As a young, impressionable fencer I met Geoff in the early 70’s. In addition to teaching fencing in local schools, colleges and universities, he coached alongside his lifetime friend and colleague Leon Hill at the then famous Hydra Fencing Club – Dukinfield, which was, at the time, the only club in the country to have its own premises. It wasn’t uncommon to see Geoff coaching in a pair of well-worn green-flash trainers (sometimes sandals), ski pants, a woolly-cardigan and a quarter-coaching plastron and mask. At first impression Geoff would come across and lacking in speed and mobility and just a grumpy, belligerent and intolerant fencing coach. After receiving a lesson from him, you very quickly realised that he was anything but slow and lacking in mobility, though he was, indeed, very uncompromising. His ability to mislead you with the blade actions, footwork and timing were astonishing, though this was nothing compared with his ability to teach and coach the same in a myriad of tactical situations. Lessons with Geoff were never particularly physically demanding though being physically fit to stand in front of Geoff was a prerequisite) but they were quite often mentally exhausting. I later discovered that attempting to give lessons in the same style as Geoff, required complete mastery of fencing actions and total control of one’s own technique, timing and distance especially when the initiative was given to the pupil.
Geoff’s tactical knowledge came from studying what he quite frequently described as Eastern European fencing methodology. Shortly after qualifying as a fencing master, Geoff attended a course given by Zbigniew Czajkowski and was hooked, falling in love with the philosophy and methodology. As a result, he struck up a great friendship with Czajkowski and taught himself Polish so that he could study and analyse the early drafts of what later became Czajkowski’s book Understanding Fencing (the Unity of Theory & Practice). Geoff would avidly read, analyse and experiment with lessons, making notes as he went along so there would be continuity from one lesson to the next. His insight, appreciation and understanding of the material and the methodology was nothing short of remarkable. Sadly Geoff did not suffer fools gladly. Whilst he loved a good argument, Geoff could not tolerate those who criticized the philosophy and methodology he’d spend years studying and developing. It wasn’t uncommon for his passion to alienate him from those around him. Nevertheless his success with pupils was self-evident with many winning the tougher opens, fencing for the senior England team and a select few going onto fence for Great Britain.
I have very fond memories of having lessons from Geoff. We both have extraordinary strong personalities and even stronger opinions, so much so that a lesson could to the observer be seen as a monumental argument. Every lesson was a challenge and during every lesson there’d be a difference of opinion and yet I did go back for more and more. I think Geoff enjoyed the challenge, and giving me lessons, though at the time he was very selective about who he would cross swords with.
I once described Geoff as controversial though at the same time an excellent coach. Geoff continually questioned the training of both British coaches and fencers, saying that their abilities were well below those of their Eastern European counterparts and that this was self evident by their lack of results on the world stage.
By studying and continuing to develop well past qualifying as a master, Geoff became an outstanding coach who achieved some truly remarkable results. It’s sad that more could not embrace Geoff’s teaching. Had more done so, then we would have more coaches who would be capable of looking beyond strokes and basic technique and think more of concepts. His ability to analyse the fight was second to none. His ability to develop and coach a fencer tactical generally resulted in the production of a thinking and problem solving fencer. He was a tactical genius and, by far and above the best tactical coach Britain Fencing (formerly the A.F.A) never used.
Geoff was and will continue in my mind to be one of the greatest coaches in Britain and along with his sons Roger and Ian, both Leon and I will sadly miss him.