“En garde!” says the shaven-headed fencing trainer, Denis Cranwell. Then: “Fence!” His two duellists spring into action, slashing and thrusting for all they’re worth. Beneath their masks and pads, one wears a tracksuit; the other, a Spider-Man costume. Both are about 3ft tall.
“On the whole, four-year-olds are surprisingly disciplined,” says Denis, as he keeps one eye on the warring children. “That said, at times it can be like herding cats. Cats with weapons.”
Spider-Man wins. The two children shake hands, happily jumping up and down as they do so. In the corner, another little boy is crying. “He’s upset because he didn’t win,” Denis explains. “He has a hunger for victory, which is great.” He gestures towards a teenager who is preparing for combat. “That guy used to cry all the time when he was young. Now he fences for England.”
This is the Newham Swords Fencing Club, a few miles from the Olympic Stadium in east London. The club was formed in 2005 to divert children on the borough’s council estates away from crime. These days, Newham is taking the sport by storm. At last week’s British Youth Championships, they won gold medals in the under-18 and under-14 boys categories, and silver in the under-12 girls. They also have the GB under-20 champion, under-17 gold and silver medallists, and 11 England internationals.
“Fencing is traditionally an elite, public school sport,” says former Olympic fencer Linda Strachan, who co-founded the club. “But because of where the Newham kids have come from, they understand the fighting mentality. They’re never given anything on a plate, and fight for everything. So they’re fearless, and have lots of heart. All we do is add the technique.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website