MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Before we take another break, let's get a little dirty. "Get Dirty D.C." is a regular series where our own Rob Sachs here, goes out and tries his hand at some offbeat activities in the D.C. region.
MR. ROB SACHS
That's right. And Rebecca, unlike you, I decided to stay indoors this week.
Because it's freezing cold out. And I tried out a little fencing. Hidden away in a cluster of nondescript commercial buildings in Silver Spring, Md., is a practice facility for what very may well be future members of the U.S. Olympic fencing team.
MR. JANUSZ SMOLENSKI
(word?) this girl over there, she's 12 years old and she's the best in America under 12.
That's Janusz Smolenski...
This is girl is 14 and she's the best in America under 14.
...a Polish immigrant, who's been running the D.C. Fencers Club for 20 years.
D.C. Fencers Club has been forever, over a 100 years. But when I came to America, it was, like, small recreational club. And we grew it.
We, being Janusz and other coaches like Dariusz Gilman.
MR. DARIUSZ GILMAN
I was an old champion and two times European champion.
Today, the room is filled with fencers of all ages.
We start with the youngest, 8 years old. We take them to big group classes. We teach them skills and most of them stay. We don’t have too many people who drop from (unintelligible) .
One of the club's homegrown successes is Corwin Duncan. The 21-year-old from Silver Spring has been fencing for more than half his life. He's risen to become one of the best young fencers in the country.
MR. CORWIN DUNCAN
National championships, I won in 2008, under 20.
Corwin says fencings appeal is that it combines wits with athleticism.
Fencing, like many sports, is extremely mental, but it's also extremely technical. So you need to spend a lot of time working on technique. And pretty much everything you do in fencing, if you cannot do it completely in your sleep, when someone isn't trying to hit you with a piece of metal, it's going to be really hard to do it when somebody is trying to hit you.
Still, Janusz Smolenski points out, it's a relatively safe sport.
Fencing is like boxing without hurting anybody.
Which is surprising, since most people first encounter fencing through action flicks like Zorro or Star Wars. My personal favorite is the fencing scene from the Princess Bride.
Well, I actually am left handed, which it turns out is a good thing in fencing.
MR. BYRON NESTLAND
A lot of fencers tend to have difficulties with left handers, including other left handers.
That's Byron Nestland (sp?), a member of the club's team who also has Olympic aspirations. And today, he's agreed to show me a few moves. He rummages through a sword bin. There's three kinds of swords in fencing, the sabre, foil and epee.
And each kind of has a different set of rules. What we're going to be doing today, we're going to use epee, that's the closest thing to the original dueling sword, I guess.
Byron finds a high tech epee. It's equipped with a little button on the end that depresses whenever you score a hit. He shows me how to wire things up by running something called a body cord through my coat.
Put it over your shoulder, take one end in your hand and then put your jacket on. Right over top of the cord.
Now, when I get hit, everyone in the club will know it. The scoring box overhead will light up and you'll hear this sound. Finally, it's time to put on our fencing masks. Do you ever wear this for Halloween?
I might've once.
Turns out, the rules in fencing are pretty simple. The match is conducted on a 14x2 meter strip. Now, these dimensions are meant to replicate combat in confined quarters, like in a castle or a pirate ship perhaps. The goal is to score a hit on your opponent without going out of bounds. As fencing is a sport for gentlemen, each bout starts with a ceremonial salute to your opponent. Byron shows me how to start with the weapon down, bring it up to your face and then back down.
Then, the referee, or Byron in the case, shouts these commands, on guard,
And now we're ready to go. Being a novice, I figured my best strategy is employing the element of surprise. So I barrel in, swishing my epee like a mad man. Now, I figured I was going to hit, but I didn't realize it was going to hurt. Undeterred, I battled on. Now, in single elimination bouts, the first one to 15 hits wins. And right about now, Byron is having his way with me time and time again, until finally I land a hit. But the glory doesn't last long. Byron pokes my left shoulder.
We take a breather and Byron tries to show me a few moves in slow motion. One is called a Parry.
All right. So that time, I just blocked your blade. Now, I can go back and hit you.
Right in ribs there, man.
You get used to it, don't worry.
In a few weeks, the folks at D.C. Fencing will be in for a treat. U.S. Olympic coach, Edgar Fonty, will be in town to run an all-day clinic. The event is already sold out, which Coach Janusz Smolenski says is a testament to the growing enthusiasm for the sport in D.C. and nationally. He notes, about 30,000 people are members of the U.S. Fencing Association. Janusz says as much as he would love to train a future Olympian, that's not how he measures success.
For ours, is most important thing is that the kids are happy, that our teenager go to good schools and have great career after graduating from college. It is the most important.
To watch a video of Rob's fencing exploits and for more on the D.C. Fencers club, check out our website, metoconnection.org. And, Rob, do you have your next "Get Dirty" adventure booked yet?
I do indeed. In a few weeks, I'll take to the air and learn trapeze along with something called aerial arts. But, Rebecca, I'm always looking for more "Get Dirty" ideas so if listeners out there have one, please send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the break, the arbiters of Awesome, whose mission is to fulfill the wishes of area innovators.
MS. BONNIE SHAW
D.C. Dreamers are also doers. They find their resources and they really act on their ideas. And that's awesome.
That and more, coming up on "Metro Connection" on WAMU 88.5.
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