Touché! Desert Fencing Academy Offers a Lifetime of Swordplay

Veteran coach extends sports reach to life lessons

Writer Judd Spicer (left) receives instruction from Desert Fencing Academy coach Leslie Taft in Palm Desert.

Photo by Jim Powers


VIDEO: Watch Desert Fencing Academy coach Leslie Taft provide some pointers to writer Judd Spicer.


Fencing is not reserved for aristocrats.

Step inside Desert Fencing Academy in Palm Desert and you will understand why.

“Maybe in the 1700s or 1800s, social classes, or the European fencing masters, commanded a particular price for lessons,” says Desert Fencing Academy proprietor and lifelong fencer Leslie Taft. “But today, even though we do still have the European and American fencing masters, fencing can be just as mainstream and as open and accessible to anybody as, say, soccer or golf.”

Offering instruction to all comers, Taft will fast have the appropriate sword in your hand — she works with all three disciplines: foil, epée, and sabre — and you’ll instantly find yourself engaging in the sport’s footwork, lexicon, and time-honored codes.

Indeed, the silver screen mystique of the “parry,” “post,” and “lunge” will soon become yours within mere hours.

Taft, a decorated fencing veteran who has been the head fencing coach at the College of the Desert since 1990, opened Desert Fencing Academy in 2003. Today, the academy is home to 65 students ranging in age from 7 years old to 82.

“It’s a lifetime sport, and I put it on a spiritual plane,” says Taft. “Fencing has so much etiquette; you do well by others and you help others. It’s a sport and a discipline. [It engages the] mind, body, and spirit. You have to be whole, with integrity and congruency in your life to do it. Fencing can be a great mirror of what’s going on in a person’s life.”

Taft’s teaching philosophy has produced seven Junior Olympians at Desert Fencing Academy this season and 16 overall since opening. At present, Taft works with students coming from five different valley high schools.

The coach takes great pride in fencing’s manners extending to real-world applications.

“Etiquette is a big part of the sport,” Taft says. “We greet people, shake hands, introduce, and look each other in the eye. A lot of the politeness and manner carries over out into the world. And I’ll see a lot of my students later in life, where a young man has become a gentleman or a young girl is ladylike — and to me, that's the gold medal.”

Desert Fencing Academy (Inside My Gym)
73760 Dinah Shore Drive
Palm Desert

And for those looking to see live some fencing in action, Desert Fencing Academy hosts at least three United States Fencing Association-sanctioned events a year. The competitions take place at the newly -remodeled College of the Desert gym, and are free and open to the public. The first event is Sept. 20.

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