The cutting edge

For its combination of physical agility and mental acuity, fencing may be the ultimate sport.

Tim Morehouse is an elite fencer, having competed for the United States at the Athens, Beijing and London Olympics, winning a team silver in saber in Beijing in 2008.

Ironically, though, he got into fencing as a way to get out of gym in school. Little did he know.

When the 13-year-old at Riverdale Country School, “saw that it was about sword fighting, that got me hooked.” Ultimately, he says, “fencing changed my life. I had been struggling in school. Fencing gave me focus and discipline.”

That’s because fencing combines mental acuity with physical agility, as the 150 students of the Tim Morehouse Fencing Club in Manhattan and Port Chester are discovering.

The Upper West Side facility opened two years ago, but Morehouse — who remembers competing against rival Mamaroneck High School as a Riverdale kid — says he has so many Westchester and Fairfield students that he began scouting another location closer to them, finding the perfect spot at 135 Pearl St. in Port Chester. There he teaches the sport of saber fencing to students who range from 4-year-olds to senior citizens, although the majority are 7 to 12 years of age.

Unlike fencing with the light practice foil or the heavier, dueling épée — in which points are scored with the tip — saber fencing, developed out of the cavalry sword, uses the side of the blade and a quick, slashing motion to score points all over the upper body.

“It’s very fast with points taking place in a half-second to a second,” Morehouse says. “You’d be surprised at how much can happen in a second.”

Yet anyone who has ever seen this thrilling sport knows there’s no wild thrusting and parrying. For the fencer, every movement — even something as innocuous as taking a break in a chair — is mindful, deliberate and pointed, no pun intended.

“Fencing is a kind of puzzle solving, with similar movements to ballet,” he says.

“There are lots of changes of rhythm, changes of speed and changes of direction…. You have to have control of your body’s movements,” adds Morehouse, who has cross-trained with Pilates and yoga for body control as well as jumping rope for endurance.

And just as great writing is in part about the economy of words, “with the best fencers, every movement is purposeful…. It’s as much about what you don’t do as what you do.”

Apparently, Morehouse is “not doing” something right. The club ranks seventh among youth fencing clubs in the country and sixth overall in saber. Recently, a dozen students competed in the North American Cup’s Division 1, the top category, which helps determine national rankings. Last year, the club took six medals at the summer nationals, with hopes of 10 this year. As befits a former Olympian, Morehouse is goal-oriented. He’s looking to the club ultimately attaining the number-one ranking and to a gold medal for a club member at the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

In the meantime, Morehouse — who fenced at Brandeis University — is also keeping an eye on college fencing programs. His club includes high school students with acceptances at Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University and the University of Notre Dame, with another looking to The University of Chicago. For parents with Ivy League ambitions for their children, fencing may provide an edge, he says

“Fencing teams have the highest GPAs (Grade Point Averages) — and the nicest guys,” he adds with a laugh.

Like tennis, swimming and golf, fencing is an individual sport that offers males and females the challenges of teamwork and the safety of camaraderie as well.

“You’re competing by yourself, but you train with a team of people,” Morehouse says. “You’re not going to get better unless you train in a place where you can be vulnerable with others.”

Competition takes place in all age categories. Indeed, among Morehouse’s students is fashion consultant Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” fame, who, Morehouse says, never did anything athletic and now trains with him three to four times a week.

“It’s never too late,” Morehouse adds, “to learn to fence.”

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