DAVID Gregory is a fencing force to be reckoned with.
At just 25, he is Welsh national champion, became UK champion in the senior men’s epee section in December and now has his eyes firmly fixed on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this year.
David, from Wrexham, got his break in the sport while studying at Darland High School, aged 11.
He said: “I was actually quite shy back then. Some people came to the school to give us a taster session and I put my hand up in assembly and asked if I could have a go.
“One of the coaches spotted some talent and encouraged me to join a fencing club, so I went to Wrexham Fencing Club.”
Now, 14 years on, David is both a competition champion and as a teacher in his own right; he now holds fencing classes at The Queen’s School in Chester on Fridays.
He is confident about his chances of doing well in Scotland after competing against some of the world’s best at a tournament in the Far East last year..
He said: “I competed in Singapore and I think this time round I’m one of the favourites from the home nations.
“If Canada show up, they could be a threat because they are strong, but they didn’t show up last time.”
Fencing, he said, is no longer the preserve of the elite, although it is not a cheap sport to take up.
He said: “People outside the sport don’t necessarily know anything about it. They think perhaps three people in the UK do it, but actually you’re talking thousands.
“The strongest clubs are in London, but they are dotted all over the country and all over the world.
“I’ve travelled with it, and that’s made me more confident, mixing with different people in different places.”
The sport is hundreds of years old – some historians argue the origins of modern fencing are found in Spain in the 1400s, and many of the skills remain the same, although electronic systems were introduced in the 20th century to record a hit.
David said: “You have to get it right from the start. If you start wrong, you start to develop habits which won’t do you any favours later on. You need to learn how to stand, how to move, how your weight should be distributed. There’s an awful lot to it. You have to be disciplined.
“It’s mostly down to technique.”
I asked David how he prepared for a major bout and how it felt to take a title.
Unlike some competitors, who have considerable sponsorship support or come from privileged backgrounds, David fits his training in around work – currently he is setting up a sports shop in mid-Wales.
He said: “A few years ago I took up boxing, but I learned some useful attitudes from it. Ahead of a major competition, I take up a boxing-like training regime, concentrating on one aspect like strength or fitness for four to six weeks and then moving on to another aspect.
“It isn’t easy. Some weeks I only get 20 minutes or so of actually fencing done.
“But the day I took the national title, I was really determined to win. I just knew I was going to do it. In two fights, it went to sudden death, so whoever made the hit would win. Normally, you’d get nervous but I just knew I had to do it.
“It’s the mental side that got me through.”
In grand Leader tradition, I volunteered to don the white jacket, mask and the strangest bra I’ve ever worn – a moulded plastic breastplate.
David gave me a crash course in the very basics.
The first thing to get right was the stance. The legs have to remain flexed, with your bodyweight equally distributed between them. The back foot (my left, as I’m right-handed) is angled out, but the front foot points toes-forward. They rest in line with each other.
Next, David explained how to step.
It’s amazing how awkward the body becomes when you think about it too much. You are supposed to move your front foot forward a little way and then bring it down heel-first, using the drag to propel the back foot forward.
You aren’t supposed to straighten your knees when you do this.
When I got the hang of that, David had me practice a lunge.
This is where it got complicated. Without rising, you are supposed to drop the foil (light training sword) forward, so the tip is in line with your opponent’s body, lift your front foot, let your centre of gravity shift so you practically fall forward and then push off with the left side of your left foot to give you some momentum. It isn’t a jump up – it’s more of a forward-facing spring.
As a counterweight, and to increase the length of the strike, you raise your rear arm out behind you.
In 20 or so practices, I got it right once.
You won’t see me on the fencing circuit any time soon, but I’d put money on hearing more from David in the future.