At the Sacramento Fencing Club in Rancho Cordova, 11 year old Devin de Silva is among about 30 kids training for the summer nationals. He joined the club about a year ago.
"I’m into a lot of sword fighting things. The fact that you get to hit people with swords, it takes out a lot of anger."
Devin’s father, Mike de Silva, signed his son up for fencing lessons after he noticed an early interest in the sport.
"Devin for the longest time, he thought he was Luke Skywalker and he was running around the house looking for sword play competition."
Fencing instructor and club owner Paul Sears says celluloid sword play has been a great recruitment tool over the years, but only the true athletes stick with it. "You see Zoro or Star Wars or something like that and that looks really cool but it’s just a little bit different than competition fencing. Fencing for competition – it’s fast and it’s small motions. It’s really done with your thumb and your forefinger. Your legs move you from point A to point B. Your brain does the rest."
Fencing is really nothing like the choreographed bouts you see in the movies. Sears says it’s more like a physical form of chess – athletic, strategic and quick. "The average touch is about 2.3 seconds from 'ready, fence'. It’s a very fast event but there’s a lot that happens in that small amount of time."
Devin de Silva says the sport involves a lot of quick thinking. "Because if you miss then you have to think up another plan that it took you a half an hour to make."
15 year old Zack Jones, one of the club’s best students, agrees. "It’s almost more of a mind game than it is a physical game ‘cause you’re always trying to outthink and outsmart your opponent."
There are three types of fencing: foil, epee and saber. In foil and epee, touches are scored with the point of the blade, while the saber is handled differently – with thrusting and cutting motions.
The Sacramento Fencing Club specializes in the saber – a modern version of the slashing cavalry style of sword fighting. Matches are won by scoring 15 touches, or three bouts of five touches. The sabers are hooked up to a machine that beeps and flashes lights to show when a fencer scores.
Zack Jones says on top of all the mental challenges, it’s a workout. "Yeah, it’s very demanding on your legs all your quad muscles and the tops of your thighs. It’s very demanding on your arm too because it’s all a one arm sport so usually if you don’t work out with weights one of your arms gets a lot bigger than the other arm but it’s mostly your legs because distance is really key in this sport."
Sabre fencers wear a lot of protective equipment: a mask, jacket and gloves. Jones’ mother Rosemary says she’s not worried about his safety. "It’s not harmful, it’s a very low injury sport. It builds a lot of confidence. I watch kids come in here that have no athletic ability and they learn how to be successful."
As Sears wraps up another practice session he says he wants his students to be serious about the sport but to have fun with it. "You don’t get a lot of opportunities in life to hit someone with a stick and then somebody to tell you 'good job.' So it’s a good way to vent a little frustration without really hurting anybody, get a little bit of exercise at the same time and challenge yourself mentally."
Sears expects great results during the 10 day tournament. "Our students worked their butts off and it shows they’re poised to do some pretty good stuff."
The championships run from July 1 - 10 at the Sacramento Convention Center.