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I Got My Ass Handed To Me By An Olympic Fencer And Actually Enjoyed It

I probably shouldn't've tried fencing for the first time against a Rio-bound Olympian, but whatever.

Hi, my name is Shannon, and I was recently "lucky" enough to sabre fence Rio-bound Olympian Dagmara Wozniak. Did I mention I have ZERO fencing experience? Yeah.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

You may be asking, "Shannon, why would do this to yourself?" Well, I've always been interested in fencing. I grew up a bit of a nerd, loving movies with sword fighting like Peter Pan, The Lord of the Rings, King Arthur, and, most important, Star Wars. I've always been curious to see how on-screen fighting matched up to sword fighting in real life, so when the people at the Manhattan Fencing Center reached out about fencing against Dagmara, I thought this would be my opportunity.

However, after seeing a photo of Dagmara, I really, really wanted to change my mind.

This is Dagmara. And as you can see, she's fierce AF. / Via Instagram: @dagmarawozniak

Dagmara, 28 years old, was born in Poland and moved to the US when she was a year old. She took up fencing at age 9 and got pretty damn good at it, making her Olympic debut at 20 years old in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a replacement athlete for Team USA.

She now has multiple gold medals and has competed in tournaments all over the world. And she has crazy awesome purple hair.

I went down to the Manhattan Fencing Center, where Dagmara does all of her training, to see what the sport is all about (and also to meet my fate).

Manhattan Fencing Center
Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The Manhattan Fencing Center, located in Midtown, was opened in 2007 by U.S. Fencing Hall of Famer Yury Gelman. The center trains anyone 4 years old and up in all three types of fencing: sabre, foil, and epee (learn more about each fencing weapon here) — and is home to many world, national, and NCAA Champions, including recent Rio silver-medalist Daryl Homer.

I fangirled a little when I met Dagmara. I mean, she was literally leaving for Rio that Sunday.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The only thing I had scheduled for Sunday was boozy brunch at noon.

First, I had to get my gear on... and there's A LOT of it.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

White really isn't my color. But apparently in fencing you don't get a choice.

First, I had to put on what Dagmara called "knickers" (basically high-waisted skinny pants with attached suspenders), a breast plate, a jacket, and a glove for your hand that's holding the sabre.

The jacket is much more complicated to get on than it looks. It has sensors running through it so the judges can keep track of how many times you're hit with the sabre (yaaaaaay). In this photo Dagmara is helping me get the jacket on because we're besties.

My favorite part of the uniform was definitely the breast plate, which goes on under the jacket.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed


Next, Dagmara was nice enough to give me a few pointers, which was great because I had no clue what I was doing.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed
Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The first thing I learned was how to move my feet, which felt very similar to how my siblings and I used to pretend fight while watching Peter Pan.

Then she taught me how to hold my sabre and "parry" my opponent's attacks. The best incentive to remember what she was teaching me was that if I didn't do the right block in time, I'd get whacked with the sabre.

She also taught me how the scoring system works and where your sabre has to hit someone in order to get a point.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

The rules of fencing aren't as complicated as I thought. Basically, you're awarded one point each time you touch your opponent with the sabre. The first competitor to get 5 touches within 3 minutes or 15 touches within 9 minutes wins the match.

The goal is to touch your opponent within the target zone of the waist and up — including the helmet — in order to get a point.

Everyone obviously had A LOT of faith in me.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

Shoutout to all my supporters.

Finally, it was time to put on our masks, hook up to the scoring box, and fight. I was totally pumped and not scared whatsoever.

Victoria Chen / BuzzFeed

The mask was so, so cool. But so, so heavy. I felt like Darth Vader. Extremely badass, even though I knew I was going to get annihilated by Dagmara in a few minutes.

According to Dagmara, you always salute before starting a match. But once that's done it's totally cool to start trash talking.

Victoria Chen / BuzzFeed

Which I didn't do, because I was already terrified and didn't want to give Dagmara and reason to actually murder me.

Also note the wire that's hooking me up to the scoring box, which is keeping track of how many times my opponent is whacking me.

We played two matches, where the first person to five touches won.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

Pretty sure I peed my pants a little when she did this.

The first thing I realized is that fencing actually seemed a lot like the sword fighting I'd seen in movies. That said, I also realized that my years playing Star Wars with my siblings did not prepare me for legit fencing.

The hardest part was trying to see the ridiculously thin sabre through my mask.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

It's super skinny and bendy, so seeing it through the mask — especially when someone like Dagmara is wielding it — is near impossible. Or at least that's the excuse I'm sticking with.

Since it was impossible to land a touch on her, I decided to switch it up with some fancy feet to try and catch her off guard.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

It didn't work. I'm pretty sure she just laughed at me.

Most of the time, I just stuck out my sabre and hoped for the best.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

Which clearly went really well for me.

At the end of every match, you're supposed to take off your helmet and shake hands, which I did with sportsmanship — even though I had just lost all my dignity.

Victoria Chen / BuzzFeed

Obviously, Dagmara was the victor of both matches. However, the second match ended up being 5-3! Getting three touches was a lot better than I expected to do, even if she did maybe let me have two of them. I definitely felt like it was time to grab a beer and celebrate.

So here's what I learned: Fencing is quick and graceful, and it's a game of finesse.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

Every move Dagmara made was effortless, explosive, and calculated, like she was playing a game of chess.

She always knew exactly what move I would make before I made it, because everything she did was leading me to make that move.

It was also a legit workout and so much fun.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

I have even more respect for fencers than I did before. And I don't know how Dagmara and her fellow fencers can go full matches in all that gear. I was sweating everywhere and felt really bad for whoever was going to use all my equipment after me.

I highly recommend fencing to anyone who is looking to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. Places like the Manhattan Fencing Center offer beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses to people of all ages. You can go here for more information.

At the end of the day my coworkers had a little reminder for me.

Jon Premosch / BuzzFeed

You right, guys. You right.

You can watch my embarrassing journey in full here and look out for Dagmara and Team USA on your local NBC broadcast.

View this video on YouTube

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