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Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Swords and Strategy Fencing Club founder Michael McDarby, left, practices against fellow fencer Gerard DeCusatis, right, in the Riverfront Center Wednesday.

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Club gives local fencers a chance to hone craft

Friday, November 16, 2012 - Updated: 7:09 PM

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

At the Swords and Strategy Fencing Club in Amsterdam, everyone has the opportunity to hone their craft and personalize their technique.

Even a beginner.

Walking in to the club for the first time in the Riverfront Center, the beginner is greeted just like a seasoned member.

The only difference is they get a little longer to sit and watch before jumping into a bought with an opponent.

Seasoned members walk in, suit up, and fence.

"We have an unstructured environment," said Michael McDarby, the club's founder and coach. "If someone is new, they watch, we walk them through what's happening."

And when they're ready?

"We suit them up, get them out there, and let them learn by doing."

Competing in friendly battles with the epee, one of the swords commonly used in fencing, against club members or McDarby himself, the beginner easily becomes part of the team.

And no need for personal equipment; the club will provide it.

"The concepts are so simple," McDarby said. " They come in, they get up and they fence."

The club has been in existence for more than 20 years, started when McDarby taught at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

The club, which at one time met at the college, now meets in the bottom floor of the Riverfront Center, and it's open to the public.

Dues are minimal, as McDarby and all the participants there Wednesday said it's all about having fun. There are no drills or heavy training at the fencing practices, just the opportunity to get a fencing sword in hand and learn the strategies and skills needed to outsmart an opponent.

On Wednesday, 14-year-old Grace Montenaro suited up for practice as she watched McDarby fence against four-year member Gerard DeCusatis who fenced in college.

Montenaro started just a few weeks ago.

"One of my friends asked me to go, and I went, and I really liked it," she said, adding that it's not difficult to learn.

Her strategy is faking her opponent out.

"I like it," she said. "It's fun."

McDarby said it's a sport that doesn't necessarily take a tremendous amount of skill, but takes a little bit of work and a little bit of focus to excel at it.

"You can step up and understand how to do it and get better and better at it," he said, adding that it's also something that helps your health.

It's also something that people can start at any age, he said.

"It's something that as you get older and lose some of your speed, you can counterbalance that by understanding and strategizing."

His coach was about 60 years old with bad knees when he became McDarby's fencing coach, but he could beat everyone, McDarby remembered.

"A lot of my ability to strategize comes from him," he said.

Michael Wilder, a Gloversville resident who has been in the club on and off for about seven years, said the sport is good exercise and he meets good people each time he comes.

"(You learn) how to think quickly, analyze what your opponent's doing," he said. "I fence in tournaments. You have to figure out what you're doing right and wrong, what your opponent's doing right and wrong. You have to make really quick decisions in order to beat your opponent."

Thinking on his feet is what helps him to win, he added.

And this Saturday, the local fencers will put what they've learned to the test at a fencing tournament at homebase: the Riverfront Center.

Sara McDarby, who has coached fencing in the past and is still a part of Swords and Strategy Fencing Club, said a fencer's ranking goes from A to E, A being a national level and E being an entry level.

And the tournament will be broken up as such, depending on how many of each level attend.

Fencers from across the region travel for the tournaments and Saturday, though the Swords and Strategy members expect it to be a smaller turnout, will include some fencers from Syracuse.

"You sit and you watch people," Michael McDarby said. "You see what they're doing, you see what you're doing right and you what they're doing wrong. You see what they're weaknesses are, and you plan out how you're going to go at them."

The tournament begins at 11 a.m., but registration opens at 10:30 a.m. with an entry fee of $15.

Spectators are welcome.

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