Mark Cotter’s weekend sounded a bit surreal: “I was in a tournament on Saturday and got it right in the throat,” said Cotter, director of TRiO Student Support Services for Pellissippi State Community College. However, he has an alter ego that dresses in white and weilds sabers.
Cotter is coach of the college’s fencing club. As faculty sponsor of the school’s newly formed club, he teaches students, as well as faculty and staff, proper stance, footwork and strategy. Cotter is president of the Smoky Mountain Fencing Club and has been involved in the sport for about five years.
Every Wednesday, club members practice, weapons flickering in the light of the Pellissippi Campus’ Student Recreation Center. Cotter is teaching participants how and where to hit and how to win a match. Every jab is scored by sensors. A little electronic box will determine the winner of the three-minute bouts.
“When you make a proper hit, the scoring box makes a sound,” Cotter said.
Fencing is a mental challenge, he says. “It’s called ‘physical chess.’ There’s a lot of strategy involved. You try to direct your opponent into certain moves and distances so you can try your offensive moves on them. I like to think of it as something you can do that’s Zen-like,” he said, “something you can do without thinking … become totally immersed in.”
David Townsend, a 28-year-old Video Production Technology major at the college, is club president.
“You have to always be three steps ahead of the other fencer. You have to anticipate what they will do, how you will defend their move and how you will attack back. You also have the challenge of improving your game every time you fence.”
Destiny Miller, an 18-year-old Paralegal Studies major at Pellissippi State, was practicing her footwork at a recent club meeting.
“I’d always been interested in fencing as a kid,” she said. “You see it in pirate and samurai movies. I’ve seen it on TV, and I thought it was really cool.
“So far I like it a lot. Last week we practiced with the foil. Everyone had a sword. We were working on our footwork and sword movements. Today, we’re going to do some pairing up, since we just got all our equipment.
Cotter says he encourages the club members, as well as community members, to visit the Smoky Mountain Fencing Club, located on Downtown West Boulevard. Visitors can get a lesson for free at the Academy Ballroom 4-6 p.m. on Sundays.
He especially likes to encourage students to do something they normally wouldn’t do.
“Learning new things is contagious,” he said. “Once students try something different, they open their eyes to new possibilities in life and in the classroom.”