To the uninitiated ear, the clanks of fencing swords and the thuds of cushioned boxing punches may seem mismatched. But for Wes Caudill, the sounds of fencing, martial arts and boxing can be harmonious.
Caudill, 43, has been coaching fencing, boxing, judo and Muay Thai kickboxing at his NBS Gym since 1998. For him, the mix of styles makes perfect sense – and he’s been quietly grooming championship-level competitors in each area, with some achieving high national rankings through competition.
“Typically, fencers and fighters don’t run in the same circles,” Caudill said with a laugh. “But the sports play off each other really well. With fencing, you have to have a lot of footwork. So, they can get a lot out of watching the kickboxers train, and vice versa.”
Caudill recently moved the gym to a 19,000-square-foot facility on Neil Street – an upgrade from his previous 12,000-square-foot location off Atlantic Avenue. From the site off Hillsborough near Meredith College, he’ll continue to offer training in multiple disciplines and will have room to grow.
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The quiet man
Those looking for a drill-sergeant coaching approach may be disappointed. Inside the gym, Caudill patiently works with his students – his calm voice interjecting into the action only with pointers and suggestions.
The gym’s name, which stands for No Belt System, matches Caudill’s coaching style. He’s not focused on a grading system. Instead, he judges each competitor based on personal accomplishments.
“By not having a belt system, their progress is a lot more personalized,” he said. “It boils down to approaching every competitor in the same way, regardless of their rank. The basics never change, no matter how good you are.”
Parent Bob Winstead said Caudill’s coaching style has been a recipe for success for his daughter, Emily. Bob, who had fenced in college, was looking for a way to bond with his daughter. They found NBS gym three years ago.
“She has just blossomed,” he said. “Fencing helped her develop leadership skills and gave her confidence. Giving kids something to develop physically and mentally is a great thing.”
The students, Winstead said, learn to help one another, with the more experienced students feeling free to mentor the younger competitors. “It’s really a teamwork approach to coaching,” he said.
And that approach has produced results. Several NBS fencing students placed highly in November’s Junior Olympic qualifier. And former students have gone on to top national rankings.
“My approach is not to yell at people to get them to do stuff,” Caudill said. “I want to teach them how to love their sport. When it stops being fun, they lose interest.”
‘Like a family’
For Irene Cotter, simply watching her son Jeff fence from the sidelines was too boring. So, she picked up a sword six years ago when Jeff was in middle school. The 58-year-old now dresses and spars with the rest of the fencers. “I’d sit with the parents and just fall asleep,” Cotter said. “So, I decided to get a little exercise myself. And here I am.”
Jeff, now a student at Virginia Tech, said he enjoys having his mother participate. “Occasionally, she beats me, and all the parents and coaches cheer,” he said, smiling.
After coaching sets of fencers for a while, Caudill makes his way over to a couple sets of boxers. The gym is not yet complete, so the fighters spar without a ring. He casually watches close by, offering tips much like he does with the fencers.
Boxer Thomas Davison said he has trained with other coaches, but he enjoys Caudill’s laid-back approach.
“He has a lot of experience and it’s just a different atmosphere,” he said. “It’s really interesting to watch the fencers and we work out with them. We can watch how they move. It’s like a family.”
Caudill said plans for more offerings are in the works, adding to the eclectic mix.
“We have a new home and more space to explore new things.”