Houston Sword Sports: Year Three

We held our first classes in January of 2015, which makes this month our third anniversary. Happy birthday to us! Check out our 2017 Year in Review.

January 31: Benoit Signs On

On January 31, Benoit Bouysset joined Dan and Liz and became an owner of Houston Sword Sports. Since then, he’s been at the helm of our epee program, our competitive fencing program, and our coach development program.

February 11: The Second Brash

Brash 2017

On February 11, we hosted the second annual Brash Invitational. We’d hoped to find cooler weather in February but were thwarted by record highs. Fingers crossed that, with this winter being colder in general, Brash 2018 will have nice cool temperatures.

March 3: Lease Signed

The batting cages shortly before they became a fencing club

On March 3, we signed a lease for our own space inside The Zone, a facility where we’d been having Saturday classes for about a year. We took over the back two pitching tunnels and the last batting cage.

March 7: Buildout Begins

Buildout for a fencing club means you haul both gear and lumber

A few days later, we got started turning batting cages into a fencing club. Here’s our first load of lumber. Since we were still running classes, we had to haul a lot of fencing gear too. Good thing we had a bunch of extra cargo room.

April 15: First Classes in the New Space

Fencing in our new location for the first time

On April 17, while we weren’t totally done with the buildout, we were ready to start having classes in the new space. I can’t actually find a date where we declared ourselves “done” with the buildout, because we are still adding and changing things little by little.

May 5: School Championships

May 2017 School championship fencing

Our first big event in the new space was our School Championship tournament. Fencers from our afterschool and evening classes came to see the new space and try their hand at competitive fencing. It was a great debut for the new space!

May 12: Grand Opening

Adult beginners prepare to fence

Our next big event was our Grand Opening. We celebrated the new space the only way we know how – with a fencing party!

June/July/August: Summer Camps

Campers at Bellaire salute

Our camps grew this year, and we met a lot of new people! We offered full-day camps for the first time, to make things more convenient for busy working parents.

August 24-28: Hurricane Harvey

The week after Harvey, we had free open fencing

The end of August was not kind to anyone in the Houston area. Once the storm passed, while the city was still starting to get back to normal, we had free open fencing a couple times to let everyone get their frustrations out.

September 15: Wieck Memorial

Over the summer, Stewart Wieck passed away. Stewart was one of our founding club members and a close friend of many years. In September we had a memorial with open fencing and a memory book.

October 7: Armory Clinic

Armory Clinic

We’re very fortunate to have a world-class armorer in our club. In October, Michael gave a clinic to help us better troubleshoot and repair our weapons.

December 2: School Championship

Y8 Fencers at School Championship

In December we hosted our Fall School Championship. Attendance was much higher: in Y8 alone, we had 23 kids! We also introduced a traveling trophy, the Golden Mask, for the school with the best overall result. Lycee International de Houston won the Golden Mask; who will win in May?

December 9: Light Saber Class

To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we did a light saber stage combat class of our own. Participants learned the fundamentals of stage combat and then created their own fight scenes.

(Sad you missed it? We’re doing another on Feb. 9!)

December 29-30: Winter Camps

Winter Camp fun

We wrapped up the year with winter camps. Our youth camp was a full day, with fencing in the morning and stage combat in the evening. The adult camp was an afternoon full of tactics and techniques for competitive fencers.

And on to 2018!

It’s been a very full, and generally good year. We’ve added new classes and a lot of new fencers. We’ve added afterschool programs in two new schools and started working more closely with our college programs. There’s still a lot of room to grow, and that’s what we’re looking forward to in 2018. We hope you’ll be part of making 2018 bigger and better than 2017!

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Introducing Benoit Bouysset

Coach Benoit holds up his new, official polo shirt.

Last night Houston Sword Sports welcomed a new member to our coaching staff and our ownership team. Benoit Bouysset, French Master (Maitre) and former coach of the US National Men’s Epee team, is now leading classes and giving lessons at Houston Sword Sports!

Benoit’s official title is Chief Development Officer, but his informal title is Chief Epee Officer (which Liz gladly ceded to him). Benoit will be working with us to develop our coach development program, our class curriculum, and our competitive fencing team.

Coach Development: We have always placed a strong emphasis on coach development, and with Benoit on the team we’ll be able to do an even better job. Our goal at Houston Sword Sports is to have a collaborative staff of qualified, knowledgeable coaches working together to build our fencers. We have been holding semi-regular coach training sessions where we discuss our club’s philosophy and approach to coaching. Benoit will take the helm on these sessions now. He’s especially qualified to do this because his Second Level Master of Arms degree emphasized coach development and training. In the next six months, we hope to offer coaching clinics to those outside our club.

