Former GB fencing coach raises the bar

SUFFOLK's junior fencing scene has come on leaps and bounds over the last year thanks to the work of former Great Britain coach Bob Bales.Bales, who coached GB's national and under-20 sides in the late 1990s, moved from Colchester to Ipswich last year and immediately set about raising participation and standard at grassroots level.

Stuart Watson

SUFFOLK's junior fencing scene has come on leaps and bounds over the last year thanks to the work of former Great Britain coach Bob Bales.

Bales, who coached GB's national and under-20 sides in the late 1990s, moved from Colchester to Ipswich last year and immediately set about raising participation and standard at grassroots level.

In addition to coaching at Ipswich Fencing Club, Bales set-up the brand new Holbrook Fencing Club 12 months ago and has also worked hard to introduce taster sessions at many schools around the Ipswich area.

An eight times British fencing champion before his move into coaching in the early 1980s, he said: “The youngsters have really taken to it. They have these images of Pirates of the Caribbean and what they've seen in the movies.

“When you start school, if you are not in the football or hockey teams early on, you can tend to get overlooked as a sportsman or woman.

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“Having the chance to try fencing has been really good for the children that haven't, perhaps, excelled in some of the more traditional team sports, and has given them something else to try.

“It's a very disciplined sport and while you can pick up the basics quickly, it takes a very long time to master. Fencing has often been described as high-speed chess, so you have got to have a brain on you to do well. In order to get the tactics and co-ordination right you really have to settle down and study the sport.

“I think fencing is great way of showing them that the more effort you put in, the more you get out, and that has got to be a very good lesson for life.”

Bales' Holbrook Fencing Club, based at the Holbrook Leisure Centre, currently has more than 20 members - most of whom are juniors - while Ipswich Fencing Club, based at St Alban's School, has almost double that number.

Bales is now hoping that, following the boost in junior numbers, Suffolk can revive its long defunct county sides across all age groups.

“I gave up the elite side of fencing coaching about five or six years ago and decided to focus on putting something back in at the grassroots end of the sport,” he said.

“Over the years, Suffolk hasn't been that bad in producing fencers. There are long established clubs that have offered the sport to people for a long time, but I can't remember the last time the county put out a competitive side.”

The former Director of Coaching for English Fencing added: “We have made quite a big stride forward over the last year but to continue moving forward, like all the other sports, we need more coaches. I will be running another coach education course at Holbrook later this year and hope that we can get more qualified coaches out there into the clubs and schools.”

If you are interested in taking up fencing, or would like to book Bob Bales to give a taster session at your school, please call him on: 01473 437141 or 07810392551.

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