A Sport of His Own
Sophomore Joseph Bennett decided to stray from traditional school sports when he chose to fence competitively.
November 6, 2017
While his peers are riding the bus home from a cross-country meet or running plays in preparation for Friday’s home game, Joseph Bennett ‘20 is putting in work at the Iowa City Fencing Club.
“I usually spend three to five days a week here [at the center], for about two hours each time,” Bennett said.
Bennett is a 2017 USA Fencing National Championships Qualifier and one of approximately 100 fencers under the instruction of Judy O’Donnell at the ICFC.
“I’ve been fencing seriously for about 2 or 3 years. When I was younger my parents brought me in as like one of the sports just to try out and [I thought] it was cool. I did it for like a year just for fun and I took a break for a bit and then came back and found myself fencing more and more often. It’s something I know well.”
Since the beginning of his career, Bennett has fenced with a foil blade. Fencers generally choose to focus their energies on mastering one weapon. Compared to the sabre and epee weapons, foil is the most common weapon of choice in the United States.
“[Foil] is the easiest one to learn, it weighs a little less, and has less complex rules. It’s a right-of-way weapon and the people take turns attacking and defending. With foil you score by hang tip and the target area is the chest.”
Bennett takes his foil skills to regional competitions. He recently took home third place at a tournament in Ames. In the past, he has fenced in Chicago, Des Moines, St. Louis, and Salt Lake City.
“[At a tournament] there are pools [made up of groups] of around 6 or 7 people who all fence each other and get indicators based on their wins and losses against everyone in the pool. From there all of those points go into a computer program which spits out a bracket. From there it is direct elimination and everybody goes through the bracket and fences 15 touch bout. Whoever wins that moves on but who loses gets eliminated.”
Despite the fact that Bennett is an elite fencer now, when he first started he couldn’t decide if fencing was something he wanted to commit that much of himself to.
“Back a few years ago I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. Like my friends are in school sports and it is a much more common thing. Last year I went to my first Nationals, which I was lucky enough to qualify for. It was eye-opening to see the number of other fencers and the competition I had because all I had seen before was this little Iowa City Fencing Club.”
Although Bennett enjoys working hard with the good friends he has made at the ICFC, he is even more motivated by the competition he faces at tournaments.
“[After experiencing Nationals for the first time], I wanted to challenge myself to get to these levels and to beat those fencers. Every time I go to a tournament it keeps me going because I think, ‘Oh well I need to work on this, this is going to be a challenge.’ I like having challenges to face.”
Not only has Bennett experienced the serious commitment required to reach high levels in his sport, but the required investment as well.
Bennett is exploring his options to pursue fencing beyond the ICFC after high school. Fencing in college is something that he might like to do.
“There aren’t many fencers anywhere, so there are good scholarship opportunities. If you are a good fencer it helps you especially like in high-level schools, like Ian Ivy League, they usually have some teams. It is just a sport so there is always the exercise point. [Fencing] is something I enjoy doing and [through it] I can work myself.”