BATAVIA — Two fencers squared off Saturday morning in the Batavia High School gymnasium, lunging and retreating.
It might take mere seconds to score a touch — glimpsing a vulnerability and moving before one’s opponent can react.
Fencing’s practitioners like to call it “physical chess,” in a nod to the sport’s mix of athletics and fast-moving calculations.
“Today I think our youngest fencer is 15 and our oldest is 67,” said Colin Dentino of En Garde: Batavia, which hosted the tournament. “It’s a very individual sport, so you can be part of a team. But it’s very much you versus another person.”
The tournament was part of the eight-month United States Fencing Association’s Western New York Epee Circuit. The event attracted a mix of 17 male and female competitors from across Western and Central New York.
An epee is a foil-style weapon among used in one of fencing’s three categories, Dentino said. The goal is to get a hit anywhere on the body with the weapon’s tip, as opposed hitting a specific target, or establishing a threat.
It’s easier said than done, encompassing a short-but-intense flurry of movement and counterstrokes.
“It’s funny,” said Dentino, who got into the sport as a 4-year-old. “I always say we have to sprint marathons. It’s very interactive, fast and mobile. They’re moving very quickly, but they have to do this after a long time.”
The four-hour tournament started with a pooled event and finished with an elimination bout. Each fencer wore protective clothing, which Dentino said was largely in case of a broken epee.
Noah Adamitis, 15, traveled from Syracuse to compete. He’s been fencing three years, taking up the sport after watching an old, black-and-white Zorro movie.
He had won all his five bouts so far on Saturday, but still thought he could have done a little better. His father Michael, 10-year-old brother David and 13-year-old sister Rebecca watched him compete.
“Dedication, patience, the ability to put hard work and practice into it,” Noah said. “And a fairly decent amount of money.
“Especially in the tight bouts, your adrenaline goes up and it’s really addicting — a hit before you get hit. It’s really that simple.”
Scott Leadley, 54, of Rochester and Marissa DiGrazio, 18, of Honeoye Falls had just competed, with Leadley taking the win. Part of the challenge, they said, is trying to lure an opponent into a vulnerability.
“The basis of it is distance, like a lot of mock combat sports,” Leadley said. “When you’re out of distance, you can’t hit anybody.
“But when you’re in-distance, it’s timing, and trying to set the other person up so their momentum’s in transition, or you catch them flat-footed, or something like that,” he continued. “And then it’s technique, which is putting the point on the target.”
He compared the process to one-handed boxing, without the head trauma.
DiGrazio’s been fencing for two years. She became interested after one of her teachers suggested she’d be good at the sport.
“I think it’s just more fun to be swordfighting,” she said. “I just love the feel of it in my hand. And the mental aspect that goes with it — you really have to think it through.
“It’s not just aiming your sword,” she continued. “You’ve got to visualize your target, look for the right timing, and implement it. It’s a good challenge.”
Not to forget the adrenaline rush, intellectual challenge, and honed instincts which accompany each bout, Leadley and DiGrazio said.
Leadley noted the great fencers and the chess-like process throughout.
“They have (the ability) almost like a major batter seeing the seams on a baseball,” he said. “They see that opening, and all of a sudden time slows down, and bam.”