Fencing: The Lost Halo in Greenville University

Fencing Class - Fall 2020. Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

Fencing classes at Greenville University, which started in the 1970s, used to be a stand-out course. Among students, this course seemed to have a “halo” because it was a class that nearly everyone wanted to take. However, this crown of favor has seemed to pass to other activities. Even though his fencing course now appears to be a “lost halo” among GU’s activity classes, Coach George Barber does everything he can to make fencing an enjoyable experience for all his students.

Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

Interestingly enough, Barber used to teach rock climbing at Greenville University. However, he decided to make a change. He confessed to his colleagues that “rock climbing is dangerous and someone might fall, or worse, die because of that.” A colleague, who used to be a rock climbing teacher, sat down and laughed. When he was the same age as Barber, he also realized that rock climbing should be taught by a younger and more adventurous teacher. After the conversation, Barber decided to start teaching fencing. During the first five years, there were more than twenty students enrolled in the class, and he was very excited about students’ willingness to explore fencing. However, this excitement for fencing has changed for the general student population. Now, the fencing class only attracted four students this fall semester.

When reflecting on what could have possibly made fencing seem less attractive to GU students, Barber believes he has figured out one of the main reasons. Fencing is no longer a required course. In other words, students have a choice of whether or not to enroll in the class due to a change in the activity requirement. Plus, students now are less active than ever before. Most students today prefer staying at home with social media or playing games rather than going outside. Also, some students may be concerned about possible extra fees for the equipment, especially international students. For them, money can always be a hindrance when it comes to course options. However, Greenville University provides all the equipment in order to provide more opportunities to students. Moving forward, Barber thinks it is important to emphasize that information in the syllabus and the course description so that students are not scared by that preconceived idea.

Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

Even though the fencing class at GU this fall only has four students, Barber feels proud of them, regardless of class size. He feels happy whenever students decide to choose fencing as their activity class, and he is especially proud of his current group of fencers. “Benjamin has a perfect form and a natural talent in fencing. Most people always start from a zero skill level, but I think Benjamin is already at level five,” Barber complimented to his only international student in the class. He adds, “He should practice more to reach eight or ten.” The only girl in the class, Haniah, who is a master at defending, always brings a great attitude to class. She was skeptical about the class at first but has come to the realization that fencing “is not that bad.” Barber also feels happy that James and Brandon take the class seriously. James prepares his equipment and always contributes his effort to the match. Brandon has good skills, and he is always ready for the class.

Although Barber takes great pride in his students, he also does everything he can to make fencing fun for everyone. Every day he comes to class, he always wants to bring the best moment to his students. He takes care of his students as he would his own sons and daughters. He helps them to choose jackets, foils, masks, and sometimes he even “re-designs” the jackets to make it fit students’ bodies. “He is so dedicated and enthusiastic. Even though I joined the class later than others, he is willing to teach me the most basic things. I appreciate it so much,” said Brandon. Barber is always searching for what he can do to make the class become even more interesting. He even organizes a choreography performance with music track from The Pirates of the Caribbean, which “is the funniest part of the class,” Haniah added.

Media by Sang Nguyen Xuan.

“Fencing is beyond its definition,” said Barber. To explain, in fencing class, the first lesson that students learn is accepting failures. Nowadays, when people fail their tasks, they internalize it in a positive way. People have to learn from mistakes and move forward to complete themselves. Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes. The difference between successful people and not-so-successful people is turning mistakes into motivations and lessons. Moreover, in fencing class, students will learn how to honor other people from judges to their audiences. Last but not least, students can release their stresses and negative energies in this class.

For Barber, fencing is a very cool sport. He believes that “people are always curious about what we are wearing, practicing, and learning.” Barber is so passionate about fencing, which encourages him to put all of his efforts into the class. He is not a fencing coach, but also a life-lesson-giver. Besides learning the particular footwork, he hopes students can accept mistakes and learn from them. That is what brings the spotlight to fencing in Greenville University. With the amazing efforts from Coach Barber of turning the class into a place where GU students can obtain new knowledge beyond fencing, this “lost halo” is expected to coming back next semester with more college fencers and intriguing activities.


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