BAR HARBOR — Oregon native Helen Jolley visited a renaissance fair as a teenager and took a stab at traditional sword fighting. The rush she felt holding the weapon is the reason she started fencing. That feeling has remained with her over the past 12 years.
“You’re lunging at someone, and you’re about to stab them. They’re about to stab you, and you have to block them. It’s really exciting and fast paced,” she said of the sport.
With more than five years of coaching experience, Jolley will offer fencing classes for youth and adults at the Mount Desert Island YMCA starting Thursday, Sept. 10.
She will teach modern or Olympic fencing, which compared to the classical form of the sport, is “very athletic with lots of movements.”
Fencing, which also is a form of martial art, has three different weapons: foil, saber and epee, each with its own set of rules.
Jolley started out with foil and quickly switched to epee. “That’s the weapon I competed with and have had the best results in,” she added.
Her own teacher, Michael Marx, a foil and epee fencer and fencing master, inspired the 25-year-old Jolley’s coaching style. “He is more about athlete-centered coaching,” she said. “He’s interested in the skills athletes have, their tendencies, their character and the kind of game that will fit them best.”
While some coaches focus on specific movements of the sword, Coach Jolley tends to be more open about the techniques of fencing. “I tend not to be a perfectionist with my students, especially when it comes to wanting variety,” she said. “I want the students to fence with moves that their opponents are not going to expect.”
Even though two opponents compete against each other in a match, dressed head-to-toe in white protective gear and black mesh masks, Jolley perceives it as a team sport. “I have kids helping each other out, and we do team events and games. I don’t want the kids to feel they’re isolated in the sport.”
As a coach, she tends to emphasize the life lessons she has learned from fencing over the years, like the importance of discipline that she learned at the age of 15.
As a high school student, she said she had a lot invested into the sport. She took after-school fencing lessons as well as private lessons, but was failing to achieve the results she desired.
Jolley began showing up half an hour early for every class for two months straight to practice her routine, with the added incentive of the opportunity to receive individual lessons from her coach.
“That was the first moment I really saw how much the work I had put into the sport can make a difference in my success,” she said.
Losing to opponents younger than her has taught her humility.
“It reminds me of how I can’t afford to be stubborn or feel ashamed. You just go to that person and say, ‘You did a really good job. Can you help me out?’”
The reason she said she pulls focus towards these lessons is to convey their importance to her students. “You may not keep fencing all of your life,” she said. “But you’re absolutely going to use these skills for the rest of your life.”