Bulli blades keeping the mind sharp

Illawarra fencing enthusiast Laura Goodin has a life motto: "A woman with a sword in her hands is a happy woman."

Brandishing her smile along with her épée sword, Ms Goodin lives up to her creed. She joined Bulli Swords fencing club in 2010, after being lured by the "heroics and theatrics of the sport".

While attacking people with a sharp instrument sounds at odds with calm composure, Ms Goodin insists that the sport cultivates poise, focus and self-discipline.

"Fencing combines intellect with physicality. It teaches focus. You have to strategise faster than your opponent," she says.

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Former Olympian and club coach Robert Barrie says fencing is a "thinking man's sport".

"It's about tactics. Thinking about the best move for the opponent," he says.

Mr Barrie started the club in 1991 after a local high-school teacher approached him about the absence of fencing clubs in the Illawarra.

Bulli Swords remains the only chance for potential fencers to join a club between Mittagong and the Victorian border.

After representing Australia at both the Munich and Moscow games, Mr Barrie wanted to give people the ability to try the sport in an inexpensive and informal setting.

"I wanted to let people realise how good the sport is in a relaxed setting," he says.

Ms Goodin acknowledges that fencing can be prohibitively expensive, with basic protective gear ranging from $40 to $200.

"That's what's great about the club. We raised $1000 to get extra gear so that beginners don't have to buy their own. All beginners need is a pair of tracksuit pants and joggers," she says.

Ms Symes completed the beginner's course last year after watching her daughter fence for years.

"I used to ask my daughter questions about why she did certain things in competition and she would get frustrated, saying, 'Mum, if you did fencing you would understand'.

"So I tried it," she says.

Ms Symes says she was encouraged by the sport's stop-start nature, as it appeals to all fitness and age levels.

"Short bursts of energy are manageable at any age," she says.

Ms Symes says ages in the class ran from 20 to 60 and her ability had improved to the point of bouting by the end of the course.

Steve Wells is a veteran fencer who uses the club to continue his love of the sport.

He started fencing at five years old after his parents noticed his penchant for roughing up his siblings.

"I was always hitting my brothers with sticks, and swordfighting. I guess they decided to channel that into a controlled environment," he says.

Houston Dunleavy regularly finds himself locking swords with wife Ms Goodin at the club, but insists the atmosphere stays congenial.

"There's no room for aggression. It's not done to be a brute on the piste," he says.

However, he admits to sporting a few bruises from his wife after their last bout.

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