She shifts her weight, tightens her grip on the sword and sizes up her opponent. He’s more than twice her height and has decades more experience. Still, she’s undaunted. If she’s nervous or uncertain it’s buried underneath her excitement.
And 12-year-old Avery Kate Ditto lunges.
Fencing instructor Doug White counters the thrust and then shows Avery Kate how to do the same.
“There ya go!” he tells her as her blade connects and an alarm sounds indicating she’s scored a point.
White is a middle school history teacher with a passion for the sport and Avery Kate is a sixth-grader at Three Lakes Middle School who wants to compete in the Olympics someday. It’s their first lesson together at White’s new weekly fencing class at the city of Tyler's Glass Recreation Center.
White wants to create a space for students who feel like they don’t fit traditional sports in East Texas, so he’s started the Tyler Fencing Club and will be hosting low-cost lessons weekly through the class.
Avery Kate’s dad, Jason Ditto, said the class is just what they’ve been searching for.
While watching the 2016 Olympic Games, Avery Kate saw the fencing competition and was dead set on learning.
“It didn’t surprise me at all, because we (sword fight) at home with Nerf swords,” he said.
It hasn’t been easy finding lessons in the area, though. She’s attended summer camps, classes in the Dallas area and a few continuing education courses at Tyler Junior College.
“She really has a knack for it,” Ditto said. “She could hold her own with the adults.”
White said the sport can be cost prohibitive, which has been a hurdle he’s had to navigate to get lessons going. He’s put together everything students attending the new class will need to get started, and plans to add more sets of equipment as the program grows.
During Wednesday's class, White guided the class through some stretching and warm-up exercises before they got started.
“Don’t be surprised if you’re sore tomorrow,” he told the class. “You’re going to be using muscles you don’t typically use.”
Before grabbing swords and getting into gear, White lined the students up opposite him and went over the basics of advancing and retreating.
“What do you think is the most important aspect of fencing?” he said.
“Don’t get mad,” one student called out.
“Don’t get hit,” another suggested.
“Those are good, but it’s footwork,” White said. “It’s footwork, because 99 percent of the time footwork can defeat bladework.”
After showing them the basics, he let Avery Kate take the lead in his place as she demonstrated the importance of gauging an opponent’s size and reach. She’s much smaller, so an opponent has to concentrate to maintain the same distance or she will quickly have them at a disadvantage in a real match.
Avery Kate’s little brother Aston, 4, joined the lineup, swishing his imaginary sword as he advances and retreats alongside his dad and the other classmates.
With six opponents coming at her as they practice, Avery Kate is having the time of her life, stabbing toward the air when someone across the room missteps.
The class members are learning the épée discipline of the sport. The most important rule of which, as Arya Stark of "Game of Thrones" would say, is to stick them with the pointy end.
Épée uses a heavier sword with a pistol grip, which helps students put more power behind the thrust. Fencers focus less on parrying and blocking and more on scoring a point.
White got his start in the sport in college while looking for a physical education credit. The class seemed interesting, so he took it and immediately fell in love with the sport.
“The thing I love about fencing is it’s not really a team sport, it’s all on your work,” he said. “You’re responsible for your own goals, learning and accountability.”
The match up of the night is between Avery Kate and 10-year-old Snow White (yes, that is her actual name). The two giggle as they trade blows. Neither are used to having someone their own size to practice with.
White said his daughters Snow and Trinity, 16, both have some experience and that Snow is about the age where she’s trying to decide which sports she might go into.
He jokes that it probably won’t be basketball, due to her height.
Having a partner close to her age and size might just tip the scales in favor of dad’s favorite sport though.
“Snow is always asking to (fence)” White said.
As the bigger kids are putting on their protective padding and masks, Aston runs back and forth along the demarcations having an imaginary bout of his own, like a tiny Don Quixote tilting rather small windmills.
Avery Kate bounces around full of energy waiting to take on an opponent. She’s in her element.
“I really want to do the Olympics. I did golf and tennis, but fencing has always been what I really want to do because I feel different when I do it,” she said. “It’s just a really fun sport. You wouldn’t think ‘I’m gonna go sword fight, that’s what I’m gonna do for fun,’ but it really is (fun).”
White said he hopes to build the class and Tyler Fencing Club to give athletes like Avery Kate the kind of training they’ll need to compete
“This collaboration with Glass is the beginning of an effort to build a club with members that can compete on a regional, state and national level by reaching kids that don't fit the mold of traditional Texas sports,” he said.
White also hopes to bring in adults looking for a fun way to stay active or compete.
The class will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at the Glass Recreation Center, 501 W. 32nd St. The cost is $10 per lesson or $40 monthly.
Attendees should wear pants they can move in and closed-toed shoes. All the equipment they’ll need to learn is provided by the club.
For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.