Video games inspired James E. Wilkinson to start fencing.
Four years later, the 10th-grader at The Oakridge School in Arlington is a three-time National Junior Olympics qualifier and ranked 11th in his region.
Wilkinson, 16, picked up fencing in 2019 and now he wants everyone to know about it.
“I feel really good at the same time because I’m the one doing something different here. I’m making a change,” Wilkinson said. “I keep going because people don’t know about the sport or have never heard of it. They may have never heard of it their whole life. I want to spread the word about fencing. There’s so much more out here for these people and all we know is football, basketball and soccer.”
Wilkinson, a sabre fencer, one of the disciplines of fencing, and hundreds of other fencers from around the world recently competed at the March North American Cup at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
One thing he loves about his sport is that he is exposed to many different cultures and places because of the countries involved.
“You have people from other countries coming to just a few local tournaments so somebody from Korea might be over there or somebody from China,” Wilkinson said.
Five states comprise Wilkinson’s region — Region 5 — all of which the Wilkinson family can drive to. Still, travel can be expensive, Wilkinson’s parents said.
“He started getting good at it because he liked it. And so then you have to travel to clubs and you have to travel to tournaments, you just can’t stay in your area,” Wilkinson’s father, James L. Wilkinson said. “It’s a commitment. We travel 40 minutes to get to class or sessions and they’re two-and-a-half hours long and he goes four days a week, or five if we have to, but at a minimum of four. So it’s a commitment.”
Wilkinson’s mom said that even though the sport can be time-consuming and expensive, they will continue to support him.
“It’s important as a parent when your child finds a sport that they love that you support. And James had tried just about every sport there was and he just didn’t find it. It didn’t stick with him,” his mother Andrea Wilkinson said. “He tried it, and after the trial practice, he came out he was like, ‘Mom, this is my sport.’”
Wilkinson trains at the Globus Fencing Academy in Farmers Branch — Globus has produced many highly ranked fencers, Andrea Wilkinson said.
How does fencing work?
The goal: Hit the other fencer with your blade.
Foil: Strikes to the torso, neck, groin and back count and points can only be won using the tip of the weapon, not the side of the blade.
Sabre: Strikes above the waist count. Competitors may use both the tip and blade of the sabre to score. Right-of-way rules apply. Only one competitor may score at one time.
Epée: Strikes on any part of the body count. Competitors may only use the tip of the blade. Right-of-way rules do not apply. Both competitors may score simultaneously.
Epée is the heaviest sword.
Foil is a lighter thrusting blade.
Sabre is a cutting and thrusting blade.
Mask and helmet that completely covers the head with mesh strong enough to repel weapons.
Fencing jacket, pads and a glove on the weapon hand that conducts electricity.
The cost for all equipment can run between $400 — $650 depending on the quality of the gear.
“All in, fencing can cost anywhere from around $2500 per year if you are a non-competitive fencer to upwards of $20,000 for internationally competitive fencers,” according to the Academy of Fencing Masters. The bulk of the expenses come from lessons — private, group, open practices — and membership fees — competition, USA Fencing, club fees and camps.
Three 3-minute rounds, with the winner being either the first to 15 points or whoever has the most hits after three rounds.
Players’ swords are electronically sensitive, as are the scoring areas of the body, and are connected by a body cord to the scoring box. When a strike is registered there is an audible tone and a light illuminates.
“An electric current travels through the blade and when it touches the vest, it sends a signal to the scoring machine,” Rob Handelman, the president of the United States Fencing Coach Association, said.
Handelman is an A-rated competitor in all three branches of fencing and he fenced in Europe.
“It’s very sensitive,” Handelman told the Report. “Sometimes it’s a wack and sometimes it’s one electron.”
Source: Rules of Sport
Andrea Wilkinson said Texas has untapped talent in the fencing community.
“But a lot of people don’t know about fencing. So I wish they did because it’s such a phenomenal sport,” Andrea Wilkinson said. “It is just amazing to meet people all over the country and different countries and they create friendships.”
There are 53 fencing clubs in Texas, according to USA Fencing.
Wilkinson hopes to eventually open his own fencing club for young children and teenagers like him.
“It would be pretty cool to also put one down here in Texas because there’s not many down here. There’s a few. There’s a few good ones, but you still don’t hear about it,” Wilkinson said.
His idol for opening a club is Olympic bronze medalist Peter Westbrook.
Westbrook opened a club in New York that addresses social, physical, academic, and health barriers through fencing.
“I’ll try to do something small in different areas in college. But let’s say I get that club later on and college was just a phase, then I have to make it to a national fencing team. I have to get No. 1. I have to get up there so people know who I am. Then really spread the word that way,” Wilkinson said.
Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.