Even with his five o’clock shadow, Rich Georgia looks too young to own Sarasota’s first fencing facility.
The 27-year-old Massachusetts native graduated from Dartmouth College with a bachelor’s degree in sculpture, but moved to Sarasota four years ago to pursue another dream — last October, he started the Sarasota Fencing Academy and Club.
After a firm handshake, a “You look familiar” and pointing out several pieces of fencing equipment, Georgia stated his long-term goal for the academy: He wants his students to make it to the Olympics within 10 years. Georgia is competitive in the United States Fencing Association — the Olympic governing body of fencing in the United States — of which the club is also a member.
“I moved down originally because Sarasota is an arts community,” Georgia said. “It didn’t make sense for Sarasota not to have one (a fencing club), so I took matters into my own hands. It’s something I’ve always been really passionate about.”
Georgia’s interest in fencing started about 15 years ago when, riding in the car alongside his mother and sister, he spotted a fencing academy in his hometown of Rehoboth, Mass. That was all it took to foster a lifelong love for the sport, which Georgia says instilled positive in him.
“It helped me focus when I was younger,” Georgia said. “I had to set goals as I was put under stressful situations and make quick decisions. It helps you learn how to deal with life and respect each other.”
Georgia has trained with three-time Men’s Foil World Champion Sergei Golubitsky, a Ukrainian fencer. His students are now practicing and competing with blades created by Golubitsky.
The sport features three types of weapons: foil, a light thrusting weapon where the target area is restricted to the torso, chest, shoulders and back; epée, a heavy thrusting weapon with a target area of the entire body; and sabre, a light cutting-and-thrusting weapon in which the target area is across the hips and up, including the head.
Swordplay is held on a “strip,” which is similar to a tennis court. Bouts, or matches, have off-sides penalties, and players can gain points for causing their opponent to back off of the strip.
If you want to excel at fencing, Georgia says it’s imperative to get the footwork down.
“The sport doesn’t allow for its players to think about anything else,” Georgia said. “It becomes a dance — a play of energies — because you want to really understand your opponent. It really is a different game, and we’re trying to build up as many fencers as possible.”
For an example of some stellar fencing, check out the movie “Princess Bride,” which the Sarasota Fencing Academy and Club shows to kids during summer camp fencing sessions.
“I like to see kids grow (to have) the same kind of passion that I have,” Georgia said. “It’s interesting to see that developing in anyone.”
The sport has been called “physical chess” because it requires players to think four or five actions ahead, just to be able to create an opening or fake attack.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, I got ya,’” Georgia said. “You have to use psychology, strategy, reflexes, quickness and speed. It pulls from everything and encompasses the body.”
Georgia’s assistant coach, Melody Klasinksi, joined the club as soon as she heard about it through a student at New College, where Georgia coaches its fencing team. After practicing with Georgia for the last eight months, Klasinski is currently ranked seventh in the state.
“When you get into it, you really get into it,” Klasinski said. “I love the fact that I get to use my brain as well as my body. I love the mental aspect, because you have to constantly be re-thinking your game and switching it up.”
Leaps and bounds
A glossary of fencing terms:
Balestra — a forward leap, typically followed by an attack
Bout — a match, during which the score is kept
Conversation — the back-and-forth play of the blades in a match
Epée — a weapon used in competitive fencing with a triangular, cross-section blade and bell guard
Fleche — a fast attack or to sprint at one’s opponent
Foil — a weapon with a rectangular, cross-section blade and bell guard
Lamé — a metallic vest or jacket used to detect touches from foils and sabres
On guard — being defensive and ready for action
Parry — a block
Reposte — an immediate attack after a parry
Sabre — a cutting-and-thrusting weapon