An ancient sport, fencing has long been an activity used to promote fitness, and both physical and mental agility. At instructors take children’s innate ability in fencing and develop it into physical ability while exercising their mental capacity to strategize.
“It is a cerebral game,” said Peekskill Fencing trainer Max Catala. “The sport allows you to face some reality of who you are because it is just you and the opponent. There are no excuses.”
At Peekskill Fencing, the instructors are professionals who love fencing and the students are interested kids and adults who found themselves drawn to the less common sport. Ever since owner Alex Acevedo started Peekskill Fencing eight years ago, the business grew very quickly.
The Fencing school started when Acevedo began training his two daughters in the sport, and it now employs four trainers and trains 27 students, many of whom have worked their way up to the national points list. One student, Peekskill Middle School’s Erika Mendez, has been named in the top 20 in the nation.
“We expect that we'll have at least two of our students on the National Points List before the Summer Nationals in Anaheim, California in June,” Acevedo said this year.
Acevedo, a Bronx native, started fencing himself while in college, when the sport was much less prevalent. At the time there were three fencing clubs in New York City. Today, there are about 10 or 12, Acevedo said. And while fencing schools are not as ubiquitous as karate and tae kwon do studios in Westchester, they are on the rise. When Peekskill Fencing opened in 2003 it was the third to open in Westchester County. Today, there are five fencing studios in the county, Acevedo said.
Students are enthusiastic about fencing for various reasons. Nine-year-old CJ Tummings of Harrison likes that he can “use a weapon and hit people.” Other students think the weapons are cool too but also enjoy practicing with kids outside of their own age group and the feeling of support from one another.
Fencing involves three different weapons, an épée, foil and sabre, weapons of different weight that target different areas. Catalo referred to the sport as “moving pilates” and “physical” chess. The sport requires agility, strength, discipline, physical conditioning and tactical mental work.
The 2,600 square foot loft space at Peekskill’s Hat Factory proves a perfect setting for fencing class. After trying out two other spots within the city, Acevedo settled in at the Hat Factory in December of 2010. In the large studio parents sit and watch their children dressed in traditional white fencing outfits and masks thrust swords at each other and have fun.
“Finn practices at least six hours a week and he wants to be here even more,” Peekskill mother Amy Harte said of her son. “In a three year period he has learned so much about personal responsibility, the techniques of fencing, physical ability and has made friends.”
“I like it because I get to be with kids of different ages,” said Finn, who also plays soccer, which restricts kids to playing with others only in their age group. “I feel happy when I get the high ranks.”
Finn is one of the school’s best fencers. Acevedo, Finn’s neighbor, has scouted Finn ever since he was a baby.
“I knew with those arm and legs he would be a natural fencer,” Acevedo said.
According to Acevedo, while Finn does have a special knack for the sport, most other kids are natural fencers too.
“Kids have a natural knowledge of fencing, it is an innate activity like running and jumping. So we take kids’ curiosity about fencing and develop it into an athletic ability.”
Acevedo believes fencing will continue to become more popular and his business will continue to grow because of how quickly people take a liking to the sport. Top fencers Erika Mendez (mentioned above) and 15-year-old student Liz Feller said they just fell in love with it as soon as they tried it.
“Even when you are go hard at each other you are still on the same team,” Feller said. She explained you do not feel as much pressure as a team sport because it is all you. “All the responsibility is on you but we watch each other’s back and have support.”
Peekskill Fencing is the most affordable fencing in the area because the trainers love what they do and care about the kids and about fencing, Acevedo said. Catala, a professional fencer who has trained Olympians, travels all the way from Brooklyn to teach a Junior Olympics class at Peekskill Fencing a few times a week. Trainers Sylvia Barnett, Joesph Paterno and Cal Schlick, are also professional fencers who teach at the school.
The beginner’s package costs $140 and includes five group classes and one private lesson. Their monthly packages start at $125 for two classes per week. They also offer adult classes.
There will be a Super Regional Youth Circuit national qualifier and point list event on March 30 at the Cobra Fencing Center in Jersey City, NJ. The event draws kids from all over the east coast.
The fencers from Peekskill Fencing that have qualified for this years Nationals in Foil are:
Michael Joel, Cortlandt Manor
Henri Gerard, Croton-on-Hudson
James Flanagan, 10, Briarcliff Manor
Catherine Flanagan, 8, Briarcliff Manor
Erika Mendez, 12, Peekskill*
CJ Tummings, 8, Peekskill*
William Roberts, 8, Buchanan
Brandon Paterno, 9, Croton-on-Hudson
Finn Hossfeld, 10, Peekskill*
Zoe Roganski, 12, Croton-on-Hudson
*potential National Point Lister's
Peekskill Fencing's past qualifiers are:
Sarah Acevedo, Peekskill, Foil (also Junior Olympics)
Kevin Blewitt, Putnam Valley, Foil
Elizabeth Feller, Cortlandt Manor, Foil/Sabre/Epee (also Junior Olympics)
Erika Mendez, Peekskill, Foil
Michael Joel, Cortlandt Manor
*Editor's Note: Names were left accidently omitted from this list in the original publication. They have been added.