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 Olympic qualifier and ranked 11th in its region.
Wilkinson, 16, took up fencing in 2019 and now he wants everyone to know about it.
“I feel very good at the same time because I am 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 never have heard of it in their entire lives. I want to spread the word about fencing. There’s so much more out there for these people, and all we know is football, basketball and football.”
Wilkinson, a saber fencer, one of the fencing disciplines, and hundreds of other fencers from around the world recently competed at the North American Cup in March 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 someone from Korea might be over there or someone from China,” Wilkinson said.
Five states comprise Wilkinson’s region – Region 5 – to which all the Wilkinsons can drive. Still, travel can be expensive, Wilkinson’s parents said.
“He started getting good at it because he enjoyed it. And then you have to go to clubs and you have to go to tournaments, you just can’t stay in your area,” said Wilkinson’s father, James L. Wilkinson. “It’s a commitment. We travel 40 minutes to get to the classes or the 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 least four. So it’s a commitment.”
Wilkinson’s mother said that while 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 they love that you support. And James had tried just about every sport there was, and he just didn’t find that it didn’t suit him, said his mother Andrea Wilkinson. “He tried it, and after the tryout he came out saying, ‘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: Hits to the torso, neck, groin and back count and points can only be won by using the tip of the weapon, not the side of the blade.
Sable: Cut above the waist. Competitors can use both the tip and the blade of the saber to score. Road rules apply. Only one competitor can score at a time.
Epee: Hits on any part of the body count. Competitors can only use the tip of the blade. Road rules do not apply. Both competitors can score at the same time.
The epée is the heaviest sword.
Foil is a lighter sliding blade.
Saber is a cutting and sliding blade.
Mask and helmet that covers the head completely with mesh strong enough to repel weapons.
Fencing jacket, pads and glove on the weapon hand that conducts electricity.
The cost of all equipment can run between $400 – $650, depending on the quality of the equipment.
“All told, fencing can cost anywhere from around $2,500 per year if you’re a non-competitive fencer to upwards of $20,000 for internationally competitive fencers,” according to The Academy of Fencing Masters. The bulk of expenses come from lessons – private, group, open training – 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 the one with the most hits after three rounds.
The players’ swords are electronically sensitive, as are the scoring areas on the body, and are connected by a body wire to the scoring box. When a hit is detected, a tone sounds and a light turns on.
“An electric current goes through the blade and when it touches the vest, it sends a signal to the scoring machine,” said Rob Handelman, president of the United States Fencing Coach Association.
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 crunch and sometimes it’s one electron.”
Source: The rules of the 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’s just amazing to meet people all over the country and different countries and they make 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 here in Texas because there aren’t many down here. There are a few. There are some 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’m going to try to do a little something in different areas in college. But let’s say I get that club later 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. So spread the word that way,” Wilkinson said.
Cristian ArguetaSoto is a community engagement reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by e-mail or via Twitter. In the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.