Kids at the Kipling School practice squaring off on their first day of classes as Coach Benoit and Coach Caroline look on.

Class Curriculum: We already offer a lot of different programs to a lot of different types of fencers. Some of the afterschool programs are ten weeks and some are eighteen. In some schools, many of the kids have been fencing for over a year; in others, every single student is brand new to fencing. The evening and weekend classes are ongoing, and no two kids have the same level of experience. Coach Benoit will work with the coaching staff to ensure that each class has a curriculum that works for each setting and situation.

Competitive Fencing: This season, we have seen a number of our fencers enter the competitive scene for the first time, and others dedicate themselves to fencing in competitions more. Benoit will help support these fencers in their development. He will also provide more intensive private lessons to those who want to hone their skills one-on-one.

About Coach Benoit

Coach Benoit has an impressive resume. He earned his Master of Arms Degree in 1997 and was the valedictorian of his class; in 1999 he earned his Second Level Master of Arms Degree. He is a three-time world champion fencing master for individual and team epee. From 2011 to 2015 he was a resident coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, and from 2012-2015 he was the US National Coach for Men’s Epee. He also coached Seth Kelsey, the fourth place finisher, at the 2012 London Olympics. His energy and skill make him popular with fencers of all levels and he’s a great addition to our team.

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Tournament Stories by Coach Liz

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David.

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David. I think this was the Crescent City, it would have been 2003 or so.


Coach Liz here. The 2016-2017 season is starting and it’s got me thinking about some of my favorite tournament stories. Here they are, for your enjoyment.

Non-Combativity in Women’s Epee – Tale as Old as 2003 or so

When I first got started I wasn’t good enough to be worthy of a rivalry with anybody, but I did come up against the same people a lot. There was one really great epeeist, we’ll call her Margaret (not her name), who was very tall, very strong, and fairly passive… until you tried to attack or something, and then she’d mow you down with this fleche that I couldn’t do anything about. At one tournament I realized that if I just didn’t attack, she wouldn’t fleche, so I could lose the bout with a shred of dignity and no bruises (give me a break, I was new). The joke was on me because they’d just introduced (reintroduced? decided to enforce?) non-combativity, so when we went a minute without doing anything we both got carded. Margaret thought it was on me to try to score so she shouldn’t have gotten penalized, but apparently not.

I lost that bout, are you surprised?

My First Rating

At another tournament, I fenced a DE bout against a fencer I’d never beaten before, but I was having a great day and won. I was very excited because I’d gotten into the top four, and earned my first rating, an E2005 (I think that was the year). I’d been fencing for three years at that point and had come close to earning a rating several times but never succeeded.[1] Just before my next bout, a semifinal, someone told me that the tournament was better than I’d thought and I’d actually just earned a D (which is better than an E). I was so shocked I forgot how to fence and lost the next bout. Oops.

Let the Ref Check your Stuff

A few years later, my first DE in the women’s event got pretty interesting. My opponent’s blade failed to register a touch pretty early in the bout. When she realized it wasn’t working, she began testing it herself to try to figure out where the problem was. This is a good idea during practice but a terrible idea during a tournament – if something is wrong with your weapon, you need to ask the referee to check it so that the ref knows you didn’t just deliberately sabotage your equipment. If the ref checks your equipment and finds that it’s broken, they will often annul your opponent’s last touch since clearly you couldn’t have scored. But if you check your own stuff, they will not annul the touch.

Well, the trick here is that it wasn’t her fault that her weapon had stopped working – the floor cord had come unplugged, all the way at the end of the strip, where she couldn’t have manipulated it. The ref decided not to annul my last touch because she had tested her own stuff, and the bout committee backed him. I have asked a lot of refs about this call in the years since, and most of them say my touch should have been annulled since she couldn’t have caused the issue. Whatever the correct call was, the ref made the call they made, and my opponent got furious.

She spent the rest of the bout getting increasingly frustrated with her inability to hit me. At the break my husband overheard her saying to her coach “I have never seen someone get so many lucky touches in my LIFE.” I wasn’t getting lucky touches, though. She was so mad that she was trying to hit me hard, whether consciously or subconsciously. Every time she attacked she’d pull her arm back and I’d neatly, lightly counterattack her arm. Then she’d slam into me with the force of a thousand suns (or a 110-lb teenage epee fencer) a split second after I’d already gotten the point. I began to get a little worried for my safety after one particularly savage blow to my knee (epee fencing tip: when you are mad and getting counterattacked, do not aim low, you only make their job easier). I walked away from that bout with about 12 bruises and a victory.

