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The 'Silver Fox' of fencing

Leslie Hamp

It’s a Sunday in early March, and Julia Kline slips into her fencing gear at Three Swords Fencing in Traverse City. The 56-year-old with spiked graying hair warms up, bouncing like a boxer and jabbing a target box with her sword. 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, she spent every Sunday at the fencing club.

Kline thrives in a sport dominated by men and ranks 24th nationally among women in her age group. Julia says before she steps onto the fencing strip, she feels excited, eager and scared. 


“There is a level of fear as well,” Julia says, “although you know that you’re not going to die and you’re not gonna get hurt.”


As Julia warms up with a 14-year-old boy, she moves with her epee, a 36-inch long, slim blade of carbon steel connected to a scoring machine. When one of them scores a touch, the machine beeps and flashes. 


“And that’s how we know who hit who first,” says Kline. 


Kline grew up in Yugoslavia and was introduced to the sport as a young adult when her great uncle took her to his club.


“And I thought, ‘Wow, that was one great sport,’ and everybody looked so cool and fit and everything,” she says. 


Years later, she made her way back to a fencing club, this time with her teenage daughter. 


On a Sunday in March, Kline fences a 60-year-old man. She aggressively pushes him back before he can develop his attack. 


Credit Courtesy Julia Kline
Julia Kline and her daughter, Katarina Vida Kline, at a fencing tournament at West Michigan Fencing Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“If you see an opponent who is not moving— maybe an older man that has a good strong arm and blade — make him run,” she says. “Make him sweat for it, and then you have a chance to strike him.” 


Kline says she watches people’s movement, looking at the position of their arm, their footwork and their speed.


“She is becoming more of what we call a Silver Fox,” says Robert Bartle, head coach at Three Swords Fencing Club. “She may not look like she is dangerous, but she will beat younger male fencers because they underestimate her by looking at her physicality and her age.”


Julia says a 3-minute bout happens fast.


 “I’m like this kid who likes to play games with a sword. I’m loving it,” she says. 


On April 17-20, Julia was going to compete in the USA FencingNorth AmericanCup, which has been postponed due to the coronavirus. A new date has not been set. In the meantime, Julia is practicing in her basement, taking Zoom classes and visualizing her technique. 


“There is a lot of mental preparation that sometimes you don’t really have time to do it so, hey, maybe now is time to do that,” she says.