Robert Alden Good credits actor Johnny Depp for his fascination with fencing.
“I first tried fencing when I was about 10,” recalled the 16-year-old Good, a sophomore at Andover High. “Fencing involved swords, so it was the coolest thing imaginable.
“My best friend and I, after having seen [the] “Pirates of the Caribbean” [movie, starring Depp], wanted to go outside and duel all the time,” he said. “He was better than I was and tended to beat me. I felt the need to win, so I decided to take on fencing so I could get the training to beat him.”
That steered the teen to fencing classes. And, ultimately, competing across the country.
In December, he qualified for Junior Olympics, at a North American Cup event in Dallas; he will attend another upcomingNAC competition in Milwaukee.
He trains three times per week and competes locally, typically at Vivo Fencing Club in Wilmington or at Boston Fencing Club in Waltham.
“What I particularly enjoy about fencing is that you often find yourself in positions where you’re not able to use your usual method to beat people,” he said. “It forces you to have to think through it. Then you could try to use something cool like a preparation action, or some multiple-move action, that if you pull off feels incredible.”
Fencing is the current version of an ancient art — one of five original modern summer Olympic sports — and is practiced by enthusiasts of all ages.
The Boston Fencing Club, the oldest club in the country, was founded in 1858. The club offers instruction for fencers from ages 6 to 60, with ability levels ranging from beginner to members of two national teams.
“The most challenging aspect of fencing is learning how to be a member of a team in an individual sport,” said Brendan Doris-Pierce, who coaches at the club. “But that’s also the sport’s greatest reward, learning how to make yourselves and others better without inhibiting either’s development.”
Meghana Paturu, a 10-year-old Acton resident, started fencing two years ago after watching her older sister, Mounica, compete. The elder Paturu is on the fencing team at MIT.
Ranking fifth nationally in her age group, she said fencing “may not seem as hard as football, but that’s not true.
“You still need a lot of strength, muscle, good aim, and good timing,” added Paturu, a fifth grader at the Gates Elementary School. “It’s good to be strong physically in fencing, but also mentally.”
Likewise, Stephanie Zervas Goodrich said she was drawn to the sport because of the mind/body connection.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a fit person,” said Zervas Goodrich, a 47-year-old nurse from Tewksbury. “I work out on a regular basis, but fencing makes me feel unfit. It is very physically challenging and is especially hard on the legs. My quads are quite tired by the time I head home after fencing for a couple hours.
“But it is mentally challenging as well,” she said. “You have to stay focused, and for me that’s hard if I’ve worked all day.”
Arpad Horvath, who competed for the Hungarian national team and now is the co-owner of Vivo (Hungarian for ‘fencer’) Fencing in Wilmington, took note of fencing’s physicality. “But it is also very strategic,” he said.
“The goal is to score against your opponent before they score the touch on you,” said Horvath, a Woburn resident who came to the United States to fence, winning a pair of NCAA epee titles for St. John’s University, and then stayed to coach. “There are offensive and defensive moves that fencers learn to set them up for success.
“Then the fencer has to decide what to do when in order to score the touch,” he said. “The best of fencing is very exciting to watch, and suspenseful, too.”
Whether it be in the disciplines of sabre (hits above the waist), foil (light blade, only touches to the torso are scored), or epee (heavier blade, touches allowed to any part of the body), all disciplines offer practitioners a chance to pursue the sport competitively or casually.
“The reason that fencing is such a great sport is that there are so many ways to be successful at it,” Horvath said. “Some fencers are extremely physical and well built for the sport. Some fencers are very agile and have great speed. Some might not be as athletic but have great strategic and analytical skills. [And] some fencers come to the sport naturally and have great decision-making abilities.”
Not everyone involved even picks up a weapon, as Ann Gary, co-owner at Vivo, says.
“I started out as, and still am, a fencing mom. My son Alex House is rated among the top 10 epee fencers in the country,” said Gary, a management consultant from Upton.
“When Alex left for college, I decided to buy into the club and help with marketing, organization, and all communication with the parents to help them to understand the trajectory of the sport.”
For most, though, the sport’s greatest rewards are in the action.
“What I appreciate about fencing is that it’s a sport that really requires problem solving,” Good said. “But I also appreciate the camaraderie, and the fact that if I want to, I could fence until I’m 80.”Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.