Time to Go!

Later in the same tournament, I ended up in priority. This means that the score was tied and we had run out of time. Priority in fencing means the referee tosses a coin and then you fence for one minute. If somebody gets a point, they win and the bout is over. If nobody gets a point, the winner of the coin toss wins the bout. I lost the coin toss, so my only path to victory was to hit this girl. We were fencing on a strip that had the clock displayed, and my opponent smartly maneuvered me to the point that I couldn’t see it. I wasn’t too concerned because I thought I had a pretty good idea of how long a minute lasts, so I was biding my time and waiting for the perfect moment. Well, I waited a bit longer than I meant to. I heard a few people start to yell “Go! Go!” and my husband said “Uh… Liz?” in the same tone he uses when I’ve forgotten something important like my keys on the way out the door. I realized this meant it was time to attack. So I lunged, and hit her, and turned around and there was one second left on the clock. Thanks for the coaching, honey!

Bad News, Good News

I won the next bout, too, and went to the final. I was fencing better that day than I ever had in my life, but that also means more fencing than I’d ever done in my life, and the fatigue was setting in, and I could barely hold my epee anymore. Sometime between the semifinal and the final I lost my glove. That was the bad news. The only glove we could find at that point was an old, stiff leather glove in size large. The good news was that because it was big and stiff, it actually helped me hold the epee. It felt like I had a little scaffold around my hand. With the help of that glove I won the final bout and earned my first individual gold medal.

A few months later I found out that one of my teammates had taken the glove home thinking it was his even though it had “Liz M” written on the cuff.

Want some stories of your own? Sign up for tournaments! The Cougar Call to Arms is coming up September 17-18 right here in Houston. Also, buy a 2017 calendar and then circle February 11, because that’s the second ever Brash Brewery Bash.


[1] You earn ratings by placing highly in a tournament of a certain size; the rating A-E depends on your placement and the size of the tournament, and the year you earned it in follows the letter.

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Referee Stories


Hi, Coach Dan again. Last week I talked about my descent into madness becoming a referee. Today, I wanted to share a couple anecdotes that I think may amuse you.

So I reffed around the Southwest Section (Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana primarily) for a few years and started getting a little recognition as a decent referee. This happened maybe 1998 or so at the Poujardieu Memorial held at (then) Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. I was refereeing a semi-final match between two fencers we’ll call Joe and Lou[1] who have a little bit of a history – which is to say Joe generally beats Lou, and Lou doesn’t like it.

Regardless, Joe was winning 14-13 and Lou was methodically working his way down the strip after him. Joe threw out a point in line to slow the advance, Lou beat it and took a step forward, Joe threw a second line, and Lou started an advance lunge that hit Joe. I said the second line was established in time, Lou took exception and after some debate punted his mask to the other end of the gym. It was a beautiful kick. Probably traveled 75 feet in the air with lots of hang time.

Anyway, there’s 4 levels of penalties in fencing, creatively named Group 1, 2, 3, and 4. Group 1 is minor things, Group 4 is the things that get you kicked out. Things like punting a mask 75 feet. So I gave Lou his black card. Then, Lou realized that he could have earned a better rating if he hadn’t punted that mask, and he followed me around the rest of the day saying aw, geez, he was sorry, couldn’t I please change my mind. I didn’t; his rating did not increase that day.

Second story, a few years later I’m reffing another semi-final bout, this time in Oklahoma. The bout was between Sam, a former Olympic and World Cup fencer, and Ned, a promising junior fencer[2]. The bout wasn’t really that close, but at some point an action happens and words start coming out of my mouth describing it. I wasn’t even close. Exactly wrong, one might say. And I knew it as soon as I said it, that I had mistakenly given Sam’s touch to Ned. So did everyone watching it. So Sam lifted his mask, pantomimed Ned’s action, and asked if I was calling that an attack. I replied I guess I just did. Sam stared at me a couple seconds, came back en garde, and proceeded to finish beating Ned.

Both times I made a call, one right, the other wrong. Both times I stuck to my call because if referees start changing calls, it becomes a debate tournament. It’s not always easy to make snap decisions that affect the outcome of tournaments, people can take those things personally – I know I have as a fencer and a coach. But it’s an important job to the smooth running of a tournament and with practice the referee helps a lot of people have a pretty good time. Unless you black card them – no one likes that.

[1] Standard not name disclaimer

[2] Same deal on the names