Shrewsbury fencers gave each other their full support across three days at Crystal Palace.
There were top results and personal bests aplenty, with Suky Ou-Yang maintaining her impressive ranking as 6th in Senior Girls’ Sabre for the second year in a row and Jude Huffer making an assured debut in the Senior Boys’ Sabre competition at 9th place.
New entrant Almaz Rafiz took 22nd place in Girls’ Senior Epée and Ed Scott took 20th place out of 79 entrants in the Boys Junior Epée in his first appearance at Public Schools.
Best of all, their efforts as a team were well rewarded, as Shrewsbury came away with second place in the prestigious Winston Churchill Cup, an award for the highest collective score of all fencers from a single school in a single weapon, won by William Holcroft (3rd), James Hinwood (8th), Jan Tai (16th) and Koby Ferdinand-Okpala (31st) placing out of 90 fencers in the Senior Boys’ Epée.
Behind this impressive tally lies a friendly rivalry dating back almost a decade between Holcroft and Hinwood. For years the two sportsmen have been neck and neck, testing each other’s metal – literally and figuratively. Throughout their five years at Shrewsbury, where both are proud young men of Ridgemount, and before that at Packwood together, the two have shared a passion for Fencing and have pushed each other to excel in the sport.
Regular bouts in training would see Hinwood up one match and Holcroft the next. Fast forward to Public Schools, and both are entering the third round of the competition; both have fenced equally well in the first two rounds of the competition and both are about to enter Direct Elimination – a sudden death round where fencers have 3 minutes to fence to 15 hits. To the victor go the spoils and the higher rank in the competition. Whoever wins the match would be taking home the trophy for 3rd place, the other 8th. In a shock call from the judges, Hinwood and Holcroft are called to fight each other; it could have gone either way.
Early this year, Hinwood stole a march on Holcroft when he finished 1st in the West Midlands Under-18 Boys’ Epée and in May he will represent the West Midlands at the National Finals in Sheffield. At the start of the Lent Term, Hinwood was awarded the Michael Schützer-Weissmann Fencing Cup, a new award to honour the memory of the legendary Salopian teacher, who loved the sport. Hinwood was a worthy inaugural winner, and the gauntlet was thrown down to Holcroft to see if he could match him.
As training intensified in the lead up to the Public Schools event, Hinwood specialised in trick shots – going for the foot and a flick to back – a move usually mastered by foilists and one that would take Epées by surprise. Meanwhile Holcroft spent time on gauging distance, anticipating tactics and finding exactly the right moment to strike.
Back on the piste, with a minute to go until time was up, the two faced off; first Holcroft was in the lead, then Hinwood, until with a sudden spurt Holcroft rode to victory 15-13.
After these fireworks, it seemed as though Fencing couldn’t get much more exciting this season: until we come at last to the Master at Arms prize, a special category of award for those fencers who show mastery of all three fencing weapons: Foil, Epée and Sabre.
The most coveted prize at Public Schools, this award is usually claimed by Millfield, Whitgift or Brentwood, each with squads triple the size of Shrewsbury’s. With his efforts in Epée, Foil and Sabre combined, Holcroft came within a hair’s breadth of raising the title, bringing home a superb 2nd place for Shrewsbury. But Holcroft won’t be gloating – he’ll be back on the piste, challenging Hinwood to a rematch.
Teacher in Charge of Fencing